R.I.P. Kentaro Miura. Your legacy will last forever.
Yes! Holy fucking shit, yes he did! This motherfucker did everything wrong! #GriffithDidEverythingWrong
Okay, now that that’s out of my system, let’s analyze the character.
Griffith is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, one of the most hated manga characters of all time. And for good reason. His actions at the end of the Golden Age arc alone are among the most atrocious acts ever put to the page in any form, be it book or manga. It’s easy to see why so many loathe him.
Yet, so many more will defend him. The phrase ‘Griffith Did Nothing Wrong’ is often used as a joke. A meme for long-time fans. But there are many more still who genuinely believe that to be true. There are people out there who will defend Griffith, despite how horrifying his actions were.
This is a testament to the strength of Berserk’s writing. Griffith isn’t some one-dimensional bad guy out to rule the world or ruin the main character’s life. His actions, goals, and emotions are all complicated and, as despicable as they are, understandable. The only character more complex and human may just be Guts!
Or maybe Casca. Or Farnesse. Or maybe Serpico. Berserk has a really well-developed cast, okay?
In the Golden Age arc, Griffith seems larger than life. A young military genius and an even more gifted fighter than Guts, we find him leading the Band of the Hawk (or Falcon, depending on your translation) with absolute authority. More than that, respect. Everyone in the Band admires Griffith and serves him with absolute loyalty, from the nameless goons that die in every battle to his right-hand: Casca.
All of them have their own goal, but they all support Griffith in his: to eventually lead his own nation. He was born a lowly street rat, but he aspired to be something higher. He’s already proven himself a leader with the Band of the Hawk. But he yearns for more. And all those who follow him are more than willing to fight to help him get it.
However, this left Griffith feeling isolated. There was no one in the Band that he could truly call a friend, or even an equal. Everyone treated him like this divine being. Something as beyond human. They all lacked the willpower and determination one would need for him to consider them friends due to their subservience to him. As many followers as he had, Griffith felt entirely alone.
That is, until he found his Guts. And no, I will not apologize for that joke.
Griffith saw Guts as something more than a soldier. Yes, Guts was totally obedient to Griffith, even more so than most other members of the Band of the Hawk. But Guts had a willpower that no one else had. He treated Griffith not like a divine entity, but as a friend, even if Griffith didn’t see him that way. Over time, Griffith became emotionally dependant on Guts, far more so than anyone else, even the ever-loyal Casca.
Whether Griffith considered Guts a friend or not is up for debate. His words might say not, but his actions make a strong argument against that. Whether or not it’s the case, Guts didn’t think so. Griffith would only consider someone a friend when they would pursue their own goals against all opposition, including Griffith himself. How could Guts, a man with no goals whatsoever, be his friend?
And so Guts takes his leave. He goes on an emotional journey to find himself, to discover what he wants to do. But Griffith has become emotionally dependant on Guts. He has come to need Guts far more than anyone else. When he failed to make Guts stay, Griffith felt as though his whole world was starting to fall apart. Guts was essentially his rock. Being without him left Griffith feeling more alone and vulnerable then ever before.
Which leads him to make his worst mistake.
You might think that Griffith went to Charlotte that night in an effort to rush his way into a throne; he was obviously using her before and she was obviously falling for him, so that would make sense. But I don’t think that’s the case. I think Griffith was desperately seeking to regain some semblance of control in his life. Guts leaving left him shaken and vulnerable, and Griffith wanted to rid himself of those feelings, to reassure himself that he was in control. If she weren’t already in love with him, he’d have likely raped her.
Consensual or no, this act was still a fatal error for Griffith. He was promptly arrested and sentenced to years of torture. By the time Guts and the rest arrived to save him, all traces of the Griffith we knew have been stripped away. All that remains is a hagard, half-dead body wearing his helm.
His time in the torture chambers twisted Griffith even further. His feelings of abandonment only grew when the rest of the Band fled. His senses of pride and control could only have collapsed completely as his body was reduced to the state we see it in. When he is finally reunited with Guts, it isn’t a joyous reunion between two friends. Guts is horrified to see Griffith in this state, and Griffith is so angry with Guts that he tries to strangle him with his strengthless fingers.
This is Griffith at his lowest. Weak, helpless, and doomed to inevitably die. All sense of control and command have been stripped away. Even Casca, who had been more devoted to him than anyone, had turned her romantic feelings onto Guts instead of him. His ambitions, his dreams, everything he had spent his life chasing have all been torn away from him.
But he still has one choice available to him. One fruitful, terrible choice. The one he had been destined to make for all this time.
Because Griffith had a Behelit.
In using the Behelit, Griffith was given one more chance to fulfill his ambitions. He could be reborn in a new body, given all-new power, and have a chance to do it all again. The cost: the most valuable thing he has. The only thing he has left: the Band of the Hawk. All he had to do was give them up and he’d have another chance.
What else would a man desperate for control and twisted by hatred do?
In the Eclipse, we see Griffith retake control of his life in the most sure and vicious way possible. The strongest moment of this is when he rapes Casca. He doesn’t only do it out of lust or evil. He isn’t even doing it just to spite Guts, the man he blames for his woes. He does it to establish to himself that he has control. That he is the one in charge of his life again.
Afterwards, Griffith resumes his quest. Now with a new Band of the Hawk, he picks up right where he left off. Granted, there is some time between him coming back to do so and him becoming a demon. But the point still stands.
With that, we come back to the question: did Griffith do anything wrong? And the answer: yes. But we can understand why he did those things. We can empathise and even relate to his reasons, even if we condemn the actions themselves.
The Band of the Hawk saw Griffith as a god. We, the audience, saw him as a demon, as Guts eventually came to see him. But in the end, Griffith is the same as Guts, as most everyone else in the Band of the Hawk, and as the audience themselves. In the end, Griffith was human. Flawed, determined, and terribly human.
I still hate him with a fiery passion, though.