If you’re looking for Eren, Mikasa, Armin, Sasha and the Scouts picking up where they left off on that beach, you won’t find them here, in the first episode of Attack on Titan’s final season, also the first by Studio MAPPA. But oddly enough, there’s a crew of young Marley soldiers who remind you of those main players: Falco, Gabi, Udo and Zofia.
Their armbands not only identify them as Eldians, but as Warrior (i.e. Titan pilot) candidates. Other Eldians aren’t so lucky, serving as cannon fodder or straight-up suicide bombers. Most look like they’re in this battle against their will, but their choice is between this and execution or worse.
Falco & Co., as well as the older Colt, have more freedom and privileges, and have fully bought into the idea that they can make a difference. The confident-bordering-on-arrogant Gabi (Ayane Sakura) even believes she can prove that “not all Eldians are bad”, even though their non-Eldian commanders refer to them as “spawn of the devil.”
Gabi strips down to her slip to pose as a surrendering civilian so she can get close enough to an enemy armored train to blow it up with a cluster of grenades. It works perfectly, but it’s also reckless as hell, as she ends up under heavy machine gun fire in no-mans-land. Falco exposes himself to that fire to rescue her, but she doesn’t really need rescuing because she’s so badass. Or lucky. Maybe both?
They’re both saved by “Jaw”, a super-quick Titan piloted by a guy named Galliard. Gabi struck me as a Mikasa analogue, albeit one driven by personal ambition and not devotion to a person (i.e. Eren). Falco gives off a lot of early ineffectual Eren vibes, as he tries to tend the wounds of a maimed enemy soldier only for that soldier to insist he not touch him. You know, devil’s spawn and everything.
As Falco and Gabi stand by in the trenches, the second phase of the assault on Fort Slava commences with the drop of dozens of paratroopers who look like they’d rather be anywhere else. With one shout from Zeke Yeager, they all transform into lesser Titans, and those that survive the drop eat everyone in sight.
With the Titan version of cannon fodder unleashed and the fort sufficiently softened up, the two Heavies of the operation spring into action: Reiner Braun AKA the Armored Titan, and Zeke Yeager AKA the Beast Titan. Braun jumps first and quickly learns the enemy has ordinance powerful enough to pierce his armor, as well as a second armored train.
He wastes the train and most of the cannon but not before losing a hand. That’s when Zeke drops in as Beast, picks up a handful of shells, and lobs them baseball-style at the enemy fleet just offshore. The fleet manages to let off a salvo in his and Braun’s direction before getting decimated by the rain of fire.
Colt, Gabi, Falco, Udo, and Zofia watch in awe as their senpais and nation’s greatest weapons do what they do. The enemy is defeated and the fort is taken, but at great cost: the fleet’s final salvo seemingly killed the Armored Titan. If Reiner died too, that means one of the kids will succeed him. Gabi thinks that should be her. It might end up being her. But that’s a story for another episode.
The main takeaway from this episode, meanwhile, is that as previous Titan seasons have successively done, it aims to reinvent itself by further expanding the world far beyond the confines of the Walls of Paradis. Marley wins the day and remains power in this world, but a decidedly fading one due to the steadily crumbling advantage the Titans provide.
Then there’s Marley’s whole policy of enslavement and oppression of the Eldian minority at every turn. Even those Eldians who believe they’re on the right side of the war and of history, like Gabi, come off as naive and even deluded. Hers may be the last generation of Warriors to pilot Titans—assuming they even get that far. In other words, the cruel, brutal, individual-crushing pessimism that has marked most of Titan’s run remains in fine form. Welcome to the beginning of the end.