This Attack on Titan review contains spoilers.
Attack on Titan Season 4 Episode 18
“You did a good job holding out on your own, Eren. Now just leave the rest to your big brother.”
Attack on Titan is a complex series that features dozens of crucial figures that all represent unique pieces of a gigantic puzzle that’s been steadily coming together and taken apart for centuries. Thousands of lives have been lost and history has been rewritten in the process, all for this war to come down to the union of two brothers, who started this story as utter rivals, only to progressively learn that they’re two sides of the same coin and equally essential to ending an eternity of suffering.
At this point it seems as if Zeke and Eren only trust each other and the rest of the world has become the helpless backdrop to their grand story. After generations of pain and years of personal unrest, all that Eren and Zeke need to do is make contact, but hundreds of individuals do everything imaginable to prevent these two brothers from a physical embrace. The end of the world might be caused by a fraternal hug and this drives “Sneak Attack” forward with harrowing tension.
“Sneak Attack” piggybacks on the vicious fallout from Eren and Reiner’s Titan battle, which is still in full swing. MAPPA really kills it here when it comes to the animation and battle choreography. The audience feels every punch that Eren and Reiner launch at each other and it’s a deeply visceral fight that’s often hard to watch. There are drastic stakes in every word that Reiner says to Eren and he truly believes that he’s about to finally extinguish this threat, once and for all.
The climax of this fight is the goriest that Attack on Titan has been in some time and even the visual of the Cart Titan’s charred skeleton is chilling. The carnage reaches such a fever pitch that the battle cries of these Titans are enough to deafen the city and leave the civilians frozen and helpless. The Jaw Titan’s coordinated attack across rooftops is also the right way to use CG during a battle sequence of this nature. Any boulder barrage from the Beast Titan is presented as a visceral and overwhelming sequence, but this is especially true in “Sneak Attack” as swathes of airships get taken out like a kid throwing pebbles at paper airplanes.
Zeke does the lion’s share of the work in “Sneak Attack” when it comes to the Jaeger siblings, which also triggers some complicated feelings within Yelena. Yelena’s reverence towards Zeke and the Beast Titan is practically spiritual and it only makes her unstable character more volatile. Yelena ricochets between joy and abject terror as she witnesses Zeke’s rise and fall throughout this episode. It’s as if she’s watched God himself get knocked to the ground by mere mortals.
This reckoning makes Yelena especially dangerous as she grapples with this new normal. She remains one of the most terrifying characters in the series because of her deluded, unpredictable nature and the random things that will set her off. The face of disapproval that she makes at Armin is simultaneously chilling and hilarious, but the most frightening thing is that she seems just as likely to hug Armin or slit his throat at this moment. Yelena comes from such an empty place of sadness and her compulsion to have something to believe in when the world is so fractured is completely understandable.
Yelena comes to terms with her idols being torn down, but Gabi becomes more determined to fight for her fellow Eldian and try her best to make sure that no man gets left behind. A lot of viewers continue to reject Gabi, but she’s never been easier to understand than in “Sneak Attack.” Gabi just wants to protect her friend and she can’t understand why that’s not possible. It’s a jarring reminder that these crucial players are just kids, yet forced to accept impossible death sentences.
It’s alternatively just as touching when Falco, a lone Eldian, has convinced himself that he’s not important enough to waste time or resources on. The opposite of this turns out to be true and it functions as the necessary olive branch to heal the Eldians. Before Falco’s exodus, his fellow cellmates tell him how lucky he is since he at least has a home to return to and isn’t conscripted to inevitably turn into a monster. This alleged silver lining is bittersweet since Falco’s on just as much borrowed time as they are.
There are strong parallels between both sides of the war as members of the Survey Corps weigh the costs of individual lives. Connie doesn’t want to abandon Shadis, which echoes Gabi and Colt’s commitment to Falco, but Jean also is hesitant to completely give up on Eren. After everything that’s happened, they’re still determined to give their friend the benefit of the doubt and figure out his true motives. Various characters find unexpected reserves of support for Eren, which only makes it more painful when Mikasa reaches her breaking point. It’s a tiny gesture that only takes a few seconds, but Mikasa’s decision to discard the scarf that Eren gave her–what used to be her security blanket–is one of the most symbolic gestures of the entire series.
“Sneak Attack” is full of action, but the most powerful scene from the whole episode is the more muted moment that occurs between Gabi, Falco, and Colt while they’re in hiding. Their city is in ruins, yet during this moment Gabi can’t help but be touched by the kindness that the Eldians from Paradis have shown them. She truly understands that the only divisions that exist between them are the artificial ones that they’ve created. She privately mourns Sasha and regrets ever being pushed to the point where she cavalierly takes the lives of others.
This burst of empathy becomes even stronger after Falco confesses his feelings to Gabi, yet this tender moment between two children barely has a chance to incubate before the harsh realities of war once again set in. These two kids should be able to just run away and laugh together in a field, only they continue to march forward as key players in a useless war. Gabi’s removal of Falco’s black armband is heartbreaking because even though it pulls them closer together it all still feels like they won’t have time for any sort of celebration. At the same time, this discarded fabric represents Gabi and Falco at their closest and most honest, whereas Mikasa’s abandoned scarf is symbolic of the dissolution of her relationship with Eren.
These themes of understanding and redemption become suffocating once they realize that the only thing that’s keeping Falco safe from turning into a mindless Titan drone is Zeke’s own empathy to not follow through with his plan because Falco will become collateral damage. Most of the characters that are focused on in “Sneak Attack” are forced to perform mental gymnastics over whether a sole sacrifice is worth risking the lives of others. Warriors from both sides are willing to go the extra mile for their common man, but there’s no guarantee that Zeke will do the same. It’s a devastating conclusion to an episode that’s all about people working together and how open minds and hearts are the most powerful weapon. In the end, war and destruction still reigns.
“Sneak Attack” sends the final season of Attack on Titan into further chaos, but characters finally take a step back and acknowledge their mistakes during a time where it’s never been more important. Bloodshed begins to drown both sides and it makes it easier to double down on fear instead of pivot towards empathy. So many characters in “Sneak Attack” consider alternate routes and are prepared for abrupt changes, yet Eren remains steadfast in his mission and continues to move closer to his goal, one step at a time.
Eren only travels a few hundred feet throughout “Sneak Attack,” but every single step that he takes forward has seismic reverberations for Attack on Titan’s future. The rest of the world grapples with unprecedented change and a lack of knowledge and answers, but to Eren this is all just a means to an end until he makes contact with Zeke. He’s never been more convinced that what he’s doing is right.