After the nerve-wracking and blood-pumping thrills of the pre-Rumbling episodes this season, “Attack on Titan” has taken a few weeks to hit the brakes a bit, take stock, and air out grievances before the most uneasy of alliances can truly work together to fight Eren and save the world.
Indeed, after 84 episodes of death and violence, it is not easy for the Survey Corps and the Warrior Candidates to let bygones be bygones. Before the final fight, it is time for “Attack on Titan” to make the characters sit down and have a long conversation about the past and confront their sins before any peace can be achieved, and the result is still a very tense episode of the show.
Has it been worth it?
Following the themes of the past couple of episodes, we start with Jean having a nice daydream about what life would be like if he simply could follow his brain and stop fighting. The sequence reminds me of Shinji’s dreams of a regular school life in “Neon Genesis Evangelion,” which is always a good thing. He pictures himself having a nice, comfortable god in the interior, married to what looks like Mikasa, and with a baby that looks suspiciously like Eren. Sadly, that is not who Jean is. He is not someone who would let hell break out while he’s sitting comfortably at home, and he’s not about to miss out on the big fight.
Just as we saw a few episodes ago, Jean is interestingly the only one of the remaining Scout Regiment members who keeps trying to rationalize Eren’s decisions and seeing things from his perspective. While Hange asks them if they are willing to fight Eren to stop the Rumbling, Jean asks the question hanging over everyone’s shoulders: if Eren had no choice but to start the Rumbling to protect the island, what would happen if they stop it? What will happen once the rest of the world realizes that they can indeed get obliterated whenever an Eldian feels like it? Shouldn’t they make sure they can be left alone?
What they are fighting for
But Hange won’t have it. In a phenomenal scene that replaces the traditional opening title sequence (sadly, no song this week), Hange takes her turn to reckon with the consequences of her actions up to this point. She asks if it is her fault as the leader of the Scouts for letting her ideals blind her to reality, and prevent her from seeing Eren’s plan before it became too late. She thought she could fix things cleanly and without comprising her morals, and that is not how the world of “Attack on Titan” works. Still, she couldn’t help it, because she is still a Scout, and that is just who they are. From the very first episode of the show, we’ve seen the Scouts fight a losing fight, sacrifice hundreds of their own comrades to push humanity forward even just a few inches, in order to reach a bright future.
Then Hange gets her own Erwin moment and starts seeing the ghosts of all the dead Scouts in arguably the most heartbreaking scene of the season, with everyone from Erwin and Petra, to Hannes and even poor, sweet Marco showing up to remind us of who we’ve lost. With the weight of everyone they’ve lost hanging over Hange, she reminds us, most of them died before even knowing there were humans outside the walls. She then asks Mikasa and Jean a question, will they fight a losing fight in order to secure an ideal future, even if they will probably lose, or will they just roll over and accept their bleak but comfortable present? It may be too clean and corny, but it is the perfect encapsulation of the earnestness of “Attack on Titan.” As Hange concludes, they will fight because genocide is not, and will never be, the answer.
Airing out old grievances
The rest of “Night of the End” essentially plays out like “The Beach” episode of “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” with the major players sitting around a campfire and just telling each other what they feel. Some viewers may be frustrated about the lack of action, but this is an episode full of reckonings that have been a long time coming. There may not be huge reveals, but it full of cathartic moments of truth.
Of course, making friends isn’t easy, especially after thousands of years of killing. For instance, despite everything, Magath cannot see past his Marleyan propaganda and continues to think of the Eldians as devils. As he explains, if they hadn’t tried to stop the Marleyan army, Eren would be dead and the Rumbling would never have started. He is still, as Sasha’s dad would say, lost in the forest of hatred, unable to let go of the past or the negative. In his eyes, by unleashing the Rumbling, the Eldians have proved the world that they are the devils they all think, and that there is no more hope left, because the world will be flattened by Titans. This is entirely opposite to Hange’s speech from earlier, as Magath cannot see past their current situation and is just rolling over and accepting the worst.
As Hange says, Magath is confused as to why this group of “demons” would willingly sacrifice the future of their home to help the very world that wants to exterminate them. He is so stuck in the forest he can’t even imagine anyone escaping it and being tolerant.
Everyone is drunk on something
As if things weren’t already tense enough, we also have Yelena to deal with! After a bit of an underwhelming reveal about Yelena not being a refugee, but a bonafide regular Marleyan, she sets out to break the alliance and air out everyone’s dirty laundry in public. Yelena confesses to helping out Zeke not out of a desire to help the Eldians, but because she got drunk on the idea of being the savior of the world. This harkens back to Kenny’s words at the end of the first half of season 3, that everyone is drunk on an idea that pushes them forward, from Erwin to Zeke to even Eren.
Yelena then reminds us of the sins all the characters have committed. Not only Reiner breaking the wall, but also Armin killing lots of civilians in Libero, and even Jean throwing a thunder spear at Falco to kill the Cart Titan. To rub salt in the wound, she also asks Jean about Marco, and Annie’s involvement in his death.
Throughout this conversation, the camera constantly pans away from the characters to seemingly random shots of trees and branches, a literal representation of the speech about the forest from a few weeks back. The camera frames each character surrounded by thick trees that they can’t escape from, but when Reiner starts talking about Marco and confesses to being responsible for his death, the camera looks up at the sky, showing the open space just behind the branches, which is within reach if you just try to grab it.
Jean doesn’t react much to the story of Marco’s death, but when he asks if Marco had any last words and Reiner starts breaking down in self-pity again, asking to be killed, he loses it. Jean throws himself at Reiner and starts beating him to a pulp, not because he’s angry at what he did, but because Reiner still hasn’t forgiven himself and thinks he deserves some special punishment — all without realizing every single person there has done terrible things, and are now trying to do something about it and make amends.
In what is otherwise a rather heavy episode, there are some very appreciated one-liners from Hange and even Levi! “Attack on Titan” is many things, but it is not completely devoid of humor.
A brighter future
Leave it to Gaby to be the voice of reason, the only one to say the quiet part out loud and outright recognize that the Warrior Candidates got it all wrong. They did set out to exterminate the island of devils not out of a righteous cause, but because they thought they’d be accepted by the outside world if they acted like good Eldians. She then apologizes for killing Sasha, for treating them like monsters, and begs Jean to help her save her family from the Rumbling, even if she knows it’s horrible to ask.
In this moment, the camera looms up to a clearing beyond the trees and the woods, as Gabi escapes the forest and shows everyone a better future. Hell, even Magath sees a crying Gabi and seemingly realizes that maybe he had it wrong. It doesn’t matter what happened thousands of years ago, what matters is today and tomorrow. For now, they’re setting their differences aside. Will that be enough to fix things? Most likely not, but perhaps that is the point of “Attack on Titan.” The Rumbling, making alliances, having a common enemy are all just excuses and temporary fixes. The only thing that will truly get us out of the forest is each and every one of us taking that step forward.