‘Once Upon A Time’ S5 Ep 9 recap: The mark of a true leader

Merida braces for battle in “The Bear King”. (Photo credit: Disney/ABC Press via Twitter)

We never thought an epic cliffhanger would leave us dangling in the middle of a two hour episode. Emma turned Hook into a Dark One and we are dying to know what happens next. Alas, Dark Hook’s story has been left for another day. Instead, “Once Upon A Time” returns to Merida’s narrative and we discover how the “Brave” warrior unites the clans under her leadership, just as her father did as “The Bear King.”

Three weeks ago in Camelot

King Arthur and Zelena have fled from the woods after their confrontation with Emma. They’ve lost Merlin as an asset, so Arthur needs to find another way to make his noble knights kill Merlin and the Dark One and fight this unjust war for him. He clarifies that he’s only partnering with Zelena because he needs her magic. He knows of an enchanted helm that can do the trick and they must go to DunBroch to find it. Meanwhile in DunBroch, Merida has just rescued her brothers, won the clans’ respect and is preparing for her coronation as their Queen.

Years earlier in DunBroch

King Fergus is on the brink of war and needs to rally his clansmen. He asks a witch for magic to help stop invaders and ensure the future of their kingdom. He’s willing to pay any price. He signs the contract and agrees to repaying the witch with an “I owe you.” She gives him an enchanted helm. Wear the helmet and it will give you whatever you want. Well that’s simple!

Merida accompanies her father as they brace for battle, she wants to grow up to be just like him. King Fergus gives her the war bow he carried into his first battle. He promised his wife he’d keep Merida safe, so he hired a soldier to train Merida in the art of war. Merida scoff at having another entitled man telling her what to do, but after a bit of swordplay, she discovers that her new tutor is Mulan. The warrior princess teaches Merida that honor is the most important thing you need to fight, that and smarts. Girl power!

Later, Merida stands watch with her father and wonders how he manages to inspire their people to follow him into battle. He looks down at his enchanted helm, then imparts some wisdom. King Fergus says there is only one way to get men to follow you into deadly battle and that is to show them you are the first one willing to die. If the King is willing, they will follow. Sounds noble enough, right?

On the day of the battle, Merida is furious when she learns Mulan was instructed to keep her out of harm’s way. She runs off with her bow and watches from a distance as the knight and King Fergus fight. She tries to save him, but her arrow misses the knight. The knight kills the king with one fatal stab. The knight takes King Fergus’ helm and removes his own helmet to reveal his identity: King Arthur killed Fergus!

Two years later in DunBroch

All three clans give the crown to Merida when the witch shows up. King Fergus made a deal and died he before he paid up. They can pay the witch in gold, which they don’t have, or Merida can find the enchanted helm and return it to her by sundown the next day. If Merida fails to deliver the helm, she will curse the kingdom and everyone will turn into bears. Merida knows her father was wearing his helm when he was killed in battle, but she needs to track down the mysterious knight who killed him and took the helm. Time for a classic quest!

Merida needs help and reaches out to the best warrior she knows, Mulan. Unfortunately, the heartbroken princess has been down one her luck. She has been wandering the lands, fighting for pay. Merida gives her a sack of gold and promises not to ask questions as long as Mulan helps her find the helm. So much for honor. Now the amazing race for the helm is on!

Arthur and Zelena beat Mulan and Merida to the witch’s hut. The Wicked Witch puts her guard wolf to sleep and then demands answers, so the witch tells the story about King Fergus. They find Merida and Mulan on the battlefield where her father was killed. Luckily, Merida has a piece of the knight’s cloak, so they can track him down with that. Unfortunately, Arthur and Zelena gain an upper hand when they swoop in and snatch-up Merida’s bow, now the locator spell can lead them to the helm. Boo!

Merida feels hopeless. Her father used dark magic to lead their men into death. She wants to return home and tell the other lords the truth. They can track down the helm instead and have her crown. If King Fergus couldn’t lead their clans, then she certainly can’t. But Mulan hasn’t giving up hope just yet.

Mulan visits the witch so she can identify the mysterious knight by using his cloak. Instead, she finds the wolf. After staring into the creature’s eyes, Mulan realizes that it isn’t really a wolf. A cauldron magic potion returns Red back to her true form. Ruby has heard all about Mulan from Aurora, who is still a sore spot for the warrior princess. We learn that after Baby Neal’s celebration, Ruby still felt like she didn’t fit in with others in Storybrooke. With Mary Margaret’s blessing, she used a magic bean to return to the Enchanted Forest and find more of her kind. Sadly, she hasn’t had much luck finding her pack. She went to the witch for help and got turned into a guard dog instead. But now she’s happy to help Merida and Mulan. After all, her wolf senses make Ruby a super tracker.

Mulan and Red stop Merida from giving up on herself. The Queen and Lord Macintosh support Merida and urge her to continue her quest. The feisty trio track down the helm, confronting Arthur and Zelena at the lake in which it had been tossed. With a sniff, Red confirms that Arthur killed King Fergus, so we learn why the knight was there in the first place.

Arthur and his knights were searching for the Dagger and heard there was magic in DunBroch. However, Arthur was disappointed to learn his victim’s helm was not enchanted. After his conversation with Merida, King Fergus realized he didn’t need the enchanted helm to inspire his men. He threw it into the lake instead. Now Arthur and Merida are fighting over the helm. Mulan and Red sedate Zelena with a sleeping potion, so that Merida can finally set things right. For years she blamed herself for her father’s death and it sent her down a dark path, now Arthur will pay. Merida’s clansmen appear and have their queen’s back. If Arthur makes one move, they’ll make him look like a porcupine (great line!). With that, Zelena and Arthur poof away like cowards…again.

Merida thanks the clansmen. It was their honor. They couldn’t let their queen fall, especially not after she showed them she was willing to give up her crown and life for the good of the kingdom. If she’s not fit to lead, then no one is. Merida is happily crowned Queen. When the witch appears to collect her prize, Merida tells her to destroy the helm. The new Queen believes no one should have the power to lead people into a fight they don’t believe in. The witch reveals this was all a test. Merida’s journey to retrieve the helm made her understand what it takes to rule. This is what her father wanted all along, that was the new deal he made with the witch. The witch has a coronation gift for Merida and gives her an ale that will summon her father’s spirit from the Underworld.

At King Fergus’ tomb, Mulan and Red share how they’ve been inspired by Merida’s journey. Mulan gives the money back, agreeing that it would not be honorable to keep it. She finally confesses that she’s trying to get over broken heart. Red ate the only boyfriend she ever had, so she can sympathize with her heartbreak. She asks Mulan to go with her in search of other wolves. Hey, it’s better than wallowing in self-pity. Merida wishes her friends good luck on their new adventure. After they’ve left, she sprays the ale over the tomb and her father appears.

King Fergus and his devoted daughter have a heartwarming reunion beside his tomb. She’s sorry for losing faith in him. He explains how Merida inspired him to be a true leader and he wanted her to learn the same lesson for herself. She just wanted to make him proud, of course, she already has made him very proud. We all start tearing up as they hug and wish they could still be together. King Fergus leaves his daughter once more, but this time with a fond and peaceful memory. As the episode closes, Merida declares that she is coming for Arthur.

Oh it is on! That is going to be a formidable showdown. Arthur sure has crossed a lot of people. We highly doubt Arthur will be to defeat Merida without Zelena or some kind of magic at his disposal. Let’s face it, the fiery redhead is force to be reckoned with.

What did you think of “The Bear King”? Were you moved by King Fergus’ story? Are surprised to learn that Arthur killed the king? How and when will Merida get her justice? Will she exact her revenge in Storybrooke? Surely some of her new friends will be happy to help her take Arthur down, in a reasonable way of course. Where will Red and Mulan go on their journey to find more wolves? Will their new friendship evolve into something deeper? Will they succeed in finding any other shapeshifters? Share your thoughts below and on Twitter (@TalkTVwTiffany).

“Once Upon A Time” airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on ABC.

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