There are strong parallels between both sides of the war as members of the Survey Corps weigh the costs of individual lives. Connie doesn’t want to abandon Shadis, which echoes Gabi and Colt’s commitment to Falco, but Jean also is hesitant to completely give up on Eren. After everything that’s happened, they’re still determined to give their friend the benefit of the doubt and figure out his true motives. Various characters find unexpected reserves of support for Eren, which only makes it more painful when Mikasa reaches her breaking point. It’s a tiny gesture that only takes a few seconds, but Mikasa’s decision to discard the scarf that Eren gave her–what used to be her security blanket–is one of the most symbolic gestures of the entire series.
“Sneak Attack” is full of action, but the most powerful scene from the whole episode is the more muted moment that occurs between Gabi, Falco, and Colt while they’re in hiding. Their city is in ruins, yet during this moment Gabi can’t help but be touched by the kindness that the Eldians from Paradis have shown them. She truly understands that the only divisions that exist between them are the artificial ones that they’ve created. She privately mourns Sasha and regrets ever being pushed to the point where she cavalierly takes the lives of others.
This burst of empathy becomes even stronger after Falco confesses his feelings to Gabi, yet this tender moment between two children barely has a chance to incubate before the harsh realities of war once again set in. These two kids should be able to just run away and laugh together in a field, only they continue to march forward as key players in a useless war. Gabi’s removal of Falco’s black armband is heartbreaking because even though it pulls them closer together it all still feels like they won’t have time for any sort of celebration. At the same time, this discarded fabric represents Gabi and Falco at their closest and most honest, whereas Mikasa’s abandoned scarf is symbolic of the dissolution of her relationship with Eren.
These themes of understanding and redemption become suffocating once they realize that the only thing that’s keeping Falco safe from turning into a mindless Titan drone is Zeke’s own empathy to not follow through with his plan because Falco will become collateral damage. Most of the characters that are focused on in “Sneak Attack” are forced to perform mental gymnastics over whether a sole sacrifice is worth risking the lives of others. Warriors from both sides are willing to go the extra mile for their common man, but there’s no guarantee that Zeke will do the same. It’s a devastating conclusion to an episode that’s all about people working together and how open minds and hearts are the most powerful weapon. In the end, war and destruction still reigns.
“Sneak Attack” sends the final season of Attack on Titan into further chaos, but characters finally take a step back and acknowledge their mistakes during a time where it’s never been more important. Bloodshed begins to drown both sides and it makes it easier to double down on fear instead of pivot towards empathy. So many characters in “Sneak Attack” consider alternate routes and are prepared for abrupt changes, yet Eren remains steadfast in his mission and continues to move closer to his goal, one step at a time.