Alexander the Great, the Rider class Servant of the Fourth Holy Grail War, can certainly talk the talk but can he walk the walk? That’s the question that everyone, audience and in-universe characters alike – is asking after the legendary Macedonian general announced his entry on the main stage in spectacular fashion. His Master, professional irritant Waver Velvet, was aghast at his Servant’s brashness but an action once performed cannot be taken back. For better or worse, Team Rider has made its presence known and it will fall to both Waver and Rider to handle the consequences. For now though, it seems that the on-looking Masters and Servants don’t quite know what to make of these irregular circumstances either. Rider has thus far acted the part of an immensely powerful Servant but has not had the opportunity to showcase his prowess. It seems that the gathering Servants will be all too happy to give a chance to do just that.
Fighting isn’t exactly what Rider has in mind though, at least not yet. He asks both Saber and Lancer to toss aside their petty little duel, yield the Grail to him (and, I assume, Waver) and become soldiers in his army. I’m not sure quite what to make of Rider, to be honest. Let’s break this up into two theories:
- Theory A: Rider is a blustering simpleton. I don’t like this theory, but it is one way of explaining Rider’s actions. This line of thinking basically interprets Rider’s actions as those of a good but naïve man. I have gotten the impression in the past that there is an innocence to Rider, an earnestness that tends to simplify the complicated world around him. We see it when Rider asks Saber and Lancer to join him – this isn’t a man concerned with the realities of the Holy Grail War or the tensions between the factions. Instead, he sees two knights he admires and thinks they would be good additions to his cause. In this particular interpretation of events, there is no more to his actions than just that good-natured desire for strong, honourable companions. I would point out that his actions here are very much in line with what he said an episode or two ago about wanting to win but not destroy, to conquer but humiliate. By requesting (or demanding, depending on your point of view here), that they yield the Grail to him, he is ensuring that he is ‘winning’ (so to speak) and ‘conquering’ but by extending the offer of friendship and a share in the future spoils of his conquests, he is also ensuring that he isn’t destroying or humiliating. I appreciate the congruence and consistency that this character displays; above all, I respect characters and people who practice what they preach.
- But then, there’s theory B. I should preface this by saying that I fall in the large grey area between theories A and B for now and that I’ll elaborate on my own position at the episode’s end as I want to see how this episode unfolds before laying my position out. Theory B sees Rider as more Machiavellian than we would give him credit for. Essentially, it ascribes to intent all the results of Rider’s actions. When Rider crashes the Saber-Lancer party and introduces himself, he isn’t just throwing away the not insignificant advantage of anonymity; he is establishing himself as greater and above the petty unspoken rules that the common Servant obeys. Sort like in a ‘Oh, normal Servants don’t divulge their identity? Well, I’m Iskandar – let the common people hide, I hide from nothing’ way. This theory isn’t just born of cynicism though; over the short course of this series so far, we can safely establish that while Rider is many things, he is not a total idiot. Yes, he can be loud and sometimes a little excessive in the way he does things, but we should bear in mind that this is a man who conquered a massive chunk of the known world in his time. He is certainly not stupid but that doesn’t mean that he is immune to occasionally missteps, however. Still, Rider, being a military man, has to have known that interrupting Saber and Lancer’s duel with his offer would have been futile but his actions make sense if he is trying to establish himself as a greater Servant than either of them. After all, by asking them to join him, he implicitly saying that they have passed his test and are now worthy of joining him. Has Rider given it that much thought? Who knows? I’d argue that it doesn’t even matter if Rider has thought it through that much – even if he’s acting on instinct, the effects are still the same, but I’ll elaborate more on this at the end of this week’s write-up. For the purposes of this theory then, Rider’s surprise at finding out Saber is King ‘Arthur’ is meant to provocative and dismissive instead of a genuine case of surprise leading to a blustering man saying what’s on his mind without thinking about how it would be received.
So, as we go through this episode, I’ll be highlighting portions of Rider’s actions that support theory A or B but I don’t think I’m giving anything away in saying that I think Rider’s personality is a mixture with a heavier lean towards B than A. For now though, negotiations have broken down and we cut to the OP as Waver lets out a cry of frustration. If this is how Rider approached every pre-battle negotiation, it’s no wonder he had to fight his way from Macedonia to India
The Masters and Servants gathered seem to still be unsure of just what to make of Rider’s sudden appearance. It seems that Kiritsugu is a proponent of theory A but that just makes me think that there has to be more to Rider than what everyone assumes. Kayneth has finally recognized the cringing figure in Rider’s chariot and with spiteful delight, calls out his former student on his thievery and promises a painful, likely fatal, set of remedial lessons for the wayward young man. Waver, being fully aware of Archibald’s magical prowess, is horrified and never really being made of the sturdiest stuff, is moments away from a nervous breakdown. What ever happened to the British stiff upper lip? Fortunately for him, Rider isn’t just going to let Kayneth push his Master around – only Rider is allowed to do that. “Only a man brave enough to ride into battle at my side could ever be my Master”, Rider declares in a show of touching loyalty. Is this evidence for theory A or B? I’ll say A but I can see the argument for B. Rider’s verbal defence of his Master doesn’t just encourage Waver but also shames Kayneth for hiding in the shadows and sitting in safety while Lancer dukes it out with Saber. It seems that regardless of interpretation, Rider is the type of man who leads by charisma, turning his former enemies into friends and demonstrating loyalty to those who are loyal to him. It is a powerful set of attributes, the kind that would breeds fierce, almost fanatical loyalty in his underlings and I wouldn’t be surprised if Rider eventually turns Waver into semi-competent Master at some point. It also establishes that despite Waver’s nagging, Rider does value him and sees him as a friend.
Having said that though, let’s talk a little about Waver, Kayneth and Lancer. First off, I think Waver’s reaction to Kayneth’s threats is more than justified. For all the shit I give him, I think Waver has been logical and careful in his actions in the War so far. In fact, the only reason he comes across as annoying is because he doesn’t match Rider in his outrageousness and Rider’s outrageousness is exceptionally entertaining. However, if you think about it, Rider’s actions are very clearly reckless and dangerous whereas Waver’s preferred plan of action is far more reasonable, albeit more boring to watch. As for Kayneth himself, I’m not sure I can ever fully support a guy threatening anyone with torture and besides that Kayneth kind of sounds like a dick but I can’t say that I don’t see why he was ticked off. From Kayneth’s point of view though, things could be much worse – imagine if a Master like Kirei or Tokiomi got hold of Rider instead? Compared to them, Waver, inexperienced and unseasoned as he is, is pretty much the best case scenario, given the circumstances. Then we have Lancer. The focus is on him at certain points during Rider’s response and I can’t help but wonder what the honour driven knight thinks of all this. Just a scene ago Lancer reaffirmed his dedication to winning the Grail for his new Master but what does he make of his new Master being a coward who hides in the shadows? Does he understand that it is a necessary tactical decision? Is he angry at Rider for badmouthing his Master? Or does he think less of Kayneth now for not riding out to fight like Waver? The scene ends with Rider calling the remaining Servants out and once again, I’ll ask whether this is Rider just being the loud, over-the-top person that he appears to be or if it’s a more shrewd action designed to shame the Servants, many of whom are proud warrior and historical figures, into showing themselves.
Far away, Tokiomi and Kirei realize that Rider is baiting the Servants out and that there is one Servant above all, for whom Rider’s words are the perfect bait. Gilgamesh appears at the dock, and he is annoyed. Two pretenders in one night? What kind of depraved era is this where a cross dressing girl and a ginger get to call themselves King? If you didn’t already know, I love watching Gilgamesh and he doesn’t disappoint at all. Barely a minute into his entry, the Gate of Babylon is already being opened. I find it hilarious that for all of Gilgamesh’s arrogant proclamation that he should be recognizable by the glory of his aura (which I can only assume is a nicer way of saying body odour), no one there recognizes him. In all seriousness though, this is what I was looking forward to – the King of Knights, the King of Conquerors and the King of Heroes all facing off. It seems a little early for them to fighting each other and Lancer is comically irrelevant here (is there a single weapon in Gilgamesh’s armoury that is less impressive than Lancer’s Noble Phantasm?), but I’m not complaining at all. I’ll note that Rider and Saber aren’t exactly fazed by the Gate of Babylon but that just might be because they don’t know exactly what it is. Both Servants have identified Gilgamesh as being trouble though, and are on guard. Before Gilgamesh can start laying into the rabble gathered before him though, Kariya and Berserker have entered the fray as well (Kariya from a safe distance away, it would seem). The sickly Kariya, looking more deranged than ever, sets Berserker loose with the vague instruction of ‘Kill him’. Is the ‘him’ referring to Gilgamesh? It would make sense, given that Kariya knows that Gilgamesh is Tokiomi’s Servant and Tokiomi isn’t exactly Kariya’s favourite person.
Berserker’s appearance, predictably, throws everything into further chaos. This Berserker has a black cloud surrounding his knightly armour and it seems that the black cloud keeps the Masters from identifying his stats. Don’t Berserker class Servants usually get all ‘A’s for their stats in exchanging for losing their sanity? Wasn’t that the reason that Zouken instructed Kariya to summon a Berserker? Kiritsugu, watching the whole affair unfold through his sniper rifle, is surprised that anyone would send their Servant into this increasingly messy business. Is this is sign that Kariya’s mental state is destabilizing? The situation is a powder keg waiting for a spark and that spark is providing, unsurprisingly enough, by Berserker and Gilgamesh. Soon enough, weapons are flying and the epic soundtrack is back – it’s time for some action! Berserker smoothly grabs one of Gilgamesh’s weapons and deflects the other, prompting Gilgamesh to get properly pissed off. In the fight that follows, Berserker is able to easily dodge and deflect all of the weapons coming from the Gate of Babylon, making Gilgamesh increasingly angry. It’s almost funny how outraged Gilgamesh is that this rabid mongrel (he really does love the word) is able to evade him and it either makes Gilgamesh seem like he is all talk or builds Berserker up, depending on how much you know of Gilgamesh. If I were not as familiar with Gil as I am now, I can see myself dismissing Gilgamesh as a result of this fight sequence for not even being able to handle Berserker and frankly, even knowing what I do about Gilgamesh’s abilities, I find myself surprised that Berserker is able to remain in one piece so far.
Tokiomi has had enough though. Gilgamesh had his chance to wipe Berserker off the face of the planet, but by repeatedly showing off the Gate of Babylon and having nothing to show for it, he is basically increasing the risk of their enemies figuring him out, for no real return. He uses a Command Spell to force Gilgamesh to withdraw. Gilgamesh isn’t happy about Tokiomi ordering him around but at the end of the day, Gilgamesh too is bound by the Command Spells and withdraws. I have to say this was a bit of an embarrassing showing for Gilgamesh. He waltz onto the scene, this grand king who claims to be the only King on heaven and Earth, before being shown up by a knight incapable of even speech and then being told that he has stayed out beyond and curfew and yanked off by his irate Master. Not exactly the most intimidating first impression, as far intimidating first impressions go. Just when it seems the situation has defused somewhat, however, Berserker turns his sights to Saber. She isn’t the nearest opponent, nor, I would guess, the easiest one, but Berserker lets out a shriek and rushes her. Rider realizes that Berserker has an ability to lets anything he grabs become his Noble Phantasm. I don’t find that very impressive though – if anything can be your Noble Phantasm, then nothing is, really. It’s the kind of ability that allows for a lot of versatility but if I had to guess, it would lack any bite. Saber is able to keep Berserker at bay but her injured arm keeps her from being able to fight at full force. Kiritsugu realizes that the situation isn’t looking great and tries to find Kariya, hoping to put a stop to Berserker before Saber falls.
Berserker is about to land a critical blow when Lancer interrupts, ironically seeming more knightly than the black knight. Does Lancer still think that he and Saber will be able to continue their duel uninterrupted? The time for that is long past but perhaps he feels bad that Saber is unable to defend herself properly because of the injury his own weapon caused. It’s a noble sentiment but a misplaced one – after all, this is war and sentiments like honour and nobility are luxuries, not necessities. It seems that Kayneth agrees with my pragmatism – he is annoyed that Archer is defending the exposed Saber instead of exploiting her vulnerability to deal the finishing blow. Lancer says he will take care of Saber later but wants to beat Berserker first. Kayneth has had enough of this budding Lancer-Saber love affair and he means business; he uses a Command Seal to order Lancer to assist Berserker in killing Saber. Even though I disagree with Lancer’s priorities and perspective here, it’s a little hard to watch him plead with his Master to let him do the honourable thing. I’m especially torn because while I don’t like Kayneth at all but at the same time, I agree with his tactics but on the other hand, I sort of like Lancer but think his morality is misplaced here. Lancer is horrified but has no choice when Kayneth’s Command Seal kicks in – with both Berserker and Lancer coming for her, Saber doesn’t have a chance. She tells Irisviel to run but Irisviel tells her that Kiritsugu (she doesn’t say his name, but uses the generic ‘Master’), will come through for them. Nearby, Kiritsugu and Maiya are scrambling to salvage the fast deteriorating situation – Kiritsugu will take out Kayneth and Maiya will distract Assassin. It’s a risky plan though; once Assassin knows it is being watched, it will turn its attention to Maiya and Kiritsugu and weak as Assassin is, it is more than a match for two average mages.
Just as Kiritsugu is about to put his plan into action, however, Rider comes to the rescue, barrelling into Berserker and sending the black knight careening. Berserker withdraws, and Rider tells Kayneth that unless he calls Lancer off, Rider will side with Saber and kill Lancer. With the situation no longer in his favour, Kayneth is forced to withdraw and a grateful Lancer expresses his gratitude to Rider. Alright, so, I’ll hold off on the obvious question of Rider’s motives here and focus on Lancer and Kayneth instead. It seems that they are a particularly dysfunctional team – not unlike Cu Chulainn and Kirei. I feel bad for backing Kayneth’s actions now but that’s more because I’m starting to like Lancer more and more. I like that he had the good grace to thank Rider for intervening on his behalf – something Saber pointedly did not do, though she and Rider do part on good terms – and while I don’t particularly like his wish to stick to his honour code above all, I do respect it. There’s a great light-hearted moment where Waver has fainted from all the excitement and Rider sounds so resigned at how useless his Master is. It’s meant in a good-natured way though; if anything, this episode has established that the dynamic between Rider and Waver has potential.
Saber and Irisviel have a post-battle debrief session but it’s full of nothing but the usual platitudes – ‘Oh, they were all strong’, and ‘None of them can be taken lightly’. It reminds you a little bit of kindergarten where everyone is special little snowflake and smart, and amazing, and a wonderful child. Not too far away, Kariya is celebrating but his tone is more mid-tier supervillain than anything else. In his interpretation of things, all the Servants ran from his Berserker (false) and he even humiliated Gilgamesh (true). Interestingly, Kariya is ecstatic that he was able to ‘beat’ Tokiomi’s Servant – it seems I was right about his motives for targeting Gilgamesh first. It’s not all good news for Kariya though; the battle has placed great strain on him and the worms in him are depleting him quickly. He will need to make a big play, soon, if he is to stay in contention. He ends his little soliloquy by reminding us that he’s fighting for Sakura, but I call bullshit on that. I think Kariya’s motives for being this fight have stopped being about Sakura and more about proving that he’s capable of going up against Tokiomi. I mean, if it was strictly about winning the War and nothing else, why would he even send Berserker into that mess and risk everything? Strong as Berserker is, I have no doubt that Gilgamesh could have annihilated him if he got serious – so, is it about saving poor little Sakura, or is really about proving to her mum that she backed the wrong horse?
The de-brief continues in the Church of Desecrated Neutrality where Assassin informs Kirei that the Church is being watched by a familiar with a camera on its tiny foot. There is no indication that Kirei realizes that the familiar is from Kiritsugu but I’m sure he will figure it out sooner or later. Elsewhere, Team Psycho has been watching the whole affair. Did you forget about them? Well, they’re very much alive and, if the blood stains on their wall is any indication, active. Ryuunosuke is mind-blown at everything he just saw through Bluebeard’s crystal ball but Caster is on a whole new level of elation. He seems to think, and I can’t possibly imagine why, that Saber is a reincarnated Joan of Arc. Given that the historical Bluebeard was pretty close to Joan of Arc (depending on what you make of his story), I can’t see this ending well for Saber. Every time Team Psycho comes up on screen, I can’t shake the feeling that something terrible and disturbing is about to happen – someone needs to put this lot out of their misery, and soon.
Alright, it’s time for our own debrief. This was a very eventful episode, easily one of my favourites so far. It had a little bit of everything – there were some great character centric moments when we saw just what kind of people some of our characters were. We saw Lancer live up to his talk of honour, we saw Kayneth reveal his own approach to matters and Rider stand up for his Master. There was a bunch of great action though the mix of CG animation and conventional animation was a little jarring to watch. We got the perfect dose of Gilgamesh and a sprinkle of light-hearted moments before closing what I would consider the opening chapter of the series. Having seen more of Rider since I outlined by two theories, I think I’d have to retract my position a little. At first, I thought he might be an innocent at heart (A) with an underlying, manipulative scheming side (B) something of a 40-60 split, so to speak. However, having seen him intervene on Saber’s behalf, I think I’d reverse the ration to something more along the lines of 60-40. A large part of what I attribute to him ‘scheming’ can just be explained, more easily to boot, as a natural consequence of Rider’s charisma and personality. He doesn’t need to be aware of the effect his actions have in order to take advantage of those effects. For example, his intervention on Saber (and Lancer’s) behalf, won him the respect of both knights whose previous posture towards him was much more hostile. I refuse to believe that he intervened with the intention of winning them over but rather that he did so because that is the kind of thing someone like him would do. That they saw him in a more positive light after that was just a natural consequence of his actions, and not necessarily an intentional one. On the other hand though, I find it equally hard to believe that he issued his challenge to all the Servants without knowing the effect it would have on them. I’d be very interested to hear what others’ take on this is though.