The Bear King - 5x09
Recap by Joanne Denney
What does it take to be a good leader? Do you have to do whatever it takes no matter what or do you have to be willing to sacrifice? In this episode, Merida seeks knowledge on how to lead her people and save them from a witch’s curse. She also discovers her father’s killer in the process.
Zelena transports Arthur to Camelot after being defeated by Merlin and Emma. Arthur thinks that his knights can overcome the Charmings and Emma if properly motivated. He asks Zelena how far her magic can transport them since he knows of a magical object that can help them in DunBroch.
In DunBroch, Merida lays flowers at her father's grave after saving her brothers and proving that she is fit to be queen. But she still worries that she cannot rule over the clans. Her father made it look so easy, and Merida wishes that her father were there so that she can ask how he did it. Her mother reassures her that her father is always with her. It is her coronation day.
Several years earlier, King Fergus rides to the witch’s cottage in the dark of night. He's upset with the witch for turning his wife and boys into bears, but he seeks help from her. Invaders are attacking from the south, and he thinks that he needs magic to unite the clans. The witch is willing to assist, but the price will be steep. They sign a contract. She quickly gets to work making a potion and out of her magic caldron a helmet emerges If he wears the helm to battle, he will get exactly what he wants.
Two years later in DunBroch, it is Merida’s coronation. The clans present her with the crown. Merida’s mother, Queen Elinor, takes the crown, but before she can place it upon her daughter’s head, the witch interrupts the ceremony. “Did you forget about me, Dearie?” the witch says and tells them about the contract her father signed. Unfortunately, King Fergus had died before he could pay her what he owed. She demands 10,000 gold scats. If Merida does not have the gold, then she can simply return the helm. However, Merida can’t return what she does not have. The witch tells her that she better find it. If Merida doesn’t return the helmet by sundown tomorrow, the witch will have no choice but to curse the entire kingdom and all her subjects will be turned into bears. The witch advises, “It's harder than it looks, dear. If you ever hope to wear the crown, then you’d better figure out what your father couldn't . . . Lead.”
Merida knows that the helm was not in the castle. King Fergus was wearing the helmet when he died. “What was the witch on about saying that Dad couldn’t lead? What was the power of the helm?” Merida questions her mother, Queen Elinor. Merida also tells her that the knight who killed her father, King Fergus, also took the helm. If they can find King Fergus’s killer, then they can find the helmet. Elinor forbids Merida from going after the killer because she can't lose Merida too. But if Merida doesn't go after the killer than their entire kingdom is lost.
Two years earlier, King Fergus, Merida, and the clansman prepare for battle. King Fergus walks over to a large chest; he opens it and retrieves a bow. It is his war bow, and he gives it to Merida for her first battle. King Fergus then introduces her to the masked soldier, whom he has hired to tutor Merida in the art of war. Merida doesn’t think she needs a tutor; she draws her sword, attacking the soldier. After being thrown to the ground, Merida a looks up from her prone position to see that the soldier is Mulan. Mulan tells her the most important thing that she needs to know is to have honor.
Two years later, we see Mulan collecting money. She threatens the tavern owner that she will cut off his hand if he doesn't pay up. The four of them get into a fight, but it is interrupted by Merida shooting off an arrow and pinning the tavern owner’s sleeves to the wall, surprising Mulan. Knocking out the tavern owner, Mulan asks Merida why she is there. Merida asks for Mulan’s help; she needs to save her kingdom and her family. Mulan said the only person that she helps these days is herself. “Where's your sense of honor?” said Merida. “Honor never filled my purse, “ Mulan replied. Merida offers Mulan gold to help her save her kingdom. Mulan agrees on the condition that Merida asks Mulan no more question about herself.
Zelena and Arthur approach the witch’s cottage. A wolf comes out of the corner snarling. Reacting quickly, Zelena grabs a sleeping potion from the shelf and knocks the wolf out with it. The witch appears. Arthur tells her that they are there for the magic helm because he needs it to save his kingdom. The witch tells them that they are not the only ones and that she doesn't have it anymore. Zelena demands to know where it is. The witch replies “If I knew where it was, then I wouldn't have sent someone to fetch it for me. If you're not going to buy anything, I think it's time you leave.” The witch starts to gesture to cast a spell, but Zelena comes up behind her and pushes her face down towards the boiling cauldron. “No one out-witches me!” Zelena declares. “Tell us who's looking for the helm or you go bobbing for eye of newt!” The witch tells Zelena that Merida of DunBroch is looking for the helm as well. Arthur is baffled. She was a prisoner in his dungeon who had escaped.
In a meadow, Merida is practicing archery. She confronts Mulan on closing off her heart. Mulan reminds her of their deal about no questions. Merida remembers the deal, but she says what kind of friend she would be if she stuck to it. Mulan tells her that there was one lesson that she didn't teach her last time they were together; a true warrior doesn't let anything hurt them.
In the past, Mulan and Merida were seen sparring with swords by the clansmen. They joke at Merida's expense and say that no one would follow a "wee lassie" into battle. Merida acts like she is going to attack them, but Mulan stops her. She tells Merida that no one will follow her into battle out of fear. "What will make people follow me?" Merida asks. "These are your people, not mine. If you don't know, you should have someone who does." Mulan responds. "Somebody they’re already following." Merida sees her father, King Fergus, with a shiny helm on his head, rallying his troops.
In the present, Mulan and Merida are surprised by Arthur and Zelena, who've come looking for the helm. Arthur realizes that Merida doesn't know what the helm does. "It has the power to make other men fight your battles," Arthur informs her. Merida the calls Arthur a liar. Her father would never use magic to make men fight for him. Zelena taunts her "Awww, apparently daddy dearest wasn't the great king you thought he was." Mulan tells them that they don't know where the helmet is. Zelena magically takes Merida's bow from her, intending to cast a locator spell on it. Arthur and Zelena disappear leaving Merida heartbroken over the loss of her father's bow.
Merida is determined to return home. She believes that her father used dark magic to lead his subjects to death, and now feels like she doesn't have what it takes to be a leader. She's going to tell Macintosh and the other lairds that she can’t find the helm and wants to give them enough time to find it themselves before the witch turns them all into bears. “The Lairds can't even find the pointy end of their spears,” Mulan responds. “You can’t give up like this!” “Why not? You have.” Merida retorts, “Or is there another reason you're out here working for the highest bidder?”
In the past, King Fergus stands contemplating by the lake. Merida comes upon him and asks him what he is doing. He responds by saying that he was keeping watch for the southern invaders. Merida asks her father how a leader inspires the people to follow them into battle. King Fergus looks down at his helmet before answering her. “There is only one way to get men to follow you into a deadly battle. That's by showing them you're the first one willing to die. Because if their king is willing to lay down his life, they know just how important a war it is.” He tells Merida not to worry about him because he is the Bear King who faced Mordu. He tells her that he can handle whatever the southern invaders throw at them.
In current DunBroch, Mulan approaches the witch’s cottage with the piece of cloak from the murderer. She notices the broken lock on the door as she enters cautiously. Immediately she is approached by a wolf. She draws her sword and knows that it is a werewolf. The werewolf leaps at her. Mulan with a smile just tells the werewolf she only needs a little reminder of who she is and spills the witch’s bubbling caldron it. Ruby emerges from her wolf form.
Later walking through the forest at night, Mulan and Ruby discuss how she knew that Ruby wasn't a wolf. They discussed mutual friends that they have from the Enchanted Forest, and that Philip Aurora about have a child. This news upsets Mulan. Ruby notices her troubled look. Mulan makes excuses about traveling through realms being difficult. Ruby explains how she gets back to the Enchanted Forest through a magic bean, the last magic bean in Storybrooke. Mary Margaret let her take it so that she could come back to the Enchanted Forest to find more werewolves. Ruby was feeling out of place in Storybrooke. Mulan asks her if she found what she was looking for here but no, Ruby’s pack was gone. Ruby went to the witch for help, but the witch of kept her as a guard dog. Ruby asked why Mulan was at the witch’s cabin. Mulan explains that she set a bad example for her friend and she wanted to make a right. She thought that the witch might have some magic to help them track down her friend’s father’s killer. Ruby notices the piece of cloak in Mulan’s hand. She offers to track the killer for Mulan using her werewolf senses.
Back at Castle DunBroch, Merida is preparing to hand the crown over to Clan Macintosh. Merida tells Macintosh that if he can find the helm before the deadline then the crown is his. They are interrupted by Mulan and Ruby. Mulan tells her that Ruby will sniff out the killer for them.
Two years earlier before the battle, Mulan and Merida are sparring. Merida realizes that Mulan is keeping her busy while the battle commences. She rushes off to fight by her father side. King Fergus wears a shiny helm as he leads the clans against the southern invaders. Merida comes to the battle and sees a helmeted knight sneaking up behind her father. She tries to call out to her father to warn him, but he can’t hear her. She notches an arrow and lets it fly, but misses her target. The mysterious knight strikes her father down much to Merida’s dismay. She has failed. As the knight removes the helm from King Fergus’ head, Mulan takes Merida away from the battlefield. The mysterious knight raises his visor to reveal his identity. It is King Arthur!
Two years later, Arthur and Zelena stand along the shoreline where King Fergus had previously stood watch; the war bow has led them there. Zelena casts a locator spell, and the helm rises from the sea. Merida interrupts them by shooting the helmet out of Arthur's hands with her arrow. “That doesn't belong to you,” she declares. “You don't know when to give up,” Arthur shouts is he draws his sword. Merida asked Ruby “Where is the man who killed my father?” “That's him,” Ruby replied gesturing to Arthur.
Merida confronts Arthur, and he explains that he led his knights on a quest to find the missing piece of Excalibur. He had heard that there was a magic in the kingdom of DunBroch. He came here in hopes of restoring his sword. "It's true then you killed my father," Merida exclaimed. "A knight does what he must on the battlefield," Arthur replies. Mulan intercedes “This is not about finding your father’s killer; it's about finding the helm and saving your people.”
But why didn’t Arthur already have the helm? Merida had seen him take it from her father’s body. Arthur informed her that the helm Fergus wore when he died was not enchanted. It was a piece of iron polished to a shine. When Arthur put it on to lead his men into battle nothing happened, and they lost the battle. Merida realized that her father must have cast the magical helm into the sea before the battle. He led his men into battle on his own merits and not by magical means. His men followed him because they believed in him. Arthur declares, “I’ve already killed DunBroch’s King, now I guess I'll have to kill its queen!” He starts sword fighting Merida.
While they are busy fighting, Zelena makes a move towards the helmet but is stopped by Mulan. “Do you have any idea who you're fighting?” Zelena tries to intimidate Mulan. “You don't scare me!” Mulan replies. As Zelena prepares to cast a fireball, Ruby suddenly throws some sleeping powder at Zelena; knocking her out cold.
Arthur tells Merida of that if she reaches for the helm, he will cut her down like her father. They are interrupted by the three clan lairds Macintosh, Dingwall, and MacGuffin, who have Arthur in their sights. Arthur looks for Zelena to help him. “Where is that bloody witch when I need her?” Arthur said. “Sleeping on the job,” replies Mulan. She and Ruby bring a drowsy, captive Zelena with them. Arthur tells Zelena, “Seems we need to find some other means of retrieving Excalibur.” Zelena responds, “Yes, perhaps that's the discussion best had in Camelot.” They smile at each other as Zelena magically transports them back to Camelot and away from danger.
Merida now retrieves the magical helm from the ground, thanking everyone for their help, acknowledging that without their help, she wouldn't be able to save her people. Mackintosh tells her “We could not let our queen fall.” Seeing the clan lairds kneel to her, Merida said, “Even after all of this, you still want me to be your queen?” Macintosh responds, “You were willing to give up your crown for the good of the kingdom and give up your life to get that helm. I've only seen one other person make that sacrifice. It was your father. If you're not fit to lead the clans, no one is.”
Back at Castle DunBroch, Merida is presented as queen to the cheering people. The witch bursts in on the celebration. “The sun’s nearly set, 'less you're willing to rule over a kingdom of bears, let me have my helm.” the witch tells Merida. “Oh, I'm not going to give it to you.” Merida replies, “I'm going to destroy it." “Are you sure that's wise, dear?” The witch questions her. “No one should have the power to lead people into a fight that they don't believe in.” Merida states, “I will find a way to stop your curse, but I am not be willing to give the helm.” “I was hoping that you would say that,” the witch answers knowingly, “It was never about the helm, dear. It was about you. King Fergus came to me asking for magic to ensure the future of his kingdom and that's exactly what I gave him.” “Getting the helm back made me understand exactly what it takes to rule,” Merida concludes.
The witch informs Merida that she didn’t come to the coronation empty handed. “There's one person who can’t be here to see you crowned, your dad.” The witch gives Merida a skin of magical ale that gives a person the ability to communicate with the spirit of anyone in the underworld. Merida has a chance to talk to her dad once again.
Merida visits her father's grave with her new friends, Ruby and Mulan. She thanks them for their help. Without them she would not have been able to save her people. Mulan thanks Merida for helping her restore her on her path and explains that she was trying to get over a broken heart. “I waited too long to tell someone how I felt about them. When I finally worked up the courage it was too late.” Mulan said sadly. Ruby invites Mulan to come with her searching for werewolves. Merida wishes them good luck as they leave. After they are gone, she uses the magical ale on her father's grave. At first she believes that it doesn't work, and then her father appears. He is proud of her for becoming Queen. She feels sorry that she lost faith in him, believing that he has use the magic helm to control his subjects. “Why didn't you use it?” Merida questioned him, “What made you change your mind? Fergus responds, “You did, the night before the battle. After I spoke to you, I realized that if I wanted to show you what it took to be a leader I couldn't use magic to do it.” Merida responds "You showed me what a true leader is and I will never forget that. I just want to make you proud." Father and daughter hug, as Merida weeps. King Fergus’ spirit disappears to return to the Underworld. Merida now stands alone. A determined look crosses her face. “Arthur, you have no idea what's coming for you,” she swears.
Merida grew in this episode. She learned what it took to be a good leader through the example of her father. Her father was willing to sacrifice himself for his people. In contrast, Merida also saw the bad example set by King Arthur, who was willing to sacrifice his subjects’ free will and their lives to get what he wanted. These kings were two very different types of men and leaders. Merida now knows that it was Arthur who slaughtered her father, and he had better watch out!
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