I am a Political Science graduate, major in International Relations and Foreign Service, with an interest in anime, religion and philosophy
Acting as a spiritual successor to "Deceiver", "Children of the Forest" continues Gabi and Falco's journey to understanding the island of Paradis and its residents, who have been affected by a war they once never knew of.
One of the directors for this episode, Konosuke Uda, is known for helming the first 278 episodes of One Piece and directing some of its most emotional moments, including Nami and Chopper's tragic backstories. Quite fitting indeed.
Here we finally see the climax of Isayama's presentation of the cycle of hatred, discrimination, and dehumanization. Throughout the series, we have been confronted with the cruelty of humanity in different ways, from human traffickers to oppressive regimes. Yet the truth of the Titans opens the door to something that the people of Paradis have never faced before, that humanity dehumanizes itself because of long-standing hatred.
The Cycle of Violence on Display
The whole episode spends its time depicting the cycle from its roots, lingering consequences, and inevitable confrontation.
Gabi and Falco join the Blouses for their meal at the restaurant that Niccolo worked in. Upon hearing from Kaya that Mr. Blouse's daughter was a soldier, Falco grows worried. In the manga, Gabi remarked suddenly that Eldian and Marleyean ties were anathema but the anime focuses more on Falco piecing the situation bit by bit. This highlights Hayashi's preference for Falco perhaps.
As the Blouses eat, Hange's crew appears and Niccolo acts out as he takes wine from the horse's mouth. Meanwhile, Falco pretends to have a stomach ache and his "sister" assists him. They would meet Niccolo under a basement, where Gabi informs him of the coming invasion and their identity as Warrior Candidates from Marley. In her excitement, Gabi explains that she killed a few soldiers while taking a ride on a blimp. Throughout this, it was clear Falco knew the situation got worse.
And it did.
Niccolo pieces together what Gabi has said and learns that she was the one who killed Sasha. In his anger, he grabs the wine bottle he took and attempts to strike at Gabi, only for Falco to take the hit. The anime does a good job cloaking the blood from Falco's wound with wine as a leak enters his mouth. In his confusion, Niccolo brings Gabi out and reveals her as Sasha's killer before the Blouse family.
As Niccolo holds the unconscious Falco at knife-point, he tells Gabi about his grief over the death of Sasha Blouse at her hands. Gabi, in turn, says that she did it out of revenge, as she took down her friends. Before things escalated, Mr. Blouse took the knife away from Niccolo.
As though to stop that cycle, Mr. Blouse recognizes the world his daughter was sent into. Even as he shows concern for the injured Gabi, Kaya takes the knife and tries to kill her, only for Mikasa to stop her.
From this scene alone, we see the cycle of violence portrayed throughout the series. There are those who have been attacked, whether by vengeance or hegemony, and have taken justice into their hands. Then they face the family and loved ones of the people they killed. Some may respond in violence, hurt from the irreplaceable loss of their beloved. Others choose to rise above and move forward, recognizing the loss and making peace. Yet even when this happens, there are those who do not forget and who still seek justice for their loss, starting the cycle again. Isayama shows the difficulty and the need to stop the cycle. However, he does not shame any of the characters and shows the depth of this terrible tragedy. Gabi needed to see the consequences of her actions and Sasha's own family recognized that her death was not so simple.
Most of all, when things settled down, Niccolo himself realized how close he came to breaking the humanity Sasha saved. Isayama handles minor characters well. Niccolo's bond with Sasha was a subplot showing Armin's point from past episodes, that there could have been peace. He was the result, a man whose racism was replaced with the passion to make people happy with food. This led him to love Sasha for saving him from the hatred. Yet her death brought back that darkness. A devil exists inside everyone.
The World Is a Bigger, Darker Forest
The episode takes its title from Mr. Blouse's speech, a moment of reflection for viewers and an answer to his grieving soul.
A talented hunter, Sasha was brought out as a soldier as a way for her to grow. It was also a way to escape the dangers of the forests they lived in. However, the world was simply a bigger forest, and Sasha was caught up in it. Using this metaphor, Mr. Blouse points out that it is the responsibility of parents to keep the kids out of the forest. The world was more dangerous. Even when it gave great opportunities, there were many dangers. In getting lost, those in the forest would forget themselves, perhaps succumbing to the violence they live through. It was a way to comfort his family but it was also an affirmation of what Isayama points to, that the longer people stay in violence, the more they are stuck in it, much like how Sasha and everyone else was lost in the forest in the end. Sasha chose the life of a soldier and knew this would happen. Like her, the Blouses choose to accept what was done to find some peace for the future to come.
The Wine Twist and the Toxic Nature of Violence
As an efficient writer, Isayama did well with the wine twist. It was more than a plot point to advance the story's stakes. Zeke's spinal fluids were a weapon from Titan experimentation, to be used as weapons against the people of Paradis. Eldians became monsters that were used against their own people. However, more than that, we see the effect of the wine twist in how Falco became an unwitting victim of the cycle of violence.
Striving for common ground, Falco protected Gabi from those who would hurt her, both out of love and to stop the violence. Yet he was a broken shield, blood spilling from his head. Niccolo reveals that he might have swallowed some of the wine to be used to turn the Military Police into Zeke's puppets.
With impulsive rage, Niccolo took the poisoned bottle and cursed someone caught in the crossfire. It was an example of how this cycle would hurt innocents in the end.
It would only get worse from here as Floch takes Hange's squad to keep them away from Eren, where he reveals, to Hange's horror, that he has long known of the plot. Zeke's crimes have added up. Now more and more people in Paradis are about to face certain annihilation from both sides.
Upon hearing of the Yeagerists, Levi succumbed to a hard pill to swallow. His comrades died so that Eren could save humanity but now that he divided Paradis and cooperated with Zeke, Levi laments at how their losses felt wasted. The universe mocked Levi, a survivor who had to see death constantly. He lived a life without regretting his choices, telling a concerned Yeager that decisions are only right when the outcome takes place.
The season is heading for the end. Where do you think this will go?