While this episode has no epic fight, it makes up for it by providing Kayaba with his own redemption scene which, combined with flawless animation and music, is just as good as the Kirito vs Gabriel battle. Visually speaking, the anime portrayed Kayaba’s sacrifice much better than the novels.
However, I think they failed somewhat to properly portray its emotional impact because, once again, the scene was slightly altered. In the novel, Niemon was in the same room as Rinko, so Kayaba had more time to interact with her, lending more emotion to their reunion compared to what they showed in this episode.
Also, Niemon’s revival is slightly better in the novel because of a minor scene they cut, which should have emphasized that miracles do exist. During this scene, Rinko remembered that after SAO was cleared, Kayaba said he didn’t believe in miracles before until that point when Kirito managed to survive long enough to kill Kayaba even after his HP went zero.
Much of Rinko’s monologue was removed too, which would also explain Kayaba’s motive for appearing. In this episode, it was never clear if Kayaba sacrificed himself for Rinko or the Underworld. But in the novel, Rinko realized that he was doing it not just for her and the Underworld, but because Kayaba owed both Kirito and Asuna an apology, and his sacrifice was the only way for him to atone for his sins.
The rest of the episode played out the same as the novels, and the scene with Gabriel and the spirit of Alicia is just as terrifying as it is in the source material. However, there is one scene they truly removed that might never be animated considering there are only two episodes left.
THE REUNION KISS OF KIRITO AND ASUNA. 😭
Regardless of that one major flaw, this episode still deserves a 9/10.