Oh that Bertholdt. What a barrel of laughs that guy is.
We flashback to the Battle of Trost as Eren is hoisting the boulder needed to plug the hole in the wall. Reiner and Bertholdt discuss their real plans away from the fighting, wondering if they’ll need to intervene to protect Eren despite also being responsible for the hole. Marco overhears them talking, which they play off as a joke, but he starts putting things together in his head, leading them and Annie to steal his ODM gear and leave him to be eaten to keep their secrets from getting out. Later on, the night before the current battle, the two discuss with the Beast Titan, identified as War Chief Zeke, the need to retrieve Eren over rescuing Annie before being signaled by the Cart Titan of the Scouts’ approach.
Back in the present, Bertholdt waits in position for Reiner’s signal, which he can’t give because he’s seemingly been killed by the onslaught of Thunder Spears. His Cadet Corps peers are mixed on having to put down their former friend…until he gives a scream, which signals Zeke to throw Reiner from a barrel on the Cart Titan. The plan is for Bertholdt to become the Colossal Titan in mid-air, but he hesitates when he notices Reiner isn’t moving. He checks to see if Reiner’s dead, but finds he’s sent his consciousness throughout the Titan nervous system, so he tells him to try and move to avoid the blast.
Armin tries negotiating, but all Bertholdt tells them is that they want to take Eren and kill everyone living within the walls. In response, Armin tries threatening that Annie will be tortured more, but that won’t work like it did in their last meeting. Soon, Bertholdt realizes this was a distraction and states that he’s kept his resolve to kill all of them. Not because of anything personal, just because he has to. With that, he flies up and transforms, the explosion seemingly wiping out Hange and her squad. Armin realizes they can’t allow him to reach the wall, so whoever’s left will have to face him there.
Alfred Hitchcock had a famous quote about the difference between surprise and suspense. The example he used was that, essentially, blowing up a bomb will simply surprise an audience, while telling them about the bomb before it explodes will make them slowly feel more and more suspense for longer than the surprise would last. In the case of this series, Bertholdt has acted like both of these at certain points. The initial appearances of the Colossal Titan from the first chapters of the story (specifically in Shiganshina and Trost) acted pretty much the same as a bomb going off, in terms of emotional impact, with the suddenness of it meant to take the characters and audience by surprise.
When it came to the reveal of his identity in the second season, there was a mix of the two, but we weren’t given enough time for the suspense to fully set in before the bomb went off again. Here, however, we have a prime example of using suspense to keep the characters and audience fixated on every action from the moment Bertholdt leaves his barrel. We’re more informed by now that the Colossal Titan is his more or less side’s equivalent of a nuke (not in terms of radiation, but pure destructive power), where even the transformation alone is a powerful weapon.
Being well aware of who he is and what he can do, every second feels that much longer wondering when he’ll transform. He’s got his proverbial finger on the button, so every attempt by Armin to talk things out and distract him can only make you focus on the urgency of the situation. So, when the time comes and the sky lights up, it feels that much more ferocious than any Titan transformation before it.
Other than that lesson in film language, this was just a general home run of an episode. On the minor revelations, we finally get a clear look at how Marco died (even though we pretty much already knew how) along with a brief reappearance by Annie in that flashback. We also finally get a name for the Beast Titan, Zeke, though that tells us about as much as the Closed Captions naming the Cart Titan. It’s nice to be able to assign a clear label to these things, is all. But I have no doubt that things will be only ramping up from here now that the biggest player has come up to bat.