I would like to thank the Fate series for bringing the desire and ability to say “Shut up, Gilgamesh” to a whole new generation.
As well as an uncomplicated megalomaniac, he has all the guise of a schoolyard bully at this point, which is not helped by his clothing. I never realised until recently, but Gil does have some quite swanky heroic armour… and in Unlimited Blade Works he hasn’t worn it once. He’s just some douchebag in a jacket, standing on a roof gloating at length about how Shirou’s ideals are fake and stupid and futile.
Their entire portion of the episode, however, goes to great lengths to throw the notion back in his face. Yes, Shirou’s ideals are borrowed from his dear old dad. So what? Does an idea have any less worth because it was not original? If anything, because it’s been passed on from generation to generation via heartfelt inspiration, perhaps it has more power. It ties into the thematic concept of the Servants themselves as manifestations of legend, something I picked up on a while ago. Is the passing down and borrowing of ideas not where they get their power from in the first place? Each generation has their own incarnation of the story and hero and those reimaginings are what keeps the idea alive, and thus gives their manifestation, the Servant, power.
Thus, Gilgamesh is well within his rights to be The Strongest since he’s so damned old and so damned famous, but who says that a retelling or a later myth can’t be just as powerful just because it’s not the original, the very first pure version of a theme or story or archetype? Especially since, as much as Gil toots and crows about the endless wonder of his treasury, in all his efforts to collect every Noble Phantasm he hasn’t actually mastered any of them. Is he really any better than Shirou? Neither of them have any one weapon that their strength is based around, as opposed to Servants like Lancer and Assassin (and Saber, as we shall see in a moment). A sword is just a sword, if that’s all you’re using it for. And a sword recreated as a copy is still perfectly capable of knocking a pretentious blond off his feet, whether or not it’s actually thousands of years old, collector’s edition, never been taken out of the box.
Basically, sliced back, Gil and Shirou are just two idiots throwing swords at each other. Saber, when she appears to help out, warns Shirou that a human is no match for a Servant, least of all one as stupidly OP as Heroic Spirit Fratboy-in-a-Jacket, but he assures her he’ll be fine and tells her to go help Rin and destroy the great bubbling mess that is the Grail. He apologises, too, for not being able to save her, and she smiles that warm smile she’s been practicing over the course of the series and tells him he was a great Master, really, and they can continue this discussion when she gets back. As soon as she drops that line you just know she’s in trouble, but again, we’ll deal with that in a moment. First I have to reflect on how satisfying it was to watch something that’s often improbable, clichéd and irritating: a supposedly ordinary teenaged boy Summoning the Power Within and defeating the Big Bad.
Maybe it’s because they actually set up that Shirou was well-suited to beat Gilgamesh and thus it doesn’t feel so much like pure Protagonist Powers, maybe because the series has done a damned good job making me adore and empathise with Shirou as a character, maybe because, as aforementioned, Gilgamesh’s only role now is to be the cocky villain who opposes the heroes and then gets his boring, one-dimensional ass handed to him. That final fight between the two, in the Bladeworks as summoned by Shirou (I was genuinely so proud), felt worthy of all the build-up, even if it does feel a little odd to have two climactic battles one after another.
But again, the fight with Archer was Shirou defeating the negativity in himself and coming to understand himself more, and now he’s using what he’s learnt, on surer footing both physically, magically and emotionally. He even projects Archer’s shield from the fight with Lancer, though it doesn’t last long. Who cares though? It’s a copy. It’s disposable. He can just keep making more.
Gilgamesh, even with his prized possessions, is really no match. He brings out Ea, his extra overpowered sword which Shirou is “not even worthy enough to look at”, to try and regain some ground, but hesitates. Because it wouldn’t do to sully the blade in a fight with this peasant! Of course, pride comes before a fall, and before Gil can activate the weapon, Shirou solves the problem it presents nice and neatly by hacking off the arm that is holding it. That’s the trouble with these prissy collector types, they’re far too concerned with the purity of their items and not willing to actually put them to use, even when their life and goal to commit genocide depends on it.
Meanwhile, Saber’s own trump card is being held at the ready. Her sword is probably the only thing that can destroy the Grail (if Gilgamesh is to be believed, she’s even done it before), but even as the cursed goop morphs into something resembling a giant humanoid, she’s reluctant to use it since Rin (and Shinji, I guess) are still stranded on its body. Again, I have to marvel at how emotionally expressive Saber has become since we first encountered her. She’s actively distraught at the idea of hurting her friend, and clearly torn between duty and love. What’s a knight to do?
Fortunately, as the Grail goop closes in and saps Rin of her remaining mana and energy, leaving her ordering Saber via Command Spell and apologising that she couldn’t save Shinji, preparing for her own death… a familiar, deep and syrupy disembodied voice wavers through the air. Followed by an also familiar rain of arrows that pops the devilish pimple that is the Grail’s physical form, enough to clear a pathway for Rin to escape. Oh my God, you guys! Archer’s still around! Does anybody in this series stay dead? Honestly I’m half expecting Kiritsugu to wander out into the house at any moment, revealing that he’s simply been having a prolonged nap.
With Rin hauling both her and Shinji to safety, she yells out a final command and burst of mana to Saber, who gives in and lets her holy sword shine. Her iconic theme music swells, golden light rushes towards her, and in a fantastic burst of energy accompanied by her (also iconic) shout of “Ex…….calibur!” (in case you hadn’t twigged that she’s King Arthur), she unleashes her true power, and it’s a genuinely tremendous moment. That creates an explosion that the entirety of Japan must have seen despite it being a secret war, but I think we’re a little beyond those kind of rules and worries right now.
And… with her power spent and her mission completed, that is the end of Saber. There’s an alternate version of events where she gets to stick around, but honestly, much as it made me blubber, this felt like the right ending. Saber has had a beautiful little understated journey of character development over these past 25 episodes, even if she was a sexy hostage for some of them. She’s gone from a stone-faced warrior to a person with friends, people she wants to protect rather than empty idealistic goals, and has become more open and emotional and okay with herself along the way. She laments, as she fades away, that she would have liked to stay and see how Rin and Shirou fare, but her duty is done, and they have each other. It’s inescapably melancholy, but you get the sense that she’s reached some sort of inner peace.
However, we still have to deal with the fact that the Bladeworks has broken and spat out a now Crest-less Shirou and a wounded and cranky Gilgamesh, not to mention that the Grail has only had its physical case destroyed and that bloody Archer is apparently still floating around. Luckily, they all neatly coincide: Gilgamesh admits defeat but it still ready to kill Shirou, before being distracted by what appears to be a tiny black hole forming near his arm stump. Hello, Grail portal thing. We were foolish to believe we’d seen the last of it even after Saber turned all those red curses to gold sparkles, apparently, as it’s still hanging around in some form and seems very keen on eating Gil to get the energy it needs.
Gil’s not going down without a fight though, and throws out a chain to latch onto Shirou even as he’s being sucked into the ominous black abyss. Gil requests, not humbly, that Shirou stay where he is so Gil can haul himself back out, and Archer drawls that perhaps the lad should instead step to the right. Bam, another projectile sword, finite and satisfying, lodging itself straight between Gil’s eyes, and leaving him to fall lifeless and angry into the swirling pit. Rest in pieces, Jacket Boy.
I could complain that it’s not explained for a second why Archer’s still around (though I’d imagine it has something to do with him being a Guardian spirit, or, the future version of Shirou, who seems to be able to fend off death out of sheer determination), but I was too busy enjoying the fact that, smug “oh, I guess I’ll come help save the day, ugh” attitude or not, he actually got to genuinely be a hero in the end. The lad came good, and looped back around to believing in, and acting on, some of his original beliefs, those much-discussed ideals of being a Hero of Justice who helps people ‘til the end.
There’s definitely still some of Shirou in him, as we see when his hair gets brushed forward by the wind, or his depleting strength. It’s enough to make Rin, who’s frankly nowhere near as angry with him as she should be, a little weak at the knees. She even asks if he wants to contract with her again, hands clutched to her chest and tears in her eyes. There are just so many questions about this dynamic. Is she looking at him as an idealised older and hunkier version of Shirou? Is he looking at her as an idealised, rose-coloured version of the girl he loved when he was a teenager? With that, could any kind of relationship or partnership work between them again? What’s their future/history? Will it necessarily come true in this timeline? If Rin got with both Shirou and Archer would it still technically be a threesome?
The series has given barely any time to have Rin grow and change and acknowledge her feelings where Shirou’s concerned, and her feelings for Archer are even more ambiguous and flip-floppy, and clearly fathomlessly complicated—enough to make this scene feel weird (weirder even than it should be, considering it’s some Time Traveller’s Wife crap), perhaps because, you know, Archer was an asshole to her for most of the series. Wait, of course… he was simply hiding his true feelings. They’re both tsundere for each other. My God, they really could never work. Fortunately, Archer’s saying a fond farewell, and Rin is promising that she’ll take care of Shirou and make sure he never becomes a twisted jerk like him. Here’s hoping.
Though as Archer disappears, for good this time, we can only assume, and Shirou meets Rin down the hill beaten and bloodied and smiling, it’s hard to believe that that boy will ever grow into that vicious, cynical anti-hero. For all the horror and violence he’s been involved in, he still just suggests, kindly and sincerely, that he and Rin go home and rest. Rin, still teary, smiles right back and gives him the dorkiest thumbs-up she can conjure. And off into the sunrise they go. It seems like the world has been saved, for now, and on a personal scale, so have Our Heroes.
As a climactic battle, this was satisfyingly spectacular, and the happy ending feels earned. There’s an epilogue to come, but for now, I think it’s safe to say we can lay this War to rest.
- Shut up, Gilgamesh
- Sakura was not relevant in this episode