by Theron Martin,
How would you rate episode 11 of
When people highlight a single episode of Fate/Zero, it is almost invariably this episode, because it does something extraordinary: it takes three of its most important combatants and has them all set down for a conversation over drinks. In this case the trio consists of the three former kings among the servants – Saber, King of Knights; Rider, King of Conquerors; and Archer, King of Kings – and the topic of conversation is what it means to be a king as a basis for determining who is most worthy of the Grail. Each of the three comes into the conversation with a starkly different viewpoint over what kingship entails, in each case based on their title and personal identity. Archer/Gilgamesh sees kingship as the ultimate authority, the right to own everything. Rider/Iskandar see kingship as setting the ideal for his subjects to follow; the king should be larger-than-life so that his followers can love him for it and aspire to be like him. Saber/Artoria instead sees kingship as the ultimate obligation and duty; a ruler must act on behalf of the people instead of the people acting on behalf of the ruler.
The way each participant responds to the other viewpoints is fascinating, as is the way that both the viewpoints and the responses speak to the heart of each character. Saber sees the styles of the other two as tyrannical, which Rider not only does not deny but further insists is not a problem. He has no regrets, not even about the way his empire fell apart in civil war after his reign because he died before naming a successor, because everything happened by his will, not obligation laid upon him by others. Contrarily, regret plagues Saber to her core; regret that she could not protect Britain. To Rider, that and her driving desire to redo things so she can save her Britain from its downfall is foolish and immature thinking, as she is not considering the impact she did have. The most damning blows are Rider's accusation that she may not have been appreciated by her subjects because she didn't understand them and that she wasn't truly leading them, an accusation which strikes to the core of her own self-doubts.
And that's part of the reason why Saber loses the debate: in the view of the other two, true monarchs cannot doubt themselves. She's also too flustered to defend her viewpoint properly and makes the mistake of arguing from a moral position against two individuals for whom morality is not a factor in kingship. That Artoria, as the most recent of the three rulers, is physically portrayed as the youngest is also significant, as it allows Iskandar to come off as chastising someone younger for having naïve ideals. He is right on some points, especially about how Artoria set herself up to have a joyless experience as king, but he is also being both unfair and uncaring about the consequences of his own actions. Of course, Gilgamesh still looks down on everyone, though he interestingly shows a sadistic streak here with his comments about urging Saber to continue because he delights in seeing her suffer for her ideals. And was he kind of hitting on her at the end?
The episode has a few other interesting aspects as well, such as regularly showing Waver and Irisviel's horrified reactions to what's going on here; neither can accept that three individuals who will be battling to the death are having such a peaceable drinking party. (The scene where Waver frantically waves off Irisviel's accusing stare is one of my favorite moments.) Tokiomi also cannot pass up this opportunity to ferret out what Rider's ultimate trick may be, even if it means sacrificing a pawn (Assassin). The plan works, as Iskandar uses a Reality Marble to generate his Ionioi Hetairoi – effectively, stand-ins for his famous Companions. (The Companions of Iskandar were historically cavalry, but presumably they are shown as foot solders here to lessen the animation burden.) He does this as much to emphatically drive home his points as to deal with the legion of Assassins, and it fully impresses. But will showing his hand now have consequences later? Of course, Iskandar is not the type to hold back a secret reserve; impressing his foes seems every bit as important to him as beating them.
Images of the Hetairoi seem to highlight several individuals, but who those individuals are has, to my knowledge, never been officially clarified. (There is considerable speculation about which historical figures they might be.) Who they are ultimately does not matter for this series, and they are trivial details compared to everything else going on anyway. Future episodes will show that this is a more important episode than it may seem like at first, as the attitudes and actions of all three (especially Saber) will impacted by what happens here. For now, let's just appreciate what a fine job this episode does. The artwork may not be the sharpest, but the writing is impeccable.
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