After last week’s episode ended with the brutal beat-down of Berseker and the tragic death of his Master, this week we take a step away from the break-neck action and the flurry of plot developments as the narrative’s focus returns to our protagonists. ‘Winter Days, The Form Wishes Take’, offers a much needed respite from the mountain of tension that the last couple of episodes built up and gives the audience some time to consider the importance and implications of just what went down. That said, the episode presents us with plenty to chew on as well; Shinji’s mysterious blonde Servant isn’t quite as mysterious any more – he is Gilgamesh, the mythical demi-god from the Epic of Gilgamesh – but the real surprising this week was Lancer’s return to relevance. We haven’t seen the man in blue since the very first episodes of the series’ but it turns out that not only is he not such a bad guy, he is also surprisingly open to cooperating with Shirou and Rin. Even with his help however, the situation looks far from hopeful – not only are they outnumbered, but given the kind of firepower Team Caster has, they are likely also outgunned. For all these plot advancements, the episode offers up a fair bit of comic relief as well as a brief return to one of my favourite elements of the series – Shirou’s state of mind.
As was the case with Berserker two episodes ago, I found the revelation of Gilgamesh’s identity to be extremely lackluster. A Heroic Spirit of his calibre deserves better than to just have his name blurted out by the likes of Shinji. I’m assuming that his identity is explored more thoroughly in the Fate route of the visual novel, but still, it feels disappointing to just hear his named tossed out like that, without any build up. I’m don’t know what a better way would have been – certainly, I don’t want anything as ridiculously dramatic as a drumroll but so far, it feels like the show has gotten the unveiling of the Servants’ identities more wrong than right. In any case, more than Gilgamesh’s actions and origins, both of which I’ll touch on in a bit, I find myself fascinated with his legend and how it relates to the story. We are given a solid amount of information (and I won’t question how Shirou and Rin know so much about him, clearly the Japanese education system is much better than my country’s) and from what we are told, he sounds terrifying. One of the myths surrounding the Holy Grail is that it grants any man who drinks from it eternal life which would make it an artefact very much in line with Gilgamesh’s origin story. Not only is he known in this series’ universe (and I’m trying my best to separate the series’ version of the legend from its real-world counterpart) as the seeker of eternal youth, but he is also clearly someone who enjoys hoarding treasures. The Holy Grail is considered, quite literally, the rarest of treasures and in fact, something that is often sought but can never be found. Its appeal to a Heroic Spirit like Gilgamesh is obvious but more importantly, Gilgamesh is the first Servant for whom this connection feels natural – you could make a case for Medea, queen of magic, wanting such a powerful mystical object but the Grail doesn’t really have anything to do with the likes of Heracles or Sasaki Kojiro. We aren’t just told about Gilgamesh’s legend however; we are also given a convenient power comparison. Shirou and Rin don’t think that there is a big gap between Gilgamesh, Berserker and Saber but given the way the Gilgamesh took Berserker out, you have to worry that Saber won’t stand much of a chance either. In fact, Saber’s inclusion on that list itself feels strange, largely because it feels like we haven’t seen a great deal from her. We have been told repeatedly that she is the ‘strongest’ class of Servant but clearly, that didn’t account for Gilgamesh. Despite him very clearly not being good news for our heroes, it just feels difficult to dislike the man. There is a certain bravado about him, or perhaps it’s just pure arrogance, that is refreshing to see. He isn’t wary of danger like Saber or sneaky like Caster, he is so confident in his abilities (and not for nothing either) that he fears no challenge and acknowledges no equal. In some sense, he is similar to Archer in that both men talk a big game but can also back those words up if they need to. He feels like the antagonist this series deserves, someone whose defeat would feel like an accomplishment. Right now, it feels like there is positively a glut of antagonists in this series – Archer, Caster, Kirei, Gilgamesh, Assassin – and it will be very interesting to see if the story will be able to resolve these conflicts satisfactorily.
As is often the case with this series, each question answered raises a whole host of others. Gilgamesh’s identity was one of the longer standing mysteries in the series and while it does explain a few things such as how he was able to handle Berserker so easily, it does force us to ask questions of a different sort. The first of these is his very existence – since the beginning, it was stated that there would be seven Servants and seven Masters. However, just in this episode, Rin explicitly calls him an eighth Servant but doesn’t seem too confused by his presence. Does this mean he exists outside of the rules of the Holy Grail War? He existed without being summoned by his ‘Master’ which has to make you wonder, is Shinji even really his Master in the first place? We never see Shinji’s Command Seals, nor do we ever see any kind of summoning ritual take place but on the other hand, it would be ludicrous to think that a Servant of Gilgamesh’s stature would submit to a brat like Shinji unless he was his Master. Still, considering how Rin had to pretty much strong arm Archer into obedience, and how we’ve seen Caster kill her first Master, I just can’t see Shinji saying or doing anything that would impress Gilgamesh enough to put up with him, unless it’s their mutual fascination with murder and general misery. In any case, this leads us to two further questions – who summoned Gilgamesh and how does Kirei just casually happen to have a Servant like Gilgamesh lying around? The answer to both might have been staring us in the face all the while – what if Gilgamesh is Kirei’s Servant? It would be a gross violation of the rules of the War – after all, you can hardly be an overseer and a participant but Kirei has already demonstrated that he is not above corruption. Of course, this theory isn’t perfect – we never see Kirei summon Gilgamesh nor do we see his Command Seals but it makes sense in terms of the characters matching up – Kirei is cold and mean enough for someone like Gilgamesh to work with and we have already seen that the two of them are pretty chummy. So where does Shinji come into this theory of mine? Well, it could just be misdirection – by pretending to be Shinji’s Servant, Gilgamesh could lay low (relatively speaking) and take out the other Masters without arousing suspicion (though, honestly, even if suspicion was raised, it’s not like there’s a regulating body that could punish him). It would also give Kirei a proxy through which he could go about obtaining the Grail without exposing himself.
Speaking of the Grail, we learned a few episodes ago that Ilya had fused with the Lesser Grail but it turns out that that is a reversible process as Gilgamesh performs some crude open-heart field surgery on Ilya’s corpse to extract the artefact. Caster has been searching high and low for this Lesser Grail, going so far as to take over Kirei’s church in search of it but if it was in Ilya all this while, then we must ask how exactly Gilgamesh knew that it would be inside Ilya? Furthermore, if this Lesser Grail is powerful enough that Caster would risk painting a target on her back for it, then why was Ilya not able to put up more of a fight before her death? Caster’s comments regarding the two Grails were cryptic at best, but she seemed to imply that the Lesser Grail was a key to the Greater, which would seem to indicate that Gilgamesh now has one of the essential ingredients to unlocking it, and only requires the other Servants’ deaths in order to do so. The odd thing, however, is that neither Rin nor Shirou seem to know about this Lesser Grail and as such don’t really seem to realize what Gilgamesh’s objective was in all of this. This is fair enough – Caster’s expansive knowledge of magic and Gilgamesh’s de facto access every legendary artefact ever conceived could very well explain how they know that there will be two Grails, not just one. There is also ‘another’ girl who will suffice as a vessel, according to Gilgamesh but who this other girl is or what she will be a vessel for is unclear for now, though apparently Shinji knows the answer to both those questions. The Lesser Grail’s incredibly short shelf-life ostensibly saves Shirou and Rin from following Ilya and Berserker into the grave, but that’s odd in itself. Killing Rin and Shirou wouldn’t have taken more than a moment for Gilgamesh, so surely he must have had other motives for keeping them around, despite direct instructions from his ‘Master’ to do otherwise. It bugs me when antagonists leave heroes alive despite having every reason and opportunity to kill them off – for example, Ilya leaving Rin and Shirou alive in the first season despite very clearly outclassing both of them in every way. Gilgamesh does seem more likely to spare someone on a whim than say, Caster, but at the same time, this makes it the second time in this season alone that Shirou and Rin have survived based solely on an enemy Servant’s mercy (the first time being Archer asking Caster to let Rin and Shirou leave alive). It isn’t quite a plot hole but it certainly isn’t the strongest piece of storytelling either.
It’s been a while since we’ve gotten inside Shirou’s head and unfortunately, it’s just as warped a place as it was before. We’ve talked about Shirou’s extreme survivor’s guilt before and in this episode, he pretty much states it outright. It seems that he tries his hardest to rescue everyone he can, regardless of the cost, not just because he wants them safe and out of danger, but also because he wants to feel like his own salvation was justified. The scene with him walking past other people crying for help was absolutely chilling and goes a long way in explaining why Shirou is the way he is – in the past, he has failed to save others, possibly people he knew and loved but instead of dying for this sin, he was saved and even now, his mind can’t reconcile this karmic mismatch. Of course, form the audience’s perspective but it’s absurd to expect a five year old child to rescue anyone in a situation like that but it isn’t really that much of a stretch to think that Shirou would feel remorse at not being able to do more. It feels like Shirou isn’t just trying to save everyone, he is subconsciously seeking some sort of martyrdom as well, as though his death in the process of saving someone would fix the mistake that fate made in letting him live. What makes Shirou’s case particularly unhealthy is the way he feels responsibility of others deaths even if he had nothing to do with it – in this particular case, he grieves for Ilya, despite knowing that he owed her nothing (the last time they met, she tried to kill him, after all) and despite knowing that he was not in any way responsible for her death. He grieves for despite not knowing that they were siblings of a sort and not knowing how fitting it was that he should bury her. It’s a little difficult to properly articulate what the crux of the disagreement between Shirou and Rin is but I do appreciate that the show doesn’t really make it seem like either is without its flaws – sure, Shirou’s dedication to sacrifice himself for the good of others isn’t ideal but neither is Rin’s view that people should always put themselves first. There’s some room for compromise on either side and we’ll see if either character is able to reach.
What Shirou’s actions do cement is that he is an inherently good kid, which is something the audience has known for a while now, but it’s something that Lancer takes note of as well. Lancer’s reintroduction into the show feels surprising, but it shouldn’t. With Gilgamesh not particularly interested in cooperating and Berserker dead and defeated, it means that Lancer is literally the last person that Shirou and Rin could turn to in order to defeat Team Caster. It’s still a big ask – the last time Lancer and Archer fought, they reached a stalemate though neither had brought out their respective Noble Phantasms. Archer has some Lancer-specific tricks up his sleeve but on the other hand, Lancer’s Noble Phantasm sounds extremely lethal though the only time we’ve seen it so far, it’s thankfully come up short in finishing Saber. Even if Lancer is able to handle Archer, which is far from certain, Rin’s insistence that she can ‘blindside’ Caster sounds ridiculous. Caster’s knowledge of magic has been established as far out-striping any modern mage’s and while Rin did manage to get some hits in the last time they faced each other, it would mean that Rin and Shirou will have to face Kuzuki, Caster and possibly Saber. You’d have to be crazy to take those odds. Lancer’s return also brought with it a good bit of comic relief with Rin being comically reluctant to admit her feelings for Shirou, despite it being painfully obvious to everyone else. The change is tone is somewhat jarring but I also feel that it spoils some of the dramatic tension – the second Lancer starts acting goofy, you know that he’s not suddenly going to turn around butcher the two. It’s the same way that Shinji’s hammy speeches sort of ensure that nothing too serious is about to go down. The funny bits aren’t exactly unwelcome either though since the episodes can get rather heavy with them and even in this particular instance, there are some interesting bits of dialogue interspersed within. The first is Shirou’s condition for accepting Lancer’s help (which given how desperate their situation is, seems like an odd way of thinking of it) – at first it seems utterly bone-headed. However, given who Lancer is, it makes some degree of sense though I’m not certain that I’m not giving him too much credit. There is also the question just who Lancer’s Master is and why he is still hidden in the shadows. Him offering Lancer to Shirou and Rin makes me think that he is someone that they both know and someone who’s looking out for them though of course, that would clash with him killing Shirou twice in the first two episodes. In any case, given how badly off they would be without him, I think we can join our heroes in not looking a gift Lancer in the mouth.
The episode ends with yet another mention of our favourite piece of jewellery. The pendant that refuses to make sense is back and I feel as though the characters are hitting me on the head with it but I’m still not getting it. Clearly, there is only one pendant, which means either Shirou’s or Archer’s is fake. Neither makes sense – if Archer’s is real, where did Shirou’s come from? If Shirou’s is real, why would Archer leave behind a fake one? It seems very clear that both Shirou and Rin have a better idea of who Archer is what is going on than I do and that’s a little frustrating but it seems that we’re building up to him before figuratively unmasked and hopefully the show handles that better than it has the other reveals so far.
P.S. Apologies for the wait and the length. My computer blue screened and I ended up losing half the stuff I had written and then tried to make up for it. Also, shoutout to highfirex for his/her Crunchyroll guest pass! Thanks a lot!