The beginning of the end arrives on Knightfall as King Philip and Princess Isabella press their advantages.
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This Knightfall review contains spoilers.
Knightfall Season 2 Episode 7
“I understand cruelty when I see it.”
We knew it was coming, but that doesn’t make the season two penultimate episode of Knightfall any easier to watch. Tonight the urge to avert our eyes at King Philip’s final vengeful acts against the Templars seems as much a betrayal as that perpetrated by former brother Gawain. “Death Awaits” forces us to acknowledge that a lie told often enough by enough prominent individuals eventually resonates with those who ultimately have the least to lose.
We don’t know whether master manipulator William De Nogaret or Philip orchestrates the details of the Templars’ final days, but the horrific image of the brothers pulling a cart laden with the very firewood that will send them to their deaths compels viewers to abandon any hope that Landry and his fellow knights might somehow escape this punishment. It’s unlikely the crowd truly understands the magnitude of what it’s about to witness, instead viewing the evening’s event as mere spectacle provided for their entertainment. “God has used my hand to cast these Templars out,” the king declares to his subjects, but the empty stakes will have to wait a bit longer for the occupants to arrive.
So confident are Philip and De Nogaret in this scheme to bring down the Templars that they allow Temple Master De Molay to defend the lies before those assembled in the square. In the first of several painfully redemptive admissions, the temple master confesses he put his faith in the wrong man, and with the Pope watching from the royal dais, the Templar leader is set ablaze. Equally as painful is the realization that Landry has no plan to save the brothers, and his assertion that “God will show us the way,” rings hollow. De Molay’s screams shake the imprisoned brothers who must now accept that God has abandoned them, and their fates will be equally horrific.
Philip’s revenge road has taken a circuitous route, but now that he has Landry at his mercy, there’s nothing he won’t do to inflict physical and emotional pain on the man he feels stole his wife. Knightfall has presented quite a few gruesome scenes during its run, and ordinarily it’s easy to see conflicts in terms of good vs evil. Here, however, things aren’t quite so straightforward, and it’s convenient to see Philip as the bad guy here, which of course he is, but it’s more complicated than that. Landry broke not only his Templar vows but committed adultery as well, and while Philip’s response can be seen as extreme, his desire to see justice done is not. You’d think it would be enough for him to light the fire under Landry’s stake, but he feels the need chop the wood himself. And when Philip places Landry inside his torture device, it’s clear that nothing he does to the knight will ever be enough.
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Philip’s cruelty extends far beyond that exacted on Landry, and in addition to crushing the Templars, he desperately seeks to recover their gold as well. Whether this is financial preservation for his kingdom or merely another blow meant to prevent the order from ever arising from the ashes, the king’s torture of Tancrede makes plain that he will stop at nothing, including risking his soul, to preserve his lost honor and power.
It’s difficult to lay too much blame at Kelton’s feet for the open betrayal of his brothers. Despite their training, each man has his breaking point, and it seems the older brothers understand what led him to this point. Even though De Nogaret surprisingly grants him his freedom after his public condemnation of the order, Kelton wanders the streets unable to accept what he’s done. He manages to beg his brothers’ forgiveness, but when he recants his testimony before the crowd, he pushes Philip past a point of no return. The king rouses the crowd’s already fevered pitch, leading them to descend on the young knight who has now done all he can to atone for his act.
Throughout the revenge narrative, hope remained alive that Gawain would back down from his decision to assist Philip in the plot to ruin the Templars and rejoin his brother knights. Though it initially doesn’t make sense, Gawain finds himself imprisoned with Landry and the others, and we learn the steps he took to find his way back to some measure of salvation. As an experienced knight, it’s a bit surprising it takes him this long to recognize that any animosities he has with Landry and the Templars pale in comparison to the lengths to which Philip goes to satisfy his blood lust. It’s difficult to excuse what he’s done, but when the gravely injured Tancrede verifies that his attempt to kill the king landed him in prison, he’s accepted back into the brotherhood during their last moments.
Particularly poignant is the moment when one of the younger brothers can no longer contain his fear that “God has abandoned us,” and Landry and Tancrede touch hands before beginning a prayer. In a moving display of forgiveness, they ask Gawain to join them in what will be their final communal act as they recite the “Lord’s Prayer.” They have nothing left but their faith, and if they can’t forgive their brother, then they’re no better than the king.
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With only one episode remaining, it’s no surprise that the pace has increased, though to be fair, things have move at a rapid clip most of the season. Nonetheless, Louis and Isabella’s arcs have become as compelling as that of their father’s with the Templars. Though she doesn’t know what’s about to befall her, we have to give Margaret credit for challenging Louis over his imprisonment of Lydia. Though she’s not as emotionally confused as her husband, Margaret recognizes a lie when she hears it, and when she tells Louis his “father is a monster,” we understand she’s really referring to both father and son.
Isabella has been playing the long game with her sister-in-law, but for her, it’s more about pride than power. She knows her fate rests in her impending role as the queen of England, but she’s not about to let Margaret’s condescending statement about always having a place at court go unpunished. In that respect she’s far worse than her father who at least has a tangible reason for seeking to avenge a transgression against him. Now that the king has been read into Margaret’s disloyalty, her fate is sealed. She’s taken to a cell and stripped of her outer garments just before one of the women takes shears to her hair. They too have bought into the lie, and the image of a chained Margaret on her knees bathed in bright sunlight implies that at least God knows the truth.
There’s no doubt that Margaret’s recognition of the cruelty inherent within her husband’s family sets the tone for tonight’s episode, and while it’s understood that she’s the innocent victim here, she has become a pawn in a dangerous game she’s playing out with her brother and father. Isabella lays down the gauntlet when she dares her sister-in-law to challenge her version of the truth, and hopefully we’ll get a chance to see how Louis handles a situation that finds him squarely in the middle. As we watch Isabella taunt Margaret by listing the offenses that have led to this point in time, it’s natural to consider how Joan’s influence might have mitigated these circumstances.
Obviously, Louis’ heinous actions far surpass those of his sister, and it’s fascinating to watch him suffer at her hand. Once he learns his wife’s fate, the path to a reunion with her ends up littered with bodies, but it’s his father’s reaction that sets the tone and any impending actions. The two men share a common thread, but we know that Philip’s pronouncement that “women are all alike; eventually they betray you” lacks veracity with Margaret and Louis. Still, it’s always fun to watch the king put his often petulant son in his place as he does here, threatening to punish Louis more severely should he defy him again.
As we head into the season and perhaps series finale next week, it’s entirely fitting that Landry appears as the last Templar standing. And though we have to wait for Philip to light the kindling beneath his stake, his final words powerfully resonate and beautifully capture the essence of his faith. “Father, into your arms I commend my spirit.” I’m not sure how much resolution and closure we’ll get next week, but Knightfall has presented viewers a consistently engaging season with characters we’ll miss and some we won’t.
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Dave Vitagliano has been writing and podcasting about science fiction television since 2012. You can read more of his work here. He presently hosts the Sci Fi Fidelity podcast.