Claymore Recap: Clare has traveled in secrecy to the Holy City of Rabona. Her assignment is to quietly engage and defeat a powerful yoma who has been preying on the priests of the city cathedral. If she is discovered in the course of her assignment, the human guards of the city will put her to death as an abomination.
Claymore, Episode 4: Clare's Awakening
Episode 4 opens with Clare taking a serious blow from the yoma; a blow that she could have avoided, but she took upon herself in order to save the lives of the two human guards who had been chasing her. This sacrificial act doesn't kill her, but her survival is more a credit to her own powers of healing than to the people whose care she must endure. The soldiers call her a demon and sneer that "humans should defend humans"; the priest, in his fear and disgust of the Claymore bodies has decided to provide us a very clear example of Worst Aid in bandaging Clare's uniform rather than her actual body.
In many ways, Episode 4 is about dying well and for a good cause. Clare urges the human guards to run not so much because she values their lives above all other considerations, but really because any death they die at the hands of the yoma will be a wasted death -- they aren't powerful enough to hurt or hinder the monster in a meaningful, fight-critical way. Watching the series, I come to feel that Clare and the other Claymores are not opposed on principle to suicide attacks or the trading of a life in service to a cause, but they abhor meaningless gestures and wasted life.
If you're going to die, the unofficial sentiment seems to be, at least make it count.
Clare recovers from her wounds enough to decide that a showdown is in order. She can't afford to play cat-and-mouse nightly with the yoma, and since her secret is already out among the guards and her caretaker, they might as well call an all-church showdown. The priests are brought to the main hall for examination, and the guards are posted in a circle around the suspected priests; Clare has given them clear orders that when she finds the yoma, she will hold it motionless in position while the guards spear both her and it. The guards are skeptical at these instructions, but decide to follow her orders if this plan will rid them of the yoma.
A real question here -- somewhat robbed of tension by the medium of the message, since we can be fairly confident Clare won't die this early in the series -- is whether or not the plan will rid them of Clare.
Clare has already taken several stabs through the torso at this point in the series, so we know that a spear through the chest isn't necessarily fatal to her, but she has also been cautioned by her handler that she has vital organs, too, and if those organs are pierced, she will die. Quite a few spears to the torso, from various different directions, seem very likely to cause a critical, life-threatening injury, particularly in her weakened state. This consideration is, perhaps, why she has told Raki to remain outside the hall -- she may be keeping him from the demonstration in order to keep him as far from the monster as possible, or she may simply be shielding him from watching her die at the soldiers' hands.
From what we know of Clare, I think it is very likely that she is willing to die in this exercise to flush out the yoma. Certainly, her entire existence at this point is to kill or be killed in battle, and she has accepted this with at least outward serenity; her battles thus far seem to be conducted with the knowledge that she may die in the process and the willingness to accept that if it is a condition for success. Dying here in order to take the yoma with her may be an act of desperation for a warrior too weak to otherwise effectively fight, but it does feel like a logical decision for her.
When the battle with the yoma begins, it is noteworthy in that it echoes the previous battle between Clare, the yoma, and the two guards. Clare orders the guards to get out and not waste their lives, but the guards have evolved their thinking since the last fight and have figured out a way to sacrifice their lives meaningfully instead of meaninglessly. Instead of uselessly attacking the monster head-on, they irritate and distract it in order to protect Clare and in order to maneuver the monster into a position of weakness for her to strike. "You can use our lives however you see fit," one of the guards calls to Clare, and he means it -- she is their commander, and they are her pawns in this fight.
It is interesting that once their usefulness in the battle becomes clear, Clare accepts their willingness to be useful. She doesn't try to protect them and she doesn't urge them to run in the same way she did before -- she accepts their offer to sacrifice themselves. The situation isn't different, and the guards are certainly no stronger than they had been the night before; the only difference is their willingness to be merely useful rather than their insistence that they be heroes.
There are a lot of fighting scenes out there where the hero sacrifices himself for his friends or his loved ones, and this is all well and good. But less well-sung are the support characters who give their lives in a calculated choice to weaken the monster, maneuver it into position, or otherwise simply wear the creature down through attrition. Indeed, usually such sacrifices are revealed as useless gestures in order to heighten the dramatic tension: not only did Bob die, but Bob died in vain. And now the hero has to defeat the uber-powerful creature all by himself! This overdone twist sours the poignancy of the sacrifice because in retrospect it seems foolish and poorly reasoned -- if only Bob had been smart enough to realize that his suicide charge wouldn't work.
In Claymore, I love that the usefulness of the second-stringers isn't cheapened with tricks or twists. The support characters die in service to a greater goal, and that is poignant enough without making the sacrifice meaningless; the protagonists work tirelessly in order to protect and serve humanity, and that is heroic enough without them having to shoulder all the burden themselves without the help of their support characters. In Claymore, people die -- but the subtext is that the death is a good one, if one's death is chosen wisely.