I would adjudge that the course of events in this week’s Aldnoah.Zero has been cast for some time, but the awakening of the real Princess Asseylum was probably the last event that could have turned Slaine’s arc from it. Based on what we saw in this episode it seems as if the opposite has happened – Asseylum’s revival has persuaded Slaine to go all-in on the mad dictator and conqueror route, in the belief that that other door has already been closed forever. What he’s already done has ended any chance that he could win Asseylum’s heart, so the only option left is to possess her. A caged bird, indeed.
At this point, all the pieces for Slaine’s tragic downfall at the hands of his own arrogance seem to be in place. He’s launching a Stalin-esque purge not just of any Knights that oppose him, but those that might potentially oppose him. He’s moving to crush Earth utterly so that he can remake it in his own image. He’s decided to imprison Asseylum in secret (or worse, if you interpret his “tragedies do happen” comment in a certain way – though I suspect it refers to faking Asseylum’s death), locking her away in a gilded cage of his making and telling everyone – most especially his fiancee – that’s she’s taken a turn for the worse and is near death. And in all these machinations he seems to have a willing partner in Harklight, who questions none of his master’s increasingly outlandish orders and indeed, seems intoxicated by them. So much for that notion of a democratic revolution.
I suppose we’re intended to feel sorry for Slaine because we see how conflicted is over how evil he’s become – he cries and punches walls and all. But in the end, I think he’s right – he’s chosen this course, and he has to live with it. If knowing how horrified Asseylum would be at what he’s become tortures him, well – it should. And he’s quite good at being a strongman, unsurprisingly – even Barouhcruz is toeing the line for now. Mazuurek seems likely to fall victim to Slaine’s purge – he’s back behind VERS lines, and he seems pretty naive about what constitutes the new normal there. Baroucruz tries to warn him off being careless – perhaps hoping that by biding his time, he might use Mazuurek against Slaine later – but caution doesn’t seem to be Mazuurek’s strong suit.
Slaine isn’t without worries, that’s for certain. There’s still Inaho, who surely represents the greatest threat to him both militarily and personally, and the rage Slaine surely feels after hearing Asseylum speak fondly of Inaho surely isn’t going to lead to calm and detached thinking. Eddelruito is smart enough to know what’s going on here, and it seems quite clear she’s turned against Slaine – though how that will manifest itself is unclear. And when Lemrina – who to her credit seems genuinely aggrieved by what she’s been told is happening to Asseylum – discovers the truth, things are going to get mighty ugly.
For now, though, the pendulum is solidly swinging in Slaine’s direction. Meeting no internal resistance, he’s launched an all-out strike on Earth led by Harklight. And with the Martians finally abandoning their practice of politely attacking one Knight at a time in order to let themselves be slowly decimated, not even Inaho’s superhuman ability is going to have an easy time fighting them off. And there seems little hope of help from Earth’s military leadership, who are incompetent and complacent as only anime military bigwigs can be. The Deucalion is really the only weapon Earth has that’s capable of bloodying VERS’ nose, and the authorities don’t even trust it – and even with Inaho doing the thinking, can the Deucalion really hold off multiple landing castles and kataphrakts at-once?
Something is going to have to happen soon to change the momentum or else we’re reaching the endgame too quickly – perhaps some freakish new bit of genius from Inaho, a clumsy overreach by Slaine, or Asseylum breaking free of his clutches and causing trouble back home. If I were Slaine, I’d certainly be doing everything in my power to make sure Edelruitto has no access to the outside world – indeed, I’d be nervous even allowing her access to Asseylum, given what she might say. Superficially Slaine might seem to be in a position of security and strength, but it’s built on an increasingly complicated web of deceit – and when it comes crashing down, it could do so quickly and spectacularly.