This is a comprehensive video analysis of the Hill of Swords scene from the Berserk manga written by Kentaru Miura:
Our scene starts with a shot of a gravestone, and more astute readers will figure out what Erica corroborates immediately afterwards, that Godo has died. His gravestone is engraved with blacksmith paraphernalia and the dreaded Holy See insignia. Godo’s life and character is defined by his ambition for his trade, Guts and he had a conversation where he told Guts that he was so enthralled with his work and that the sparks from his forging that one day he woke up an old man. This is a bittersweet realisation for the reader, Godo was an incredible man who took Guts in and clearly had some love for him, resulting in Godo being the closest thing to a father Guts ever had, but he lived a long life and it was his time to die. Erica seems to be holding up pretty well, there’s clearly some sorrow and anguish in her expression when she wishes him an adorable good morning, but he had a peaceful death and nothing that left her traumatised. Erica is one of the purest entities in Berserk and has somehow remained that way, its only in this scene that she is in anyway sad, with both this moment and the one later where she thinks everyone is leaving her behind.
After saying good morning to her father Erica notices Guts, Casca and Puck returning after they’re journey to the Tower of Conviction. There’s a one page spread off a beautiful family portrait of them all with Godo’s gravestone looming in the foreground. The wholesome nature of the scene is fostered by Casca’s genuine excitement to see Erica again. Erica reciprocates and cries as she hugs Casca who hugs her back. Guts laments taking too long to get back. Erica let’s everyone, including the audience, know that it happened soon after Guts left as she holds Casca’s hand and skips back to the hut. This wholesomeness is important to keeping a balanced representation of human nature and the world entirely. If Berserk was only filled with Eclipse level traumatic experiences it would be dishonest in its representation. Things as emotionally traumatic as the Eclipse do occur in our world but incredibly endearing moments happen as well, otherwise we would all just be dead. This duality of the world is depicted not only here, where they have just come from the horrific events at the Tower of Conviction but right after the Eclipse where Guts runs through a naturally beautiful landscape that juxtaposes the nightmare he just went through, it goes from absolute despair to serenity.
Guts apologises but Erica says the Godo was happy that he got to see his surrogate son one last time before his death. Erica gets noticeably sadder throughout her explanation but either consciously or subconsciously changes the subject and tries to be positive by bringing up that Guts successfully got Casca back. However, with knowledge of her reaction towards the end of the chapter she clearly feels there is a void know that her father is gone and wants Casca and Guts to fill it. She asks Guts if he will stay with them now that he’s got Casca back, but Guts is still conflicted. When Erica says ‘let’s all live together’ he immediately thinks of Griffith and of his revenge. Erica continues justifying why everything will be fine now, Casca won’t run away ever again as long as Guts is with her, they can even renovate the cave and make it a proper home. Guts responds with ‘that’s true’ acknowledging that she’s right but not necessarily agreeing that he’s definitely staying but Erica misinterprets and becomes ecstatic. If the subtle allude to Griffith wasn’t registering with the reader Guts and Puck have a conversation about Guts being torn between Griffith and Casca again, torn between vengeance and love. Guts has an internal monologue where he acknowledges the irony that as soon as he got Casca back and believed he understood his purpose, Griffith reappeared before him not as a demon but as he once was. Meanwhile Erica is adorable freaking out.
Now this scene takes place amid Guts’ internal conflict between Casca and Griffith, does he hate Griffith enough for it to tip the scale further than his love for Casca? Ultimately, Guts comes to the right decision in choosing Casca over Griffith. This is made evident by one scene preceding this scene and one after this scene. At the Tower of Conviction Guts consciously choose Casca over Griffith in this iconic panel were his rage is placated by Casca in the background. It’s a wonderfully put together two-page spread that alludes to Guts’ priorities but at this point he hasn’t truly come to term with this decision of Casca over Griffith that he consciously made. But later when all the demonic forces in the world descend on Vritannis and Guts once again see’s Griffith on the horizon he leaves with Casca without a second thought. Casca is Guts’ replacement for his sword. Guts comes to the philosophical self-understanding at the tail end of the Golden Age arc that his sword may be the most important thing in his life and that maybe his purpose in life was to continuously swing his sword, but he repeatedly throws his sword away for Casca. Guts throws his sword down to pick up Casca at Doldrey and that’s the first time he does anything without his sword. He doesn’t even sleep without his sword, except when he sleeps with Casca, both sexually and platonically. On two occasions they slept with each other for warmth and for survival and Guts slept without his sword both times and then later when it became sexual Guts again left his sword behind in favour of Casca. This is repeatedly his subconscious trying to tell him that Casca is more important to him than anything he could achieve with a sword including killing Griffith. This is all something that Guts comes to understand after this scene, but it’s in this scene that this internal conflict is made incredibly physical.
Guts internal monologue continues, and he explains that when he initially saw him he forgot his urge to kill him and this amazement is captured on his face in this panel but then is immediately undermined by the next panel where he exhausts his frustrations at this, he will not allow himself to forgive Griffith. He then reflects on his period as the Black Swordsmen and how he wandered aimlessly chasing Griffiths undefined shadow, but now Griffith exists on the plane as him, where his sword can reach him. Interestingly, we seem to be ignoring the actual first encounter that Guts had with Griffith post-eclipse, in the scene with the Count. In this reflective monologue Guts doesn’t even allude to that meeting. I think Miura is hoping he had all forgotten about that because the only plausible explanation for neither one of them bringing it up in this scene is that he’s acting as if that never happened. But then the immediate mood of the scene is forever changed when Erica subtly starts to allude to Rickert being preoccupied with a guest that was an old war colleague and has long silver hair and was so pretty she couldn’t even tell that he was a man. Griffith is here holy shit.
This is a monumental moment. The monumentality of this moment and my original reaction to this moment in the manga is the driving force behind the creation of this video. If ever I wished I was recording my reaction to any piece or moment of media, this would have been it, I overtly freaked the fuck out. It was impossible for this to be happening especially so soon, this was supposed to happen at the very end of the story, I thought. There’s no way he would dare show himself here and there is no way Miura would deliver on something I wanted to see so bad so soon. The balls it takes to immediately and confidently play your best card so soon is what makes me respect this decision and love this scene so much. He decided not to fuck around and charge ahead with 1000% velocity. The way Miura constructed this page is masterful and creates the most palpable tension possible. The subtle hints that he’s there and the long shots of Rickert with another person in the distance tease it, but the close-up of Guts other eye draws you in and before you even had the chance to digest the hints and teases he’s right there. This caught me and the majority of us collectively off guard with unimaginable precision. This is the best surprise in a story I’ve ever experience, it was the last thing I thought was possible. Chapter 177 ends with a full page backshot of Griffith creating further mystery around him as we watch in awe from behind, astounded.
A key element left out of the discussion surrounding this scene and Griffith’s decision to show up here is his arrogance. Arrogance isn’t a trait I hear attributed to Griffith enough, I truly believe it is one of his most defining characteristics. In this scene he was the gall to not only show up but to actively walk on the symbolic grave of the Band of the Hawk. His unbridled arrogance is most on display, however in the scene wherein he has the opportunity to ask a literal (emotional) God for anything and he asks him for Wings. But I hope to analyse that scene identically to how I’m analysing this scene next, so I’ll leave the in-depth analysis of Griffith’s arrogance for that later date.
Our scene continues in Chapter 178, after the cliff-hanger of the century, imagine having to wait a month between these chapters, with Rickert exclaiming his excitement that Griffith is alive. A key element of this scene is the dramatic irony with Rickert’s character, no one wants to fill young Rickert in. His emotional reaction to Griffith’s return also serves as a reminder to the readers that may have forgotten that Rickert is still ignorant about the on goings of the Eclipse and in this case, ignorance is definitely bliss. But even if you fully understand that you can’t help but get annoyed at Rickert throughout this scene, which was clearly Miura’s intent here. Rickert comes across as extremely winey and annoying in this scene, especially when he puts himself between Guts and Griffith. Rickert starts listening all the dead members of the Band of the Hawk and explains how he believed Griffith was dead all along and how relieved his that he’s alive. Every panel of Rickert talking is interspliced with panels of Guts rushing to the two with frightening speed and quite murderous intent. Erica, Casca and Puck are all left behind in the hut presumably for safety. These panels of Guts chasing are quite subtle and it’s important that we still haven’t seen Griffith’s face yet, the mystery element remains. Two page spread of Guts arriving and Rickert noticing and then a detailed close-up of Guts face and the reveal of Griffith is held off for the following page, which is another epic two page spread. These pages speak for themselves…
I cannot overstate the monumentality of this moment, but this spare down conveys it. Guts’ rage breaks the staring contest and Rickert kicks into gear and their breakdown in communication is evident. This situation would have been incredibly different if Guts had been transparent with Rickert and explained everything to him from the beginning, we have proof that Rickert would be on Guts side because the next time Rickert see’s Griffith after learning the truth he becomes the internet’s favourite man. They continue to miscommunicate and as they squabble Griffith finally speaks telling Guts that he never changes and that he always swings first and talks later. Fuck You Griffith. Not only is this infuriating to Guts but its infuriating to the viewer, the first thing this motherfucker says after the Eclipse is not an apology or a grand silique about how the ends justify the means but it’s some ad hominem against Guts, what an arrogant prick. Then he precedes to demean Guts’ development and say that he’s exactly the same as when they first meant. Out of the two of these pricks one of them has remained the same since that day and it’s not Guts. This sentiment also implies that Griffith stands just as far over current Guts as he did previous Guts which is equally infuriating. I hate this prick and his dumb smile and Guts agrees and asks him what the hell he came here for.
Griffith responds saying he came here to see Guts and to see if he still feels any connection to Guts and if he could make him forget his dream and fuck everything up a second time. He also throws in a line about the location being fitting because the Band of the Hawk has assembled once more. Another arrogant gesture and he is also neglecting Casca in this statement, because she wasn’t there which is another jab at Guts and quite demeaning to Casca as a character and undervalues her as a leader in the Hawks. Guts gets mad that Griffith would even dare use the name Band of the Hawk, this is a particularly soft spot for him, he repeats this offense when he fights Grunbeld far later in the series. Griffith then declares himself free of his emotional connection to Guts, and I choose to believe him here, because Miura seems to have switched Griffith weakness from Guts to Casca thematically, as will be corroborated later in the scene. Guts is shown getting incredibly mad in an extreme close-up and throws Rickert out the way to charge at Griffith. As he does so he asks him how it is that after everything he did he feels nothing. Griffith responds by simply saying that he will not betray his dream, this results in another rage panel from Guts and Guts swings at Griffith only to be blocked by Zodd.
Nosferatu Zodd is a great character, he’s the demonic exception to the rule. I’d say a majority of the Berserk fanbase likes Zodd and that can’t be said about nearly any other demon. Demons are usually terrible, barbaric creates who rape, devour and mindlessly murder people but Zodd is never shown eating or raping anyone and he fights for the fun of it and seems to have some honour, even if he is extremely Darwinistic in his approach. Zodd is basically a demonic version of Goku, he seeks out strong fighters and wishes to have thrilling death matches with them. Therefore, the audience doesn’t view him as a demon but just a beast. Later in the series when Griffith has accrued his demonic army Zodd is rarely shown among them, at Flora’s estate he kills a particularly annoying apostle who was being a piece of shit and when Sonia gives Mule a tour of the Band of the Hawk camp the demons are segregated and Zodd is not among them socialising but looking over Griffith. This separation is a necessary tool used by Miura if we are to in any way like Zodd, and ultimately this tool may be used to make Zodd an ally come the end of the series, but that last part is just some idle speculation.
Guts is caught off guard by Zodd’s appearance here, it’s a mixture of surprise and fear. Surprise that Zodd, someone who stood solemnly over he and Griffith is now for all intent and purposes his guard dog and fear because the source of all of Guts’ nightmares in his adulthood are standing in front of him. The first encounter with Zodd changed Guts fundamentally as a human being, all his dream sequences have a Zodd allegory if not Zodd himself present. Zodd was a symbol of something that made Guts powerless in his adulthood, Zodd was overwhelmingly more powerful than Guts and that scared Guts, he thought he had grown strong enough for no one ever to physically take advantage of again, but Guts proved him wrong. Now the figure that instilled all fear into Guts as an adult, stands in the way of the figurehead of the other traumatic and fear inducing experience of Guts adulthood. He is now forced to confront all his fears if he wishes to enact his vengeance. He decides here that his hatred for Griffith supersedes his lasting fear relating to Zodd. Additionally, there is fantastic attention to detail narratively here from Miura, he remembered that Rickert only ever saw Zodd in his transformed state, so until Zodd transforms in this scene Rickert is perplexed that some random creature is stepping to Guts in a sword fight. Zodd interestingly refers to Guts as the Black Swordsman which demonstrates Guts’ effectiveness in creating a reputation while he was slaughtering apostles in the Black Swordsman arc. Chapter 178 ends with Puck and Casca both seemingly noticing a presence on the snowy peak. Miura here is teasing their involvement in the coming chapter.
Chapter 179 continues our scene and opens fight poster shot of the upcoming Zodd vs Guts showdown. This fight is another story element that on my initial readthrough caught me completely off guard. Much like the Guts and Griffith conversation, I assumed that we would get a Guts vs Zodd fight in the final chapters of the overall manga. But Miura quadrupled down for this scene and blew off another highly built angle in this epic scene. This entire scene is a masterclass in how to surprise an audience with a major plot element that they weren’t expecting, and still maintaining intrigue by not giving too many answers. This scene is all masterful character work if you think about it, the only plot related development is that the Elvish cave is destroy, and this is just a plot device so Guts is forced to continue his journey and to introduce Elfhelm as a concept and a goal. Rickert’s internal monologue here is used as tension building for the fight as well as an expositional tool to guide the slower members of the audience. Here he explains his amazement to how strong this other swordsman is to be blocking Guts’ strikes. Zodd puts Guts over and explains how much it pleases him that he has significantly progressed since their previous encounter. Then their fight truly begins.
Now the fight between Guts and Zodd here is something I’m not going to focus on or discuss in much detail, basically it boils down to a well-drawn and well-choreographed clash. Zodd puts Guts over again, saying that it is magnificent that a human has attained such discipline. Guts completely ignores him and asks why he is with Griffith, protecting him, and then asks him to move aside because his business is with Griffith. We get a panel of Griffith looking generally disinterested in the ongoing madness, with his eyes such and his expression being completely blank. Then Zodd responds with possibly his best line in the entire series, “Works Lack Elegance, Force Your Way Past.” This line not only is cool as fuck but deeply insightful into Zodd’s character, he believes force to be elegant and believes words lack any elegance, that was a good one Miura. They then continue to fight with Guts’ attempting to force his way through. They have a back and forth of offense and defence, Guts concludes internally that Zodd is nothing compared to the journey he has fought through to get his chance to kill Griffith, he belittles Zodd in the face of Griffith.
Meanwhile we continue to get internal monologue from Rickert as he attempts to put all the pieces together. Who is this mysterious man matching Guts in strength and Why is Guts fighting so desperately to attack Griffith? Guts confirms again that he is stronger than base Zodd when he tactically impales him with one of the surrounding ceremonial swords and Zodd is forced to transform. Internally Rickert has a great, poetic line reflecting that Guts has done unbelievably well ‘braving death’ which is a fantastic use of personification. The chapter ends with Miura stopping his recent neglect of Griffith and giving him a moment of feeling, Griffith describes this as a faint throbbing. He goes on to say that his blood should have been frozen as his contemporaries told him it would have been at the Eclipse. But in his rebirth, he is feeling emotion again, he assumed that his blood had been frozen when he felt nothing towards Guts once seeing him again, but now he is feeling different. He concludes that the feelings he is feeling are derived from the infant infused into his being by the Egg of the New World, he seems unaware that this is Guts’ and Casca’s tainted offspring. The underlying irony here being that its Griffith’s fault he is feeling these feelings because the infant was only tainted because he raped Casca. As we will see demonstrated in the following chapter Griffith is now connected to Casca and puts her safety subconsciously above his dream. He may have successfully escaped the binds of Guts through the Eclipse, but because he was given free will he immediately fucked it up, enacting revenge on Guts by raping Casca to prove this connection to Guts was severed and conclusively, inevitable created a connection to Casca. Guts can no longer distract Griffith from his dream but Casca can! The final page of the chapter shows Guts and Griffith’s faces juxtaposed.
Our scene continues further in Chapter 180 and opens with Zodd continuing to praise Guts for his swordsmanship and the power of his sword itself, which is a nice little nod to Godo and his elite level craftsmanship. Since he spent every waking moment forging its nice for Zodd to corroborate his level of expertise. Guts realises that this is where the real fight starts, he’s fully aware that Zodd still has a transformation. Zodd finishes his monologue with saying that he has not yet tasted enough, he hasn’t had his full of fun and subsequently transforms. This two-page spread of Zodd’s transformation might be in my Top 5 pages from the entire manga, not that I have a Top 5 pages from the manga, but you get the idea. You can feel the momentum from the pages, the verbosity and forward momentum of Zodd here is profound. Now that Zodd has transformed Rickert finally starts piecing together the situation, but he is still perplexed that Zodd is protecting Griffith. They continue to fight with Huts clearly now on the defensive. Guts is forced to dodge constantly as Zodd continuously charges him down hoping to impale him on his solitary remaining horn. One of these dodges results in Zodd destroying the Elvish cave that was the only know safe house for Guts and Casca. Speaking of which Casca makes her appearance wondering up from the hut to the extremely dangerous battlefield.
Guts knowing that it’s impossible for him to fend off Zodd and protect Casca at the same time, lashes out in anger and calls her stupid and to get back, Erica is shown following her up the snowy peak. Casca stops immediately upon seeing Griffith, she’s transfixed from afar as Griffith looks on with a blank face. Now there are multiple explanations for Casca transfixion here, maybe Griffith’s angelic appearance is responsible, she’s drawn to the shiny man on the mountaintop. Another explanation could be that she senses the presence of her child inside of Griffith and has a maternal instinct to protect it. These are equally more justifiable than the explanation I sometimes see that this instance of transfixion is evidence that Casca wasn’t raped and that now that she has her mind back that she wants to go back to Griffith. Zodd remerges from the debris and rains boulders from the sky, Erica and Puck successfully get out of dodge but Casca, whose unaware of her predicament is left unguarded, with Guts to far away to save her. Guts reaches out to pull her out of the way but Zodd smacks him into the other direction. All seems lost for Casca until this prick comes to the rescue. The fact that he would even dare touch her infuriates Guts and the audience, but he saved her when Guts couldn’t, rubbing salt in the limp sized wound. Casca with the shiny object now right in front of her reaches out trying to touch it but her brand explodes causing her immense pain. Guts visualises the audiences rage in the following panel, Casca falls to her knees in front of Griffith.
Surprising it seems that Griffith was not intentionally trying to save Casca and giving us and Guts collectively a massive fuck you, but subconsciously was driven to protect Casca because of the infant. Immediately after saving Casca he tells Zodd to stop and leaves. Now Griffith immediate leaving implies that this emotion he feels towards Casca caught him off guard so much that leaving was necessary. Obviously, he had to think about how to move forward now that Casca has the ability to make him forget about his dream, she now has the ultimate power over him and the irony and justness of that fact gives me great relief. Fuck You Griffith. Zodd does not second guess Griffith’s order, showing us that his loyalty to Griffith and his will trump any fun he wishes to seek out personally. I’m certain that Zodd wanted to continue to fight Guts but Griffith is a member of the God Hand and Zodd is a mere apostle and he is loyal to this structure. Guts who caught off guard by the sudden retreat attempts to ask where they are going, but Griffith interrupts with the answer. Griffith tells him that he told him once that he will get his own kingdom and gives the chilling and infuriating line, “Nothing Has Changed.” This line demonstrates that previously mentioned arrogance and disrespect from Griffith and closes out chapter 180. Fuck you Griffith everything has changed…
Chapter 181 concludes our scene and opens with the line chapter 180 ended with, “Nothing Has Changed,” it’s equally as irritating the second time. Then Griffith continues, ignoring Guts, telling Rickert that if he learns the truth as still wishes to follow Griffith towards his goal, then he has no reason to refuse him. I hope Griffith regrets this now after getting slapped. But Griffith even in this offer shows his arrogance saying that it all makes no difference to him, Rickert is only further confused by this. Guts is not happy that his two biggest targets are running away and starts mindlessly firing crossbow bolts in their general direction, they all miss and Rickert again puts himself between Guts and Griffith. Guts then decides to verbally express his emotions screaming at Griffith as he flies away, asking him how after everything that happened he can say nothing has change. Griffith ends the conversation with “You should have known, this Is the man I am… you of all people.” This implies that Griffith expected some level of understanding from Guts and that his actions are obviously justifiable, which is laughable. This is too date the last conversation these two have ever had. They briefly see each other Vritannis but they are yet to speak to each other since.
After Griffith and Zodd fly into the distance, we cut back to our family with Rickert demanding Guts tell him the entire truth while Erica and Casca hold hands, watching from a distance. Rickert states that he doesn’t care how painful the truth is he just wants to understand. We cut to Griffith who holds his heart thinking back to protecting Casca and then immediately thinking about the infant, heavily implying that it was not his free will that made him protect Casca, but the overwhelming will of the infant infused into his being. Griffith cannot do as he will. I appreciate the subtle storytelling here, no words or exposition is given here by Griffith to explain this to the audience, Miura respects us enough to trust us to put it all together with the information given. When we cut back to Guts and Rickert its implied that Guts has told Rickert everything, additionally Puck was listening and is now fully caught up on Guts’ backstory, even if he says he had somewhat already figured it out. Rickert is driven to his knee by the information, and rightfully so. Puck looks over his shoulder at an adorably innocent staring off into the distance, Puck is internally juxtaposing the two images. She may or may not be looking off in the direction Griffith and Zodd took off in, she is holding her brand after all.
Erica is left melancholically lamenting the destroyed Elvish cave, she may be young, but she isn’t stupid, she understands this means Guts and Casca cannot stay with her and Rickert now. Rickert after collecting his thoughts declares that he wants to go with Guts because he needs to make up for the years he lived a comfortable life in the blacksmith’s hut, while Guts sought revenge by himself. Guts denies Rickert with an incredibly poignant line, “Because You Could Never Really Hate Griffith.” Which is true because Rickert does not have the nightmares and scares of the Eclipse on his body, he isn’t forced to revisit the horrors constantly and isn’t haunted because he literally isn’t branded as a sacrifice. Meanwhile, Erica who overheard Rickert say he was leaving and get upset and runs off. Rickert is pressured into following after her by Puck. Rickert visually prioritises Erica over his revenge against Griffith by running after Erica rather than staying with Guts. This leaves Guts and Puck to talk, and they both concluded that the path of vengeance is impossible with Casca tagging along, and now Guts refuses to leave her behind. Now that the safehouse is destroyed they’re in quite the conundrum.
The final page depicts Chesnutt Puck having a cute, comedic, hard think. He has an epiphany and says there’s a perfect place for Guts and Casca to journey too and that its safer than nearly anywhere in the world and that he can’t believe he hadn’t thought about it sooner, they can go to Puck’s home. This not only creates interest in this mystery location by connecting a character we know to it but also shows show self-awareness in Miura comedically pointing out how convenient to the plot this reveal is, chocking it up to Puck’s forgetfulness. Additionally, the panel of Puck saying, “My Home,” is another one of my favourite panels in the entire series. It’s extremely cute with Pucks massive eyes and wholesome expression but further by the adorable reflection of Casca in Puck’s wing. This panel ends Berserk chapter 181 and ends our scene analysis.