Fate/Zero 11 and the Theories of Kingship

Holy Grail Dialogue

source: Pixiv

This week’s Fate/Zero proved to be incredibly interesting, despite the relatively static setting. We find the three servants seated and sharing a drink, discussing what it means to be a king and the philosophies that each hold to what that means. How this tête-à-tête plays out amounts to a verbal skirmish between the characters that doesn’t seek to draw blood, but rather to know each other and their thoughts more personally. Their theories on what it means to be a king were very fascinating to me.

Heavy Lies the Crown

 source: Pixiv

From Saber, we see a sober idea of what it means to be a king. She was appointed to her station divinely, thus she believes that being a ruler infuses one with an immense amount of responsibility and everything should be done out of a sense of duty. She also believes that this a burden that she must bear for the sake of her nation. To be an effective ruler, one must be somewhat disconnected from the world in order to ward off temptations coming from the carnal and immoral sources in life. This plays out in her character and the figure she’s based on since Mordred, Arthur’s bastard son in many iterations of the Arthurian legend, went on to fatally wound the king in a battle which led to the ruin of Camelot.

There are advantages to this mindset for rule. It guarantees a measure of sobriety in decision-making with a desire to aspire to what is just. I also feel that in thinking that she was divinely appointed by God through pulling the sword from the stone, answering to a higher power would enact an instinct to protect the weak and ensure equality amongst the oppressed.

However, being a servant of the people means that there is a self-imposed pressure to please all or as many as possible which we know runs the risk of pleasing none. One of the criticisms I saw levied against Saber in this episode was that because of these sober rationalizations for rule, she isn’t an aspirational figure. The somber mood and attitude can affect morale, possibly on a grand scale.

Might Makes Right

source: Pixiv

Aspiration, inspiration, greed. There is no appointment to rule, it is instead seized through effort and merit. Rule and responsibility should not be viewed as a curse, but as an opportunity. These are some core tenets to Rider’s view of what it means to be king. One must live larger than life and extend that to all that he or she does. There is an element of greed that this philosophy necessitates, which will in theory cause one’s subjects to aspire to live like the king and emulate him or her in life, love, work, war, and pleasure. One must put in the utmost effort in all aspects of life, be it king, ally, or subject.

I can see how this kind of philosophy can inspire extreme loyalty amongst your followers and inculcates a high morale amongst the capable. The charisma that one needs to employ this is immense, but definitely not impossible. It reminds one of the legends and myths of heroes around the world who were the pinnacle of humanity and the apex of the respective civilizations from which their stories come from, and to be able to evoke theses sentiments from the populace in your life through your words, deeds, and actions would be a marvel to behold to many.

The shadow cast by the light of admiration is envy. Those who are not considered friend or ally or share in the bounty of your rule or conquest will not be so keen to see you succeed. The idea that those who are capable will aspire to live and work with the same amount of effort as does the king also means that there is an inherent inequality embedded into the fabric of this meritocratic society. I feel that there would be no innate sympathy for those who are unable to live up to the standards put to them by king and culture. Also, seeing that as a ruler, living life to its utmost can also be seen as putting one’s satisfactions above the needs of the society you lead, which can be construed as tyranny. Iskander does not view this as a problem given that tyranny derives from the Greek tyrannos, which means master. A Tyrant in ancient Greece was one who seized power in a polis (city) that was neither democratically administered nor under the direction of an oligarchy, so while the legality of such a station as Tyrant was debated, it was a recognized and often acknowledged method of rule.

Of course, another issue that was brought up was the fact that with no divine appointment or inherent birthright, if succession is to be awarded on a meritorious basis then the chance for chaos is extremely high. Not everyone has the merit to rise and seize the throne to rule through charisma or power or effort in general, and should the ruler who initially led abdicate his throne for any reason, then the void that is left that can’t be filled will prove to be disastrous in a society filled with ambitious and strong citizens.

Good to be King

source: Pixiv

There is no divine appointment, no reward for merit, no birthright to acknowledge. Gilgamesh lists himself as among the first kings in history, and is by far the oldest of the Heroic Spirits in the continuity that Kinoko Nasu has built up. The son of a king and a goddess, Gilgamesh considers himself divine, therefore entitled to rule. As such, he is also entitled to all of the world’s treasures and to the finest things that world has to offer. It’s a very clear-cut philosophy, and also the most despotic.

With the absolute rule that Gilgamesh feels a king should command, comes with it a certain stability and order. Given a king’s divine status, their word is law, and law is absolute. There is no room for deviation, and this makes for a very safe and stable society (provided that the ruler is in good spirits that is). There is order, structure, perhaps even prosperity because of this. There is no uncertainty for the life of a subject under this king’s rule, as there is no suffering deviation from the law that is laid down. If someone breaks the law, they are to be punished.

The drawbacks to this are pretty apparent. If an absolute ruler rules absolutely, there is no check in place should his whims become sour. And yes, despite the claims to divinity, Gilgamesh is indeed at least partially human and subject to the emotions that a human will feel. Even if there aren’t wild temperamental swings to account for, a static society that values stability and obedience above all else can also succumb to stagnation. Discontent can grow in the heart of a populace that senses no overarching directive or identity or cause beyond what the ruler dictates. And yes, succession again is also an issue.

This episode presented three ideas of what it means to be king. It also served to shake the ideals that Saber had in what it means to rule and be a ruler. At first glance this episode seems like a verbal rout for Saber’s ideals, and there is merit in what Rider says to her, but I found much to criticize in Rider’s philosophies as well. I feel that Saber as a character is meant to grow from this experience and become more well-rounded in her thoughts and ideals as a result. She obviously is a king who is mired in regret, and her actions and desires for the Grail inform this, or else Rider’s words would not have cut to her as much as they did.


Filed under Editorials, Fate/Zero

18 responses to “Fate/Zero 11 and the Theories of Kingship

  1. That was a great read, thanks. Also, nice pictures by the way.
    I had historically always thought of Kings from the Saber’s view ( I wonder if watching the Sword in the Stone as a child had anything to do with that. :P), but hearing Rider really opened up my perception of what a King is.

    Am I correct in presuming that Rider’s viewpoint is along the lines of: “A king must be magnificent and glorious if he is to inspire his people? In order to make his people strive for more, the king must always be striving for more as well”.

    Regardless,it was a very interesting episode, and I would love to have Rider as a bro, though his back slaps would probably kill me.

    • Thanks for commenting, pal! This was my first time Pixiv diving, so it took me a while to find suitable pictures that I felt fit the themes of what each king was trying to say. Saber’s is sober, Rider’s is proactive and violent, and Archer’s is demanding and forceful with a visual emphasis on his open mouth and the implication that his word is absolute.

      You’re pretty much on the money with what Rider said, since that’s what I interpreted as well. I think it’s an interesting viewpoint and can lead to glorious reigns, but it’s one that isn’t viable for any long term rule or dynastic founding. The real Alexander the Great’s empire also was doomed to a glorious but brief existence, since his heirs I think were all either killed or killed each other off.

      For the record, I still have my Sword in the Stone VHS…

      • Haha, you are welcome.

        I can’t help but think that the three kings each represent the extreme of some kingly trait.
        Saber represents the nobility kings should posses, Rider the ambition and Archer the pride. In short, I think that neither king is a perfect king, but if a perfect king were to exist, he would be a combination of all three (probably in equal parts).

        I wonder if the writers had a similar line of thinking, or perhaps, they just wanted to make interesting characters. :P Either way, they succeeded.

        • There is an extremely rich mythos around all of the kingly figures on whom these characters are based, including contradictory and re-imagined versions of their legends in many cases. I haven’t watched more than a couple of episode from anywhere in the Fate//Stay Night series, but it’s nice to see someone using the potential in these characters!

          (Alexander the Great is a fascinating figure if you look at his family, his history, and what people recount of his beliefs, and the Epic of Gilgamesh won’t be what you expect if you’re used to later European hero epics. Arthur’s more well-known but still plenty mysterious).

  2. Saber’s perspective is the one that interests me the most seeing as, like others, hers and various iterations of the Arthurian legend are what I’m the most familiar with personally. In all versions he does seem rather dour, chained to his idea of nobility and self-sacrifice for his people above all else.

    Saber’s is the most democratic view, inviting other knights to sit at her table and offer their input; however, in the end, she/King Arthur seemingly takes it all upon herself/himself to get the job done instead of making it a true team effort. There would be nothing wrong with this if they did not openly seek the opinion of the people and instead presumed it, much like Rider does with his subjects. Her feelings for her own people are what eventually become her (and Arthur’s) downfall.

    My hope is that, as you say in your post, this will serve to strengthen Saber’s character, instead of making her weaker in the eyes of the other kings (Rider with his pity and Archer with his patronizing “love”).

    It’s also interesting to observe how each of these kings have their own relationship with time. Saber wants to change her tragic past, Rider obviously lives for the present, and Archer, with the idea that he himself is divine, has an omniscient worldview. In comparison, Kiritsugu seems to not mind dirtying himself for a “better future,” Waver begins the series stuck in the past, seeking revenge on those who looked down on him, and Tohsaka is a bit of an enigma to me (although he seems to care greatly for his daughter Rin). It’s interesting that while Kiritsugu and Saber will seemingly come in to a conflict at some point, Waver appears to be learning to let go of his past and embrace the present. Or, perhaps I’m just saying that because their relationship is my favorite of the series. ^ ^

  3. One of the core debates in Legend of the Galactic Heroes is whether rule by a capable, far-sighted, charismatic dictator (absolute monarchy) is preferable to an appointed leader that is beholden to the system and society at large (constitutional democracy). I saw Rider’s and Saber’s stances representative of major parts of the two sides, though not perfect ideals of them. More than just the Law, Rider is the nation itself, the sole unifying force of all of his subjects and followers. Saber is a martyr, a small part of a greater whole that she defines as a nation.

    In describing a flaw of Rider’s brand of kingship you said, “…the void that is left that can’t be filled will prove to be disastrous in a society filled with ambitious and strong citizens.” However, I imagine that’s what Rider exactly wants when he is dead and gone; a fight for the throne, survival of the fittest. People will naturally follow the charismatic and strong, which (Rider believes) will move a country forward. The disaster actually happens when there are no ambitious, strong citizens capable of taking up the mantle of leadership. There is no direction for the nation, and no one willing to make the tough calls.

    There’s probably a hundred more related topics I could touch on, but I think this is enough for now.

    • Bruno

      In rider worldview fight isn’t a necessary evil, but the souljoy of every strongh person, because of this, he as king embody everything that make humans great, might, marvelous, demi-divine. The warmth in the heart and hope in the furute, never looking down, strugging and growing, The greed now-a-days lost its good consiousness, tainted by the sin and comply with the weaker, rider is the nobility of greed; he have a waidopen view of this world, he looks above, he is from above. Saber may have a simpateticy mindset, but no future will born from a world created from this, in the and a emptness will born in this society, where live mean labutare, pain and suffering, in the end who really want to live up to be a marty?

  4. It was an interesting watch to see Saber’s very own reason for existence to be shaken.

    admin edit for emphasis on spoiler alert

      *Hopefully you’ve seen/read/played Fate/Stay Night before reading on a bit.*

    I’m unsure if the Heroic Spirits return to a parallel world where they are still alive, as indicated by the ending of Fate/Stay Night, but in the slim chance that they do, it would be interesting to see if Rider changes his ruling approach towards his people. I’m sure Gilgamesh would not as he has not changed after being defeated by Saber in the end of Fate/Zero (in fact, I’m pretty sure he stayed behind for 10 years? I can’t really remember since it’s been a while since F/SN).

    And you have to admit, Rider’s Reality Marble was pretty awesome.

    • Personally, I think Iskander won’t even change a thing. Iskander’s not the type to change his style just because of some petty words from other kings. He has rock solid faith in his philosophy.

  5. The most interesting fact is, none of the three have the right mix. They have extreme definition of right and wrong and except for Gilgamesh, the other two’s nations were pretty much broken up after they died. So, Iskander’s glory of conquering and Arturia’s search for salvation never came to fruition. Gives you a stark contrast of current politics on how rulers make their own policies and lead their nations however they like. Comparing them, the efforts of these three seem almost reverent.

  6. Another fantastic read. Thank you!

    In a very general sense, the conversation between Saber and Rider mirrors that of democracy vs. dictatorship, or even communism vs. commercialism. To many the notion of having a King/state live for all equally is a fantastic ideal, but sadly that’s likely all what it would ever be; a grand vision. The reality is that human beings are too fractured and self-serving by nature to make this dream a success. It would take more than one individual, even with the charisma and strength of someone like Rider, to achieve this. It would take a god, and even then I cannot see acceptance of such a system readily taking place across the board. People simply aren’t like that. In her current state, Saber is so set in her ways and dismissive to life’s more unpalatable realities that I honestly cannot envisage her desires, however noble and sympathetic, ending in anything other than failure. I do hope she grows in character as the series moves along and finds a suitable compromise.

    Rider on the other hand knows individual human ideals and desires very well, having decided to become the living embodiment of them. Like Kadian has already said, I imagine nothing would please him more than to see the people below struggling to the top in a bid to be equal to, or even above his station, and I can’t imagine this viewpoint would change concerning the power vacuum that would occur after his death. It’s a harsh struggle and likely, many will be left behind in the dust, but to the likes of Iskander pushing yourself forward with all you have is surely the epitome of being alive, even if you’re destined to fail. I have no doubts he is completely sincere when he says he has no regrets concerning the end of his empire.

    So yeah, that is where I currently stand; desiring Saber’s vision but accepting Rider’s hold. I guess that decision is made more palpable by the fact Iskander doesn’t appear a complete despot, like Gilgamesh. His interactions with Waver reveal someone who understands and embraces all of life’s emotions, not simply baser desires. I could honestly see myself following such a figure with few regrets in my heart.

  7. I loved the back and forth in this episode and both how Saber’s ideas were characterized and her reaction to the ideas presented by the others.

    I kept thinking about one of my favorite books, “The Once and Future King.” Arthur is presented as very solemn and quite sad as he ages, particularly in the “The Candle in the Wind,” as his grand ideas come crashing down. Saber expresses that similar regret and melancholy in her words and actions.

    I also kept repeating in my mind the idea of “might is right,” which is of course the opposite of what Merlin instills in Arthur during their tutoring. I think it was the fish in “The Sword and the Stone” which particularly express this idea. Archer and Rider find themselves on the opposite side of Saber in this lesson of compassion and heart.

  8. dm00

    As I watched the episode, I found myself thinking that Saber sounded more like a student of Aristotle’s than did Iskandar — though, as a friend pointed out, Aristotle didn’t teach his student about knots, either.

    Reading your post, I find myself reflecting on Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books — particularly those concerned with the City Watch. In them, Lord Vetinari, the Tyrant of Ank-Morpork is Saber tutored by Machiavelli (and Aristotle). He is at once ruthless and benign, and would have made an interesting fourth at that table in Illyasviel’s garden. Pratchett also has an interesting take on Iskandar and his charisma: there is a character who was a foundling, who is, beyond a doubt, the rightful King of Ankh-Morpork, a fact known only to Lord Vetinari (and, maybe, to himself). His charisma and nobility come naturally to him and overwhelm anyone at whom he (unconsciously) directs them. Perhaps he rules the city from his middle-management position on the city police force (it’s always left ambiguous).

    Nonetheless, a marvelous episode: a marvelous conversation among the three of them

  9. Wow, I failed to see Gilgamesh’s philosophy of rule. Great job on covering that!

  10. zammael

    Awesome blog, Vucub Caquix!

    I think Alexander the Great was by far the more successful of the lot, given that during his conquest he spread Greek civilization by establishing libraries & academies, as well as having the tolerance to allow the conquered to keep their traditions and practices.

    While his dynasty crumbled, his impact was much greater and further reaching than King Arthur’s doomed rule that ended in the vanquishment of his people.

    I wrote a blog that highlights the differences in their moralities a couple of days ago. More to the point, their wishes are rather telling: Arthur cannot accept the fate of his nation and desires a reset while Alexander accepts his fate and wishes to continue in a new life. Arthur’s wish is nihilistic for it rejects history, while Alexander is Dionysian: he accepts the entirety of history. One denies life, the other affirms it.

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  13. metter

    This post is very enlightening regarding the Grail in Dialogue in this episode. Each king has his flaw, you can’t expect to please everyone indeed.

    You might want to check out the Uncut version of F/Z episode 11, though. They added more interaction between Rider and Archer and thankfully fixed the quality faces…

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