Despite the obvious images that word brings up, Strength is actually a spiritual card in nature. It is about the strength of sprit needed for courage and compassion, to be able to succeed through persuasion and patience.
In many ways this exemplifies what Hitomi tries to achieve in this episode. To a lesser extent, at least until he is overwhelmed by the moment, Van is heading in this direction as well.
But, oddly, I think the card is mostly about two scenes with Dryden and Millerna.
The card is immediately revealed. At the end of Fateful Decision Van and Hitomi had returned to the aftermath of a one sided battle on the front lines. The soldiers of Cesario ask for Van's help to hold the front line until the main forces arrive.
Van offers to lead them but asks for Hitomi to be sent back to Asturia. He doesn't want to rely on Hitomi, and especially doesn't want to use her powers for war.
Adelphos, the leader of the Zaibach generals, is itching to advance and sweep the alliance away. But permission to do so has not arrived. Dornkirk is waiting for Hitomi to arrive so he can set the Zone of Absolute fortune in order.
As the rain falls and the main forces begin to head off, Allen is being gracious about Hitomi's refusal. He even offers reassurance that because of her, Van will sure to return.
[Aside: note Hitomi was wearing her school uniform when she left Gaea in Fateful Decision but wasn't wearing it when she returned. Her return to it from this scene is a possible continuity glitch. Alternatively is rematerialised in her bag when the pocket universe I speculated about collapsed. :) ]
Dryden is bitter about the war that he cannot stop, and is almost seeing himself as worthless. After admiring Millerna's beauty ("A goddess would be jealous") he returns the ring marking him as heir to her. Claiming that he is not the man she deserves yet, he leaves to live as a merchant among the people as they rebuild after the war, hoping to become the man that Millerna deserves that way.
Millerna points out that she may not be waiting, but Dryden is confident that he can, eventually, make her fall for him as he loves her more than anything.
A tear runs down Millerna's face, and she closes her gloved hand in a fist over the ring.
This is where the Strength card applies to Dryden: He faces his weaknesses without flinching and resolves to deal with them by improving himself.
Hitomi is talking to Folken: she wants to control one of the beams of light to confront Dornkirk. Hitomi wants to persuade Dornkirk to stop the madness. There is a way to direct the pillar of light but Folken doesn't think it is possible to persuade Dornkirk, and sees it as his duty to face (ie: kill) Dornkirk.
Hitomi has a vision at this moment of Folken dying if he faces Dornkirk.
Millerna and Allen are saying their own goodbyes. Millerna has realised that she must yield to duty before happiness, and does not want to hear kind words from Allen that she might come to rely on.
This is the moment where the Princess becomes the Queen and gives the child's dream of Allen over to the duty of the adult. The words of parting of Knight to Queen and the blessing of Queen to Knight are as formal as they are seriously met.
The applicability of the Strength card to Millerna here should be obvious.
Jajuka enters the tent where Dilandau is sprawled in a chair to bring orders from above. Dilandau is almost subdued in this scene, you can almost sense Celena leaking through. Dilandau goes through the motions of trying to be enthusiastic about the battle to come, but his heart really isn't in it.
The orders have apparently been given and the battle is on. Van and Allen are in fine form as one of the allies, Basram, moves to release a new "ultimate weapon".
Judging by the Planet of Hats effect, I would say that Basram is modelled after World War I Germans.
Hitomi is looking out over her balcony when she notices Merle crying on her bed behind her.
For all that she's been astonishingly brave thus far Merle is only 13, and Van has not always come back in one piece from large battles with Zaibach (cf Red Destiny). It is only natural for Merle to be worried about Van now.
As Hitomi gently reassures Merle, Basram are dropping their "ultimate weapon".
It is essentially an air burst nuke, and the blast is visible over the horizon in Palas.
About three quarters of the Zaibach forces are wiped out as the Crusade just dodges behind a mountain. The final Zaibach fortress crashes but survived and Adelphios is furious.
One surviving Zaibach guymelef attacks Van and as he defeats it the pilot curses him. With only one ghost involved this isn't as bad as Dangerous Wounds, but you can see Escaflowne darken a bit, and Van is definitely not handling the aftermath all that well.
Hitomi can feel Van's pain.
As Folken is whistling that Fanelian tune, Hitomi runs in and wants to help Van. Hitomi tells Folken of her vision, but Folken isn't worried. It turns out that the black wings seen in the The Black Winged Angel are a sign that Folken will die soon.
Folken sees it as his duty to atone by killing Dornkirk before he dies. Hitomi is still holding out for a peaceful solution as the pillar of light forms and the battle begins to resume.
Allen is looking for the red guymelef.
Dornkirk is awaiting Folken and Hitomi. Cue the evil overlord laugh as Dornkirk claims to have guided Folken to bring Hitomi to him, and that it is time to activate the Fate Alteration Engine at full power.
Dornkirk calls on Folken to try and kill him.
Folken strikes. and inflicts what looks like a fatal wound.
The tip of his sword breaks and the ricochet penetrates his heart.
Folken falls and dies, hoping for true peace to come to Gaea.
Van feels Folken die, and grieves at the end.
Hitomi is tired of the fighting, doesn't want to see it anymore. Her pendant flares as the zone of absolute fortune begins and Dornkirk's shade appears next to her to watch it.
You would normally expect the second last episode of a series like Escaflowne to be action packed leading up to a massive cliff hanger. It is, instead, a surprisingly introspective episode.
There is a fair amount of action happening but it is mostly a backdrop behind the characters. The focus is on the effect of the action on the characters, rather than on the action itself. This is particularly the case for Dryden and Millerna who will not be anywhere near the action but are dramatically changed by it.
I think that this was good scripting, and it makes for an enormously effective episode.
The one exception is the deus ex machina introduction of the Basrams ultimate weapons. I grant that this was necessary to even the numbers, as well as to replace Zaibach's arrogance with rage, but it still jars. Partly for the lack of justification in previous episodes although it may have been one of the things edited out.
And, no, having Allen exclaim in shock that "They actually used it" afterwards does not count as justification.
But that quibble aside, Zone of Absolute Fortune is an excellent episode that ends with a nice setup for the finale.
Day 1 - Fateful Confession / The Tower
Day 2 - The Girl From the Mystic Moon / Ace of Serpents
Day 3 - The Gallant Swordsman / Death
Day 4 - The Diabolical Adonis / The Hanged Man
Day 5 - The Seal of the Brothers / Judgement
Day 6 - Capitol of Intrigue / Justice
Day 7 - Unexpected Partings / The Chariot
Day 8 - Sub vs Dub
Day 9 - The Day the Angel Flew / Temperance
Day 10 - Memories of a Feather / Ace of Birds
Day 11 - The Blue-Eyed Prince / Knight of Beasts
Day 12 - Prophecy of Death / The Devil
Day 13 - The Secret Door / High Priestess
Day 14 - Red Destiny / The Emperor
Day 15 - The Gender of Escaflowne
Day 16 - Dangerous Wounds / The Magician
Day 17 - Lost Paradise / The Star
Day 18 - The Guided Ones / Wheel of Fortune
Day 19 - The Edge of the World / The Empress
Day 20 - The Gravity of Destiny / The World
Day 21 - Operation Golden Rule of Love / The Fool
Day 22 - False Vows / The Moon
Day 23 - Reaction of Fortune / The Hierophant
Day 24 - Destiny, Free Will, and Personal Responsibility
Day 25 - The Black Winged Angel / The Sun
Day 26 - Storm Premonition / Ace of Beasts
Day 27 - Fateful Decision / The Hermit
Day 28 - Zone of Absolute Fortune / Strength
Day 29 - Eternal Love
Day 30 - Looking Back at The Vision of Escaflowne