Anyone who follows Game of Thrones would surely have noticed a couple of elements in this week’s episode of Arslan Senki that echo developments in George R.R. Martin’s series “A Song of Ice and Fire”. I’m thinking of the arrow from the parapets that prevents a helpless prisoner from being tortured for propagandist ends (Mance Rayder, of course) and the notion of conquering an “impenetrable” walled city by appealing to the slaves inside the walls. For the record, of course, Tanaka Yoshiki wrote of these events before Martin did – but just as relevant is that fact that these are pretty archetypal themes in the sort of epic both men were writing.
To give both Tanaka and Arakawa-sensei their due credit, Arslan Senki takes no pains to try and make either side in this conflict especially sympathetic. The Lusitanian priest was a bit of a moustache-twirling pantomime villain, it’s true, but he’s attacking the slaver city of an arrogant king – and one whose darkest secrets we’ve surely yet to see exposed. Narsus refers to the “something beyond belief” that Kharlan must surely know, and I don’t doubt it’s true – and it seems he was about to give Daryin that information for free before the incensed (justifiably, it’s true) Daryun drove him off.
The contrast between Daryun and Narsus was never more obvious than in this episode – the warrior and the strategist, friends in spite (or because) of their contradictory natures. Narsus acknowledges Daryun’s fearsome bravery and strength, but points out the relevant fact to Arslan than any king must know – men like Daryun are one in a thousand. And that any plan must be built around the assumption that the weakest soldier and the weakest commander in his army can triumph with it. I give credit to Daryun for realizing that Arslan needed a sort of instruction that he himself would be unable to provide, and in Narsus he seems to have had the perfect comrade to provide it.
As Narsus insists that the royal party hole up in a cave and wait out Kharlan’s search parties, the Lusitanian force marches on Ectabana. This is where the aforementioned torture scene plays out, involving a Lusitanian priest and the captured captain Shapur. It’s not Jon Snow who puts the doomed man out of misery here, but Gieve (KENN, who’s more and more impressing me as an actor with real range). He’s an odd sort – he introduces himself as a prince in order to win the favors of a lady-in-waiting, but when the queen herself summons him he describes himself as an oud player (and general musician) with “above-average” skills with the bow, spear and sword. It’s not yet clear where Gieve fits into the larger picture, but he gives the impression of a highly gifted man whose only real loyalty is to himself.
The invading army’s strategy is exactly what Narsus predicts it will be – to bring down the city from within. It’s clear enough that there’s nothing admirable in the zealots attacking Ectabana, but the capital city certainly seems to be rotten from within. Arslan’s role, then, must surely be to seek a new path that embraces neither of the two currently at war – and it’s the notion that he might find it that draws Narsus to serve at his side.