This Attack on Titan review contains spoilers.
Attack on Titan Season 4 Episode 17
“We just have to keep moving forward, right Eren?”
One of the first images from “Judgment,” the premiere entry from Attack on Titan: Final Season, Part 2, is a naked and bewildered Zeke who emerges from the husk of a Titan’s corpse, as if he’s been reborn anew. Attack on Titan has always been interested in how death is necessary for rebirth, but it’s become a suffocating mantra during the series’ final season.
More casualties have been experienced than ever before as characters become increasingly willing to write off huge swathes of humanity for some nebulous “greater good” that might not actually be appreciated until generations later, if at all. The body count in Attack on Titan only continues to rise, and the chilling new opening title sequence (“If I lose it all outside the wall, live to die another day…”) pointedly prepares the audience for unprecedented destruction. However, a glimmer of hope for salvation remains–just like a cleansed man who crawls out of death and into the sunlight of opportunity–and maybe it’s somehow possible that everything will be alright.
There is so much to cover as Attack on Titan barrels ahead into its endgame, but “Judgment” is actually a relatively simple installment of the series and a slow ease back into this dreadful dystopia. The episode picks up immediately from Pieck’s unsuccessful coup to wipe out Eren, which has only empowered him with a more intense rage than ever before. The parallels and dichotomy between Eren Yeager and Reiner Braun made up some of the most compelling material from the first half of Attack on Titan’s final season. Their rivalry and what their opposing forces represent become the driving force behind “Judgment,” as both of these characters are prepared for whatever fallout accompanies their actions.
Eren is much more of a cipher in this premiere and honestly the opening and closing numbers do a better job at illustrating his current mental state. However, every punch that Reiner takes has real honorable intention behind it. He simply wants to end Eren’s suffering at the end of the day. He’s not driven by any delusions of grandeur or megalomaniacal fantasies. Reiner just longs for peace, after thousands of years of pain. Attack on Titan has orchestrated such magic with its villainization of Eren over the final season that it’s genuinely exciting when Reiner’s attack is reinforced by Porco, Pieck, Magath, and Marley seems to stand a fighting chance.
The action sequences in “Judgment” deliver, but what’s most impressive about them is just how sophisticated of a fighter Eren has become. He effortlessly wields multiple Titan powers at once to cater to the specific situation at hand and survive. Marley may have several Titans and a whole army to put up against Eren, but at this point he’s evolved into his own army. The dust is beginning to settle with Attack on Titan’s grander story and it’s amazing to see how Eren has grown from this passive child who was terrified of these monsters into a true Titan expert and arguably the best shifter that there’s ever been.
“Judgment” is mostly lost in the chaos of combat and it even includes some gorgeous aerial encounters as Marley’s forces attack from all angles. It’s highly enjoyable whenever a Titan punches another or when one of these monsters nearly gets their heads blown off, but some of the most interesting moments from the episode are the ones that stray away from action. Gabi’s mounting concern over Falco’s safety becomes more of an emotional throughline to this story than any worry that Mikasa may have over Eren. The brief glimpse of Zeke’s rebirth, his time with who is presumably Ymir, and the ethereal way in which “PATHS” works have major implications for not just the lore of Titans, but what’s to come with Zeke and Eren’s reunion.
“Judgment” teases a few fleeting moments of optimism, like when Pieck tells Gabi that this isn’t about Marley or Eldia anymore, but rather the individual people behind these arbitrary lines and what they ultimately care about. It’s absolutely essential that not everyone’s spirits are broken, but the general public seem to be lost. Onyankopon’s impassioned speech is a good distillation of how so many people don’t even believe in the cause that they’re fighting for anymore. It’s all just snowballed so impossibly out of control that a nation is forced into compliant complacency or execution.
This is of course no excuse for everything that’s happened, but Onyankopon’s malaise over where the world is at is easy to displace onto the entire Marleyan and Eldian population. Armin’s weak admission that Eren will use the Rumbling in a “good way” is just heartbreaking. Everyone’s too disgusted with the means that they’ve resorted to for success that the title of victor is more shameful than it is inspirational.
With the extremely high expectations that surround Attack on Titan: Final Season, Part 2, “Judgment” shows a surprising amount of restraint. A city still gets demolished and numerous Titans get impaled, but it’s a rather direct entry that focuses on the fallout of Attack on Titan: Final Season, Part 1’s big climax. It’s very satisfying to get an episode that mostly consists of Titan-on-Titan carnage, but it’s not exactly anything that hasn’t been seen before.
It’s hardly a deterrent against Attack on Titan if it wants to adopt a slower pace for these final episodes so that every single story beat gets a bigger chance to breathe. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with “Judgment,” but it feels like the epilogue to “Above and Below” more than the beginning of a new chapter. A subdued premiere allows Attack on Titan to hold its cards closer to its monstrous chest and build to an even more grandiose finish.
After all…Rumbling. Rumbling. It’s coming…