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Attack on Titan: "The Door of Hope"
Trigger warning: Contains disturbing imagery!
Reiner is one of Attack on Titan's most controversial characters. The past two episodes have certainly given us a different side to the man responsible for letting the Titans rampage through Eren's home. This episode gives us the proper contextualization we need to show exactly why he committed the atrocities that started everything in the first place.
"The Door of Hope" is Isayama's masterful display of using perspective to not only show the reasoning behind the actions of the enemy but to even feel through their every struggle. It goes beyond feeling sympathy for Reiner's trauma and the difficulty behind his and the Warriors' choices, especially after living with the ones they used to view as devils. We witness Reiner's journey from a boy trying to win his parents' love by becoming a hero for his country to a man realizing the vanity of his cause, a microcosm of the story of every Eldian Warrior.
Reiner was told since childhood that the people of Paradis were devils who deserved punishment for their sins. It was this indoctrination from his mother that encouraged him to become a warrior. The devotion he had to his mother and to bringing his Marleyan father back with them motivated him to express greater patriotism to show he had what it takes to become a Warrior. Soon, he was selected and found the chance to see his father.
However, he was driven away by the man, who told young Reiner that the union between Eldian and Marleyan was forbidden, shattering his dream of a complete family. Even if Reiner's Warrior rank won his family Honorary Marleyan status, this would only publicly affirm the "sinful relationship" between a "devil" and a "normal" Marleyan. The stigma the Eldians carried with them was strongest with family ties and it made Eldians even more untouchable.
This rejection motivated Reiner to do everything in his power to take the Founding Titan for Marley and, in this way, save the world. Joined by his fellow Warriors, Marcel, Bertholdt and Annie, they set out for Paradis Island. As they make camp, Marcel reveals to Reiner that he was never meant for the Armor. A heartbreaking revelation haunts Reiner through the night, until he was caught off-guard and lost Marcel to an awakening Titan.
Becoming Marcel and Breaking Down the Wall
Angered by the loss of Marcel, Annie calls to cancel the mission. Fearing what would happen to him if their superiors know of how he lost the Jaw Titan, Reiner blackmails her and Bertholdt into continuing the mission, telling them that they too will be held responsible for Marcel's death. In her rage, Annie kicks Reiner mercilessly and airs out her resentment for being manipulated by everyone around her, all the while Bertholdt begs for them to stop. As Annie leaves Reiner, the latter grabs her from behind, proclaiming that he would "become Marcel" and knocks her unconscious.
With this, Reiner and Bertholdt proceed with the mission themselves and enter the Walls inconspicuously, spying on the government and searching for the Founding Titan. While they do so, Reiner makes his intention to join the Scouts known. His goal is to save the world.
Seeing as the King did not respond to the fall of Wall Maria, Reiner leads the team to another mission, breaking Wall Rose and causing the tragic events in the Battle of Trost District. As the flashback goes on, we cut to Reiner helping out Eren and encouraging him to move forward.
There was a catharsis in seeing these two journeys converge in one moment. They may have spent more time together but this was a moment in their pasts where they built a strong bond of trust, with Eren not knowing the kind of hell Reiner had to move forward to.
The flashback sequence ends with a blinding light...
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Reiner puts a rifle barrel on his mouth, ready to end his life here and now.
After lying his way through his struggles and bearing the guilt of the sins he has committed against his Warrior and Paradis friends, he makes himself vanish.
Only for something to stop him. Falco's own frustrations with his Warrior training made him bang the wall behind Reiner, startling him and waking him up to the realization that there were people he still had to protect.
Freedom Against the World: Eren and Reiner's Parallel Journeys
After unwittingly stopping Reiner's suicide attempt, Falco goes to the one-legged man he met before. Falco brings up his seemingly futile attempts to surpass Gabi. However, the man encourages Falco to move forward and we see a clear look of his face. It was Eren.
The episode comes full circle with this moment.
The stories of Reiner and Eren are almost similar.
Both felt that they were destined to hold their Titan powers in order to save their respective worlds. In different moments, however, they reconcile with the truth of their powerlessness. Reiner was never meant to possess the Armor and Eren could not stop Hannes from being killed, being unable to transform. It was in these moments of learning their truths that shaped their journeys to move forward, with Reiner pushing his team harder and harder to hell, until he himself was consumed by guilt, anxiety, and uncertainty over his place in the ever-complex world he took part in.
Meanwhile, Eren realized that the mission he had was far bigger than his vengeance and he might have to witness a greater hell. Looking at the ocean, he found a world that hated him and his kind, and formed the conclusion that for his pain and the violence against Paradis to disappear, he would have to bathe in the blood of his enemies.
Solid Direction, Clear Limitations
This episode had spectacular direction and might be one of the better episodes in a string of already great ones. We did lose Annie's moment of bringing the Shifters to the Wall and Bertholdt's humanity peering through the unfortunate souls in Shiganshina. However, there was some sense in removing these scenes to bring more focus on Reiner's POV and for Reiner's journey to parallel that of Eren's. This is especially the case when we find Eren at the hospital, entering enemy territory.
That being said, the loss of those scenes, while not entirely hurtful to the story itself, were missed opportunities for more screentime for the Female Titan and deeper humanization of the already nuanced Bertholdt. The part involving Annie's spying around the Capital was barely given any room to breathe, as there was no mention of a plan for Annie to learn more about King Fritz.
While cut for redundancy of what the audience knows, this would have allowed us to know how much the Warriors knew about the fake king and corrupt government in the Walls. Overall, however, the beats for the flashback were concise and precise, showing Reiner as a terribly and tragically flawed man burdened by the conflict between his gradual sympathy for Paradis and the sins he committed against his Warrior comrades.
Apart from more updated looks for the younger Reiner, Bertholdt, and Annie, the use of character animation, amazing color choices, realistic lighting, and backgrounds stood out. We are seeing how different MAPPA's rendition of the show's world is and the creative choices taken to make us more invested in the events to follow.