With Mikasa and Armin working together, the strange new Titan they encountered is used to the cadet’s advantage. Meanwhile, Jean continues to lead the desperate retreat to HQ, with each casualty weighing heavily on his mind. Can they truly find a way out of this nightmare? Our heroes discover the answer in Attack On Titan, episode 8 “I Can Hear His Heartbeat: The Struggle for Trost, Part 4.”
[Warning! Spoilers for Attack On Titan episodes 1-8 Below!]
Resurrections are hard to do in fiction. More often than not, bringing a character back to life can come off as a cheap twist and undermine the impact of death in a story. American comic books are notorious for this, with major characters like Captain America and Superman dying tragically and causing massive repercussions in the lives of their friends and enemies…only for them come back to life and restore the status quo. So when Eren climbed out of that Titan’s neck at the end of “I Can Hear His Heartbeat,” some might be tempted to call his return a cheap, sensationalistic plot twist. I, however, must vehemently disagree. Though Eren is back, things are not going to go back to the way they were; Mikasa, Armin, Jean and the other cadets have gone through hell in his absence, and been changed by their experiences.
Over the past few episodes, Armin has been hit the hardest by Eren’s death, with it fueling his feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing. He becomes suicidal and his first plan for their escape involves leaving him to die. When Mikasa makes it clear she she and Connie won’t abandon him, Armin is forced to think of a better plan, one that saves ALL of them. Using the AntiTitan (or Berserker Titan, as he’s called by a unnamed cadet) to take out the others besieging HQ works perfectly, rescuing Jean’s group when all seemed lost. Armin saves everyone again with his plan in the storage basement, which finally allows them to get the gas and retreat to safety. These actions show that, rather than being dead weight, Armin has immense value as a strategist who can come up with good plans when in a pinch. He just needs some encouragement, which Mikasa and Connie provide, just as Eren did.
Armin is not alone in demonstrating skills he never though he possessed: Jean also comes through by leading the cadets to HQ. As someone who joined the military for purely selfish reasons, he never thought he would have to lead others in a life or death situation, much less be good at it. The horrible deaths of the cadets who died in this action weigh heavy on his conscience; when they finally do reach HQ, his first thought is “How many of us made it? How many bodies did I crawl over? How many of our comrades died on my orders?” Jean’s guilt is much to his credit, but at the same time, Marco is right to praise his leadership. Had he not kept them together and moving forward, ALL of the surviving cadets would have died. Marco himself had given up completely before Jean urged them to action, having accepted his death as an inevitable. Contrast this attitude with his behavior in this episode: though the threat of death is still very real, Marco is proactive and determined to live. Eren inspires others through his bravery, whereas Jean does so by “…know[ing] what it is to be weak.” He’s just as scared as everyone else, but he’s still able to take command and make the critical decisions in a crisis. Like Armin, Jean shows himself to have tremendous potential, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he takes more of a leadership role in the future.
Of course, Jean has limits: when the Titans crash through HQ’s wall and things look hopeless, he despairs and thinks that their struggle to survive was pointless. Then, BAM the Berserk Titan shows him all is not lost in by one of the series’ most incredible ‘Hell Yes!’ moments so far. The scene is amazing, with GREAT cinematography and editing, as are all the scenes of the Berserker battling the other Titans. The sheer rage and unstoppable nature of the Berserker is conveyed quite well, and the way it takes down the abnormal that ate Thomas is immensely satisfying.
Of course, the absolute fury of the Berserker Titan makes perfect sense now that we know it was Eren all along. I must admit, it seems obvious now that Eren was connected to it in some manner, but the idea that a human could transform into a Titan never occurred to me. I was as shocked as Mikasa, Armin and the others, who after all had learned the same information on Titans I had. This is again why I don’t view Eren’s return as a cheap gimmick: it completely upends everything known about Titans in the show’s universe, which was already full of mystery. As big a game-changer as it is, Eren’s reveal didn’t affect me because of its plot ramifications. Seeing Mikasa listen for his heartbeat, Armin clutch the hand that had been bitten off, knowing the person they loved more than anything had come back from the dead, moved me on a profound level. As Mikasa and Armin let out their unreserved, disbelieving tears of joy, I shed a few tears as well. Eren’s return wasn’t a cheap twist: it was a moment of miraculous triumph, executed by the show’s creators with a grace and sincerity that is rare in any medium. There are so many unanswered questions, and the future of these characters remains as uncertain as ever, but if Attack On Titan can keep telling a story as strange and beautiful as this, then I’ll be with it to the end of the line.
[Spoilers End Here]
Grade: 5 out of 5
Attack On Titan is aired every Saturday at 11:30 pm PST on Adult Swim; see local listings for details.