Who is Skull Knight and what is he planning?


To answer this question we must take a look at his origins and later examine his actions and function in the story. We will see that Skull Knight is strongly connected to those contesting fate giving us an insight how destiny and causality works in the world of Berserk.

Early in the manga it is established that 1000 years ago, King Gaiseric ended an age of war by subjugating multiple nations and ended up ruling over a mighty kingdom spanning the entire continent. We also learn that King Gaiseric used to wear a helmet in shape of a skull.

Guts is connecting the dots here. If Miura draws it out for us like this, he is attempting to make a clear connection between Gaiseric and Skull Knight

Judeau notes that Gaiseric forced people to build a giant city which fell victim of high taxes, crime and poverty, while the nobles enjoyed a pompous life in gluttony. As reaction, God sent five angels and the city was eradicated. Judeau was later asked by Casca whether there were actually four angels, and not five.



The fact that Judeau and Casca have different information on the subject either implies the story about King Gaiseric is still a myth and may have different versions to it with varying quantity declarations or exaggerations (just like in real life)… OR something has happened to make the lineup of the God Hand change drastically.

Human corpses with the brand on the forehead on the bottom of the tower. The fact their brands are all on the same spot hints they might have been willed to be sacrificed, or sacrificed as part of some kind of dark magic ritual. For contrast, during the eclipse the Hawks all got their brands on different spots, e.g. Guts on his neck, Casca on her chest above her heart, Judeau on his hand.

During the Conviction Arc, Mozgus tells a similar, but somewhat different story. Supreme King Gaiseric was involved in feud with a sage, who was then imprisoned and tortured by him. Later, according to Mozgus, God sent him ONE angel (not four or five!) to make him pay for his sins.

Skull Knight’s and Void’s rivalry, as explained by Mozgus in volume 19

It’s highly likely that Void was said sage, since his face looks like it has seen some torture in the past. Then sometime during the torture or afterwards, in an act of of despair, he might have made a sacrifice to become God Hand.

Solving the different Myths about Gaiseric

Using this information we can form a few hypotheses:

  1. Four God Hand members existed before Gaiseric’s empire fell. Void rose to be the 5th, however, somehow they lost one God Hand member being back to the four members at the point of Griffith’s rescue. Something like this would explain the differences between Judeau and Casca. But this version raises a couple of other questions: Were there different God Hand members before the current lineup? What if Skull Knight was meant to be become God Hand but “declined”, and took the form known to us today? (relevant note: Charlotte mentioned Gaiseric earned the title “Demon King” in the panels above, which is most fascinating in this context) Either way, it would only make sense the God Hand seeks to maintain the typical member size of five, considering a hand has five fingers.
  2. Only one God Hand member existed before Gaiseric’s empire fell. The rest of them followed the moment a sacrifice was made. This would align with Mozgus’ version of the myth.
  3. The God Hand didn’t exist yet when Gaiseric’s empire fell, making Void the first God Hand member. However, to whom would he have sacrificed…? Who was this angel Mozgus was talking about he sacrificed to? Is it the Idea of Evil or similar?

As you can probably tell, all of these hypotheses still are very vague and I cannot make a prediction which is the most probable, though I think something like 1) and 3) or any mix of those must have happened. Unless this story becomes important for the plot of Berserk later on, it will not be revealed anyway to keep the mystery of these characters.

What happened for sure is that Skull Knight attempted to defend his kingdom in an eclipse-like event, which sacrificed the entire ancient city of Wyndham back then. Since Gaiseric was said to have been a bad ruler, he was probably hit with this realization too, and was willed to sacrifice himself in the Berserker Armor to become Skull Knight as we know today.

This theory already draws interesting parallels to Guts and Griffith, with Guts killing apostles and sacrificing his humanity to save people that are dear to him.

What is also intriguing is the fact that Miura back then even used the term “demon king” to describe King Gaiseric, which COULD be a reference to Skull Knight utilizing the Berserker Armor – being presumably the last owner – 16 full volumes later:


What are Skull Knight’s intentions?

On one hand, Skull Knight is attempting to keep up the flows of causality.

On the other hand, he only is striking when chances for success are high – basically the leaping fish, in his own words – which suggests he is trying to find “loopholes” in causality in order to change it. The instances he’s done this are:

  • intervening during the Eclipse, saving Rickert, Guts and Casca
  • rescuing Luca during the Rebirth Ceremony
  • saving Guts from Slan with his Sword of Actuation in the Troll’s Den
  • the attempt on Femto’s life, causing the World Transformation on accident
Skull Knight saving Luca from certain death. Luca did something unpredictable (letting go of Nina’s hand as she was dangling in the air) and defied her destiny doing so. And because she is defiant of it, Skull Knight rescued her.

If causality was a mathematical formula with both static numbers/factors and variables, he is basically attempting to tweak the variables by taking his chances. Sounds very familiar, does it? It’s basically what Guts has been doing this all this time, except Guts’ efforts seem to be less “precise” or “coordinated” compared to Skull Knight’s: he seems to have connections to the astral world that let him know immediate future events to a certain degree and give him the knowledge when his interventions might be successful. Skull Knight pretty much is the embodiment of showing destiny the middle finger.

Another thing I want to point out is that Skull Knight’s interventions basically kept Guts, Casca, Rickert and Luca alive, all of whom coincidentally enough already are, or probably will become antagonists to Griffith. It sounds a bit like that contesting destiny in itself makes you out of reach of the God Hand’s influence – an influence that has the power to dictate you were you will die.

Is Skull Knight using Guts for his own goals?

Skull Knight is an interesting figure. He does not act expecting others to give him something in return. At the same time I do not think his actions are purely altruistic either. Flora notes that Skull Knight is still human deep down inside, but is also asking him whether he is using Guts.

Unlike for many other characters, I have difficulties determining behavioral patterns on Skull Knight that give me hints about someone’s true intentions. A similar situation exists with current Griffith: you do not know for sure what the guy is up to, and the same applies to Skull Knight. One of the few other assumptions about his intentions that can be made is that Skull Knight, based on his history as Emperor Gaiseric – who was caught up in the God Hand’s scheme – wants to avoid another Kingdom to fall apart and many people to die.

But what’s for sure is that he does want to contest the God Hand by simply contesting fate.

That is an interesting connection to make.

If the God Hand and the Idea of Evil behind it control the fate of humanity, what does that make people that attempt to be outside of that influence?

Exhibit A: Guts

I always thought it was weird that Guts was spared in the eclipse. I mean, the buildup from volume 10 to 13 was really weird. It’s as if the moment he departed from the Hawks, Griffith’s claim to his life as sacrifice already expired, as if Guts was not meant to be a sacrifice – since he was not a hawk anymore the moment he left them! That was being made very clear multiple times right after he returned to the hawks, and in the chapter “Requiem of the Wind” in volume 12 as well. The fact Judeau repeatedly tells him he has no obligation towards the hawks anymore feels like he’s saying “you’re not meant as sacrifice anymore”, as if Guts had already departed with his destiny that Zodd the Immortal warned him about multiple times before.

Casca telling Guts to go.
Judeau insisting Guts has no obligation anymore to stay as he has already started his own battle and that he needs to move on in order to survive (which he did)

To support this, I want to point out that Guts and Casca overheard the fountain conversation by chance, too. I mean what are the chances of you peeking into a conversation with the princess when you want to tell your friend and commander that you finished your assassination job?

Guts and Casca visibly affected by Griffith’s words during his fountain speech.

The moment Casca heard that conversation her loyalty to Griffith also fell apart. Seeds of doubts were planted into her heart, and in the late Golden Age she had departed from him as well, even though physically, she was still with the hawks – and was with them to the bitter end.

Both Guts and Casca were rescued by Skull Knight after the eclipse ended.

Exhibit B: Rickert

As for Rickert, he decided to stay due to his arm injury. As he was out to collect some water by chance, he escaped the sudden (and certain) death that waited at the band’s camp. This gave Skull Knight a big enough time frame to intervene and rescue Rickert’s life in the process.

Skull Knight saving Rickert last minute

Exhibit C: Luca

Without the intervention of Skull Knight Luca would have died. She probably would have died EVEN IF she decided to not let go of Nina’s hand. Why not? Take a look at the kind of thoughts Nina had as she was holding Luca’s hand:

“If I were to take these hands and…” […let go, your life would come to an end] (?!)

This is Nina considering letting go of Luca’s hands for the sole fact she held power over someone’s life. But before Nina could even do anything, Luca decided to let go of her hands by herself.

What is also interesting is that Skull Knight is asking her why she has chosen a certain death.

Conclusion

Skull Knight’s role in this manga is that of an unexpected “savior”, aiding those who seek to fight against all odds. Miura uses this character as catalyst to invoke sudden events and twists to the story (Guts and Casca surviving the Eclipse, World Transformation just to name a few). This is also why he is very unpredictable and for me it’s hard to derive an agenda from his actions (apart from the obvious opposing of the God Hand). Because of this, I think it makes sense to view Skull Knight more as a plot device rather than a character.

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