I was really very pleasantly surprised by that episode. It was achey in all the right ways. My only sadness is that Gwen is going to get the short end of almost every stick in fandom, when she's the one who has lost the most.
Firstly, Lancelot. Last season's episode, he bothered me. But today, I really enjoyed him. He had the wool taken from his eyes, had lost his hope, and his will to pursue his goals (ie: become a knight of Camelot). It was hard to see someone who had been so good hit rock bottom, but it was interesting too, as Merlin hasn't ever showed us something like that before. And they showed it well, IMO.
Gwen/Lancelot felt okay to me. I thought it was easy to see why Lancelot pined away for her - she was so kind and generous to him while he was in Camelot, and she spoke to him about all the goodness she saw in him, how they - commoners - could and should affect change. How they were the same. He was vulnerable then; sure, he was still starry eyed over being in Camelot and having the opportunity to be a knight, but he had never been tested, and was anxious about that. She gave him faith.
And once again, she did here as well. "I still see the hope in your eyes," was just what he needed to hear. They needed each other there - where Lancelot felt forsaken, and Gwen felt utterly abandoned.
For her part, I'm not shocked that Gwen had feelings for him. In Lancelot it was clear that he interested her, but in Gwen fashion, she moved on. As she said, she never thought she'd see him again. Now, he appears, while she's clearly still nursing her heartache over Arthur (see: their shared looks at the beginning, Morgana's comments on Gwen's recent reticence) and there are no barriers between she and Lancelot (save that of steel). Once she's free, Lancelot could return with her, and they could try and start something. She could rekindle his hope/faith/morality, and he would be a companion to her - nothing stood in their way.
I hardly see it as a betrayal against Arthur, not when he said himself that nothing could be between them, and then Hengist (is that how you spell it?) nailed her worst fears on the head: that she had been abandoned and left to rot (in her mind: because she was a servant, nothing more.)
Someone once said that Gwen always seemed lonely in s1. I totally think this is true, and now that loneliness is accentuated by the fact that there's someone wandering around the kingdom who Gwen thinks she could one day love, but neither of them can touch each other.
So, once again, vulnerable.
Which also brings us, conveniently, to Arthur. Prince who has not been denied much in his life, is suddenly denying himself something that he wants more than anything. And I think it's safe to say that Arthur has never felt anything like what he feels for Gwen before; it's still in the rose-tinted puppydog stage of things for him, tainted by Uther's shadow.
I liked that Arthur knew almost immediately that something was between Lancelot and Gwen - when he asked Lancelot what he was doing there, it was almost defensive (also, Lancelot is a liar but that's okay. He was distracted by giant rat pig thing). And his lie at the campfire about coming only because Morgana asked him to - everyone saw right through it. Hell, Lancelot, who had been in their company for all of 10 minutes could guess that it was a dirty lie. And I think Gwen knew that, but it doesn't hurt any less; he'd also just said that his father would never send any help for a servant and then followed it up by denying he had any care in the matter, either.
But I don't think there are going to be additional walls between them now. The way Arthur looked at her when she was crying, and how soft he was re-introducing her to Morgana, to me, shows that he's just sad but I think he'll still do anything for her.
Lancelot gave us a snippet of his former self: chivalry and loyalty to his sovereign first. And, too, I think he sees exactly what Gwen could do for the kingdom, and puts that above what she could do for him. Lancelot and Gwen are very similar people.
Gwen has the worst deal. First she was dealing with her feelings for Arthur, then she thought she had a chance for happiness with Lancelot, only to have both men decide of their own freewill that really maybe they shouldn't be doing this. Gwen has a high sense of selfworth, she's a strong girl, with a steady confidence and a view of the world that's backed by a strong sense of conviction. That doesn't mean it hurts any less to have two people you would give your heart to, essentially decide that it's not worth it to try and work things out. Not to mention, who does she have to talk about it with? She can't talk to Morgana, because of the taboo nature of things with Arthur (and the fact that Morgana has a hell of a lot on her plate already) and she can't talk with Merlin because of his proximity to Arthur. So she's stuck dealing with it herself - alone again.
Anyway, I thought it was a great episode. And, so far as plots in Merlin go, not to shabby! As a hardcore Arthur/Gwen shipper (I know! Shocking!) I think this is all fantastic. They need to grow apart, get some scabs, have some experiences (it would be nice if Arthur fell for someone else for an episode or two) and be brought back together when the moment really counts. And it would be really lovely if they could have a bit of a friendship in between, but given Arthur has also said this is impossible, I'm going to give up that particular pipe dream.
As for Lancelot, I hope next time he's back, he's a bit happier. Just sayin'. And I hope he and Gwen have a lovely, "you were great for me then, and maybe we could be great together later, but I think, actually, there's someone who would work with me a little bit better still out there" BUT IN A MUTUAL WAY. Not in a Lancelot-ditches-Gwen-again-way. Or the girl's going to get a damn complex.