The Winter King season 1 has a big problem with its Arthur storyline, which will hopefully get fixed in time for the show’s second season.
- The Winter King struggles to make Arthur a compelling character, lacking a clear motivation or character arc compared to the more developed supporting players.
- The show missed an opportunity by skipping over Arthur’s time in Gaul, where he matured and developed his skills and this could have provided insight into his desires and goals.
- Despite its current shortcomings, The Winter King has the potential to turn around Arthur’s story and make him more interesting by introducing challenges, such as killing his friend and taking on new responsibilities as a ruler.
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Warning: Major spoilers for The Winter King episodes 1-5 below!The Winter King currently has a problem with King Arthur’s storyline that season 2 must address. The story of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table is so well known that it’s hard to find any fresh takes on it. The likes of Guy Ritchie’s Legend of the Sword or Camelot have tried, to decidedly mixed results. The Winter King is the latest to throw its crown in the ring and pulls back on the magic and fantasy to tell a more grounded take on the legend.
Based on the Warlord Chronicles book trilogy by Bernard Cornwell, this TV adaptation finds young Arthur (Iain De Caestecker) returning to Britain years after his banishment. The first half of season 1 has followed Arthur as he became the unofficial king, and is trying to fix the mess the country is in and unite the divided kingdoms against the Saxons. Clearly, this is a tall order, but despite the political intrigue going on, there’s a big problem with the Arthur side of the story.
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Arthur Is The Winter King’s Least Compelling Character
An issue facing The Winter King presently is that out of all the key players, Arthur’s story is one of the least intriguing. There are a lot of monologues in shadowy rooms, but there’s little sense of what’s driving Arthur personally. In Winter King episode 2, he initially refused Merlin’s (Nathaniel Martello-White) request that he return to Britain, stating his homeland held no sway over him; by the end of the episode he had returned regardless. Currently, viewers don’t know if it’s love for his country, a desire to prove his late father King Uther (Eddie Marsan) wrong or personal ambition that motivates him.
This lack of an arc is one issue, but there’s also the fact that the supporting characters have better material to work with. Ellie James’ druid priestess Nimue is the best-developed character, and in addition to dealing with a horrific trauma, is torn between her bond to the “Old Gods” and a desire for a normal life. Likewise, her former love Derfel (Stuart Campbell) learned the hard way that dreaming of being a warrior and then living with the consequences of taking a life while maintaining a sense of honor are very different things.
In the same way that Jon Snow (Kit Harington) was the unquestionable hero of Game of Thrones, he was arguably one of the least compelling characters. This isn’t any knock on Harington as a performer, but compared to characters like Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion, Maisie Williams’ Arya or even Bronn (Jerome Flynn), Snow just lacked the same kind of charisma and engaging material to work with. Unfortunately, Winter King is facing a similar issue with Arthur that is hurting his storyline.
The Winter King Shouldn’t Have Skipped Over His Time In Gaul
These issues with Arthur can be traced back to how Winter King set its story up. While Arthur is the main character for the first act of the first episode, he all but disappears for the first two episodes following his years-long banishment. This gave breathing room to explore characters like Nimue or Merlin and position them as the main characters. When Arthur and his men unexpectedly save the day at the close of episode 2, it comes as a surprise, but by that point, Arthur is largely a cipher to audiences.
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He matured a lot during his time fighting in Gaul and assembled his own band of loyal warriors. Instead of skipping over all this, maybe it would have worked in the show’s favor to explore his time in Gaul, showing how he met his men and perfected his fighting skills and strategic thinking. This also would have given an insight into what he wants and desires, which is something season 1 has struggled to convey.
Arthur’s Winter King Story & Season 2 Setup Will Make Him Way More Interesting
There are already signs the show will turn its Arthur problems around. The Winter King Episode 5 saw Arthur killing his old friend Owain (Daniel Ings) in a dual. This was due to Owain leading a raid that got some innocent miners killed, and while he tried to weasel out of responsibility, Arthur had little choice but to fight him head-on. The issue there is that Owain was one of the protectors for Prince Mordred, the baby heir to Dumnonia, which made Owain the unofficial king. Having killed him, that responsibility will fall to Arthur next.
There was already suspicion among those in the kingdom regarding his motives, and those fears will only grow deeper now. In addition to adding some spice to Arthur’s story, he’s also on the verge of forging peace with King Gorfyddyd (Aneirin Hughes) and will meet Guinevere in an upcoming episode. Arthur will have to dirty some of his morals if he wants to be taken seriously as a ruler too, and The Winter King season 2 – assuming it happens – can present a less idealistic, more haunted take on the character.