WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Attack On Titan, Season 3, Part 2.
Attack On Titan has never been afraid of culling its cast, which makes sense for a world where humanity is always teetering on the edge of annihilation. So far, our three main protagonists -- Eren Jaeger, Mikasa Ackerman and Armin Arlet -- have been safe from permanent harm. As have other key players, like fan favorites Levi Ackerman and Erwin Smith (minus an arm for Erwin, of course).
However, all of that has changed in the third season, which seems on track to be a climactic one. After settling the political turmoil that broke out during Part 1 (Episodes 38-49), Part 2 shifts focus back to where it all began: Shiganshina. The outer province -- the childhood home of Eren, Mikasa and Armin -- has been abandoned since the Colossal Titan attacked Wall Maria in Attack On Titan's first episode, ending a century of peaceful, Titan-free existence for humankind.
Our leading trio, along with Levi, Erwin and a platoon of Scouts, heads back to try and reclaim the Wall -- knowing that it may well be a suicide mission. They also have another objective, however, emphasized at the end of the new opening credits that finish on a shot of the fabled basement of Eren's family home. Whatever is in that basement could be the key to everything they've been fighting for. Fair to say, then, that the stakes are higher than ever.
It isn't long after they arrive that their enemies -- the Armored, Colossal and Beast Titans -- show up, having been laying in wait the entire time. While the Beast Titan attacks from outside the Wall, the other two strike from within, ensuring that the Scouts are trapped. In Episode 54, "Hero," Erwin delivers his most rousing speech yet, psyching up his quivering cavalry to charge the Titan's ape-like leader, allowing Levi a one-time chance to slay the Beast. (Which he comes very close to achieving.)
Inside the Wall, some tense and bloody fighting leaves the Armored Titan (Reiner) on his last legs, but Armin and Eren -- separated from the group -- find themselves squaring off against the Colossal Titan (Bertholdt) alone. Eren is also in very bad shape at this point. It's here that Armin, perched on Titan Eren's shoulder on top of the Wall, tells his best friend how much their friendship has meant to him, and encourages Eren to fulfill their shared dream of finally seeing the ocean. It's a heart-to-heart preparing us for what's about to happen, but somehow, the blow is no less shocking.
Eren feigns a slip, sending his limp body crashing to the ground. On this cue, Armin leaps at Bertholdt -- directly in his eyeline -- to be met with the Titan's devastating steam blast. Armin doesn't back down, forcing a surprised Bertholdt to turn up the heat far beyond human endurance. (And, if you think Attack On Titan would spare us having to watch flesh melt from bone at an uncomfortably close proximity... then you haven't watched enough of Attack On Titan.) Armin's internal monologue reminds us that Bertholdt is unable to move while delivering this limited attack, just as Eren -- who has slipped out of his Titan shell, unseen -- flies up to slice the Titan's nape.
The satisfaction of the show's original menace being felled is undercut by the sight of Armin's blackened, skinless body. It's truly a testament to Attack On Titan's ongoing commitment to being one of the grimmest series of its genre. To make things worse, it's revealed in the next episode, "Midnight Sun," that both Armin and Erwin survived their horrific sacrificial bids. The remaining Scouts are then left with a bleak choice: Who should the life-saving Titan serum in their possession be used on?
Eventually, Levi decides that Armin, who Erwin had seen so much potential in, was the right candidate. The veteran Commander is given a touching sendoff with Levi and Hange, while Armin is consigned to a revitalizing -- but monstrous -- fate. In his new Titan form, he consumes Bertholdt, gaining the Colossal Titan's powers and becoming the very thing he almost gave his life to kill.
New episodes of Attack On Titan are available to stream on Crunchyroll and FUNimation, and air every Saturday night as part of Adult Swim's Toonami block.