Hello! I'm Kuruk. Welcome to my blog!
The fandoms you'll see most on here are Ookiku Furikabutte, the MOTHER series, Revolutionary Girl Utena, Evangelion, and Steven Universe. Others include The Legend of Zelda, Princess Tutu, Homestuck, Madoka Magica, Pokémon, and Mushishi.
Sure, I think that interpretation has merit—but I have lengthy qualifications to make both in response to the idea itself and your other points.
Personally, I don’t understand how anyone could claim that the shifters “don’t care” about other people, whether the shifter in question is Eren, Ymir, or any of the warriors. Reiner in particular screams, “I care so deeply about these people that I am in anguish!” Annie mentors Eren, spares Armin and Mikasa, and flouts the maxim she’s constantly telling everyone is her utmost priority when she puts herself at risk to abduct Eren.
Bertholdt is a great deal more subtle, but denying that Bertholdt was affected by his experiences within human territory would be a baseless and reductive exercise. Bertholdt was eleven-years-old when he and his accomplices infiltrated the walls, and he is sixteen-years-old in Year 850. That’s five years, and during a rather formative period in his life as well. Of course he was affected. The effects are many.
However, I also do not believe that exercise is one that I—or transversely, for that matter—have ever engaged in. Granted, I tend to focus on the toll those years took—alienation, guilt, paranoia, etc.—but those are not mutually exclusive from him “caring.” Guilt, for example, indicates that the individual in question knows that they have done something wrong. It’s far easier to ideate facilitating genocide before putting a face to the humans. Even at Shiganshina’s outer gate, Bertholdt was looking down at his victims from a height of sixty meters—which is roughly analogous to one of us looking at an insect as it crawls on the pavement. Once he is in the refugee camps and, moreover, the military training camp? Oh, his perspective changes. Dispossessed people—people he dispossessed—forced to do work for the greater good in a contained area that’s foreign to them? (What does Bertholdt want, if not to return home?) Kids his age with hopes and dreams and aspirations and families who are going through the same trials he is and look at him like he’s no different? Eren described him as taciturn, but it’s unrealistic to suggest that Bertholdt didn’t make any friends. According to the guidebook, for example, he and Armin were good friends—though there’s something to be said about how, again, he isn’t actually shown interacting with any of his human comrades without Reiner present in the canon, and none of those interactions indicate significant attachment like Reiner’s and Annie’s interactions with other characters do.
But you could see how caring may amplify the toll. Getting to know his comrades, becoming their friend, and growing to care for them probably deepened Bertholdt’s guilt, and the longer he stays their comrade, the more grievous his duplicity becomes.
All the shifters “shut down” in some way though. With Bertholdt there’s a great deal more keeping his human comrades at arm’s length, because unlike Reiner he has not deluded himself into thinking that he’s truly one of them, and unlike Annie he does not delight in self-sabotage and picking at his own scabs. But there’s also hiding who and what he is, which all of them do to a certain extent: Annie calmly asking Reiner how they should proceed at Trost; Reiner being careful not to show undue interest when Connie rebuffs his question about “the rogue titan;” Bertholdt keeping himself from frantically attempting to jar Reiner out of his delusions at Castle Utgard.
It’s also important to take into account how his coping mechanisms are much, much different from Reiner’s and Annie’s. Reiner dissociates from his warrior identity and creates a new soldier persona; Annie throws herself in with most humans, bonds with special individuals like Eren, and derives enjoyment from her own competence.
Bertholdt’s outburst in Chapter 48 shows us that his coping mechanisms hinge, I believe, on him feeling victimized. What got my goat about his rhetoric there was that it was incredibly self-absorbed. Here are his friends, finally seeing him laid bare. His duplicity revealed. His role in the deaths of their loved ones made apparent. But Bertholdt deflects their pain onto himself: “do you think we want to do this? do you think we like doing this? we were hated by people…we did what was natural, and we can’t be forgiven…what is done cannot be undone. but it wasn’t all a lie, we thought our time together was enjoyable. I thought of us as comrades. somebody…please find us.” And I understand that working against people you enjoyed being with and may even have grown to care about must be very awful for Bertholdt, and that he’s a child soldier sent to facilitate genocide and is in a very real way a victim too, but he’s completely ignoring the very real pain he’s inflicted on the people he thought of as his comrades both through his betrayal and what he’s done as the Colossal Titan. It’s not their pain; it pains him that he had to inflict pain on them. He’s a sixteen-year-old kid, and it really shows in how he acts here.
I do want to address this scene some more, but before that….
I hadn’t thought to compare Bertholdt’s reaction to Annie’s distress (or lack of one, since he is not included when the characters react to the Female Titan’s scream; the expression in question is a reaction to the call for retreat) to his expression when he fails to jar Reiner out of his soldier delusion at Castle Utgard, though I don’t think those are exactly analogous. If we’re comparing expressions, I believe these two panels—which are both reactions to threats to his accomplices’ lives—are bit better for it:
Bertholdt reacts to the retreat signal shortly after hearing Annie scream in distress (Chapter 28).
Bertholdt reacts to Reiner pushing Connie out of the way of an attacking titan and getting his arm bitten and latched on to (Chapter 39).
These panels aren’t perfectly analogous either, since there is a lag between Annie’s scream and Bertholdt’s reaction, as well as the fact that Bertholdt is a direct witness to Reiner putting himself at risk to save Connie, but I think they parallel each other better than the first pair of panels. Either way, the second panel goes to show that while he does keep his expression impassive most of the time, emotion does break through sometimes. We may not have seen the scene we needed to say for certain, but my point stands: isn’t it odd that we don’t see that panic slice through when he hears Annie scream in distress and that his immediate reaction is omitted?
Now back to that scene….
See, I think Bertholdt was—not lying, but being somewhat dishonest. Telling half-truths. And that doesn’t connote that he was acting smoothly—he was having an outburst while telling a somewhat incomplete version of the truth, but it’s not unprecedented. Fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen-year-olds lie under extraordinary pressure often in this series. Not all of them are of the tiny manipulative blonde variety either. There’s Ymir, who was dishonest with Historia about her situation and motivation for pursuing a relationship with her in Chapter 48.
Incidentally, this bout of dishonesty is conveyed through an emotional outburst…
…that is soon proven to have been disingenuous.
Here I am writing about Ymir when your question addresses Bertholdt, but I think it has merit given that she and Bertholdt were compared overtly in Chapter 47…
…and their emotional outbursts both happen in the same chapter.
When I first read Chapter 48, Ymir’s and Bertholdt’s confessions made me uneasy for the same reason: on the surface, they constitute very jarring shifts from established patterns of behavior. Ymir has always prioritized Historia above everyone else, as Connie points out. Even above herself. For Ymir to claim that she’s been protecting Historia for “her own benefit” (which, again, is tricky and intentionally ambiguous, because Ymir staying near Historia would still be for her own sake even if she didn’t need her to barter for a stay of execution from the warriors, given that Ymir loves Historia and is happiest when she’s with her) all along is—well, it strains our suspension of disbelief given the lengths we’ve seen Ymir go to. It fits, of course, but the fit isn’t comfortable. So when it’s revealed that, yeah, Ymir was being dishonest, it feels right.
The same is true for Bertholdt’s outburst. Now, I’ve said that suggesting that he does not care about his human comrades is an exercise in denial, and I stand by that. However, taking what he’s saying here at face value and abruptly stopping at the conclusion that Bertholdt is a poor, misunderstood baby kuudere who secretly loves his friends so much, as many people have, strikes me as reductive given the context both immediate and general. Not only in light of the self-centered coping mechanisms and deflection of other’s pain onto himself that this scene evinces, but who we know Bertholdt to be based on what we’ve seen.
As far as we know, this has always been Bertholdt’s goal:
Making it back home with Reiner and Annie. To do that all three of them have to survive, yes, but they also must first complete their mission. Wouldn’t appealing to his comrades’ feelings of friendship toward them help him out in this regard? They may be unable to act because of it, therefore sparing him and Reiner both their attacks and the pain of having to neutralize them.
Which is why this outburst rings more true to me than the one in Chapter 48:
I am not disputing that Bertholdt may have come to care for some of his human comrades, but those feelings do not preclude what Bertholdt has always prioritized: his survival, his accomplices’ survival, his paranoia and fear that, once they were found out, the people he had come to consider his comrades would turn against him for what they had to do and subject them to torture and death for it. Armin, who was his good friend, is the messenger; the actualization of his fears. It’s real. If Annie’s bond with Eren has not earned her a reprieve, then how could he expect his feelings to earn him one? He is an Other. He will never be one of them. He is a mass murderer and, no matter the circumstances, humanity will punish him. Notice how it’s not, “I’m going to rescue Annie!” or even “I’m going to kill you, Armin, or Erwin Smith or whoever has ordered and allowed that Annie be tortured!” It’s “exterminate you all,” the mission he was sent into human territory to facilitate.
So you see what I meant by “half-truth.” It isn’t an outright lie—Bertholdt does care about them—but is it the absolute truth? My interpretation of Bertholdt veers into very conflicted, very wretched depths where he has a certain pride in his brand of terrorism (based on his body language when Eren confronts him at Trost and, as transversely pointed out, how quickly and remorselessly he devoured a human to take his gear—the only instance we’ve seen of a conscious shifter doing so) along with his eerie, unsettling observational tendencies and his disdain for humans while also not esteeming himself as a person very much at all…but this point, I think, remains independent of interpretation. Do his feelings for his human comrades change anything? Even if Bertholdt cares about them in his own way, would it have done anything to affect his commitment to his mission and warrior-accomplices? It is, I think, a matter of prioritization—prioritization similar to the kind Mikasa does with her family—and it’s the schema that has always been in place: Bertholdt wants to return home, with Reiner and Annie; his care for his human comrades does not even come close to unseating that on his priorities list.