This Attack on Titan review contains spoilers.
“We must keep trying…”
This entire final season of Attack on Titan has been a masterclass in terms of character development and storytelling. Years of backstory and relationships continue to mature in ways that are both extremely satisfying on a personal level for the characters, but also when it comes to the series’ larger themes. “Thaw” is a goldmine for these narrative payoffs and many characters experience crises of faith and pivotal emotional growth just as Eren and countless others have undergone gruesome physical transformations. It’s not easy to follow-up last week’s perfect episode, but “Thaw” hits comparable heights with its unflinching focus on Attack on Titan’s supporting characters and how the dangers of Armageddon can be the ultimate equalizer.
Many characters experience rewarding epiphanies throughout “Thaw,” but the voyage that Gabi has been through and the place that she ends up by the episode’s conclusion is some of the most touching and powerful storytelling that’s ever been in Attack on Titan. It’s remarkable that Gabi has only been in Attack on Titan for 22 episodes, and while those have been the series at its most chaotic, the amount of inspirational growth that she’s experienced is staggering. Gabi’s growth is incestuously tied together with Sasha and Kaya, three characters who come from contrasting backgrounds, but all eventually end up as echos of one another.
Attack on Titan previously engaged in an exercise in tension and psychological horror that’s not unlike the final act of A Clockwork Orange when Gabi and Falco had to spend time with Kaya and the Braus family. Kaya, a previously passive individual, is driven to nearly kill Gabi when she learns that she’s the one who’s responsible for Sasha’s death. In this moment, Kaya learns that she’s lost her role model, but that her new friend is also a fraud and her faith in humanity drops a few notches lower.
It’s beyond fulfilling that Gabi is then able to swoop in and save Kaya’s life (and from Nile Dok no less, who just did a solid for her and Falco) and heal all of this trauma by bringing it full-circle. Gabi, during her moment of victory, looks nearly identical to Sasha. Kaya’s reverence towards her new hero is also depicted in the same way as when Sasha originally saved Kaya from a Titan. Kaya literally thinks that she’s seen a ghost. It’s a potent representation of how war changes individuals, more often than not for the worse, but it can also lead to transformative displays of empathy that would have otherwise been impossible without this pain and loss. Gabi’s full-blown evolution from Sasha’s killer into Sasha 2.0 is the perfect turn for her character and is metonymic of Attack on Titan’s biggest themes about the underlying humanity that unites everyone.
These feelings of growth and redemption are rampant throughout “Thaw” and even the action sequences crystalize into character catalysts. The Survey Corps’ battle against Titans is beautiful on an aesthetic level, but it’s extremely cathartic to watch Jean lead everyone to success as he embraces his role as leader. Marco would honestly be proud. This scene is one of the best animated sequences from the season, but “Thaw” also amplifies the nostalgic feelings that surround this moment of triumph for the Survey Corps once “Barricades,” a track that I don’t think has been used since the show’s second season accompanies their assault.
“Thaw” achieves an eerie stabilizing calm as it returns to these older comforts. The Survey Corps’ framing while they receive orders from their stalwart leader specifically mirrors comparable moments of honor and admiration from back in Attack on Titan’s first season. Whether the viewer picks up on these classic touches or not, Attack on Titan wants the audience to subconsciously feel like it’s back to its roots, right as the series returns to its original mission statement: kill all of the Titans.
“Thaw” brilliantly uses Attack on Titan’s soundtrack to further accentuate the growth that every member of the Survey Corps experiences as this ongoing battle mutates into its final stage. The nostalgia for Attack on Titan’s second season and the almost innocent quality that occupied these characters fully comes together with the episode’s big reveal–which is also the installment’s namesake–that Annie Leonhart has finally thawed out of the crystal prison that she’s occupied for seasons.
The addition of the Female Titan doesn’t seem that groundbreaking in contrast to the apocalyptic doom that Eren wields with the Founding Titan, but it’s still extremely exciting to have Annie back in the picture. The novelty of all of these disparate characters needing to come together to take on this ultimate threat, which just so happens to be Eren, is still an effective setup for Attack on Titan’s endgame. It’s already satisfying to have Gabi, Yelena, and other Eldians coming together with the Survey Corps before Annie gets added to the equation. It truly creates a feeling of unprecedented danger. Characters might as well put aside what are now petty grudges because nothing is more important than Eren’s Walk of Pain and the Rumbling that he brings along with it.
“Thaw” is the accumulation of dozens of episodes of Attack on Titan, not just the first half of this final season, and it’s another clear victory that rewards the longtime fans. It may feel as if Attack on Titan has adopted a slower tempo, but every single minute matters in these episodes and it’s appreciated how these installments have made this final threat feel appropriately seismic. “Thaw” offers up a little bit of everything and it further sets the stage for the ultimate showdown against Eren, but the episode’s real highlights lie in the emotional breakthroughs that Gabi, Armin, Yelena experience as they’re all collectively brought together.