Out of all the actors who have played Lancelot in King Arthur movies and TV shows, our favorite interpretation of the legendary knight is Santiago Cabrera as Sir Lancelot in Merlin from the BBC.
This Lancelot was “The Bravest and Most Noble of Them All.”
In many ways, this version of Lancelot is the ideal chivalrous knight, a hero always trying to do the right thing.
But before I jump further into this character study of Lancelot and all the reasons we love him, beware of spoilers relating to the Merlin TV show and the fate of Lancelot’s character. I will discuss them.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- THE LEGEND OF LANCELOT
- WHO PLAYS LANCELOT IN MERLIN?
- LANCELOT’S BACKGROUND
- HOW DID LANCELOT DIE IN MERLIN?
- LANCELOT IN MERLIN (BBC): 10 REASONS TO LOVE THE ROMANTIC KNIGHT
- #1 LANCELOT IS THE IDEAL CHIVALROUS KNIGHT
- #2 SANTIAGO CABRERA IS SWOONY AS LANCELOT
- #3 LANCELOT IS A TRUSTWORTHY FRIEND TO MERLIN
- #4 LANCELOT’S PERSONALITY
- #5 LANCELOT IS ROMANTIC (LANCELOT AND GUINEVERE)
- #6 LANCELOT IS A LOYAL KNIGHT OF CAMELOT
- #7 LANCELOT IS A TALENTED FIGHTER
- #8 LANCELOT SACRIFICES HIS LIFE FOR THE GREATER GOOD
- #9 MAGICAL BEINGS LOVE LANCELOT
- #10 LANCELOT HAS SOME OF THE BEST LINES
Lancelot is known as one of the greatest knights in Arthurian mythology; notorious for being Guinevere’s lover, Galahad’s father, and sometimes the husband of Elaine of Corbenic (not to be confused with Elaine of Astolat – aka the Lady of Shalott).
He’s sometimes called Launcelot, Lancelot of the Lake, or even the French version, Lancelot du Lac.
The first mention of Lancelot dates to the 12th-century romance Erec et Enide by Chrétien de Troyes, who later made him the hero of his own story: Lancelot. In the second story, we first hear of the legend of Lancelot and Guinevere and that he was raised by a fairy in a lake.
In later versions of the story, Lancelot’s adulterous relationship with Guinevere leads to his failure as a knight and even the destruction of King Arthur’s Round Table.
Two of the more famous incarnations of Lancelot belong to Le Morte Arthur from the 14th century and Le Morte Darthur (by Malory) in the 15th century). Both continue the tragic love story of Guinevere and Lancelot.
The latter, however, follows the familiar tale of Lancelot torn between love and duty: Guinevere and Arthur. So, the famous love triangle.
The Lancelot Merlin actor is Santiago Cabrera, a Chilean actor with many acting credits.
Cabrera appeared in six total episodes on Merlin, recurring throughout seasons 1-4.
Lancelot has a simple but tragic background in Merlin. He reveals that raiders slaughtered his entire family (and everyone in his village). And because he could not save his family, Lancelot dedicated his life to becoming a warrior.
Eventually, he comes to Camelot with the dream of being a knight – despite his lack of noble blood.
From his first episode, “Lancelot” (season 1, episode 5), he develops feelings for Guinevere (Angel Coulby) that turn into love in his second episode, “Lancelot and Guinevere” from season two.
Unfortunately, their relationship is only a brief moment because of the relationship between Guinevere and Arthur (Bradley James). And Lancelot is too noble to get in between them. However, he loves Guinevere to the end.
Lancelot is also a close friend of Merlin (Colin Morgan) and one of the only people to know Merlin’s secret: he’s a wizard with extraordinary magic. He proves he’s a trustworthy friend, keeping Merlin’s magic secret for the rest of his life.
While Lancelot has a difficult path, he eventually does reach his dream and is knighted as Sir Lancelot by Arthur – becoming the bravest and most noble of all the knights – utterly pure in heart.
Lancelot sacrifices his life for the greater good of Camelot – saving everyone in the season 4, episode 2 episode, “The Darkest Hour, Part Two.”
When the knights travel to the Isle of the Blessed to save the kingdom and vanquish the Dorocha (voices of the dead who can slay humans with a single touch), Lancelot makes the ultimate sacrifice in the name of love.
He shows true courage and selflessness, offering up his life in place of Arthur Pendragon and Merlin.
The only way to stop the Dorocha is for one person to die and cross the veil, thus closing the veil between the living and the dead. While Arthur and Merlin offer their own lives first, Lancelot beats them to it.
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He recognizes that Merlin and Arthur have destinies to fulfill still and that giving up his life for Camelot was the only choice and his life’s purpose.
He makes the sacrifice with confidence knowing his decision was the best one for the greater good.
Lancelot steps across the veil, arms wide open, embracing his destiny and walking into the “cosmos” to save everyone he loves.
When he steps into the spirit world, he instantly dies, ending the Dorocha and the danger they brought to the kingdoms. Lancelot’s actions save everyone – including himself.
So, now that we’ve covered who Lancelot in Merlin is, it’s time to explore all the reasons we love him!
In our old-fashioned romance guide, we explore the roots of chivalry. It’s this origin of chivalry that inspires Merlin’s version of Lancelot.
The English Oxford Dictionary defines chivalry as “The medieval knightly system with its religious, moral, and social code.”
The definition goes further, saying that chivalry is “The combination of qualities expected of an ideal knight, namely courage, honour, courtesy, justice, and a readiness to help the weak.”
The dictionary also points out chivalry is “courteous behaviour” towards women.
Then when you take that definition and explore the origins, the idea for Lancelot becomes clearer.
The origin of chivalry dates to Late Middle English and relates to the characteristic of a medieval knight. Chivalrous romance is primarily owed to the chivalric knights and troubadours of the Medieval Age.
The pure love between knights and ladies from history mixed with Arthurian legend and Arthurian adaptations certainly influenced the Lancelot found in the television series.
But what’s interesting about Cabrera’s Lancelot is that he portrays this ideal image of the chivalrous knight when Lancelot is often described as a more flawed knight in other versions – mainly because of his often-adulterous relationship with Queen Guinevere.
But when we look at Merlin’s interpretation of Lancelot, he’s much more of a representation of the origins of chivalry. And that’s an intriguing choice!
While he’s not a “perfect” character and has flaws as a human, he represents everything good about what we imagine a knight to be. And that’s lovely.
It’s impossible to ignore the obvious – that Santiago Cabrera is dashing and handsome onscreen. He has a beautiful, melodic voice, a classically gorgeous face, and loads of onscreen charisma.
The showrunners perfectly cast Santiago Cabrera as Lancelot, and it’s hard to imagine someone better in the role.
Cabrera brings likeability to the Lancelot character – showcasing the character’s warmth and humanity. It’s also a testament to his acting skills that he helped create such a fan favorite in only six episodes.
Ultimately, Cabrera makes for an ideal Romantic interpretation of Lancelot. And we’d love to see him in more similar roles in the future.
As already mentioned, Lancelot knows Merlin’s secret (that he has magic) and proves he’s trustworthy by keeping Merlin’s secret for his entire life.
Lancelot, highly intuitive and intelligent, figures out Merlin’s secret from the very beginning and, from that point forward, protects Merlin and gives him valuable support.
As a character, Lancelot observes the people around him and sees what no one else does. These observational skills help him be more of an empathetic, kind person. It also helps him see all Merlin’s good deeds that go unnoticed by Arthur and others.
Time and time again, Lancelot proves he’s a good friend and supports Merlin as a true friend (perhaps even Merlin’s best friend) – seeing him for who he truly is without any pretense.
Lancelot was more than just a chivalrous knight; he was also selfless, compassionate, honest, humble, a dreamer, romantic, and moral. Full of integrity and care for others, he was genuinely a good person and an even better friend.
However, he sometimes struggled with depression, loneliness, and self-worth, often downplaying his own strengths and even being full of self-criticism for his actions in the past.
This complete lack of narcissism and conceit makes him so lovable!
But he becomes his true self and begins to believe in his own worth when he chooses courage over fear and sacrifices himself for his love for others – including Arthur, Merlin, the other Knights, and Guinevere repeatedly.
“I would die for you one hundred times over. Live for me, or everything that I am has been for nothing.”
Lancelot wouldn’t be Lancelot if he didn’t have a romantic side! This version of him focuses on the character as a romantic figure, a hero that embodies characteristics of Medieval Romanticism.
But he also loves deeply and is willing to sacrifice everything for love – romantic love, love between friends, or even love of principle and the greater good.
The only romantic relationship Lancelot has in the series is with Guinevere – arguably loving her the first time he meets her – and loving her to the end. In that way, he’s very focused.
In the beginning, Guinevere, a mere serving girl at the time, becomes his friend. And while it’s clear he has an instant attraction and hopes for something more between them, nothing does since he’s forced to leave Camelot temporarily.
Later, when Lancelot and Gwen reunite, a romance quickly develops. When he discovers she’s being held hostage by his ruthless employer, Hengist, Lancelot decides not to give up on himself and rescue Gwen! They even share a kiss.
When he expects to die in Season 2, Episode 4, “Lancelot and Guinevere,” he tells her: “You reminded me of who I am. I will die with faith in my heart. That is worth more than anything.”
While not spoken aloud in the rest of the series, those thoughts ring true to the end.
And while Gwen, on the other hand, claims her love for Lancelot will never fade, Lancelot quickly discovers that she also has feelings for Prince Arthur (who is also clearly in love with Gwen).
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Intuitive and selfless, he removes himself as a possibility for Gwen early on because he recognizes that she would be better for Arthur, a future king. Her compassion could help Arthur be an even greater future leader. And he would never get in the way between them. I think he may imagine her as the future queen.
In this interpretation of Lancelot, he never willingly chooses to commit adultery (nor does Gwen), as that would go against his character and honor.
So, after he passes, Lady Morgana (Katie McGrath) brings him back to life in “Lancelot du Lac” as a shade Lancelot (like a zombie forced to do her bidding). Morgana then enchants Guinevere to “cheat” on Arthur with Lancelot with a magic bracelet.
Unfortunately, only Merlin and Gaius (Richard Wilson) discover that the resurrected Lancelot was not the real Lancelot or that Gwen was enchanted. So, the legend of the affair persists.
As much as we didn’t love this story idea from the writers, we appreciate that they had written themselves into a hole by making Lancelot so good that the only way he’d do something this dishonorable was if he was enchanted and acting against his will.
And at least he still gets a proper burial, thanks to Merlin!
Lancelot is not only a loyal friend to Merlin and Guinevere but also a loyal knight to Arthur and the other knights of Camelot.
When Arthur discovers that Lancelot faked being noble to become a knight, he releases Lancelot from prison (put there by Uther Pendragon) and tells him to leave Camelot.
And while most people would have just left, Lancelot knew Arthur needed his help to defeat the Griffin. So, he stays with no thoughts about his own safety.
Later, Lancelot proves his loyalty to Arthur by leaving Gwen behind so as not to get in the way of Arthur’s love for her. From there, even when he returns and becomes a true Knight of Camelot, he continues only to love Guinevere from a distance.
He repeatedly proves he is loyal to Arthur and Camelot because he believes, like Merlin, in the “world” Arthur will one day build.
When Lancelot was a boy, raiders slaughtered his family, and he was the only survivor. Because he felt helpless in the face of tyranny, he decided to make “swordcraft” and “the art of combat” his life.
Then, when he felt ready, he set forth for Camelot. But it took more years for that dream of becoming a Knight to come true. However, he never stopped training and becoming the skilled warrior he eventually became.
In the end, he became one of Arthur’s most accomplished Knights.
As I’ve already mentioned, Lancelot dies in the most heroic way possible! How can anyone not love him after this moment?
After Morgana ripped apart the veil between the living and the dead and released the Dorocha to destroy the people of Camelot, it was Lancelot who ultimately stopped her.
He repaired the veil by crossing the threshold, stepping from the world of the living into the dead.
And he did this for everyone he loved.
Sure, Guinevere made him promise to protect Arthur, but he made this courageous choice for more than her. He did it for Merlin (who also offered to step across the veil), he did it for Arthur, and he ultimately did this for the greater good of all.
Lancelot had the insight to recognize (especially after talking to the Great Dragon and the Vilia) that others had destinies still left unfulfilled while this was his time to go.
Lancelot has a unique perspective on the use of magic in a time when most people in Camelot believed it to be wrong and evil.
Instead of following the crowd, Lancelot follows his own heart and moral compass. And instead of reacting with fear and hatred toward Merlin when he discovers Merlin has magic, he protects him and his secret.
When Lancelot encounters other magical beings like Kilgharrah (the Dragon) and the Vilia (spirits of the brooks), he reacts with wonder and compassion.
Sure, he initially feared the Dragon, not knowing if he was benevolent, but when Merlin introduced the two, Lancelot respected the Great Dragon.
In turn, the magical beings all liked Lancelot. Kilgharrah compliments Lancelot while the Vilia are willing to reveal themselves to him.
They trust Lancelot because they know he has a noble heart and is truly good, and would never do anything to harm them.
One could also argue that even Morgana liked Lancelot or was at least attracted to him initially. She later even feels “sad” that he’s a shade of his former self when she resurrects him.
Lancelot has that unique essence and quality everyone can’t help but love, even a creature of magic.
Lancelot’s dialogue in Merlin is easily quotable. I’ll share a few of my favorites (besides the ones already mentioned above):
“I must start again, far from here. Then maybe one day fate shall grant me another chance to prove myself a worthy Knight of Camelot.”
“She is worth more to me than you will ever understand.”
“You taught me the values of being a knight, the code by which a man should live his life. To fight with honor, for justice, freedom, and all that’s good. I believe in the world that you will build.”
“You know, Merlin, you’re the one Arthur should knight. You’re the bravest of us all, and he doesn’t even know it.”
All in all, the story of Lancelot within Merlin feels like a fairy tale with a good message. And we love that.
He really is the noblest knight. And even though he couldn’t be there for the final battle, he played his part so that Arthur and Merlin (and Guinevere) could create the Camelot they all believed was possible.
And now, his love, Guinevere, rules as Queen in what was likely a Golden Age.
Did you love Lancelot on Merlin? What did you think of this interpretation of the legendary character? Do you have a favorite Lancelot moment in the series? Discuss below.
Featured image credit: BBC/Shine TV/Fremantle