This Attack on Titan review contains spoilers.
Attack on Titan Season 3 Episode 12
“You guys…Do you have the faintest damn clue what you’re doing?”
Attack on Titan Season 3 has arguably contained the season’s biggest and most ambitious moments, but the year began with the incredibly bare bones scene of Eren and Armin’s hopes and dreams about the future.
The two debate over the existence of natural bodies of water and at the time it felt like a grounded way to hint at the larger scope that this season would adopt. The show has impressively circled back to that moment and what once looked like excitement over a bold, new future is now something much more intimidating. This happily ever after that Eren and Armin fantasized over has turned into an uncertain ellipses. “Night of the Battle to Retake the Wall” dresses itself up as an episode about celebration, but there’s an underlying layer of dread and false hope that makes this a powerful direction to conclude the first half of this season.
“Night of the Battle to Retake the Wall” largely feels like an epilogue after the events of the previous episode. The episode allows the larger plotting to ease in a little as well as set up what’s to come in the next 12 episodes of this season. It’s effective in that sense, but it’s also a much more restrained, slower episode that may not be the big finish that people were expecting for this mid-season finale. “Night of the Battle to Retake the Wall” is a necessary episode that helps move all of this story along, but it’s definitely an installment that prioritizes character development and future plotting over cutthroat action sequences. In fact, the biggest danger in this entry is when Sasha temporarily gets overtaken by meat madness and causes a scene at dinner.
This episode’s interests lie in preparation and the events of the night before the big battle, rather than the battle itself. This almost feels like the episode that would lead into the finale, which is why it’s an interesting strategy to build up suspense here and choose to release it in the second half of this season. In fact, almost half of this episode is spent on battle strategy and making sure that the Survey Corps are all on the same page on what to do next. There’s a lot of melodramatic posturing between Erwin and Levi.
However, the episode makes no attempt to hide any of this from the audience. It’s not like they called this “The Battle to Retake the Wall” and then faked everyone out. This is plainly advertised as the calm before the storm.
Before the group to move on to Wall Maria, the majority of the loose ends from the beginning of this season are put to bed. The Titan serum that Kenny gives to Levi before his death has failed all the analysis tests that the Survey Corps have administered to it. Due to these inconclusive studies they decide to leave it with Levi, as it will likely be the safest with him. Additionally, with the general mysteries behind Grisha basically resolved, the Survey Corps shift their efforts towards the hunt to get into Eren’s old basement to complete Grisha’s story. The Scouts also prepare to retake Wall Maria and extend their expedition beyond the limits of that.
It would have been nice to get the answers on Eren’s basement in this half of the season, but the episode does at least provide a compelling hypothesis for what’s down there. Erwin believes that the basement is full of relics from the old world and things that have all been erased from humanity’s memories thanks to the power of the Reiss family. That’d honestly be a satisfying answer and it’d be fascinating to see ordinary objects, rather than powerful weapons or unbelievable experiments, stir such emotion in these people. This of course probably won’t be the answer now that the show has put this theory front and center.
This period of downtime is mostly spent in good spirits, but matters get somewhat tense between Eren and Jean as they disagree about what the future holds and Levi has to intervene. A much friendlier discussion is had between Eren and Armin as they talk about what awaits them. They can’t wait to experience all sorts of new wonders after they’ve reclaimed Wall Maria and are free to move beyond that.
It’s a touching, quiet moment and it feels very appropriate that one of the final scenes from the episode is not some massive Titan showdown, but just Eren, Armin, and Mikasa making small talk. They wonder if they’ll actually be able to reclaim the days of their happy youth after they take back Wall Maria. Eren is hopeful, but Titans or no Titans, there are some things that just get lost to time. This group of friends has done a lot of growing up over the past four months. They may not be able to recapture the fun of their glory days anymore because they’re no longer the same people that they were back then.
One of “Night of the Battle to Retake the Wall’s” assets is that it takes some time to let these characters act their age and be normal people again, even if it’s just for one night. It feels like it’s literally been forever since Eren and Conny could just shoot the shit and mess around. The gang all get to work out their aggression and pent up emotions before the next challenge presents itself. All of those moments provide a real emotional center to the show as it prepares for something bigger. These may not be the flashiest scenes, but they harken back to a calmer version of this show that hasn’t been around in a while.
It’s also worth pointing out that this episode has fifteen freaking animation directors! Talk about going out in style. In the case of this episode, all of that manpower isn’t going into crazy, complicated air battles, but instead in the smaller details of every scene, like how the sun shines in through windows or shots of a deliciously prepared meal. It’s just an incredibly polished episode that’s emblematic of the strong look that the show can produce. The brief scenes of the stampede of horses in motion are just gorgeous to take in and on the whole this entire season has provided some incredible visuals.
“Night of the Battle to Retake the Wall” ends on a highly triumphant note where everyone loves and supports the Scouts as they head out into unchartered territory. For once, humanity is suspiciously optimistic about what’s to come. That’s a strong place narratively to end this half of the season, but of course we know that the Reisses were not the end of this danger and that plenty more impossible enemies are still out there. The threat of Bertholdt, Reiner, and their mysterious friend still await Eren and company in Shiganshina upon their return. Plus, there’s still a basement of secrets to unlock and put to rest.
Attack on Titan literally rides off into the sunset (which is on the east in this world, not the west, by the way) on an assertive, courageous note, but then it pulls off a massive mic drop during the end credits that kind of reframes everything. The end credits appear to “glitch out” and fast-forward to future events between Eren, Levi, and Mikasa. It’s a wall-breaking move that feels much more like it’s out of the playbook of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, but it absolutely grabs your attention. Mikasa explodes on Levi after he and Eren have come to blows and it’s just fire and exactly how to get people hungry for what’s to come next.
It may seem like all is well, but this “preview” to less certain times is clearly significant. Has Levi finally put his Titan serum to use? Levi asks Eren and Mikasa the poignant question, “You guys…Do you have the faintest damn clue what you’re doing?” Attack on Titan wants that uncertainty to fuel what’s to come in part two.
See you all again in April for part two of this season!
Daniel Kurland is a published writer, comedian, and critic whose work can be read on Den of Geek, Vulture, Bloody Disgusting, and ScreenRant. Daniel knows that the owls are not what they seem, that Psycho II is better than the original, and he’s always game to discuss Space Dandy. His perma-neurotic thought process can be followed at @DanielKurlansky.
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