WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Attack On Titan Season 3.
When Attack on Titan premiered in 2013, the post-apocalyptic fantasy adventure was almost immediately a breakthrough hit. Unfortunately, the agonizingly long wait between Seasons 1 and 2 hindered the momentum of the anime series, leading to a significant drop-off in interest. But its hardcore fans have continued to eat up new episodes as ravenously as the show's titular monsters, and finding rich reward for their loyalty. While live-action television's biggest fantasy properties, like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, have tested their audience's goodwill to breaking point, Attack On Titan's quality has barely wavered.
With Hajime Isayama's bestselling manga already concluded, an end is in sight for the anime adaptation, which is now into the second half of its third, climactic season. If you're a lapsed fan, here's what you need to know to jump back in.
LONG LIVE THE QUEEN
Part 1 continues and completes the journey began by Historia Reiss in Season 2, taking her from a lost girl to an empowered queen. In Season 2, Historia revealed to Ymir that "Christa Lenz" was a fake name, which we later learn was created to protect her from the traitorous Military Police who murdered her mother and sent Historia and her father, Rod Reiss, into exile.
Since then, Rod, whose family are, by blood, the true monarchy became the puppet master to humanity's current king, Fritz. Rod's string-pulling comes to a dramatic end when he kidnaps his estranged daughter, leading to more big revelations about the Reiss family's other, darker purpose ...
THE FOUNDING TITAN
Rod didn't stage a family reunion for the mere fun of it. Dragging both Historia and Eren Jaeger into a secret, underground cave, he explains the Reiss family are the guardians of a unique Titan power, known as "The Founding Titan."
Referred to as the "Coordinate" by the Warriors (Reiner, Bertholdt and Annie), the Founding Titan power can control other Titans -- demonstrated by Eren in the Season 2 finale -- and alter memories, as Historia's older sister, Frieda, was able to do to Historia when she was a child.
The power has been passed through the Reiss family bloodline since Rod's younger brother, Uri, used it to become the First King, and then chose to erase humanity's collective memory of the existence of Titans under the whole "ignorance is bliss" reasoning.
In the end, it's Rod who ends up consuming the syringe full of Founding Titan serum, transforming him into a half-formed, humongous beast. In darkly comic fashion -- Attack On Titan's favored Titan presentation -- Rod sets himself on a collision course with the Walls. Aided by a freed Eren in Titan form and her fellow Scouts, Historia publicly lands the killing blow on her father, endorsing her candidacy as humankind's rightful monarch.
EREN'S HIDDEN POWER
When we're told the Founding Titan's power is a Reiss family hand-me-down, the missing piece of the puzzle is how Eren factors in. How was he able to muster such an exclusive, dormant power inside of himself without being royalty?
The answer is the same as every dramatic moment in Attack On Titan: eating. Eren's father, the owner of the fabled basement, wanted the Founding Titan power himself. So, he ate Queen Frieda, destroyed most of the Reiss family and then force-fed himself to his own son to pass on the power. Nice.
The Season 3 trailer closes out on the instant earworm of Levi screaming, "KENNNNNY!" This battle cry, an unusual display of passion from the deadpan captain, introduced the new character as an old nemesis, and Kenny "The Ripper" indeed served as a suitable foil for Levi in Season 3's first half. (He got the name by allegedly murdering 100 members of the Military Police, an issue the Military Police solved by... hiring him.)
Kenny's previous involvement in the death of Historia's mother, as well as his role as a childhood mentor for Levi, also planted him firmly into the world's history, especially as Levi and Mikasa turn out to be relatives of him, and by extension, each other -- finally clearing up the mystery of why the two share a surname.
Kenny's friendship with Uri Reiss forged a desire in him to -- guess what? -- obtain the Founding Titan's power for himself. Years of planning for this eventuality turn the serial killer sour when he discovers that (supposedly) only the Reiss family can use it. He betrays Rod in the underground cave, only to run afoul of the Reiss patriarch's Titan transformation.
With his dying breath, Kenny tells Levi that he's, in fact, his uncle, before imparting the most important MacGuffin outside of the basement key onto his nephew: the syringe of Titan serum.
After a brief break, Attack On Titan Season 3, Part 2 resumed with Episode 50, "The Town Where It All Began." The town in question is, of course, Eren, Mikasa and Armin's home, Shinganshina, which was evacuated when the Colossal Titan breached Wall Maria in the series premiere.
Along with our main trio, this arc is fan favorites only: Levi, Erwin, Hange, Jean, Conny and Sasha, meaning that every potential casualty in this climatic chapter will really sting. The five episodes that have aired so far at the time of writing -- Episodes 50 to 55 -- have certainly pulled at the heartstrings, while still delivering some of the show's best action sequences.
Everyone is also operating -- to borrow a gaming term -- at max level. Eren fluidly moves between being the Scouts' personal attack dog and their personal steed; Erwin fires up a group of pants-wetting new recruits into launching a suicidal assault on the Beast Titan; Levi and Mikasa move with such inhuman speed and ferocity they nearly become parodies of themselves; while Armin secures his status as the Hermione Granger of the series by figuring out Reiner and Berthdolt are hiding in the Walls, ready for a surprise attack.
Erwin and Levi's plan to take out the Beast Titan doesn't quite succeed, ending with the severely injured Warriors' leader to flee -- snatching an equally beaten-up Reiner from under Hange's nose. Meanwhile, Armin and Eren employ the same distract-and-sneak-attack tactic used by Erwin and Levi (with greater success) against Bertholdt's Colossal Titan form.
The plan involves Armin serving himself up as bait for Bertholdt's deadly steam blast, a skill that immobilizes him long enough for Eren to cut Bertholdt from his fleshy shell. The victory is neutered by the terrible cost extolled on his best friend's body.
As if Erwin and Armin's sacrifices weren't enough, the next episode, "Midnight Sun," gives us an even more brutal plot twist: The two heroes survived. Levi -- badgered by a screaming Mikasa and whimpering Eren -- is left with an actual Sophie's Choice: Who deserves the single dose of life-saving Titan serum? Remembering Armin's irrepressible optimism, he eventually opts to revive the young cadet, who consumes Berthdolt and becomes the new Colossal Titan.
After six long years of waiting, the stage is now set for Attack On Titan to unravel its greatest mystery in Episode 56, "The Basement," set to premiere June 10.
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.