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Not all wizards have long, white beards.

—Merlin to David Nolan src

Merlin, better known as the Sorcerer and briefly known as the Usher[1] and Disembodied Voice,[2] is a character on ABC's Once Upon a Time. He débuts in the nineteenth episode of the fourth season. He is voiced by co-star Jonathan Adams in Season Four, and is portrayed by guest star Elliot Knight in Season Five.

Merlin is based on the character of the same name from the Arthurian legend and Merlin from the Disney film The Sword in the Stone, and on the Sorcerer from the poem "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" and Yen Sid from the Disney film Fantasia.


Before First Curse

At some point in his life, Merlin becomes a foot soldier in an unknown army. However, he flees into the nearby desert with Adda, a fellow soldier. Exhausted and thirsty, Merlin and his companion come across a Holy Grail filled with water. His friend, attempting to drink from it, is turned into ash. With only two options, succumbing to death by thirst or by the grail's power, Merlin drops to his knees and asks for permission from the gods to drink from the cup. He then takes a sip from the grail, finding himself still alive, as he gains magic and immortality. With his new found magic, he accidentally turns the desert into a grasslands. ("Nimue")

Five hundred years later, an immortal Merlin has gained a reputation as a healer and takes a young boy as his apprentice, gifting him a wand. At some point during or after this, Merlin creates a box, which contains a hat that can absorb and accumulate magic. As a safeguard, the hat is also protected by an enchantment so that only someone who has not succumbed to the darkness in their heart can open it. ("The Apprentice," "Operation Mongoose Part 2," "Nimue")

Often, when people come to him seeking help, Merlin already knows what they desire, in part because of his ability to see the future. However, when he meets Nimue, he is unable to discern her reason for needing his help. She explains having fled her village from Vortigan, who killed everyone there. Nimue wants revenge by planting the seeds of the middlemist flowers, which grew in her village. After she scatters the seeds, Nimue makes plans to return in spring to see if the flowers have taken root, but Merlin uses magic to make the flowers bloom instantly. The two mutually fall in love, and, after they have been together for a time, Merlin considers marrying her, but he worries his immortality will be a problem because she will eventually age and die while he will remain young forever. After revealing this to her, he details his plan to use the first spark of mankind's original fire to mold the Holy Grail into a sword as way to get rid of his magic and immortality. With Nimue carrying the grail in a bag, she and Merlin head to the site of the flame, but, on the way there, they stop by her ruined village. There, without Merlin's notice, she drinks from the grail, hoping to be immortal so she will never have to part from him. She once again begs him to destroy Vortigan, but he declines because using magic to kill someone is giving into darkness. Once Merlin creates the sword, she alerts him to Vortigan's presence. Vortigan, attempting to make Merlin forfeit the sword to him, holds Nimue hostage. She breaks free and tries to kill Vortigan, but he fatally stabs her instead. After she seemingly dies in his arms, Merlin confronts Vortigan, whose heart is unexpectedly ripped out by Nimue. Only then, she tells Merlin what she did, while he begs her not to crush the heart, as doing so will make her dark. Unable to shake her grudge, she pulverizes Vortigan's heart to ash, triggering a monstrous change in her physical appearance. Fearing Merlin will try to take her power, Nimue smashes the sword, severing the tip from the blade, and steals the last spark ember. ("Nimue")

In time, Merlin fashions the remaining sword tip into a dagger, tethering it to Nimue, who becomes known as the first Dark One, in order to protect the realm from her. For whoever possesses the dagger, the Dark One will be forced to obey the person's commands. As for the broken sword, Merlin puts it in a stone. ("Nimue")

At one point, Merlin tries to get rid of Nimue for good by summoning her with the dagger. While she heeds his call, Nimue magically flits back and forth, until Merlin orders her to stop, prompting her to materialize right in front of him. He attempts to stab her with the dagger, but cannot bring himself to do it and drops the dagger. As he is lost in grief over losing her to the darkness, Nimue picks up the dagger, allowing one of Merlin's tears to drip onto it, causing the sorcerer to turn into a tree. ("Dreamcatcher")

For eons, Merlin and his Apprentice have chosen a person, whether male or female, to become an Author, whose sole responsibility is to witness and record stories in a magical storybook. ("Best Laid Plans")

As the Dark One powers pass down from one person to the next, every Dark One tries and fails to harness Merlin's hat, in the hopes of to retain their magic while also gaining freedom from the dagger. In Merlin's absence, the Apprentice guards the hat, successfully stopping the most recent Dark One, Zoso, from stealing the relic. ("The Apprentice")

While still trapped in tree form, Merlin gives a young boy named Arthur a prophecy, telling him that he will be king of Camelot one day, after pulling the sword Excalibur from its stone. Years later, Arthur fulfils the prophecy by freeing Excalibur, however, he discovers the blade tip is missing and keeps it a secret from the kingdom's people. ("The Dark Swan," "The Broken Kingdom")

Years later, the Apprentice retires to a cottage, continuing to protect Merlin's hat, by hiding it in his basement. The current Dark One, Rumplestiltskin, poisons the Apprentice to transfigure him into a mouse. Before the man turns, Rumplestiltskin manipulates a girl, Anna, by making her believe he wants her to kill the Apprentice with a tonic. Due to her pure heart, she cannot do it, and is further coerced into killing Rumplestiltskin. Pushed to her breaking point, Anna stops herself before she can act on her dark wish. As she sheds tears in frustration, Rumplestiltskin collects one of them and uses it to retrieve the hat. Later, he is outsmarted by Anna, who leaves for home with the hat, and then Ingrid takes the item for herself. On her terms, Ingrid promises the Apprentice that she will return the hat only if the Sorcerer helps locate someone. Presumably, the Sorcerer learns of this from the Apprentice, who reappears to Ingrid and fulfils her asking price for retrieval of the hat. ("The Apprentice," "Smash the Mirror")

The Apprentice speaks with the Sorcerer having banished the current Author, Isaac, into the book after he made him harm Maleficent's child. The Sorcerer, however, cannot undo what has already been done and remarks that the fate of the child and the fate of Snow White and Prince Charming's child are bound together as they always have been. ("Best Laid Plans," "Lily")

During First Curse
Merlin conspires a prophecy that speaks of Emma pulling Excalibur from its stone. In 1989, he appears, dressed as an usher, in the Land Without Magic to warn a six-year old Emma to never do "it," even if it's for the right reasons, because bad things will happen. Merlin cautions her, stating that one day she will have the chance to pull out the sword from the stone, but he advises her not to. Once he gives her the message, he disappears. ("The Dark Swan")

During Second Curse
When the second curse is cast, Merlin's mansion manifests in Storybrooke. Inside, the house contains his hat, a hidden door portal to Arendelle and a secret room containing blank storybooks. ("A Curious Thing," "A Tale of Two Sisters," "Heroes and Villains")

After Second Curse
In Merlin's mansion, Mr. Gold discovers the hat and begins using it to free himself from the dagger. Amassing power in the hat, he traps the Apprentice as well as the nuns, before his plans are halted by his banishment out of Storybrooke. Finding the mansion's secret room, Henry leads Emma and Regina there to show them the blank storybooks. This causes Regina to mistakenly believe the Author is the sorcerer, although Mother Superior later clarifies they are two different people and that the sorcerer has not been seen for a very long time. ("A Tale of Two Sisters," "Heroes and Villains," "Darkness on the Edge of Town")

Before Third Curse

After the Apprentice's failed attempt to trap the darkness from the current Dark One, he tells Emma about the Darkness' history with the sorcerer, Merlin, who they must find in order to contain it. ("Operation Mongoose Part 2")

In some way, King Arthur and his men learn about Merlin's prophecy that states inhabitants of another realm will reunite them with the sorcerer. ("The Dark Swan")

After welcoming the prophesied allies into his castle in Camelot, Arthur shows them a tree, which Merlin is trapped in. ("The Price")

From a dreamcatcher, Emma discovers the origins of how Merlin became a tree, with Regina helping her to realize they need to make a potion from a tear of a broken heart to free him. Although Regina provides the tear after reliving the memory of her first love's death, Emma suspects it may not be enough and she eventually coerces Violet Morgan into breaking Henry's heart so his tear will work instead. Just as Arthur attempts to stop them going through with the plan, Emma activates the potion and channels her Dark One powers onto the tree, reverting Merlin to human form. The sorcerer confronts Arthur about the disappointment he turned out to be, while the king fumes about Merlin giving him false prophecies that ruined his life. Arthur moves to unsheathe Excalibur, but Merlin coolly cautions him against it, warning that they both know the sword, in its uncompleted form, is useless against him. Refusing to accept defeat, Arthur threatens that things are not over yet, before he and his men retreat. Later, Merlin joins Emma and her party members at the diner, where he reverses the enchanted sand's effects on David and Mary Margaret. Merlin confirms he can get rid of Emma's darkness, but the darkness may have taken root inside of her where no one can see it, and, for him to remove it, her heart must be ready to be free. ("Dreamcatcher")

To free Lancelot from the dungeon, Merlin temporarily stuns the soldiers on guard with a blinding sound, allowing David and Hook to take them out. As one last guard attempts to rush at them, Merlin magicks him unconscious, before strolling down the dungeon hallway and turning on the furnace with a magical wave. After foreseeing that more soldiers will pass them at the next interjunction, he motions for David, Hook and Belle to hide against a wall, just before the soldiers walk by. Reaching the prison cells, Merlin finds himself not knowing how to break them since it's magic he has never encountered before. With Belle's bookish help, he quickly figures out how to remove the cell bars, just as guard reinforcements are arriving. Merida insists she can't leave without the wisp Arthur took from her, but Merlin convinces her that staying won't end well for her, and he promises to find another way to help find her brothers. Upon return to the diner, Emma senses something familiar about Merlin, and she cannot place where she has met him before, until he reminds her of when she was a young girl and he had stopped her from taking a candy bar in a movie theater. He cautions that the prophecy he gave her then must be taken seriously, and, though Arthur already took out Excalibur, there will come a time when the sword will return to the stone. ("The Bear and the Bow")

In a plan to unite Excalibur and the dagger, Merlin travels with Emma to the last known location of the first spark of mankind's original fire, where Emma take the last flame ember from the first Dark One. The journey is not without risk, though, as he tells her, because he foresees that, by the end of the quest, she either wins her fight against the darkness or becomes dark and kills him. At the site, Emma harnesses the dagger, summoning the spirit of the first Dark One, who is revealed to be Nimue, Merlin's lost love. However, a forlorn Merlin stresses to Emma that the Nimue they both see is not the woman he loved then. Nimue attempts to attack Merlin, but Emma jumps to his defense. The first Dark One forces Emma to begin strangulating Merlin, insisting it must be done, since the sorcerer is keeping Emma from being her true self as the Dark One. As Merlin struggles against her grasp on his throat, a panicked Emma tries resisting, to no avail. Only when Nimue insinuates that Emma will be nothing without the darkness, Emma gains the strength to fight back and take the ember from Nimue. On the way back to the diner, Merlin is summoned by Arthur to the castle, after Zelena assists Arthur with tethering Excalibur to Merlin. Again and again, Merlin tries to talk sense into Arthur, who is still furious at the sorcerer for giving him a false prophecy and a broken sword. Though Merlin says he can help him unite the sword with the dagger and repair everything that was lost, Arthur believes there is no going back and he doesn't want Merlin to have all the glory. Smugly, Arthur then orders him to render the heroes powerless and send them away. ("Nimue")

Going by Arthur's wishes, Merlin freezes Henry and Granny in the diner, in order to tell Emma that, if she doesn't give up the dagger and the ember, Arthur will make him kill her family and friends. When Emma traps Zelena in the process of giving her the ember, Merlin heeds Arthur's command and fights Emma in a magical duel. After defeating her, the sorcerer is made to begin strangling Mary Margaret. Emma persuades him into briefly resisting Arthur's control, and, before Merlin loses his power of self-control again, Hook breaks free and disarms Arthur, freeing Merlin from the sword's power. On return to the diner, Merlin is present with everyone else as Emma begins combining Excalibur and the dagger with the ember, when suddenly, Hook collapses from a cut he sustained from Excalibur during his fight with Arthur. As Hook's condition rapidly declines, Merlin explains that wounds made from the sword cannot be healed, as Excalibur's purpose has always been to get rid of immortality. Out of desperation to not lose her love, Emma frantically talks about using the flame to untether Merlin from Excalibur and tethering Hook's life to the sword instead. A dismayed Merlin warns her against it because doing so will create more darkness and turn Hook into a Dark One as well, and none of that can be undone unless Emma pays a steep price for it. He states that, if she goes through with it, she'll be taking the final step into darkness. Emma, more worried about Hook than what happens to herself, teleports away with Hook and uses Excalibur to untether Merlin and tie Hook's life to it, making him a Dark One, while Emma herself undergoes a physical transformation because of her use of dark magic. ("Birth")

Losing his magic and immortality, Merlin and the other Storybrooke inhabitants travel to the Vault of the Dark One to find Hook, but they find him already gone. Only then, Merlin realizes that, out of the possible futures that could've occurred, the current one is by far the worst. They send Lancelot to go see his mother, the Lady of the Lake, who can potentially help them. After returning to the diner, Merlin uses a magic brew to leave a message for the future, saying that, to defeat the Dark One, they have to find Nimue, but he is cut short when Hook walks into the room. Hook, with plans to enact another curse so he can finally get his revenge on Mr. Gold, must crush the heart of the thing he loves most. However, the pirate rips out Merlin's heart instead, as the spirit of Nimue appears to them. Seeing as Hook and all Dark Ones are now one and the same, Nimue's love for Merlin lives within Hook, meaning that Hook crushing Merlin's heart is the same as Nimue crushing her true love's heart. Emma enters, seeing that Hook has fully embraced the darkness, and tries to persuade him out of it, but Hook has since lost his trust in her. Now only caring about his revenge, Hook crushes Merlin's heart and casts the curse. Shortly after Merlin dies, Emma goes to his fallen body, apologizing for his death, before magically turning him into ash, which scatters into nothingness. ("Broken Heart")

After Third Curse
Following the Camelot quest, Emma uses a dreamcatcher containing the memories of her friends and family to create a complete memory wipe of the last six weeks, forgetting that Hook ever became a Dark One. When Emma lets it slip that they did succeed in freeing Merlin, Regina comes up with a plan to contact him with the Crimson Crown. After an attempted sabotage from Arthur, Henry enacts the required spell, and Merlin's face appears in a hologram. However, it is a prerecorded message, in which he warns that, if they are hearing him now, it means things have become worse. Merlin asks them to find Nimue, the only person capable of helping them defeat the Dark One. Before he can say anything more, he sees the Dark One coming, prompting the remaining message to be cut off. ("The Bear and the Bow")

Magical Abilities

  • Potioncraft - Ability to create liquid substances for various purposes by combining a set of ingredients.

Former Magical Abilities

  • Holy Grail Magic - Immense magical power granted by the Gods.
  • Foresight - Ability to see the future in bits and pieces.
  • Conjuration - Ability to conjure objects out of the blue.
  • Energy Blasts - Ability to create magical blasts to harm the enemies and the objects in the most effective way.
  • Telekinesis - Ability to control the movement of the environment.
  • Teleportation - Ability to magically teleport oneself and/or others from one location to another.
  • Transformation - Ability to magically transform an object into a different one.


Character Notes

Production Notes

  • The casting call describes him as "an African American in his early 30s to early 40s and boasting a natural British accent to play a man with great wisdom and intelligence beyond his years, someone who has always put duty in front of his own desires, even at great personal cost".[4]
  • According to Adam Horowitz, the idea of exploring Merlin has been cogitated since 2013, just not immediately.[5]
  • Elliot Knight's interpretation of the character is inspired by Sam Neill's portrayal of Merlin in the 1998 television miniseries of the same name.[6]
    • Interestingly, the official ABC promo picture of Merlin[7] uses almost exactly the same font as the cover of the 1998 region 2 DVD release of the miniseries.[8]



Note: "Archive" denotes archive footage.

See also


  1. LISTINGS: ONCE UPON A TIME: Air Date: Sunday, September 27, 2015. Time Slot: 8:00 PM-9:00 PM EST on ABC. Episode Title: (#501) "The Dark Swan". The Futon Critic. “Guest stars include [...] Elliot Knight as the Usher”
  2. "Lily," Once Upon a Time, ABC.
  3. File:502Title.png
  4. Mitovich, Matt Webb (June 9, 2015). Once Upon a Time Season 5: Get Details on Merlin and Other New Roles. TVLine. “For MERLIN, Once is seeking a black Brit in his early 30s to early 40s and boasting a natural British accent to play "a man with great wisdom and intelligence beyond his years," someone who has always put duty in front of his own desires, even at great personal cost.”
  5. Radish, Christina (September 30, 2013). Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz Talk ONCE UPON A TIME Season 3, Splitting the Season Into Two 11-Episode Story Arcs, Neverland, Camelot, and More. Collider. “HOROWITZ: It’s not a world that we see as off-limits. We have Merlin in our closet.”
  6. 10 Things You Didn't Know about Merlin from 'Once Upon a Time'. Movie Pilot. Archived from the original on October 23, 2015. “He drew a slight inspiration from another "Merlin". When I was growing up there was a series, starring Sam Neil as Merlin [Merlin 1998] The different sides of magic and what drove it into being and the love people have to have for themselves and different people. How fragile it is for people's fear and how it could be used for good or for evil. Also, the power of true love, the most powerful form of magic and how that plays a part of it.... Magic really had it's roots in emotion. That appealed to me... it's something that I definitely wanted to include in my interpretation of Merlin. His emotional journey is the most important factor of him being such a powerful magical creature.
  7. File:5PromoMerlin1.jpg
  8. Merlin [DVD] [1998]. Amazon UK. Retrieved on November 25, 2018.
  9. File:506CandyBars.png