This Attack on Titan review contains spoilers.
Attack on Titan Season 3 Episode 9
“This is my first fight with my father…”
There’s a scene that occurs in “Ruler of the Walls” that’s small and inconsequential, but in a way it could also be the centerpiece to the entire series. Eren and Armin see some children within the walls of the Orvud District. As Eren and Armin prepare for their attack against Rod Reiss they reflect on the fact that if they can’t stop Rod before he breaches the wall, these young kids will be traumatized. Not only that, but these children will essentially experience the same horrors that Eren, Armin, and Mikasa did five years ago when the Titans initially attacked.
The cyclical nature of this is beautiful, but it’s even more cathartic that Eren can somewhat prevent these children from suffering the same fate that he’s endured. Sure, this catalyst could inspire these innocent kids to turn into valiant Survey Corps scouts in the future, but he’d prefer that they’re able to just live safe, normal lives. He can’t entirely shield them from these horrors, but he can prevent the invasion and destruction of their district.
It’s an oddly nostalgic moment and it also highlights just how much Eren and company have matured and changed since the series began. “Ruler of the Walls” accomplishes a lot, but its most significant feature is the level of confidence that everyone operates at in this episode. There’s a very dangerous mission in play, but this installment never worries about figuring out a plan to succeed. This is about characters that have finally come into their own and can carry out their purposes with precision.
Before we explore the masterful execution of this entry, it wouldn’t be fair to not give Rod Reiss’ disgusting Abnormal Titan the attention that it deserves! Now this is truly a face that only a mother Titan could love—that is, if what’s left on this Titan can even be considered a face. Rod’s Titan made a powerful first impression in the last episode, but he becomes substantially more upsetting this week. The Titan’s unconventional means of transportation have resulted in his face getting completely sanded off. It’s an open face-like sore that’s somehow not even the worst thing about this monster. The Titan’s preference for crawling around has also completely eroded the beast’s stomach. Once he stands up his guts just topple out of his gaping stomach. Giant Titan intestines draped over the side of a wall is definitely one of the more morbid, insane visuals that the show has ever pulled off.
As this eyesore lumbers closer to the walls, Erwin surprising opts to not have Orvud District evacuate. There’s a strong belief that Rod’s Titan is more interested in the greater concentration of people in Mitras and that it will avoid Orvud entirely to get to the bigger buffet. The Scouts also entertain a risky plan that involves using the citizens as bait, but they’re confident that there won’t be any fatalities due to the tremendous size of their target and how it appears to have a lack of armor as protection. Then, if there are still any problems, there’s always Eren who can step in as a last resort. It’s a very temperamental strategy, but it’s one that everyone is oddly confident in. The sheer fact that everyone is back together as a team has instilled everyone with a certain calm.
What’s boggling here is that the military government tries to run evacuation drills (that even use dummy Titans!) to properly prepare the citizens, but the public are belligerent and just feel put out by the whole procedure. They view this exercise as a flimsy attempt by the new government to prove to everyone that they’re the ones who are now in control, rather than a genuine attempt to save their lives. As big as Attack on Titan can get, these smaller scenes that highlight the opinions of the citizens and the microcosm ramifications of the Scouts’ actions are just as important. It’s a strong extra element to throw into all of this chaos.
The all-out siege that takes place to eliminate Rod’s Abnormal Titan is one of the best battles that the show has ever done. Initial cannon fire proves to be useless, but it’s amazing to see how in control the Scouts are once they take over the operation. They begin strong by blowing off the Titan’s hands and then they don’t let up.
Eren in his Titan form executes an especially awesome assault where he forces a number of gunpowder barrels into Rod’s mouth in order to blow his head open from the inside and expose the nape of his neck. It’s an insane attack and everything that follows after this battle plan is pure art. The Scouts criss-cross through the skies to destroy the raining shrapnel of Rod Reiss’ exploding Titan body as Historia elegantly zeroes in and delivers the final blow to her father.
By the way, Historia’s breathtaking omni-directional maneuver gear scene where she slices up her father was also done by God-among-animators, Imai Arifumi, who previously blew everyone’s minds with Levi’s chase scene back in the second episode. As incredible as this sequence is, everything in this installment is a joy to watch. Even simple establishing shots that contain the entirety of Rod’s grotesque Titan bod are delights to take in.
Since the action in “Ruler of the Walls” is fairly direct, there’s also plenty of time for characters to quietly—and not so quietly—reflect on who they are. Eren experiences quite the humbling moment where he takes a step back and realizes that he should maybe get over himself a little bit. He confesses to basically viewing himself as the “main character” in all of this and that his importance in this sense has kept him alive through all of this.
When Eren understands how important Historia is here and how fearless she’s been through everything, he finally accepts that there are others out there that are greater than himself. Eren obviously is important in Attack on Titan’s larger story, but it’s about time that he swallowed his pride. He even begins to literally beat himself up at one point to make sure that he’s finally rid of the weaker, arrogant version of Eren that used to reside within him. This is hopefully a real turning point for Eren.
Eren and Historia get to share the title of hero in this plan, but it’s quite fitting that it really comes down to Historia’s ability to deal with the demons from her past. She is finally able to reclaim her name and the power that comes long with it, but can now filter out all of the pain. It’s also touching that Historia seems to gain memories from her bloodline, as thoughts and memories of Rod, Frieda, and Uri rush into her as she finishes off her father.
“Ruler of the Walls” continues this season’s confident storytelling and prepares for the end of the year’s first big arc. The episode aptly ends with Historia declaring herself as Queen and it’s such a satisfying moment. Now that the Scouts have a legitimate ally in charge, there should really be no reason that they won’t be able to carry on ahead into Eren’s old basement. There’s no longer resistance on that front and it should make for a nice change of pace. Eren takes a moment to reflect on Historia’s progress this season, but damn. She’s easily become one of the best characters in the entire series and she’s definitely a highlight of this season (I mean the end credits are basically an ode to her). All hail the Queen, indeed. She deserves every bow.
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.