Attack on Titan – 56 – The MacGuffin Unveiled

After a very creepy dream, Armin wakes up atop the wall, beside an injured Sasha, remembering virtually nothing after Bertholdt transformed. Eren fills him in on everything that’s transpired since then. He learns he was chosen to live on over Erwin, not just because Eren and Mikasa insisted to the point of insubordination, but because Erwin gave Levi the final call, and he made it.

Furthermore, only nine members of the Scout Regiment remain: Hange, Levi, Eren, Mikasa, Armin, Sasha, Connie, Jean, and Floch…and that’s it. It’s a very end-of-The Last Jedi situation, with one important difference: they’ve dealt a serious blow to the Titans by freeing Wall Maria. Now there’s nothing between Eren, the others, and the mythical Basement. An an anime watcher only, I’ve been waiting for this for six years.

With such a long and drawn out buildup, a disappointment seemed nigh inevitable. And boy, do they ever lay the final buildup on thick, splicing scenes in the present day with scenes of Eren and Mikasa on the day the Titans came. But it works very well, thanks to the gorgeous scenery, haunting soundtrack, and all of the brooding closeups of the pair as they draw closer to the place where it all began.

After moving a boulder blocking the trap door, they access the hidden stair, but to Eren’s shock, his key doesn’t fit in the lock of the door they find. Levi simply smashes the door, and they walk into a seemingly innocuous chemist’s laboratory and office.

Even behind a locked door and hidden stair, Grisha took great pains to hide the secret of the basement from any possible incursion from the Interior Police. It’s not until Mikasa knocks a wooden cup on the ground that she spots another keyhole in the desk – one in which the key does fit.

Inside the unlocked drawer are three preserved books, the first of which contains a strange and very detailed and lifelike portrait. Grisha’s handwriting on the back describes it as a “photograph,” and reveals an entire society outside the walls that “lives elegantly.” Needless to say nobody in that room had ever seen a photo before, and there’s something very unnerving about that.

There’s an odd flash-forward showing Eren, Levi, Mikasa and Hange returning to further within the walls, where news has come Wall Maria has been taken back and the streets are full of celebration. Hange is holding the books they found in her arm. We don’t see their faces, but no doubt what they say in those books has changed them forever.

Post-credits, Grisha’s story begins when he runs out of the house with his little sister Kay in tow. His mother makes sure they’re wearing their armbands, and along with the whole bleak look of the place, high walls, loudspeakers, guards, and zeppelin, there’s a Nazi Germany ghetto vibe to the whole place, suggesting that life wasn’t so “elegant” for Grisha and his family.

Thousands of words could be written attempting to complete the picture this sequence only begins to paint. For instance, are the walls behind which Eren lived most of his life merely an upgraded version of the ghetto from which his dad hailed? What made the people in the ghetto different, besides clearly lacking the money of the zeppelin-riders?

Still, I’ll have to be patient at least one more week (since the French Open is wrapped up the next episode shouldn’t air late); no need for wild conjecture when the series seems committed to finally delivering the answers that had been delayed so long some feared they’d never come. But now here they are, and from what we’ve seen, they’re strange and disturbing…Classic Titan.

Attack on Titan – 55 – Levi’s Choice

The characters of Titan naturally have to hold on to certain dreams in order to keep going, though Kenny likened that to being a slave to something or someone. For Levi, that has become serving Erwin and seeing to it his dreams come true, if at all possible. That’s why, when he appears with the syringe of Titan serum, he holds out as long as he can to give it to Armin, who is on the verge of death.

Eren is slave to Armin’s and his dream of seeing the ocean one day, so their opposing dreams create a conflict. As for Zeke, he leaves Bertholdt for dead and lives to fight another day, promising Eren, fellow victim of their father, that he’ll come back to rescue him some day.

On the other front, Hange sends Mikasa to see if Levi is alive and still has the serum; if injected into one of them, they can eat Reiner and gain his powers. Otherwise Hange will kill Reiner right there and then, but not before taking possession of a letter from Ymir meant for Christa.

When Mikasa meets up with Eren and Levi, and sees what has become of Armin, Floch arrives just before Levi administers the serum to Armin, with a badly wounded but still breathing Erwin. Right there and then, Levi changes his mind; Erwin will get the serum. Armin will die.

It’s an impossible choice, as both Erwin and Armin have proven to be an integral part of the continued survival of humans within the walls. For Levi, it’s a simple matter of giving it to the more experienced leader, but he can’t pretend he’s not influenced by his greater loyalty to his commander, as well as his buy-in to Erwin’s dreams.

When he knocks Eren aside to execute his decision, Mikasa pins him down, and because he’s in such bad shape from the Beast Titan fight, Mikasa can tell she can overpower him. But Floch is on Levi’s side, and tells them how he believes was the only one of his unit to survive so he could ensure the “devil” Erwin couldn’t go out so easily, that he’d live on and continue to be the devil they needed to defeat the Titans. Then Hange, Jean, and Sasha drop in, further complicating matters.

It’s an apt microcosm of the inner-wall humans all along: different factions or individuals wasting precious time and resources fighting over which way to proceed, with Levi, Hange, and Floch on one side and Eren and Mikasa on the other. Both are factoring emotions into their decisions, and both are right that if either person dies it will be a huge blow to the cause.

Ultimately, when everyone has cleared out, Levi is about to insert the syringe in Erwin’s arm, and Erwin suddenly moves it out of the way, as if to prevent the injection. Turns out he’s delirious and raising his hand as if he was still in Grisha’s classroom. Levi takes it as a sign it’s time for Erwin to finally get the rest he’s deserved.

The next time Eren sees Armin, he’s a Titan, gobbling up Bertholdt and gaining his Colossal Titan powers. Levi quietly explains his choice, and begs Floch and everyone else to forgive Erwin, who never wanted to be a Devil. Everyone made him the devil, and it didn’t seem right to pull him back into Hell when he was finally freed from it.

Instead, Armin is being given a second chance to see the sea with Eren and Mikasa. By being given the abilities of the biggest, strongest Titan, he’s taking Erwin’s place as the Devil the humans within the walls need to lead them to victory.

Even with this massive shift in the balance of power (the Titans’ greatest weapon we know of is now in human hands), even dragging Armin back into Hell might not be enough. There’s still so much they don’t know. But with Zeke and Reiner in retreat, at least the path to The Basement now seems clear.

Attack on Titan – 53 – The Ones Who Will Remember

It’s pretty impressive that after 54 episodes—probably about double the number required to tell a complete and satisfying tale—Titan is still bringing it. Armin freezes up after his hunch about Hoover turns out to be wrong, and so defers command to Jean, at least to decide their next course of action.

The thing is, while Jean probably wanted command, he tells Armin striaght up that it won’t be enough to get them out of this. When the rubber meets the road they’ll be relying on Armin’s strategic know-how, even if he’s finding it hard to focus, he’ll have to. Outside the wall, Erwin loses three whole squads in quick gory succession to the Beast Titan’s new tactic of hurling fastballs of rock at his forces.

Jean decides everyone will climb aboard Eren and attempt to distract the Colossal Titan, but screaming at him accomplishes nothing; he keeps heading towards the wall. Eren has to bum rush one of his legs and attempt to knock him down, but the Colossal simply kicks him off, sending him flying to the top of the wall.

Jean, Mikasa, Armin, Sasha and Connie all launch off off Eren before the rush, but instead find themselves confronted with a very alive and very pissed-off-looking Armored Titan. Looks like Hoover’s distraction bought Braun enough time to heal up.

Irwin and Levi spot Eren atop the wall, and Levi suggests his commander take the horses and survivors and withdraw with as many people as he can. Only the new recruits have survived, and the constant rock bombardment is starting to make some of them crack, including one who gives a lengthy monologue about their entire cause being hopeless and pointless, and no one really piping up to argue with him.

Erwin and Levi have an extended (and very moving) talk in which Erwin laments he won’t ever get to see the basement he longed to see his entire life. He also looks around and sees his fallen comrades all around him, watching him, wondering if they were sacrificed in vain. He asks Levi if it was all a sad delusion.

Levi is respectful, thanking Erwin for getting them this far, but it’s time to give up on the dream, lead the recruits into hell, and die. If he does, Levi will have that much better a shot at taking down the Beast Titan.

Still, Levi wonders how he can even reach the Beast when he’s on on a wide open field. In this, the Beast’s vanity and desire to present a show of devastating force leads to him making a critical tactical error: all of the large Titans spread out on either side of him provide the perfect ODM path for Levi.

That leaves Erwin to fire up his shaky, demoralized recruit squad, and shows why he was born to lead with a rousing motivational speech for the ages, which he starts up when one of the recruits asks why it matters whether they die fighting or cowering in a corner:

No matter what dreams or hopes you had, no matter how blessed a life you’ve lived, it’s all the same if you’re shredded by rocks. Everyone will die someday. Does that mean life is meaningless? Was there even any meaning in our being born? Would you say that of our fallen comrades? Their lives…were they meaningless? No, they weren’t! It’s we who give meaning to our comrades’ lives! The brave fallen! The anguished fallen! The ones who will remember them are us, the living! We die trusting the living who follow to find meaning in our lives! That is the sole method by which we can rebel against this cruel world! My soldiers, rage! My soldiers, scream! My soldiers, fight!

Hell, I was ready to charge into battle after that. By splitting into three groups and launching smoke flares simultaneously, Erwin hopes to affect the Beast’s accuracy enough to draw out the charge as long as they can, giving Levi the time he needs to reach his target. Unfortunately, Erwin is pierced through the torso in the first moments of the charge, which likely means his time is finally up.

So, did Erwin believe what he told the recruits to motivate them? Is he confident he gave his fallen comrades’ lives meaning, and does he trust those who outlive him to give his life meaning as well? We’ll see. But whatever happens to him, the Scouts, and the mission, let it be said that through his actions Erwin Smith rebelled against the cruel world until his final breath.

Attack on Titan – 52 – Hoover Hardens his Heart

On the eve of the present battle, Bertholdt and Reiner recall the Battle of Trost when Marco Bott overheard them talking about Titans and their mission, simply by chance. They tell him they were just joking, but know Marco is sharper than that.

Annie soon joins them as they restrain him, and Reiner decides to remove his ODM gear. Shortly afterward he’s found and eaten by a Titan as the three watch in horror and remorse. Their secret was safe for a little longer, in exchange for their friend and comrade dying horribly.

Back in the present, while having coffee with War Chief Zeke (the Beast Titan) and discussing Annie’s capture, Zeke questions their commitment, but they resolve to end this with him tomorrow. At dawn, Bert and Reiner go to their separate positions, with the latter chiding the former for being so timid when he’s perhaps the most powerful Titan of them all.

Reiner encourages Bert to think for himself and not just wait for others to give him a signal to act. That’s all well and good if you’re the Armored Titan, but it’s a little different when your Titan is so big his transformation is basically a nuclear bomb.

Back to the latest point of the battle up to now, with half of Reiner’s head blown off, his Titan still manages to call out, which is the signal Bertholdt, hiding in a barrel, was waiting for. The Beast Titan tosses the barrel into the town. Irwin, Hange, Levi, Armin, and everyone else watch as it sails over them, and Armin realizes it’s Bertholdt is in there and they’ve got to get away.

But just when he seems ready to transform, which would be game over for everyone in the town, Bert spots the KO’d Reiner and hesitates. He fires up his ODM instead and rushes to Reiner’s side, where he learns Reiner transferred his consciousness to his nervous system as a last resort. Bert asks Reiner to flip himself over to protect his exposed nape when Bert transforms.

While Armin wasn’t able to negotiate with Reiner, he wants to at least try with Bertholdt, probably assuming the more timid of the two will be more willing to listen. But while Eren’s been mastering physical Titan hardening, Bert has been busy becoming mentally tougher, and meeting with Armin is the last bit of proof he needs to confirm that he’s finally ready to take the next step.

Bertholdt has no ill will towards Armin or his other former comrades; indeed, he regards them as “precious”. But they also have to die, because that’s what needs to happen. That’s the plan of all Titans, and those they serve. That it’s unfortunate doesn’t change the fact it’s inevitable truth that not even Bertholdt can avoid any longer.

Mikasa tries to take him out of the equation all together with a sneak attack, while Armin mentions Annie to try to throw him off emotionally, but Bertholdt shows he can and will deal with all psychological comers, and that he can live with whatever the result of this battle.

With that, Bert transforms, unleashing the nuclear-esque explosion virtually right on top of Hange Squad, while Levi and Armin’s squads just barely get to a safe distance. But no distance is safe once the transformed Colossal Titan starts scooping up flaming bits of town and launching them into the air, creating a kind of meteor shower for all surviving scouts to contend with.

Armin freezes up a bit, as the original plan to retreat back to Irwin and fight the Colossal in a battle of attrition will no longer work; not when Bert can put a wall of flame between Irwin’s forces and the Beast Titan. Armin’s only choice is to fight and defeat the Colossal Titan there and then, with only the forces he has. Needless to say, it will be a colossal undertaking, and they’re colossal underdogs.

Attack on Titan – 51 – Homefield Advantage

With Shiganshina’s outer gate sealed, his troops atop Wall Maria, the Armored Titan on one side and the Beast Titan and his forces on the other, Irwin determines that the enemy is willing to wait out his forces in a siege. They’ll kill all the horses and starve the humans until even Eren can no longer resist capture, and it will be over. The two objectives this week are: keep Eren from getting captured, and prevent the horses, and any chance at resupply, from being killed.

Unfortunately, and paradoxically, the person you’d want kept away from the fighting, Eren himself, is their trump card against Braun, so he must serve as bait to get Braun to change his prime objective from the horses to Eren. Irwin doesn’t give him time to mull over the decision, so he descends the wall he just climbed and goes after Eren, who packs a much more devastating (and armor-shattering) punch now that he’s focusing all of his hardening power on his fist.

Meanwhile, the newbies are having a hard time even with the small-fry Titans. Irwin observes that the Scout Regiment is far weaker than it once was, but the thousands of sacrifices of the men and women under his command were what made this final stand possible. He visualizes himself standing atop a pile of scout corpses, but  if he can get to Grisha’s Basement before he dies, it may all be worth it.

As Eren grapples with Braun, the more experienced Levi and Hange squads advance, with Hange and Mikasa scoring direct hits on both the Armored Titan’s eyes with Lightning Spears, a weapon Braun didn’t know about until it was used on him.

The Scouts keep up the fight, even as they think they’ve “got him”, launching a dozen or more Lightning Spears into his nape, blowing it open so another volley can take out the vulnerable Braun within. The likes of Sasha and Connie momentarily hesitate at the prospect of killing their former friend and comrade, but Jean snaps them out of it, and the…apparently? fatal blows to Braun are delivered.

Mind you, I’m pretty damn skeptical Braun is 100% dead yet…more likely he’s just hurt and has another ace or two of his sleeve. And the absence of Bertholdt is very suspicious. Irwin and the Scouts can’t afford to revel in small victories. This battle’s for all the marbles.

Attack on Titan – 50 – Keep Hope Alive

Part Two of Titan’s third season picks up where Part One left off: Eren, Mikasa, Armin are part of a force of 100 scouts led by Erwin, Hange, and Levi, tasked with nothing less than retaking Wall Maria, starting with Shiganshina.

On the way they encounter a motionless Titan that is apparently asleep, but they have no way of knowing for sure, do they? It’s only the latest instance of them having to do the best they can with the information they have…which still isn’t much, and may never be anywhere near as much as they know about humans.

Eren, Mikasa and Armin note the reutrn to their hometown for the first time since they were forced to flee and eventually joined the Scout Regiment that brought them back. But there’s no time for reminiscing (or checking out basements yet); they now stand in enemy territory, and the mission takes precedence. Besides, they’re responsible for preserving humanity’s hope it can survive and be free.

It’s a simple matter of plugging both the inner and outer gates of Shiganshina, then mopping up the Titans within. Throughout the trip there Eren remained dubious of his abilities and usefulness, but his two best mates help get him through that apprehension, and he successfully seals the outer gate with his Titan hardening ability.

Mikasa has steady praise for Eren as they move on to the next gate, but something isn’t right; Armin found signs that people were camping, but they had more than enough time to prepare for an attack…so where are they?

To answer that question, Erwin puts Armin in charge of a whole squad of scouts, confident that Armin has proven himself capable of leading men and women in the field. While initially nervous and hesitant (and far too polite to subbordinates), Armin grows more and more confident in himself as he runs through all the possible ways the Titans could be messing with them this time.

Remembering the Titan-in-the-wall, Armin orders everyone to inspect the wall for hollows. Once scout strikes paydirt, only to be killed by Reiner emerging with sword drawn. Levi in turn swoops down and delivers what would have been a couple of fatal blows to anyone but Reiner, who transforms into the Armored Titan upon hitting the ground.

Thanks to Armin, the enemy has revealed itself sooner than it had planned, but that’s not exactly a good thing for the scouts, as Reiner’s reveal spurs the teleportation of the Beast Titan and a host of other Titans who had been hiding nearby.

With that, the battle for Wall Maria—and indeed for the survival of humanity itself—begins in earnest. With just Eren the only one on the good guys’ side able to transform, and the need to plug that second gate, this is not going to be an easy fight. And there are sure to be more curveballs in store for the scouts courtesy of the kooky Titans.

Attack on Titan – 49 (S3 Fin) – To The Basement

The bigwigs decide that the serum Kenny gave Levi should stay with Levi, to use if, when, and where he deems necessary. Where Levi bumps up against the brass is when Erwin insists on leading the battle to retake Wall Maria.

Even when Levi threatens to break his legs, Erwin is adamant about being present when they learn the truth, and if they retake the wall and gain access to the basement of Eren’s house. If he dies before that, so be it; Hange will take command in his place, and someone else if she dies.

The night before the battle (which is kept secret from the public) is to commence, the Scouts are treated to a morale-boosting feast that includes meat, something that’s been in short supply since Maria fell.

The mere sight of the meat on the table sends Sasha into an uncontrollable berserk mode, and she has to be tied up. Meanwhile, Eren and Jean start heartily going at it, at first with words, then with their fists…but no one stops them, at least until Levi kicks their asses and orders them to bed.

Mikasa and Armin decided not to interfere in Eren’s fight with Jean, both due to his quick healing, and the fact that it’s just nice to see Eren being “spunky” again, rather than moping or skulking or wallowing in despair. No doubt his experiences with Historia have changed his perspective and narrowed what he deems his responsibility.

He’s no longer trying to do everything on his own, or feeling like he needs to. Rather, he now accepts that nobody, not even Mikasa and Levi (of whom he always jealous for their ridiculous strength and skills) can accomplish much alone. Individuals have to find what they can do, and then rely on others for the rest.

The next morning, it’s quickly apparent the embargo on news relating to the battle for Maria was broken by Flugel, whose company provided the meat for the scouts the previous night.

As a result, the regiment gets perhaps its warmest and most enthusiastic sendoff, with the crowds below cheering as the scouts scale the wall, and Erwin pumping them up with battle cries and an order to commence.

It’s all very triumphant…but I couldn’t help but feel uneasy. It’s not going to be easy to retake a whole wall, after all, and it’s certainly not going to happen this third season.

Rather, we’ll have to wait for a fourth, and judging from the little teaser we get mid-credits—in which a bloodsoaked Levi slugs Eren and ends up with Mikasa’s blade at his throat—it’s clear that all of the hardships overcome this season will be replaced by a whole new batch of new ones.

And then there’s the nagging question of whether we’ll ever see that dang basement—or if it will continue to endure as one of anime’s longest and most frustrating teases. Until next year (or whenever), farewell, AoT.

Attack on Titan – 22

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Levi and Mikasa (but mostly Levi) succeeds in disabling the Female Titan to the point he can extract Eren from her mouth, betting everything that he’s still alive as Mikasa insists. That’s obviously good for Eren’s well-being, but part of me still wanted to see exactly where, or who, the Titan was taking him to, and for what purpose (though the fact he can transform like she can is obviously a front-runner for why).

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In any case, Eren is unconscious and goo-covered, but alive, as are many other scouts like Armin, Jean, and Sasha. But many are also dead, and they’ve been busy gathering the bodies and preparing them for the journey back behind the wall. This is like the grisly aftermath of the Trost battle, only there isn’t even a victory here with which to say it was worth it.

This was total defeat and failure, and it only gets worse when the bodies are loaded but the wagons can’t outrun Titans (who were led out of the forest and to the formation by two scouts desperate to find their friend’s body). Not only do they re-lose that body, but the soldiers on the wagon have to dump some of the bodies they have—including Petra’s, as Levi sees—in order to outrun the Titans.

It’s one more awful, morbid action people in this show must take in order to keep living, and a Sasha says, only half-believing it herself, being alive is something, right?

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In a manner that’s almost too rubbed in our faces, Eren dreams of the day the Scount Regiment returned, all solemn, defeated, bandaged faces and corpses, and when he got so damned mad at the townsfolk complaining about how the scouts just waste their taxes. When he wakes up, Mikasa is with him but is no comfort when they re-enter the walls to find just as cold and critical a reception, only now they’re the scouts.

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Even worse, Eren sees two bright-eyed, bushy-tailed youths watching the scouts’ procession full of excitement and hope. Neither Eren nor Mikasa can even put on fake faces of strength or confidence; they’re merely slack-jawed. That used to be them; now they know why those Scouts looked the way they did.

Finally, because Erwin didn’t actually accomplish anything on their expensive operation, they’re being called to the Capital to answer for his failure, while Eren is being placed back into custody. Things have just about hit rock bottom…but I won’t underestimate this show’s talent for finding still lower depths of despair.

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Attack on Titan – 21

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AoT’s pacing during its building up can be foot-tappingly sluggish, and it’s a show that loves to have its characters explain every last detail of what’s happening ad nauseum, but it can still stage one hell of an intense payoff, as it does this week when the She-Titan pilot takes out Gunter, transforms back into a Titan, and then kills off Erd, Petra, and Oulo in quick succession. All Eren can do is watch, as he made his decision to place his belief in his friends over his belief in himself.

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It proves to be the wrong decision, just as his decision not to fight the She-Titan when he first encountered it was the wrong decision. I thought that Levi looked somewhat surprised when Eren decided to press forward, allowing him to lead the Titan to Erwin’s trap. But the trap was the wrong decision, too.

Sure, you’re supposed to believe in your comrades, and perfectly-executed traps are supposed to work, but Erwin and Eren both learn that doing things that seem most reasonable aren’t effective when dealing with the Titans, especially this one. I knew some shit was going to hit the fan, but the shit was so thick it stopped the fan blades in their tracks. Gunter, Erd, Oulo, or Petra? Sure, one or two were bound to die. But all of them? That’s some rough carnage.

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But one good thing comes out of that carnage: it provokes Eren into a murderous, vengeful rage, transforming into full-on Titan Mode (no partial manifestation) and getting into the best Titan-on-Titan battle yet, an epic struggle in which Eren’s brute force intermittently finds purchase with the slick, slippery She-Titan, who also packs a punch due to her ability to harden her skin.

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Throughout this battle all the way until the end of the episode, my heart rate went up and my adrenaline didn’t stop pumping. But while it’s clear now who’s inside the She-Titan, Eren doesn’t pick up on it. He doesn’t realize someone used these kinds of moves on him before, in human form. No, he’s too goddamn angry to think about anything other than beating her into oblivion.

That proves his undoing, however, as he blasts his own fists away and has to wait for them to heal. Also, after appearing to walk away from the fight when he’s down, the She-Titan turns back and blasts Eren’s head off, exposing the human within, which she swallows. Now, we’ve been here before, so again, Eren clearly isn’t dead, but he definitely lost a fight I thought he’d win. He just lacked the experience in his Titan form and over-relied on his brutality. The way of water beat the way of fire here.

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As if this episode wasn’t awesome enough, Mikasa shows up just in time not to save Eren, but watch him get glomped by the She-Titan. Her sudden transition from shocked-and-fragile Mikasa to Pissed-and-Lethal Mikasa was wonderful to behold, as is her ultimately futile attempt to get Eren back immediately by chasing the She-Titan and slashing the shit out of her.

Like Eren, Mikasa falls victim to lack of experience when she goes for the nape only to hit the She-Titan’s crystalline shell. She took her shot and missed, but looks fully prepared to go at it again, but we can guess how it would have ended: out of gas, out of blades, and with no Eren to save her. Instead, Levi grabs her from death-by-blaze-of-glory, and we’re glad for it. Let them try it his way, if he has one.

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Next Week: My AoT Retro Reviews come to an end, just in time for Christmas.

Attack on Titan – 20

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Hmm…this is what I was afraid of: either the episode would feature everyone besides Erwin and Levi heeing and hawing about what’s going on, delaying the reveal of who is inside the Female Titan, or they’d simply be unable to get her out. We get both. But while this episode lags at times with its scores of characters who don’t know as much as we do, I still didn’t hate it, because it went in a different direction and opened my eyes to a through line I hadn’t yet fully considered.

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Speaking of eyes, both they and the short blonde hair got me thinking Krista is the Female Titan, but we see her positioned on the edge of the forest, distracting the lesser Titans along with Armin, Mikasa (who has been criminally sidelined this arc), Sasha, etc.

So Krista’s out, leaving only one blue-eyed blonde, who oddly chose not to join the others in the Scout Regiment. If that’s Annie Leonhart in there, it explains her past aloofness and desire to be independent from the scouts when the time came to nab Eren, not to mention her martial arts background.

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Unfortunately, Erwin and Levi aren’t able to get past the Titan’s hands, and before they can blow them off with explosives, she gives out a blood-curdling cry that sends legions of Titans to her position, where they proceed not to free her from her restraints, but eat her, leaving Erwin no choice but to give the order to retreat, with their prize now gone.

Erwin, clearly feeling pretty defeated and distraught, notes that the She-Titan gave up everything to foil his plans, mirroring Armin’s notion that those who aren’t prepared to lose it all won’t be able to enact the necessary change to save humanity. Well, it works both ways.

Meanwhile, and less interesting, are Eren, Petra, & Co. sussing out exactly why they were left in the dark, concluding that there’s a pro-Titan traitor in their midst, so need-to-know was the name of the game.

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When Eren was told the expedition isn’t over and you haven’t officially survived until you’re back home, I knew it probably wasn’t going to be an easy retreat. Erwin also makes it a point to order Levi to fill up on gas and blades for the return trip, just in case something happens. And something does, with the “pilot” of the Female Titan masquerading as Levi and luring his squad to their potential doom.

For the first time, this episode turned me on to the idea of humans collaborating with Titans, even if I don’t quite understand how the hell it works. When everyone was accusing Eren, I obviously thought they were full of it, because I watched what Eren went through firsthand.

But this female traitor (who is probably Annie?) She’s the real deal: she’s killed dozens of her fellow humans and isn’t done, and is still very much after Eren. I’d say a Titan-on-Titan duel in the forest is pretty much inevitable.

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Attack on Titan – 19

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What does Levi’s big flare gun shot set into motion? Well, in the immediate moment, not all that much; it’s only an acoustic round that doesn’t seem to affect the She-Titan at all, but could serve as a signal for the soldiers ahead of them, as well as wiping everyone’s slate clean, so to speak, and focusing them.

But the more Eren focuses on what’s behind him—scouts engaging the Titan and getting killed, while he runs away—the more upset he gets, to the point he’s ready to bite his hand and become a Titan himself so he can stop the killing. Levi, looking ahead the whole time, doesn’t discourage him from this. Rather, he tells him to make his own choice, though Petra begs Eren to believe in her and his other comrades.

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Those words—“Believe in us.”—triggers a flashback, which is another suspension of the momentum of the present events, but actually turned out to be a worthwhile detour. When Eren climbs down a well to test his Titan-transforming powers, biting his hand doesn’t work. Levi tells him not to sweat it, and they have some chow.

But as Eren reaches for a spoon that’s just out of reach, the Titan transformation occurs, as he unwittingly creates a partial Titan torso and arm grasping that spoon. All of a sudden, Eren’s comrades draw their swords and start yelling, ready to kill him if he so much as flinches. The sense of cascading fear and mounting chaos in this scene was quite palpable.

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Eren tries to de-escalate by shouting “Be quiet for a second!”, but he’s really saved by an elated Hange Zoe, whose mouth is literally watering at the chance to see Eren’s ability in the hot, skinless flesh. Ironically, it’s Hange’s crazed, reckless thirst for knowledge and unapologeticly light mood that defuses the tense standoff. And Romi Park is immensely entertaining in this role.

An assist goes to Levi, who stood between Eren and his trigger (or rather blade)-happy officers and insisted they all basically chill the fuck out. No one acts in the time between Eren’s transformation and Hange’s arrival because the others are heeding their Captain, even if the compulsion to act decisively without thinking too much is strong.

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In fact, those instincts are one of the very reasons Levi chose them for his unit. None of the men or woman directly under Levi can be said to be like Armin; they’re not overthinkers. If they see an imminent threat, they don’t assess; they act. But another reason he chose them is their unswerving loyalty. When Hange determines Eren’s actions were involuntary, they know when they’re wrong and that they were threatening jerks to Eren, and not only apologize, but bite their own hands.

Would they act exactly the same way as they did if the clock was turned back (as tends to happen on this show) and they faced identical circumstances? Definitely, but that’s not going to ever happen, because now they know a little more about Eren and his ability: he only transforms when there’s a specific purpose to it, whether it’s protecting his friends from a cannon, plugging the gate, or reaching for a spoon.

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That night when Petra and the others bite their hands pledge to believe in Eren, and urge him to believe in him; that’s the end of Eren’s deliberations. Petra’s look up top is the same as the one from that night, an earnest plea for him to put his trust not only in himself, but in her, and Levi, and the rest of his comrades. Rather than transform, with the purpose of beating the She-Titan, he decides to keep racing forward on his horse. He’s growing a lot on this mission…without having to grow into a Titan.

His faith in his comrades and the Scout Regiment in general pays off, as the She-Titan, having been harried by several scouts who gave their lives to enable Levi, Eren, Petra & Co. to stay just ahead of her, is led straight into an elaborate trap consisting of hundreds of restraining wires that stop her in her tracks.

This was Erwin’s plan all along: using Eren to draw the She-Titan into captivity. She’s covering her nape, but they believe someone is in there (probably someone with that same hairstyle, I’m thinking), and they’re itching to get her out of there so she can answer for what she’s done…whoever she is.

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Attack on Titan – 18

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A survival crisis crops up when Armin, Jean, and Reiner are stuck in an exposed area with only one horse, and consider leaving someone behind, possibly to die, but Krista Lenz, who happens to be some kind of horse whisperer, rescues the three guys by bringing two horses with her, causing them to fall for their pretty savior right then and there.

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That scene is a nice little breather before returning to the dilemmas at hand: the formation is off course and being torn to smithereens by the Female Titan, who continues to repel any scout attack against her, displaying intelligence and creativity even most elites have never seen.

The show’s penchant for dark humor is amplified when she spins one poor soldier around like a stone in a sling, before apathetically letting him loose behind her. I was waiting for the awful crunching sound of the guy hitting the ground,but we were spared.

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Ultimately, the She-Titan’s goal is Eren, as Armin deduced from her course. The balance of this episode becomes about Commander Erwin’s strange orders and how all the lower-downs handle them. He shoots his elite core with Eren into the depths of a forest of really tall trees, which is really cool and looks like a place I’d want to camp were there not Titans around.

In fact, one wonders why humans didn’t just build settlements in the treetops, out of reach of the Titans. I guess there just wouldn’t be time to build, and in any case, the Colossal and Armored Titans would wreak just as much havoc on a forest as on a wall. That doesn’t change my opinion that a tiered tree-city would be cooler than a walled one, but I’ll table that wish in the interests of proceeding with she show we have.

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In the show, Jean, Eren, and several others are outright confused by Erwin’s moves, and wish he’d just explain to them what his plan is so that they won’t be so damned jittery. That doesn’t happen; even the elites under Levi’s command look like they have no clue what’s going on. Again, one can hardly blame them; when the She-Titan suddenly appears in the forest and goes after Eren it’s pretty damned frightening.

But neither Erwin nor Levi will tell anyone anything until it’s time to set into motion whatever trap they’ve set for the Female Titan, if that’s indeed what’s going on. Levi simply orders everyone to cover their ears (what about their horses’ reins?) before firing what looks like a flare gun. And that’s where the episode leaves us, on the edge of our seats, wondering what pulling that trigger will do (beyond launching a flare, of course). Fortunately I won’t have to wait a week to find out.

Also…I doubt it’s just me, but isn’t it a bit suspicious that Krista and the She-Titan have the same hair and eyes, and that Krista showed up immediately after the She-Titan disappeared? Probably just a coincidence.

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Attack on Titan – 17

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Wow, AoT really geeks out this week with the intricate enemy scouting formation dealie Erwin cooks up for the regiment. It’s a clever way to make a group of mounted humans work like one big organism, complete with eyes on the flanks that communicate to the brain controlling navigation in the center, through the use of colored signal flares. Considering the enemy is one big organism, strength in numbers makes sense, just as it does on the Serengeti.

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And naturally, because this is AoT, it doesn’t take long for Erwin’s delicately-crafted formation to start getting completely torn up by Titans, including one very frightening “centipede” variant that chases and nearly nabs a straying Sasha, who is thoroughly freaked out by the experience, causing me to wonder if she should really even be out there participating in an operation.

It’s a bit harsh to say Sash should be used to it by now, this job is going to entail a lot more close calls with Titans than steamed potatoes. Also, that crawling Titan was pretty freaky. Hell, she reacted like I would have. The thing is, Crawly isn’t the scariest Titan this week by far. That goes to one a lot…different.

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I’m talking of course about the 14-meter elephant in the room: a female Titan that is incredibly fast, quick, and smart. So smart, she’s aware her nape is her weak spot and guards it from attacks, and rather than step on the cloaked Armin, daintily pulls his cloak back and gets a good look at his face before getting up and moving on. Without eating him. This is a weird Titan, indeed. And as Armin, resident brainiac, opines, it’s behavior that puts her in a very small class of Titan, along with Colossal, Armored…and Eren.

Combined with Hange’s discovery that Titans are far lighter than one would think, and those secrets in the basement, and Eren’s unique-so-far ability to transform into a Titan, the body of evidence is growing that some Titans may be humans in Titan bodies. Could there be a civilization far beyond the horizon that sent Colossal, Armored, and this She-Titan as “generals” of sorts to herd the dumber hordes of Titans to feed, like so many foot soldiers? The mind boggles at the possibilities.

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But the Scout Regiment doesn’t have time to stoke their chins and consider those possibilities. They have a formation to keep and a mission to complete. Armin, with help from Jean and Reiner, manage to escape the She-Titan after trying and failing to take her out, and from the direction she’s headed, Armin believes she’s looking for Eren.

This was a thrilling episode pretty much from start to finish, doubly admirable considering Eren and Mikasa weren’t even in it, and it took place on a mostly flat field. The 360-degree cameras following the soldiers as they fought the Titans, as well as the unique way the She-Titan looks and moves, all added to the engrossing spectacle. And because much of the episode took place on horseback, things literally moved along quite nicely.

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