In 2013, Attack on Titan premiered, introducing viewers to the 104th Cadet Corps. The early episodes set up a handful of characters as the ensemble cast alongside the pre-established protagonists. These include the top members of the class: Krista, Sasha, Connie, Jean, Eren, Annie, Bertholdt, Reiner, Mikasa and Marco. While these characters prove themselves to be the best of the 104th, one cadet only makes it halfway through Season 1. Marco, who was Captain of Squad 19 during the Attack on Trost, is found half eaten in Season 1, Episode 13, “Primal Desire.”
Set up as one of the ensemble characters, an advanced member of the cadets and an overall kind person, Marco’s off screen death sets the tone for the anime. While Season 1, Episode 1, “To You, in 2000 Years,” hammers home that this anime will feature gruesome deaths, and there are minor characters who die throughout the Attack on Trost, Marco’s death is one of the most impactful because he’s the first member of the core cast to die, in an unceremonious manner at that.
While Armin and Eren watch as their less featured comrades are devoured, Marco’s corpse is found by his friend Jean. Seeing Marco, such a responsible and warm hearted member of the team, dead shakes Jean to his core, but what really strikes Jean is the fact that no one knows what happened to him. For one of the key characters die off screen in this manner emphasizes how cruel this world is and proves that no one, regardless of status, is safe.
Along with devastating Jean, Marco’s death prompts him to abandon his dreams of joining the Military Police. Throughout the first half of Season 1, Jean is clear about wanting to be an M.P. and have a posh life; however, after Marco’s death, Jean better understands how unfair the world is, so he commits himself to the Scout Regiment.
While he does not see this as a noble profession, Jean can’t live in ignorance anymore nor can he stand by and let others die like Marco. Marco’s death solidifies Jean’s arc amongst the Scouts, where he saves Mikasa and stands in for Eren on two covert missions. Without Jean as a Scout, several key members could’ve died, and the few successes they celebrate would be smaller.
Along with putting these actions in motion, Marco’s death is constantly looming over Jean. What keeps Jean going is ensuring that Marco didn’t die in vain. He’s not the only character haunted by Marco’s death; however, where Jean is faced with the realization of this war, Annie, Bertholdt and Reiner are faced with the consequences of their actions.
2017 saw Season 2 premiere as well as Attack on Titan: Lost Girls OVA. In the former, fans learn that Annie isn’t operating alone. Reiner and Bertholdt have been deep undercover, developing genuine friendships with their victims. It’s also revealed that the three were present for Marco’s death.
After dissociating in Season 2, Episode 9, “Opening,” Reiner is forced to face the truth when Bertholdt reminds him they’re warriors. This triggers him and cues a flashback to the Battle of Trost, where Bertholdt, Annie and Reiner watch Marco’s death. While Annie is sobbing and Bertholdt watches in horror, both grasp what’s led to this moment; however, Reiner doesn’t.
The implication of this scene is that Marco’s death is what causes Reiner to develop a split personality in order to cope with the horrors of their actions. While these three have killed countless innocents, it’s Marco’s death that breaks him because Reiner got to know Marco as a friend.
Even Annie, who is generally seen as an emotionless person, is racked with grief over this. In the OVA’s opening, she has a nightmare about that day. While she’s seen in Season 1 to be apologetic to those she’s killed in private, it’s Marco’s death that haunts her like it does Reiner; she just happens to handle it better.
It’s no wonder that Marco’s death shakes all three of them, especially when viewers see the full picture in Season 3, Episode 15, “Descent.” Marco overhears Reiner and Bertholdt discussing their titans, and Reiner believes he is too much of a risk, so he pins him to the roof, forces Annie to remove his ODM gear and abandons him to be eaten. Despite his fate, Marco’s last words are “we haven’t even had a chance to talk this through,” implying he was ready to hear his betrayers out, giving them the benefit of the doubt and further challenging their perception of the people within the walls.
Along with traumatizing members of the 104th class, Marco’s death leads to a revelation for Armin. In Season 1, the Scouts don’t know who the Female Titan is; however, Armin figures it out due to several factors, including Annie possessing Marco’s missing ODM gear, which she acquired after his murder.
Marco, who was initially a key cast member, ends up being a minor character given his screen time. Despite this, the impact he has on the anime’s characters continues to resonate throughout every seasons and shows the long lasting effects a tragic death like his can have on others.
While his time in Attack on Titan was short lived, Marco has a huge impact on several characters and the tone of the anime.