You know what I love about the tavern scene in Merlin 5.12, beside the fact that they are, finally, in the tavern, beside the flirting (or teasing, or friendship if you don’t ship Merlin/Arthur), beside Merlin unabashedly cheating because what does it matter, Arthur is the king and has tons of money and we can’t let him have everything and win everything all the time?
What I love are the subtle hints we are given about Arthur as a KING. Here is a man who basically OWNS a kingdom, and all the people that live in it, with the biggest amount of power and privilege one could have in that kind of universe, and what is he doing? He’s gambling in a very obviously non-fancy tavern, with his manservant and one of his knight, wearing no cape, or jewelry, or chain mail, or weapons, just a very casual white shirt. There’s no crown, nothing, that would indicate his status. He is physically putting himself on the same level as everyone else. There’s nothing ostentatious about his appearance.
Not only that, but the teasing between Arthur and Merlin, while common and accepted as ‘normal’ to us as an audience, and probably to Percival, is still pretty fucking incredible for the time. But that’s not the most interesting part, no. The most interesting part are the random, nameless peasants hanging out watching the gambling.
When Arthur says to Merlin “It’s not disgrace for a servant to lose to his king,” and Merlin replies “Or a king to his servant,” — obviously teasing, obviously, as he looks around him smiling, goading Arthur — the nameless peasants in the tavern laughs. They fucking laugh. And when Merlin wins? They cheer for him and laugh with him, which is to say they laugh at their king. THEIR KING. And what does Arthur do? He basically just smiles and rolls his eyes at Merlin and nothing more is said about it.
That’s how you know. That’s how you know how just, and fair, and beloved Arthur is as a king. The people respect him, and love him enough to feel comfortable to, no only have a drink with him, but to laugh at him, tease him, and cheer for the person who’s basically just humiliated him at a game. And he takes it. Not even angry a little bit. His pride might be bruised from losing, but that has less to do with him as a king and more to do with him as Arthur. There’s no anger or bitterness. It’s humble. And if someone were to watch this scene not knowing the characters, with the sound off, nothing would give away the class/status difference between Merlin and Arthur. If someone were to come in the tavern from another kingdom, not knowing what King Arthur of Camelot looks like, they’d be grabbing a pint and laughing with the rest of them, none the wiser that they are in the presence of royalty.
And yeah, it’s a bunch of drunk dudes. It doesn’t say/show how Arthur treats women, or other underprivileged groups. But given the universe in which they live? Given that this is still a monarchy? I’d say it’s pretty fucking amazing. And it’s little details like these, that lets you know how loved, and trusted he was.