First, a note for celebration: this is allegedly my 200th post! Which is a hell of a lot of writing about things that never happened and people that don’t exist. I’d like to thank everyone who reads this little corner of the internet, whether you pop in occasionally or follow faithfully. Every like and page view and interested comment makes it all worth it.
Also, as anyone who follows the other notably less structured blog will know, I’ve whizzed through Life Is Strange recently… and have been frantically writing reviews after every episode, which are scheduled to go up when Fate/Zero is done! I hope it doesn’t feel too awkward in the review tag among all that Fate. Fate is today’s subject, though, and with that exciting business out of the way, it’s time to beat up Gilgamesh.
Or… drink wine with Gilgamesh. Whatever comes first. It’s pretty civilised of he and Iskander, really, to have one last cup before they advance at each other to fight to the death. This is the end of the War, after all—only four Servants remain. They’ve been paired up rather neatly for their climactic battles, the two kings on the bridge (which is somehow empty of cars despite it being a main road) and two knights under the theatre where the Grail is most likely to be summoned due to ley lines and stuff. Saber wasn’t having a good day before Berserker lashed out and threw her off her bike, but now she’s really disgruntled.
And it only gets worse when, during the ensuing fight (which has torn the underground parking lot practically asunder, and caused a small fire too. Again, there is no one around, but I’d love to imagine the expression of anyone who finds the security tape of this) Saber realises that there’s something… familiar about the mad black knight. Now that she’s actually going against him sword-to-sword, something about his duelling style gives her déjà vu, not to mention the weirdness that Berserker seems to know the length of her magically hidden sword perfectly.
Perhaps they’ve met before? It’s perfectly reasonable that two characters from the Arthurian legends would appear in a Grail War, given a) the size of the legendary canon itself, b) how well known it is, making any hero from it a powerful Servant by default, and c) their connection to the Holy Grail itself. But what a gut punch to discover, as Berserker’s helmet falls off, that he’s not just any old Round Table buddy but Sir Lancelot, Arthur/Arturia’s best bro. Well, until that whole thing with their wife, but still. Saber’s left reeling, as you would be were you faced with a raging, insane version of your dearest comrade in a battle to the death.
Naturally, Saber’s first thought is “oh heck, this is my fault isn’t it?” Berserker certainly seemed to have a vendetta against her throughout the War and now knowing their connection it kind of makes sense—they did not part on the best of terms, given that Lancelot had an affair with the queen, caused Excalibur to be lost, and, retellings differ, obviously, but basically from that point everything went to Hell and the King soonafter died in battle with Mordred. There is clearly some unresolved tension between the two mixed-up heroes, and it would be an interesting opportunity to have them talk it out, except that Lancelot is now Berserk-a-lot and is more concerned with trying to bash Saber in half with a sword while she grows increasingly melancholy.
Meanwhile, friendship and camaraderie are also up for discussion with Gilgamesh and Iskander, the latter of whom has not dropped his desire to team up with fellow great heroes (which, in this case, is an extra neat detail given that Alexander the Great was reportedly a bit of a Gilgamesh nerd in real life). Gilgamesh laughs, saying that he only ever had, and will have, one friend (no doubt speaking of his tragic mud buddy Enkidu) and anyway, the world is his, so it would be a degrading cop-out to share it. Suit yourself, shrugs Iskander, and the warriors turn, throwing their goblets into the air. As they clatter to earth spilling the last drops of truce-flavoured wine, the talking ends and the battle begins.
And it begins rather neatly with Iskander opening up Ionian Hetori again, trapping Gilgamesh in the desert with an army of Iskander’s dearest followers. And Waver is among them, in pride of place, riding in the saddle with the king and joining in his ancient war cry. Oh, it’s wonderful to watch. Our weedy little Waver is launching himself into a fray, maybe even with his life on the line, but it’s so different to the context of how he did it at the series’ beginning. This time, he’s fighting for something he believes in, for camaraderie and heartfelt, and this time he is truly bravely facing the enemy down. He’s there not to prove himself to people who hate him, but because someone he loves already believes in him.
Again I have to boggle that Waver and Iskander’s arc is the most positive one in the entire series—it’s a coming of age story for Waver, who learns to believe in his own strength and value his existence for what he can do and the comradeship he has to offer, determined only by his quality as a person and not by what a strict hierarchy determines. He is not throwing himself into danger for the illusion of glory but for a cause he believes in, and he’s not seeking glory in death because he’s discovered a sense of self-worth through Iskander’s guidance and support.
As well as being the two funniest characters in the show, Iskander and Waver also weave a beautiful story of brotherly love and emotional support into a series that spends the rest of its time telling us that everything is awful and humans are bastards. It tells us “there is no hope on the battlefield” and even with the ending of this particular fight, I feel like Iskander proves that phrase wrong. There’s hope if you feel hope, man. You just have to keep it in your heart.
Somehow, even when Gilgamesh pulls out a cosmic geometric drill sword that dismantles the Reality Marble and quite literally destroys Iskander’s happy place and everything he stands for, it’s a hopeful ending. Iskander rides to face the opponent he’s clearly outmatched by, but he does it without fear and without regret—and leaves Waver behind to continue the adventure without him. You have to have hope and strength. You have to keep going, and hold the stories of Iskander’s love and bravery in your heart. Waver swears loyalty to the king before he rides to his death, which again, is a huge development for the kid who was trying to crawl to the top of the food chain when we first met him. There’s no shame in having someone as your leader if you wish to be led by them, if you believe in them and they in turn believe in you.
And Waver wipes his tears and watches, never backing down, Iskander wouldn’t want him to. Watches as his hero and king rides into an endless storm of swords and lances and awfulness, culminating in Gilgamesh wrapping him in chains and stabbing him through with the world-destroying blade. Iskander hears the ocean, and reflects that he finally got to see it… but the sound of the waves was really just the beating of his heart all along. It’s not the destination that matters so much as the journey. There is so much going on with this guy that’s just so damn motivational. There was really no one better for Waver to have summoned. I guess this time fate played nice.
And Fate plays nice, for a rare occasion, when Gilgamesh lets Waver go out of respect for his loyalty to Iskander instead of killing him. Skinny, sweater-wearing British nerd Waver went up against stupidly overpowered evil Gilgamesh and got out okay. He bawls his eyes out on the bridge (still inexplicably devoid of traffic) and Gil goes to join the action.
Because oh, there is action coming. Kirei reciting the “my cup runneth over” (I see what you did there) Bible verse over panning shots of Iri spread serenely out on the theatre stage, Kariya going nuts from the pain of powering Berserker, and Kiritsugu walking into the darkness looking like a man on a mission, creates one hell of an ominous atmosphere, which is guaranteed to shatter the next time we check in.
Two episodes, three Servants, and one knife-gunfight to go!