Last episode I was disappointed that the series seemed to be taking the easier way out by turning the villagers into evil cultists. This episode, however, allayed my concerns for now as it explains what is really going on. In the end it does, indeed, involve the Spade Kingdom after all, just not in the way that I originally imagined.
First is the flashback to before Kabwe sent his dying message, which revealed that the Devil Banishers who weren't Kabwe's people were already planning to rid themselves of that trio; Kabwe deciding that Nero needed to be executed immediately just upped the timetable a little. They were ultimately pretty ruthless and underhanded about it, too, as this was a kill play, not a knock-out play. On the plus side, that means that Nero's life is not in danger for the moment; on the minus side, she's being carted off north.
It's the pieces that come together after that which make for the episode's most interesting part, however. The Devil Believers are not really an evil cult; they are just desperate, downtrodden folk who, in an effort to secure some kind of power and safety for themselves, have ironically decided that the protagonist should be their model. After all, if the guy with no magic got that strong by (apparently) making a pact with a devil, why can't they recast the die more favorably for themselves using the same method? The kicker is that theirs turns out to be a populist movement. Lots of people who have been injured, lost loved ones, or had their livelihood destroyed, and lack the powerful magic needed to better their lot grasp onto this as a hope for salvation, and if you're desperate enough, who cares if the devil is your savior?
There isn't anything inherently evil about this behavior, and that combined with the Devil Believers' swelling numbers is going to make this a difficult task for the Black Bulls (and others) to deal with. This is not a foe that they can just barrel through, as many of these are the same folks that they want to protect. It also somewhat has some historical parallels; throughout the Middle Ages cults and splinter factions of the Christian Church arose in Europe. Typically these attracted the disillusioned and disenfranchised – in other words, people like the Devil Believers. Those cults usually came to grim ends, and if the Devil Believers are really doing what Yami surmises (i.e., trying to cross into the Spade Kingdom and speak to Megicula, with Nero and the five-leaf grimoire as bargaining chips), I cannot see them getting a much warmer reception from the Spade Kingdom.
Among other interesting points, seeing Gordon get more directly involved in missions – and continuing to make significant contributions – is welcome, as is the story generally keeping the level of tomfoolery to a minimum; each time the normal antics seem like they will erupt, the tone settles them back down. People are also learning better how to manipulate Gauche. Even the artistry seems sharper and more stable than normal. Overall, I like the direction that the story is going by the end, and am actively anticipating week-to-week developments for the first time in a while.