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In this article, I will analyze Guts and Griffith’s second duel in chapters 34 to 36 (The Morning Departure, part 1 to 3) in volume 8. I will also bring up other relevant chapters to elaborate the scene’s context.
Guts is leaving Hawks at their best. After all battles have been fought and the war has been won, no one truly needed his fighting power anymore, or maybe so he thought. One of the reasons why he left is because he felt useless — this, and the fact everyone around him has their own little flame to contribute to the great flame that is Griffith (see the campfire of dreams scene). After the Fountain Speech and him falling off the Cliff with Casca together, he realized that he has no reason to fight, unlike both Casca and Griffith. In order to find a purpose and contemplate about his life in general and ultimately, make a difference and be someone who is important, he decides to take a break and leave.
Guts’ reasons to leave I have explored in detail in other posts, which go into more depth about his intentions and feelings:
Why did Guts leave the Hawks?
How Guts and Casca grew together Part 2 – Page 6, Resolve: falling off the Cliff to Page 8, Campfire of Dreams
Both Casca and Judeau attempted to talk leaving out of Guts but nothing could stop him at this point. He was driven by pain and emptiness and would only settle once he escaped the situation. When Casca goes to fetch Griffith and she arrives with him at the scene, we see Guts and Griffith’s confrontation.
On arriving, Griffith appears to be calm.
However, the moment Griffith asked him if Guts REALLY wishes to leave, his face makes a shift: The glance Griffith has here reminds me of the look he has in his eyes when he encountered a plotting minister Foss: like a hawk watching his prey.
Rickert is bringing out the truth here: Weren’t the Hawks like family to him? Was he really willed to throw it all away? The answer to that seems yes. Again, Guts was driven by pain and a sense of nothingness.
Corkus as well scoffs at Guts and it seems like he does not mind burning a couple of bridges doing so:
Griffith draws his sword only when Guts walks by Casca.
Consider for a moment: Just a chapter before, Guts was reassuring Griffith, who asked Guts whether he was too cruel — while Guts essentially stated that it (“it” means, killing the Queen of Midland in a fire and ordering Guts dispose of the mischievous figures that got hold of Minister Foss’ daughter) was necessary for his pursuit of his dream.
So when Guts walks by Casca, Griffith finally draws his sword and instead of perhaps making a reference to the family aspect (as mentioned by Rickert), Griffith insists that Guts belongs to him, as if Guts has been his possession all this time, his property that he has earned in their first duel. A mere pawn in a game of chess.
This is actually confusing considering Griffith risked his life for Guts a couple of times — did he risk his life for the sake of Guts as a person and friend, or for the sake of losing an invaluable pawn…? I still cannot tell for sure, even after reading and analyzing the Golden Age for many, many times. It might be a little bit of both.
If we go back in time, in the first duel, Griffith indeed “earned” Guts to join him. Guts had no definite purpose in life; because of the experiences he made with Gambino, killing him and everything that followed in particular, he likely preferred to be his own boss and despised the idea to submit to authority, as a way to avoid the experience of being driven out by those he considered family again. All of this made him “immune” to Griffith’s magnetic charisma, that appears to attract mercenaries rather than dispel them. Guts could not be earned by “conviction by dream” because had none (at least not a definite one) and was his own master on top of that. Guts also was capable to be his own master because of his strength and combat experience; however, before joining the Hawks, he was still lost, living just to survive. This was shown before he was forced to join them, when he turned down the offer to continue serving the same mercenary leader after killing Bazuso (You can read up most of the key events mentioned in this paragraph in chapter 0L, “The Golden Age, Part 4” ).
This is something that Griffith possibly perceived as invaluable, being different from everyone else. He won Guts’ sword by defeating him. By leaving Guts is breaking free from Griffith’s dream by his own sword and regain control over his life (to me it always seemed like he survived the eclipse for the same reason). It’s essentially like Griffith says in the page above: “Wrest yourself away by your sword”.
This bears some parallels to how Zodd joined Griffith before the Birth Ceremony, where Zodd was defeated by Griffith in a daydream or vision and won his loyalty as a result.
Now Guts does not wish to fight Griffith at all and wished he was maybe joking.
With Guts drawing his sword, Casca gets between them now.
Casca prefers a diplomatic approach and wants them to talk it out. She views them as comrades and perhaps even friends. Also note how she wishes to mediate in this situation: “Griffith, if you sheathe your sword, we can talk!”. This is also not the only instance that shows Casca is very diplomatic and good at communication. However, both Guts and Griffith act according to mercenary code, as if they are ordinate and subordinate.
Guts eventually tells her to stay out of it and that they’ll duel no matter what (Funny: in their first duel, it was Griffith who tells her this). Because she still would not move, Pippin has to drag her away.
Judeau reminds Casca they are mercenaries.
That seems like Casca’s perception of the Hawks is more that of a family instead of an army or unit she is helping command. If ya really think about it, it also makes sense and is within the beliefs of her character, because the moment Casca woke up and gets a chance to interact with her companions in episode 359, she is more than grateful that she has that again: a family.
Now, we’re getting a couple of interesting monologues from this point onward:
If you take a look at what Judeau thinks here, we can tell Casca’s attitude has changed. According to him, Casca wouldn’t even care if her comrades got hurt if it was Griffith’s word and command; both are sacred to her (which is kinda funny considering she told Guts off for that exact thing in chapter 001, “The Wind of Swords”). Judeau also says that she would probably still do that if it was Griffith’s will and wonders if she is aware of the change. That question will be very soon answered with a yes.
Truly, if you look at what Casca’s doing in this chapter, she dares going between them, going against Griffith’s will to stop and fight Guts. It’s like she is breaking free from his influence as well!
Casca’s attitude started to change likely because Guts showed her some warmth after they fell off the cliff together. Guts showed Casca what it means to have someone who is willed to get hurt for her sake and safety (100-Man-Slayer, despite of Guts insisting otherwise), or someone that wants her wishes come true (Guts carrying Casca to Griffith after the Battle of Doldrey); it’s almost like Guts showed her what it means to have a family. That’s pretty ironic, if you think about it.
It also is a strong contrast to how Griffith treated her. From what I gathered, Griffith mostly ignored Casca from after Guts joining the Hawks and onward (before that, it was different, see the chapters Casca, Part 1 – 3, where Griffith supported Casca emotionally in the beginnings). Griffith setting his eyes on the Princess only made her situation and jealousy worse.
We then see how Guts contemplates how Griffith may think of him as traitor now, which he finds understandable at the same time. He even brings up the fountain speech, saying that if he wants to be Griffith’s true friend and equal, he HAS to take a stand and be his own person, breaking free from someone else’s dream. Therefore, has to leave. That’s actually on-point, because Griffith, as we will see once we read further into his thoughts in this chapter, still views him as pawn (admittedly, a very special one at that). Guts finds it weird how calm he is and how it all started with a fight and also will end with one. Because Guts is fighting Griffith, he cannot afford to show weakness. He also acknowledges how he is still worth spilling blood over for Griffith.
Now Casca’s wish is for Griffith to stop Guts from leaving and that everything would stay the same. This is when she realizes that she wants Guts to stay and is surprised by this train of thought she has. Remember how Judeau asked himself whether Casca notices she’s changing? Here we can tell she does. In fact, she’s going to bring up the realization she made here during the waterfall scene (covered in How Guts and Casca grew up together – Part 2: The Waterfall Scene).
We are also shown what Griffith thinks: he will definitely not let Guts go and contemplates how sure Guts is about his decision to leave. He does not see any of his impulsiveness, which implies Guts isn’t making a decision out of the blue (which, again, is true considering he decided to leave “before our last dispatch”, as he says himself during the tavern scene before this: meaning before the Battle of Doldrey, meaning during the Bonfire of Dreams scene).
What I personally find most intriguing is Griffith’s train of thought. He is thinking of ways to stop Guts by deflecting his sword strike, even if it means killing him on the spot.
“If I can’t have him…!!!”, then no one can?! That’s kinda… bat-shit insane if you think about it. He cannot afford to lose his strongest man because him on the enemy’s side would possibly mean the end to him: “If I can’t have this valuable asset to my army, no one can!”. This also proves that Griffith still somewhere sees Guts as mere pawn to be used for his goals. Griffith is not thinking of treating Guts like family (like Rickert suggested) or even talking it out as friends (like Casca suggested). He’s being possessive, treating Guts like property.
Personally, I believe Griffith started to consciously think of Guts as true friend from the moment he was rescued from the torture chambers. That’s implied by Zodd’s warning: “Here’s a word of warning… no, a prophecy. If you can be said to be a true friend of this man, then take heed, when his ambition collapses, death will pay you a visit! A death you can never escape!”, meaning the point in the story of Griffith realizing that Guts was actually his friend must have started there somewhere.
Now after Griffith’s monologue their actual duel begins. Griffith charges at Guts trying to deflect his sword to make the only decisive strike that would both start and end the fight, but instead of deflecting Guts’ sword, his own sword is breaking because of the sheer force. Now Guts’ sword falls onto Griffith and Guts manages to stop it at the last second, saving Griffith from any harm.
This moment is super important.
Just a few moments ago Griffith was contemplating about KILLING Guts in the first strike, and would have had no inhibitions to do so. He did consider the possibility of stopping his sword, but he came to the conclusion he would be unable to stop it.
And Guts? He didn’t think or plan much and mostly relied on his strength; by doing so, he managed to break Griffith’s sword and leave him UNHARMED by stopping his own sword as it fell.
Can I also point how much self-control it takes to even stop a sword like that, especially one that’s as heavy as Guts’?
Guts did the polar opposite of what Griffith was thinking to do.
This scene alone says SO MUCH about who both Griffith and Guts are as person:
- It didn’t matter to Griffith whether Guts would get harmed or even killed during the duel, as long as he can keep his fighting power on his side, or at nobody’s side with him dead. His actions during the Eclipse do not seem far-fetched in the face of this.
- Guts cared enough for Griffith to stop his sword in time, preventing severe injury or certain death. He respected Griffith enough to consider his life and well-being during this duel.
It’s also a symbolic act, because Guts has become so strong that literally no one can stop him anymore (at least, no one from the Hawks).
Now with Guts defeating Griffith, the latter is absolutely devastated. We see him fall on his knees, his face showing disbelief and shock over what just happened. Guts then takes his leave.
Casca reaches out to Griffith, but he is not responding at all.
Instead, Casca’s attention diverts back to Guts.
She seems at loss of words as well, seemingly hesitant, possibly pondering about what else she should do to make him stop leaving — eventually she calls his name out in despair.
Note how Guts flinches at her cry — but soon after resumes walking. Honestly, he should have listened at least to her, but he doesn’t because he feels unimportant, as we will find out in the next page that reveals his feelings in a monologue.
He views himself as pebble on the road that Griffith is stumbling upon. Griffith’s path is so much more distant, grand and important, that Guts has no doubts he’s going to stand back up again (oh boy, is he wrong).
Petty, small, and unimportant — Guts possibly felt that way ever since after falling the cliff together with Casca, being confronted with her dream or conviction to be Griffith’s sword (in addition to what Griffith said during the Fountain Speech), while he himself had none.
The tragic thing is, that if Guts truly were unimportant, none of the people present during the duel would have shown up in the first place. No one would have even bothered to make Guts stop leaving the Hawks, either.
TL;DR Guts is a sad panda who never realized his worth or never felt that he deserved a family, feeling unimportant and small. Maybe Guts’ situation was similar to Farnese’s, when she ran away in volume 29, chapter 254, “Mother”, where she says:
I was unable to stay there… at the fireside circle of light, given to me so unexpectedly. The warmer it got, the more I thought I might have a place there. But I couldn’t stay… and in my anxiety… I ran back home. Here, where I’m accustomed. Cold… and enclosed.