Attack on Titan The Final Season
Episode 13

by James Beckett,

How would you rate episode 13 of
Attack on Titan The Final Season ?

“All that struggle for a farce like this?”

We knew there would be something in the wine bottles that Nicolo was serving those rather detestable Military Police some weeks ago; we just didn't know exactly what. Sure enough, as Zeke's monologue at the top of “Children of the Forest” makes pretty clear even before Nicolo confesses his suspicions to the Scouts, we discover that it wasn't any old poison that was being slipped to the military's higher-ups. Rather, Yelena and her little band of scheming Jeagerists have been dosing the officials with Zeke's own spinal fluid, allowing them to create an unwitting army of sleeper Titans, all of whom will move to the Beast Titan's command. This is just as the Marleyans did to another capital city some ten years past, Nicolo convinces Hange and the others that the Jeagerists are planning to completely destroy the nascent Kingdom of Eldia in one fell swoop. Judging by the positively sinister grin that Floch gives in response to these accusations, one would guess that from these ashes would rise the New Eldian Empire.

So far as twists and plot development go, this is all pretty good stuff, though in true Attack on Titan form it all ends up serving as nearly an afterthought to the real drama of the episode, which has almost nothing to do with the escalating Jeagerist threat, and everything to do with the Braus' clan's doomed day out. It's funny: With all of the tumult of the political meltdown that erupted last week, I was convinced that the Braus family was being sent to Nicolo's restaurant as the sacrificial pawns of whatever Yelena's scheme was, and that Hange and the rest of the Scouts would have to burst in at the last minute to try and save the day. I ended up completely neglecting the precision-engineered ticking-time-bomb that Attack on Titan was setting up simply by bringing Gabi and Falco along, even though it had been staring me right in the face ever since Kaya suggested that there was a Marleyan chef who might be of some help to them…

When Gabi asks why Mr. Braus was even invited to such a fine establishment despite not being a soldier, Kaya tells her that Nicolo wanted to serve the Brauses in honor of the daughter they recently lost in the mission to Marley, who loved his food so much. “But personally,” Kaya muses, “I thought they were in love.” Falco is the first to suspect what we the audience already know, but reader, I can hardly impress upon you the calamitous thud that I felt when that same sinking feeling dug into my own stomach. Much like the season's standout “Declaration of War”, “Children of the Forest” is a masterclass in the building-up of tension, and the subsequent explosion that must follow. From the moment that Gabi and Falco step into that wine cellar it is obvious that things cannot end well; there are only two adolescent Marleyan POWs on Paradis, after all, and Nicolo knows well and good who they killed in coming here.

It's another one of those uniquely Attack on Titan climaxes, then, as unsurprising as it is devastating, when Nicolo smashes the (spinal-fluid tainted) bottle over Falco's head, knocks Gabi out cold, and then brings Gabi's crimes to light in front of the entire Braus family. Knife in hand, he makes a very cold and very simple offer to Sasha's father: “If you can't kill her, then I will. Is that all right?” Hange and the others arrive, not as the gallant cavalry that last week's episode made them out to be, but simply as more helpless bystanders who have to stand and watch while Gabi's life hangs in the balance of the two people in the world who have the most right to hate her. To want her dead.

To the legion of misguided Attack on Titan fans that have been cheering for Gabi's violent comeuppance ever since she murdered Sasha, this might seem like a perfectly appropriate conclusion to her story; righteous, even. While I don't begrudge any of these viewers their anger over Sasha's cruel and pointless death — Isayama obviously knew exactly what he was doing when he killed her off, and the effect it would have on his audience — I'm going to have to make my point as clearly as I possibly can: To wish death or suffering on Gabi for what she did to Sasha is wrong, and anyone that would still stubbornly cling to their anger and hatred would do well to watch “The Children of the Forest” again, because I'm not sure how Attack on Titan could make this lesson any plainer.

Mr. Braus and his wife are nearly broken with anger and grief; it's as clear to see on their faces as it is on Nicolo's. However, even though there is a second where you think he might really do it., when given the chance to slit the throat of a bloody and helpless child, Mr. Braus thankfully chooses a different way. He explains to the Scouts, to Nicolo, and to Gabi: “Sasha was a hunter. Even as a wee girl, she shot varmints in the forest for us to eat. That was just our way of livin'. But I knew there'd come a day we'd have to give up that style of life, so I sent Sasha away from the forest. She went into the world, became a soldier, shot people far yonder, and got herself shot. In the end, though she left our forest, the world is a great, big forest where everyone's fightin' for their life. I reckon Sasha died 'cuz she wandered in the forest too long. We've got to keep the younguns out of the forest. Otherwise, ain't nothin' gonna stop it from happening again. That's why it's up to us adults to shoulder the sins of the past.”

Attack on Titan has never been a show about subtlety, and while you could maybe criticize this episode for practically bludgeoning its audience over the head with a giant bat that has the word “THEME” emblazoned on it, there are clearly some folks out there that somehow haven't gotten the message yet. If it wasn't spelled out clearly enough, the heartbreaking scene is punctuated when someone finally does try to plunge a knife into Gabi's skull. It's poor Kaya who does it, blind with fury and screaming curses at the supposed friend who killed her last scrap of hope in the world. Later, when a stunned Gabi asks Armin and Mikasa why they saved her from Kaya's wrath — a wrath that we're beginning to suspect even Gabi thinks is justified — Armin can only sadly respond: “Kill this, kill that…it's all you think about. Just like someone I know.”

That's the sad moral of Nicolo's story, which is perfectly summed up when he realizes that the only thing this drama resulted in was the waste of a meal that he worked so hard to prepare, and the knowledge that he very nearly murdered a pair of kids in cold blood — kids who were just as much the victims of the war they've been born into as Sasha was. It's the cruel joke that Levi is forced to mull over when he learns of Eren's betrayal, and then has to reckon with whether all their years of death and struggle were merely in service of prefacing this elaborate Jeagerist farce. It's the truth that Armin and Mikasa might finally have to reckon with themselves, now that Eren has arrived, his palm freshly bloodied, ready to have that “talk” they've been putting off for far too long.

It's a lesson that we shouldn't be surprised that Sasha's parents would end up being the ones to teach; they should know it all too well, given the years they've spent farming the land: When the soil being tilled is a battlefield gone sour and raw with the blood of children and doomed soldiers — whether you be a man, a family, an army, or a nation — you will only ever reap what you sow.

Rating:

Attack on Titan The Final Season is currently streaming on Crunchyroll and FUNimation.

James is a writer with many thoughts and feelings about anime and other pop-culture, which can also be found on Twitter, his blog, and his podcast.


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