This Attack on Titan review contains spoilers.
Attack on Titan Season 3 Episode 17
“Don’t worry, Eren. We’ll see the ocean…”
There’s nothing like a good comeback story. There’s such a cleansing release when the equilibrium shifts and what previously seemed impossible is now well within reach. The second half of Attack on Titan Season 3 has done an excellent job to articulate the ebbs and flows of war and both sides of this conflict have experienced their share of triumphs and defeats. This has turned the battle at Shiganshina District into one of the most unpredictable and satisfying battles that the series has ever done.
The biggest difference about this war’s most recent events is that the Survey Corps looked to be down for the count and facing the beginning of the end. “Hero” is the payoff we’ve been waiting for and it shows that the Survey Corps still have lots of fight left in them. This episode is such a glorious reminder that these characters are Titan-killing badasses who will do anything to win. However, the full, devastating weight of this conviction truly gets understood this week and it is rough.
“Hero” continues to explore the fallout of the massive attack that’s underway on both sides of Wall Maria. Both of these threats are pressing concerns for different reasons, but the episode begins with the battle outside the wall to immediately address “Perfect Game’s” bloody cliffhanger. The episode’s opening carnage is extremely graphic, but there’s actually some insightful reflection that comes from the Beast Titan as he continues to eliminate the oncoming forces.
The Beast Titan seems to actually be disappointed and feel sorry for the Survey Corps. He laments that because of the lingering effects of King Reiss’ memory manipulation that these scouts charge for an empty cause that they don’t even fully comprehend. He hurls boulders at them all, not because they’re the enemy, but because he wants to break the endless cycle that the Reiss family has put humanity in.
This attack becomes even more complex as the human inside the Beast Titan struggles with similar issues and doesn’t want to just be an extension of someone else’s cause. It’s fascinating to see that as this war gets more physically extreme, it also becomes considerably more psychologically challenging and internal for these fighters. There’s a powerful moment when the intensity of war causes Marlowe to think back on his life, only for this peaceful serenity to get interrupted when a boulder eviscerates Marlowe’s head.
The heavy losses that the Survey Corps suffer are hard to watch, but thankfully Erwin’s selfless plan does effectively distract the Beast Titan and allow Levi to seriously go to town on the guy. Levi wants to guarantee that he doesn’t blow his shot here and so he juliennes the Titan to pieces. In a stunning animation sequence, Levi succeeds in severing off nearly all of the Beast Titan’s limbs, slashes his ankles, and cuts out his eyes.
When the monster looks to be sufficiently defenseless, Levi doesn’t relent and if anything his anger becomes more intense. He efficiently rips Zeke out of the Beast Titan’s nape and administers some ridiculous means of torture in order to get him to talk (he shoves his sword through his mouth and nearly out his eye), but he remains stubborn.
Levi’s so determined to put an end to all of this that he considers administering his Titan serum injection into one of his scouts so they can just eat Zeke and absorb his powers in the process, but he’s surprised to see that he can’t find any surviving scouts (although there is one that makes it through). Levi’s desire to avenge Erwin is palpable and even though he’s still on the hunt to stop the Beast Titan and quadrupedal Titan, “Hero” shifts over to the conflict inside Wall Maria and things get even crazier.
Armin and Jean’s survival mission was already tough, but the fact that Reiner’s Armored Titan can apparently bring itself back to life is a hurdle that nobody accounted for or can make sense of. Armin takes notice of how the Colossal Titan seems to show signs of fatigue and he thinks back to Hange’s Titan experiments with Eren. Eren’s Titan abilities became diminished the more he used them and he assumes that this must be no different for Bertholdt’s Titan. If anything, the Colossal Titan should be even more susceptible to a lengthy skirmish because his large form expels more energy. With all of this in mind, Armin launches a two-pronged attack that pits Mikasa, Jean, Connie, and Sasha against Reiner and saves the Colossal Titan for himself and Eren.
The seriousness of this attack and Eren’s impaired condition finally sinks in and Armin steps up and springs into action. Armin’s burst of awesomeness here makes his passivity over the past two episodes feel like the necessary development needed to bring him to this point of desperation. “Hero” is such a celebration of Armin. Everything that he does here makes up for any of his recent indiscretions. In an episode full of amazing moments and impressive displays of courage, Armin still comfortably sits at the top. He finds himself on top of Eren’s incapacitated Titan body and applies some blade-heavy tough love to wake him up.
It’s incredible to watch everyone coordinate such a strong attack and the scouts’ battle against the Armored Titan is just as much of a gory spectacle as Levi’s onslaught on the Beast Titan. Mikasa and company spam as much of their Thunder Spears as possible and the unexpected return of Hange gives them the necessary advantage to blow Reiner right out of his Titan’s body. It’s always exciting when vigorous improvisation leads to new strategies on how to separate humans from their Titan shells.
The Survey Corps exhibit extreme resilience and efficiency for the majority of this episode, but there’s such a brutal loss that takes place during the end that it almost makes all of this victory seem irrelevant. Doing what he does best—being protective of Eren—Armin launches a suicidal plan that works, but also results in his extremely gruesome death. The Colossal Titan goes full power with his steam ability and burns Armin to a horrifying crisp. Armin. He burns Armin to death.
Perhaps some viewers saw the death flags planted on Armin when he started talking about visiting the ocean with Eren, but I honestly thought he’d be safe, especially since Erwin also officially passes away in this episode (not to mention the dozens of scouts that have also brutally perished). Armin has been there from the start and this very episode establishes how he’s the voice of reason and encouragement that Eren often needs to snap into action.
Eren seems focused on properly keeping Armin’s memory alive, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the version of Eren that emerges from all of this is much more callous. Either way, Armin’s defeat is arguably the biggest death to ever happen in the series and it’s clear thatAttack on Titan wants us to know that no one is safe. There very well may be many more beloved characters meeting their end before this is all through.
“Hero” is an absolutely incredible episode of Attack on Titan that is as good as the show gets. It features a beyond fulfilling conclusion to the giant battle that wages on and contains enough Titan takedown sequences to fill up several episodes. The teamwork and action is out of control, there are touching parallels to some of the show’s earliest episodes, and it still throws in one of series’ biggest surprises to once again redefine the status quo and go out on quite the emotional climax.
Armin staunchly views Eren as the episode’s titular, “Hero,” but Armin is without a doubt this installment’s big champion. He goes out in as honorable of a way as possible and his absence will surely hang over the rest of the season, if not the entire series. If and when Eren does ever reach the ocean that lies beyond the walls, it’s going to be even saltier than usual without his best friend there to share it with him.
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.