Attack on Titan continues to tease us by continuing to give Eren relevance even though, at this point, he is dead. This episode, we are treated to the aftermath of the battle in which Eren died, and then move to Mikasa to get backstory on both Eren and Mikasa. In the process, this episode hits swiftly and precisely on all of the key themes vocalized thus far in the plot, emphasizing that the world as it exists in the physical constantly takes precedence over the world as it is perceived by humanity.
In the opening scene, Armin is found in a daze, unaware of his surroundings. His eyes tell us that he has gone into a more or less catatonic state, the shock of losing his best friend and all those around him being too much for his mind and body. Connie finds him and tries to get him to tell him what happened, and when Armin is finally shaken out of his daze, he has a PTSD-esque flashback to the grim scene he had experienced, and begins screaming non-coherent curses upon himself for his inability to save his friend. Armin then jumps off, leaving behind Connie and the other soldiers. Cue the violins, and now we have Armin acting as the author’s mouthpiece, as he says directly the message this anime has been portraying throughout-the world is a place where the strong (literally) devour the weak. Armin’s flashbacks to when he was a child and was picked on, then saved by Eren and Mikasa reflect that humanity is capable of being magnanimous, or of thinking beyond the purely physical realm; Armin contrasts this with the stark reality of Eren’s death, and comes to the conclusion that he is not only weak, but that such ideals are flawed; this world has always been hell. A particularly poignant moment is when Armin comes to terms with the sheer mortality of humans from a third-person perspective, is when he finds Hannah in denial about Franz’s death, continually giving him CPR. Armin realizes the futility of the situation, asking her to stop trying to bring the dead back to life, because such complete denial of the sad reality of the world is exactly what he himself had broken through just moments prior.
We then cut to the gates, where we get a classic scene of humanity breaking down as a rich guy goes nuts trying to get his cargo through at the expense of all of the people there. Suddenly, a huge Titan runs at breakneck speeds towards them, and Mikasa comes out of nowhere to swiftly kill the titan just before it manages to reach the throng of humans. At this point, the rich guy yells at Mikasa to help him get his cargo through, and Mikasa is in disbelief that this guy is trying to get his cargo through when what should have happened is all the people go through, the soldiers retreat to the wall, and human loss is minimized. Because of this man, many of Mikasa’s friends are dying, and in vain. This thought prompts Mikasa to go up to the idiot human and threaten to kill him, causing him to move his cargo out of the way and le the people go through. “Justice” is restored, if only momentarily.
It then begins to rain, symbolizing a “cleansing moment” and a break from all of the action that has just occurred (the commercial break is also inserted here, which I’d imagine also goes a decent way to separating the two portions of the episode). The second half is primarily a flash-back to when Mikasa was a small girl, and first meets Eren. When Eren’s dad goes in to Mikasa’s house, as he is supposed to introduce Eren to Mikasa, he finds that Mikasa’s parents have been brutally killed by some thugs who intend to sell Mikasa into sex slavery. We then get a horribly graphic death scene of her mother, which goes miles to highlight that the titans are only the latest of a string of terrible sins committed against our main characters, and that for nearly all their life, the “titans” they have been fighting have been other humans, and although they weren’t anywhere near as indestructible, they have caused just as much, if not more harm, than the titans are causing now. This seems to be such a major theme in the anime that it seems inevitable that some greater, human, antagonist is revealed at some point down the road, someone who is controlling (or at one point controlled) all of the titans.
Anyway, sometime later, Eren manages to find the cabin where the thugs are hiding out with Mikasa, and goes absolutely batshit insane killing the people who kidnapped Mikasa (we get even more graphic death scenes, and because Eren is doing the killing, we can no longer say “oh yea killing is bad”; killing has become an integral part of all character’s lives.) Eren only killed two of the three captors, however, and the third one comes in and grabs Eren, and is about to kill him. At this point, Eren tells Mikasa “lose and you die, win and you survive”: again highlighting the central theme of the anime in direct words. At first, she can’t bring herself to kill the guy, until she realizes that the endless cycle of life and death is predicated upon never-ending conflict, and that is simply the nature of life(we are treated to shots of her in a peaceful garden, then zooming in on a particular leaf where a praying mantis is beating the shit out of a butterfly). Mikasa gains the courage (? If one can call the ability to kill in cold blood ‘courage’) to kill the final person that is choking Eren to death. When the police arrive, they comment on the brutality of the murders, wondering how mere children could be possible of such abject violence; however, that is precisely the point the anime is trying to make, in regards to the nature of life for our protagonists and life in general.
Although this episode had very little action (although it did demonstrate a human overcoming a titan, if only in passing), the psychological introspection that this episode afforded was perfectly timed. Right around now, most shows are doing their “transitional” episode, where action isn’t really advanced but instead we get more exposition in preparation for the next major thrust in the arc. Some of these consist of absolute filler (Garganita, I’m looking at you), and for a transitional episode, that works, although as an episode itself it’s totally pointless. This episode, however, chose to use the downtime to do a deeper exploration of the characters’ psychology, showing formative events from their childhood and how these events have affected their present world-view, while tying it all around the central theme the anime has been pushing from the very beginning. Although we still have no idea what will happen to Eren now that he’s been eaten (maybe he’ll really stay dead), this episode was masterfully done, and acted to deeply drive home the raw, physical, primal nature of the world in which we live in.