The Only Road to the Castle

“Are you afraid? One such as yourself?! Of extraordinary beings such as us? Or perhaps of the future you will follow?” Void, Vol. 12 Ch. 8

Unlike the rest of the world, they did not talk down to him or pity him. He was their guest of honor, and their equal. They surrounded him with great anticipation, because they were eager to become whole again, like a spine-chilling family reunion. Ubik explained to Griffith that “before going into the future, you may once again return to the past, and know what kind of person you are.” The God Hand gave him a symbolic vision of his past, and though they claimed that “this is no illusion, this is the reality of your conscious world,” they also guided the experience for their own purposes.

“Hello, ma'am? Which way's the castle?” Griffith, Vol. 12 Ch. 8

It is interesting to note that in his mind’s eye, Griffith reverted to his childhood persona. Aside from the fact that these early years were the decisive crossroads of fate, was it also reflective of his core inner self? Was this the point at which his emotional development shut down and he dedicated himself entirely to his dream, setting in motion a chain of events that would make him incapable of dealing with feelings beyond his control? Or was it simply a longing for more innocent times, when things weren’t so complicated, and the consequences for actions weren’t so severe? In any case, here was Griffith, back in the streets of his hometown, trying to find the castle. He got lost, so he asked an old lady for directions. She pointed the way, adding that “your friends said they’d go on ahead and wait for you.”

“This is the only road to that castle. There aren't any others.” Granny, Vol. 12 Ch. 8

He stumbled into a dark alleyway which, upon closer inspection, was littered with dead bodies. This was too much for little Griffith. He floundered around shrieking, until the calm voice of the granny interrupted him. He accused her of misleading him, but she insisted that she did not lie. This was, indeed, the only road to the castle. It was paved with the bodies of thousands of comrades, tens of thousands of enemies, and even nameless bystanders. The more bodies he piled up, the closer he would get to the castle, and if he stopped, he may join them. Poor White Hawk, his face rubbed in the harsh reality of his quest. Though Griffith always took an active part on the battlefield, rarely was his sparkling armor soiled with the blood of corpses – he left that dirty work to Guts!

“Aren't you the one who did this to all of them? Well, aren't you?” Granny, Vol. 12 Ch. 8

Oh come on, this is getting ridiculous. You’re going to guilt trip Griffith about dead people now? Dead people who chose to follow him?? The first to emerge from his subconscious was the little boy whose death drove Griffith to seek financial help from a Baron by questionable means. The fact that this memory came up at all proves that Griffith was capable of feeling remorse. The boy told him that he wanted to become his knight, and asked to be taken to the castle. Griffith told him he couldn’t. This was not an “I don’t want to take you to the castle,” this was a “you’re already dead, so I literally CAN’T take you.” But it didn’t end there. More dead soldiers came out of the mists, demanding to be taken to the castle. Griffith didn’t know what to tell them besides stating the obvious: “I can't take you with me...!! Because you're dead...!! You're not alive anymore!! So you'll never reach that castle...!! I can't take you with me... I just can't!!” Granny scolded him for being so mean to his friends: “You brought them all so far. If only you'd never said you were going there, none of this would have happened.”

“Why couldn't you have been satisfied just gazing at the castle from the back alleys?!” Granny, Vol. 12 Ch. 8

Why the hell should he be?! Why should anyone? Those who followed him weren’t satisfied with their quality of life either! I say again, they chose to follow Griffith of their own free will, for their own reasons. Yes, they believed in his dream, but more importantly, they believed he could lead them to a better life for themselves along the way. And Griffith delivered! They went from being beggars and thieves to heroes and nobility! They knew what they were getting themselves into, and it could be said that they used him as much as he used them. The only person Griffith ever forced to join the Hawks was Guts, as testified by Caska’s surprise at Griffith’s active recruitment of Guts.

“If you want to go all the way to the castle you'll have to pile up many, many more corpses. What's wrong? Are you afraid now? Do you want to turn back?! You mustn't! Don't think that way!! If you do that, this time you will become one of these corpses!! See?! Look at your own arms and legs!!” Granny, Vol. 12 Ch. 8

Ahh, and now comes the manipulative fear-mongering. Little Griffith’s body began to waste away – a poignant reminder of the older Griffith’s physical deterioration. It was either him or them, and he had to choose fast! From fear-mongering, granny progressed to outright coercion: “It's still not too late!! Before you become one of them, pile up the corpses!! There's nothing else you can do!!” We finally see that the granny is a puppet controlled by Ubik and Conrad. Gee, I wonder where this was going... Could it be that the God Hand had a bias they wanted to impose on Griffith’s subconscious? Well, it's not like Griffith wasn't looking for a reason. But, perhaps stronger than that, were Guts' old words of encouragement: "Ain't this part of the path to your dream? You believe that, don't you? What's with that? Now, of all times."

“Yes... what good is regretting it now? What can I say to the dead now? What good is repenting my sins now? I can't so much as apologize. This is the path I have traveled. To get what I wanted, I can't apologize. No... I won't apologize.....!! If I apologize, if I repent, everything will come to an end. I'll never get to reach that place.” Griffith, Vol. 12 Ch. 8

He could not let himself feel responsible for those who chose to fight his battles. He had done all he could for them, but he could not turn back. He had gone too far, climbed too high to let it all end now. The twisted flashback reminded him how much he hurt and why he cut off his feelings in the first place. It started as a way to avoid emotional instability in battle, which divorced him from his humanity, and mutated to rationalize pursuing his dream over the lives of others. Finally, it evolved to protect the only thing he had left: himself. To keep winning was all he could do to honor the dead.

DISCLAIMER: Berserk and all the characters, story, and art therein is copyright Kentaro Miura. No copyright infringement is intended, and I hope that this essay inspires more people to read/watch Berserk! Translation in the text is by Dark Horse, translation in the images is by The Band of the Hawk, unless otherwise specified.