It’s difficult to seriously discuss some of this stuff because we’re dealing with a lot of moral inconsistency here—this is a show where the characters’ morals and actions are completely contradictory. I’ve seen a number of people mention that what Gwen did must be OOC because Gaius and Elyan each shot Gwen a look. Elyan is the man who didn’t intervene for his sister at any point when she was harshly punished and exiled. He didn’t suspect that her behaviour wasn’t normal or that Gwen, who had always been quite loyal, would never do what she did with Lancelot of her own volition. In fact, he looked at her with disdain when she was being punished. The writers might not realise what they did here, but they made a very specific moral judgement on her character for something the character wasn’t responsible for.
Secondly, Gaius also blamed Gwen in that situation and told Merlin that she would have to deal with the consequences. He has also in the past, completely turned a blind eye to the fact that Uther was unfairly persecuting innocent people. Gaius has shown that he has little issue questioning how the laws of the land are doled out. One could say that Gwen’s obviously more approachable, so it’s easier to question her, whereas Uther was such a tyrant and would have never listened; but even in situations where Gaius could have stayed Arthur’s hand, he didn’t. If the writers honestly have Gaius question Gwen’s decision, I might actually throw something.
The writers presented Uther as this terrible tyrannical man who had no issues wiping out magical beings whether guilty of a crime or not. Even any associations with magical beings could get someone killed. Yet, they realised they were likely wasting Anthony Head’s talent by making him so one-note, so they tried to make him more sympathetic.
Arthur's supposed to be this prince with good judgement and better morals, but then the writers had him order a massacre of peaceful people. Then they completely swept that plot line under the rug. They constantly have him berating his servant and undervaluing him, then have him express mature and evolved thoughts—his character's very hot and cold.
And then you have Merlin, whose morals are all over the place considering that he kills persecuted people in order to protect Camelot. Merlin literally persecutes his own kind on Uther’s behalf and Arthur’s behalf. He expects these people to keep their qualms at bay for the promise of a better future (that still hasn’t arrived!).
Gwen at the very least is morally consistent, so it boggles my mind that this decision is what’s getting so much argument in the fandom. Treason being punishable by death might be the most historically accurate aspect of this series and this might be one of the only times that someone on this show has actually fairly punished a citizen of Camelot. Her decision is based on the fact that she values loyalty and she believes in being just.
I understand the hubbub about the quote, "respect must be earned, not bought with blood," I do. This sounds like she’s telling people who are oppressed that they don’t deserve respect/that they need to earn the respect of the monarchy if they want respect. I think people are interpreting that as her saying that magical beings don’t deserve any respect for who they are. I’ve never interpreted Gwen as someone who believed that the lowest of the low didn’t deserve to be treated like human beings. Just think of all those times that Uther accused her and her family and threw them in the cells without any evidence of a crime; she never had any respect from Uther because he was classist and prejudiced.
I think Gwen’s common background and experiences mean that she believes that people deserve to be respected regardless of where they’re from (Lancelot and Gwaine for example). But I think she’s someone who believes that individual actions matter. Gwen was someone who had to earn respect; she was never born into anything. She earned her queenship. She worked tirelessly and was always kind, loyal, brave, spoke out on behalf of the common people, and took the high road even when she was being persecuted, which did indeed earn her Arthur’s (and others’) respect. You also have to remember that Arthur had to work very hard to earn her respect in turn; she didn’t respect him simply because he was the prince of Camelot. For Gwen, everyone starts on the same playing field regardless of position in life.
Based on the way she interacts with Sefa (before her crime) and the fact that she gives her the chance to prove her innocence/guilt, unless someone has wronged her in some way, she’s a queen who tries to treat everyone fairly. Sefa had Gwen’s respect and lost it.
I interpreted this quote as, “if your father wants respect, killing my people is no way to earn that respect.” I don’t think it’s an all-encompassing comment, but a very direct comment based on individual basis. Sefa’s father is trying to get the kingdom to submit by violent force. He knows that magical beings are feared for their power, which is part of the reason why the kingdom doesn’t trust them; but he’s trying to change the way that the kingdom feels by aligning himself with an enemy who tried to kill Gwen when she had absolutely no power. At one point, Morgana held all the cards and she attempted to use them to crush Gwen, and she killed whoever got in her way. So, Gwen— when she was nothing but a lowly servant—was in fact in the position of an oppressed person who was persecuted by magical beings with far more political and physical power. And currently she’s being targeted because she’s in a position of political power (power that Morgana wants). Morgana lost Gwen’s respect a long time ago, so anyone who kills on her behalf is going to have their character called into question. In this moment, Gwen’s talking to this girl who’s lying to her after delivering her men and husband and best friend to Morgana. She’s not talking to this girl in a neutral situation—this isn’t a personal meeting where Sefa’s appealing to the queen on behalf of her innocent father, who has done nothing wrong.
In addition, because Gwen is someone who has never had any good experiences with magic, someone like Sefa’s father does indeed have something to prove to her. She’s not making a judgement on him because he merely possesses magic. She’s not making a judgement on all magical beings. She’s making a judgment based on the fact that Sefa’s father isn’t using the power that he has for good. Those with magic have everything to prove to the kingdom. Those with magic have everything to prove to the common people, whose homes have been set on fire more times than they can count. I don’t think Gwen has any obligations to blindly trust magical beings when magic has so often been used to terrorise her and Camelot—I think she’s very cautious about who she trusts.
It’s a really interesting situation for her to contend with.
(P.S. I don’t tend to take things that Gandhi has said at face value considering that he actually said many horrible things throughout his life. For one, he was an anti-African racist, classist, and had some really problematic ideals. My friend’s family dislikes him a great deal and as I’ve been told, so do many people in India; he’s really not as saintly as the media machine likes to present him.)