I am legit shaking out of excitement right now. This is one of the most iconic and beloved sections of Berserk, hands down. It develops Guts as a character so well that it puts other entire character arcs to shame!
The king of Midland has granted the Band of the Hawk the honor of guarding him during the annual hunt. During this time, Count Julius attempts to have Griffith assassinated. In retaliation, Griffith sends Guts to kill the king’s brother. Unfortunately, our protagonist’s mission quickly goes wrong.
The hunt itself is fairly boring. Not to say that it’s bad, but it does drag at times. I do love seeing Griffith further manipulate Charlotte, evil as it is, and I think the argument between Corkus and Guts does a great job of highlighting the former’s personality and motivations and the latter’s psychological issues. It just isn’t that interesting upon re-reads.
Luckily, this part of the Golden Age turns it around very quickly.
When you first see Guts sneaking into Julius’ home to kill him, it may come across as comedic. He’s wearing a cloak, sure, but he’s still got the massive fuck-you sized sword on his back that he’s infamous for. “Oh, who could have killed the count? Surely it isn’t Count Griffith’s right-hand man who uses the same weapon as the assassin!” But little did you know that was the whole point! Guts isn’t an assassin, and that fact is going to come into play in a BIG way in this little part of the saga.
Before Guts even gets into the mansion, we get some substantial character development for him. Because seeing Julius training with his son Adonis brings back some less than desirable memories for our protagonist. We can see that, despite how unbearably horrible his childhood was, he still managed to keep his heart. He may be a violent murderer who only knows the battlefield. But deep down, Guts is still a good man. A fact that is going to ruin his night.
We even get some interesting character development for our soon-to-be victim: Julius. Up to this point, he’s seemed selfish, big-headed, and cruel. Hell, we just saw him abusing his son not two pages ago. But in a moment of serenity, he admits that he went too far and even makes plans to apologize to the boy. It presents the idea that Julius could be a good man if Griffith weren’t around.
Shame he never gets the chance to be that person. Guts may not be a very subtle assassin, but the dude sure is good at killing people.
And then… this happens.
The death of Adonis isn’t powerful because we’re losing a beloved character; we only just met the kid a few pages ago. But the sight of it is genuinely disturbing! We’ve got to watch in vivid detail as this small, terrified boy takes his last choking, gasping breaths. Poor kid is so fucking scared that he reaches out to the man that just murdered him for comfort! This whole scene only lasts about a page or two, but god damn are those few pages heavy!
And then there’s Guts. This dude is feeling every bit of the horror that we the readers are. The man was just empathizing with the boy, now here he is putting cold steel through his heart! He doesn’t even get the time to process it or calm down; shit falls apart so damn fast and Guts has to scramble to get out alive. Remember how I said that this part makes it a point to show that Guts isn’t a good assassin? Yeah, this is what I meant.
Then there’s Guts’ nightmare. This scene is… weird. It perfectly shows how badly what just happened effected him. It’s a fine scene in every respect. I just think the panel of Zodd with Guts’ face is a bit silly-looking to me. It got its point across really well, but it just looks goofy to me.
By the end of it all, my man is catatonic. He’s in such a bad state that Casca can’t even muster the will to scold him. Guts straight-up looks like a zombie when he walks into the tavern! You can tell that he just wants to fall down and sleep the night away. That, or just stare at a wall for the next week and try to process everything.
But he can’t. Not yet. There’s still one thing keeping him going: Griffith. He’s got to tell him what happened. If he can at least get the thumb’s up from him, then at least something can go right for him, right?
Then we get one last little kick in the balls to wrap this part of the story up. One that will end up becoming the most crucial part of the entire Golden Age. That being, of course, Griffith’s speech to Charlotte.
Griffith’s speech by the fountain is the perfect amalgamation of how manipulative and deceptive the man truly is. Every word out of his mouth is like poetry, and the princess eats it all up. He’s got the girl wrapped around his little finger.
Unfortunately, his building a bridge with her sticks a wedge between him and Guts.
It feels like every word out of his mouth is a dagger aimed straight at Guts’ heart. In the last segment of the story, Guts swore himself, life and soul, to Griffith. He just went through a traumatic experience and made a terrible, haunting mistake for Griffith’s sake! Now, he hears from the man himself that he doesn’t matter to him. By putting himself on a pedestal for Charlotte, Griffith unwittingly kicks Guts down.
One aspect a lot of people don’t mention about this part is Casca’s part in it. The main focus of the scene is Guts and Griffith, but let’s not ignore her. Because as we’ll soon learn, this same speech hits her just as hard as it hits Guts. It’s the first little sign that there’s more between her and Guts than simple jealousy or loathing.
This scene is even more sad reading in retrospect. Because the whole speech is a load of shit! Every single word of it is a lie meant to entice the princess! I won’t go into details until we get there. But think about this: if Griffith’s only true ‘friends’ are those who are his equal, then why does he so often endanger himself for Guts?
And to top it all off, we can see just how sinister Griffith truly is. Not only did he manipulate Charlotte like she was a piece on a chess board. Not only did he kick down the two people who love and support him the most. As one last little cherry on top, we see how he reacts to the news of what Guts did. Everything that left Guts haunted and horrified leaves him with a sinister grin.
Just a friendly little reminder that Griffith is, in fact, the villain of Berserk.
Assassin is an absolutely fantastic section of Berserk! Easily one of the best in the entire series! It has it all! Brutal violence, emotional gut punches, and some of the most powerful character writing you can get! This is a strong highlight for the Golden Age and for the whole of Berserk.
Good god, we’re not even a third of the way through this arc yet…