This is based on opinion. Please don't list it on a work's trope example list.
Tearjerker / Attack on Titan
This broke the fangirls
Any time a soldier dies, it's another dose of hopelessness to an already bleak situation; even worse when the person in question received just enough development to make people care about them.
The first chapter when the Survey Corps came back, and the mother was given her son's arm. The commanding officer remains solemn but calm when the mother asks for her son. But then it quickly shatters when the mother asks if her son was useful. His gut reaction is to say yes to comfort her, but he immediately confesses that the excursion was a complete failure, blaming his own incompetence for the lives lost, and saying all of their missions in the past hundred years have been a failure, losing men with no results. It really sets the tone of the series.
The first ending of the anime can be this after seeing the backstory of how Eren and Mikasa first met.
After their mother spends the last few minutes desperately trying to convince Eren and Mikasa to leave her behind before all three of them get eaten by the oncoming Titan, she first seems relieved that at least her children will be safe as Hannes carries them away. Suddenly though, she has a flashback to how happy they were as a family. Her last tearful words before the Smiling Titan picks her up are "...Don't leave me." She covers her mouth so that the children can't hear.
Before Eren and Mikasa find the house, Eren tries to convince himself that their house is fine and it's still in one piece. Imagine his horror when he sees it destroyed, with his mom trapped in the rubble.
It was pretty sad seeing Armin crying over his grandfather's death, who was the only one looking after him as well as Eren and Mikasa. In order to solve a food shortage crisis, the central government drafted 250,000 refugees, including Armin's grandfather, to reclaim Wall Maria from the Titans. Only 100 people survived. The last thing that he gave to Armin before he departed was his straw hat, and we see Armin crying into it after receiving news that he did not survive the campaign.
Early on in the barracks, Armin talks about why he wants to become a soldier instead of living in the landfill: despite being physically weak and utterly lacking in confidence, he just can't sit there and do nothing. And then he goes on his first real mission, and is so terrified that he freezes on the spot, wondering how in the hell he can just sit there, watching his friends be eaten. He's just plain unable to move, even when a Titan picks him up and drops him down its throat.
Eren's group being brutally cut down by the Titans one after the other. Made all the worse by how they're starting to get excited and turn it into a competition before an Abnormal kills one of them, and then the others just keep being caught by Titans. Eren loses his leg and Armin stands and watches in horror as he wonders why he can't move.
In the flashback to Mikasa's past, she was living happily with her parents before they were killed right in front her and she was kidnapped. After she was saved, she says, "I need to go home, where should I go? Now I have nowhere, nowhere left to go."
Hannah and Franz, whom Eren said seemed like a couple. In the Battle of Trost, Hannah is shown giving CPR to Franz. Armin finds her, pauses with a solemn look on his face, and tells her to stop. The panel pans out and we see Franz cut in half. And Hannah just keeps on trying to resuscitate him...
The scene is much more powerful in the anime — you can hear Hannah's panic and see her slowly crumbling mental state, as well as an already distraught Armin trying to get Hannah to see what had happened.
In Episode 7, one of the soldiers trapped in a building surrounded by Titans decides it is better to die than be eaten, and kills himself. While this is upsetting by itself (especially for the people with him), it's made even worse by the fact that just a little while afterwards, the other trainees make it to the building to help them, and Mikasa, Connie, and Armin bring Titan Eren with them to take out all the Titans — meaning that if he had waited a bit longer, he would have been saved.
Even worse, the guy seemed to have a small smile on his face before he stuffs the gun into his mouth.
Mikasa's struggle at the end of Episode 7, which doubles as an Awesome Moment. Believing Eren's dead, she feels she has nothing left to live for, and resigns herself to be eaten by the titans. However, her body moves on its own, and she realizes she wants to keep on living just to treasure Eren's memory. The beautiful music from "Counter Attack Mankind", the teary VO performance and great visuals seal the deal for one of the most memorable moments in the anime.
Armin and Mikasa have the exact same reaction to Eren being devoured. They lose control of their bodies; the difference is that Armin is too horrified by the grim reality of what he knows is happening to move; Mikasa is so detached she can't suppress her survival instinct and razor-sharp reflexes enough to let herself be eaten. It serves both as an elegant illustration of their character types, and as a heartbreaking show of closeness.
In Chapter 10/Episode 9, while Eren was in the Titan's stomach, he was thinking of his life and why he lost everything. It gets better.
Additionally, a random female soldier inside the Titan's stomach is still alive and cries out for her mother in her last moments. It's even sadder in the anime.
Even sadder in the anime: they added a flashback of Eren as a child, smiling happily with his mother, and you can hear his voice trembling with despair and fury as he wonders why they have to suffer like this and vows to kill the Titans with his hands. The music in the background doesn't help.
During Episode 12 after Eren can't control his Titan form and it appears that the mission has failed one of the soldiers says that they should fall back, but Ian refuses to, still wanting to attempt to carry out the operation despite all evidence that it will fail. Why? Because the situation Humanity is in is so bad that throwing thousands of lives away at opportunities that have a slim chance of working at the very best is a practical option. It says a lot about the conflict with the Titans.
When Jean discovers the body of his best friend, Marco during the clean-up operation in Trost. His vacant stare and the quiet way he pleads for someone to tell him what happened are heartbreaking enough, but the medical officer is correct when she tells him there's no time to mourn and she is relieved that at least this body can be identified.
Related to the above: Annie's whispered apologies to the mangled corpse of an unnamed soldier, during the same clean-up operation. She repeats it in shock, until Reiner speaks to her and reminds her that apologizing won't accomplish anything. All they can do is mourn and then move on. That they were the ones responsible doesn't make it any less heartbreaking, as it's clear just how horrified they are over the reality of their actions.
Episode 16, at least two of them. Which both involve Marco. Just as Jean is deciding which region he's joining at the Meaningful Funeral, he imagines seeing Marco, echoing his opinion that he'd make an excellent leader. As if that isn't heartbreaking enough, as soon as Jean declares his change of heart to join the Survey Corps, he bursts into tears. Major tearjerker there.
And when Eren finally learns Marco died, with nobody there to witness and tend to him as he was dying in pain. And on top of that, he sees Marco's spirit, too, this time wearing the special Scouting uniform, as if saying he'll always be by his friends' side.
The English dub makes both scenes just as heartbreaking as the Japanese version. Seriously, Mike McFarland really nailed Jean's declaration to join the Scout Regiment and his breakdown right afterward.
The beginning of Eren's return home after his first mission with the Survey Corps in the anime. At first the scene seems so light-hearted and triumphant, as he learns about how several of the members of the elite Levi Squadron actually pissed themselves on their first mission. Gunther gets everyone to finally calm down, but not without adding that he in fact did not piss himself. And then the traitor shows up and kills him...
And then in the next episode the rest of the squad engages the Female Titan. At first they seem to be on the winning hand, but then Eren remembers Levi's words, emphasized by Vogel im Käfig playing in the background. Before he can aid them, all of them are killed. And then Eren gets eaten... again... just as Mikasa arrives.
The scene in itself was heartbreaking. Anywhere from Eld dying before being able to realize what is going on, to Petra's incomprehension of the situation in her final moments and Oluo's horrified expression as he witnesses her die. The worst part of it all? Eren watches it all unfold in front of his very eyes, the very people who accepted him among their ranks and asked for his trust, gone, and he can only scream in horror. As the music grows louder, he completely loses it andfinally transforms into his Titan form once more.
Eren: (I'm gonna...) [aloud, but very quiet] I'm gonna... KILL YOU!
And then we have Levi dashing through the trees, silently passing by the bodies/remains of his comrades. What makes the scene extra powerful is that his expression is deliberately obscured until he's found every one of them to be dead. The look on his face is absolutely heart-breaking. The whole scene is made even worse by the fact that a few chapters before, Levi explained to Eren that sacrificing a potentially large number of lives in the progress of combating Titans had become a normality for the Survey Corps, advising him to not let it affect him too much.
According to Isayama's notes on drawing this part, when hearing Titan!Eren approaching, Annie was thinking "Finally. Eren is coming. I can finally go home!"
Episode 22 seems to exist solely to rip out the hearts of the audience, adding roughly half an episode of extra material just to rub salt into the wound.
The montage of the loved ones hearing the soldiers are returning, eager to see Eld, Oluo, and Gunther come home safely when none of them survived. The audience gets a slap to the face along the lines of "In-Universe they weren't just Badasses soldiers, they were people with hopes and dreams". Thank goodness everyone was spared the scene where some poor schmuck had to actually break it to them that their beloved fiancée/sibling/(grand)child didn't make it back.
Jean and Armin discussing their eventual deaths, while loading bodies onto carts. Connie and Sasha discussing dying, and whether it's right to celebrate being alive when others died.
Levi looking over the wrapped bodies of his squad.
When they're tossing the bodies of the cart, it focuses on Levi's reaction alone when he sees Petra's body flung out, Slow Motion style and with a heartbreaking score in the background. That, coupled with his initial reaction to finding her dead, and later having cut off a piece of her coat to keep as a memory, only serves to imply that her feelings for him were returned. It just makes it even worse.
It should be noted that the possibility of there having been any romantic feelings between these two characters, and whether it actually was Petra's crest that Levi cut off or not has never been confirmed and is entirely left open for interpretation.
Dieter and his failed mission to reclaim the body of his fallen friend. This forces the abandoning of all the retrieved bodies in order to escape a horde of Titans. Levi having to declare his squad's bodies are "nothing special", and then watching Petra's body be tossed away. Later, he comforts Dieter by giving him a patch from a uniform, telling him it belonged to his friend. It was actually one he took from the uniform of one of his squad's members.
Watching the Survey Corps return is in general, a pretty depressing scene. Having to return from a failed mission and the middle of seeing so much death and destruction only to meet further heckling from the rest of the town upon their return, it is obvious how little the townspeople care for or can even begin to understand the horror the Survey Corps have seen. All the thousand-yard stares, Eren's sobbing, Petra's father not knowing she is dead, Erwin's steely demeanor making it obvious that he's used to this behavior, all of it is just heartbreaking.
When Eren wakes up, you can hear the despair in his voice. You can see he feels like a failure for letting the Female Titan get away, being unable to save anyone and having Mikasa rescue him again.
Eren seeing two children admiring the Survey Corps like he did when he was younger. In fact, they're the very same kids who were admiring them as they were about to leave. The ones that Eren showed his first real, genuine, heartfelt smile at. He breaks down crying, but covers his mouth so that no one hears him. And all Mikasa can do is squeeze his hand in an attempt of comfort.
In Episode 25, there is a brief shot of a little girl walking through the ruined streets of Stohess, covered in blood with tears pouring down her face. If the expression on that girl's face doesn't make you want to hug her, then you don't have a soul.
Eren's great distress and denial over Annie being the Female Titan. He acts completely desperate for her to prove her innocence and Mikasa has to physically hold him back from running to her when the hidden Survey Corps members ambushes her. Coming from someone who hate Titans and 'bad people' as much as he does, it really goes to show how deeply he respected her and considered her a friend.
Eren: Annie, please! You've taken this joke far enough! Just tell us this is some kind of horrible prank! It's not too late! Come on, we'll understand. Come down, let's talk! You can prove to us that we're mistaken by walking down these stairs! Prove we're wrong to accuse you!
Annie:[dead calm] We both know I can't. Like I told you, I don't have the constitution for it.
Eren:[wavering] Annie, stop! We're talking about a matter of life and death!
Armin: Work with us, Annie! We can reason this out like human beings!
Annie is described by Word of God as a "normal girl forced to do horrible things", and her laughing in the anime when revealed the result of all her "fear, shyness, loneliness and guilt" having a "relieved" outlet, cementing her Tragic Villain status.
Annie's memories of her father resulting in Broken Tears when she's about to be captured. In the anime, there's the addition of Titan!Eren snapping out of his rage when he sees her crying, and he's left staring at her in shock (and possibly pity).
Her sadly telling Marlo that an ordinary person is all she wants to be, right after they talk about how Marlo is an ordinary person who wants to do something better, but is being swept away in the sheer volume of people who aren't willing to change.
Wall Sina, Goodbye gives some more insight on Annie's guilt. She internally grieves for causing many of her comrades' deaths after the battle of Trost - including Marco's - and, the day before the 57th expedition, goes to bed with tears in her eyes. What perhaps makes it sadder is that the entire day before the expedition, she helped solving a case regarding an abducted person and illegal drug sale, earning her heartfelt gratitude at the end despite her attempt at claiming she only did it for herself, serving to show her capability and will to help people when she's not ordered otherwise. At one point, she even reveals that she doesn't understand the reason for her mission and follows through with it solely because it's what her father ordered, which might make her both more sympathetic and more scary, considering how loyally she sticks to her mission despite not believing in it.
Connie discovering what remains of his village and the slow, horrible realization that something is very wrong. The way in which everyone desperately attempts to present him with false hope is heartbreaking enough, without the bonus implications that all the Titans they've encountered so far are/were his family and friends.
Reiner pitching himself out of a window to take out a Titan, even if he doesn't actually take the plunge. If he'd actually done it, he'd be forced to either reveal himself as the Armored Titan, or actually die in the fall. He's Becoming the Mask; given Ymir and Krista's conversation about choosing to die an unnecessary but heroic death so that you'll be remembered well, it's even more heartbreaking in retrospect. Despite being a Titan Shifter, some part of Reiner really does want to be true to the friends he's made among humans.
For that matter, his Villainous B.S.O.D. is difficult to watch. It becomes clear just how precarious his mental state has been for quite some time.
Chapter 43: Eren's rage at the traitors, Bertolt and Reiner. Additionally, makes the past scenes with the two harsher in hindsight...
In the same chapter, Mikasa had badly wounded Reiner and Bertolt, but wonders why she didn't go all the way by cutting their heads off. She then realizes she might have briefly regretted hurting her former friends when seeing their pained faces, which kept her from doing more.
Mikasa wakes up after the Colossal Titan fell on Eren only to find out everyone was knocked out by the attack and Reiner and Bertolt were able to kidnap Eren and Ymir, 5 hours ago. Mikasa breaks down how she never gets what she wants, to be with Eren.
Chapter 46 reveals that Reiner's guilt over his actions caused him to quite literally go insane, and flee into the false identity of a human Reiner to escape. He briefly lapses back into this persona, and is genuinely confused at Eren's hostile response to him. For bonus tears, we also learn that this whole time Bertolt has been helplessly watching his best friend go insane, and as a result they were unable to share any kind of emotional connection.
In Chapter 47, Ymir demanding to see Krista while on the verge of tears, because she's certain that it will be her last chance. And talking about how much it meant to her that Krista could smile for her, even knowing what kind of horrible person she really is.
Plus, Jean and Connie trying to talk Bertolt and Reiner down by reminding them of how they're all True Companions and promised to grow old together.
And on top of that, the mention that they knew Bertolt's sleeping patterns so well they joked about predicting the weather by them. There's no better proof that the Shifters' plan put both sides of their conflict in close, vulnerable proximity to each other.
Chapter 48: Ymir's tearful plea to Krista, and Bertolt finally breaking down when confronted by his former comrades.
Specifically, his cry of "Who do you think actually wants to kill people?" Remember that they were eleven when they attacked Wall Maria, and judging by their bond with the rest of the 104th, they're both genuinely decent people at heart. Not to mention the fact that they know that Titans are people. Whether they realize it or not, he was calling them hypocrites.
When Armin lies to Reiner and Bertolt about Annie being tortured, we see not only their worried reactions, but Eren's as well, implying that he might still have some care for her to the extent he doesn't like the thought of her being tortured. While one could argue he was just shocked at Armin's lie, it's curios why his reaction is shown in the same context as Reiner and Bertolt's, and his expression overall looks more worried than simply shocked.
It's even worse that Erwin and his men are surrounded, Armin fends off a Titan with an injured Jean in his arms and Krista, Connie and Ymir continues kill much Titans as they can. Believing that this is the end of them, Mikasa thanks Eren for everything that he had done for her back then.
Ymir choosing to leave Krista behind, after everything she'd done for her. After Krista's declaration that they would live for themselves from here on, and swearing that she won't fear anything as long as they're together. After everything, Ymir gently caresses Historia's hair in Titan form and mumbles an apology to her, before running off to help Reiner and Bertolt. Historia's heartbroken expression as they ride off just makes it worst.
Chapter 51: Connie is... not happy about the fact that the Titan on his house is his mother.
The revival of the Levi squad has Eren remember the original squad and their deaths.
Levi processing the thought that every Titan he killed was an innocent human victim.
While the members of the 104th being made into a new elite squad for Levi IS pretty cool, when you stop and think about it for a second, you realize exactly how many Survey Corps soldiers have been slaughtered since the Battle of Trost and you realize that even the best of Humanity are only hanging on by a thread now if they've been pushed to using teenagers who have been part of them for less than a year as their elite unit.
Unless Levi was specifically recruiting Eren's friends in order to make Eren more comfortable, a sort of emotional crutch for Eren, which would move it into a heartwarming territory.
Chapter 50.5, a bonus epilogue included in Volume 12, is nothing but tearjerker moments. Having failed in their mission, Reiner and Bertolt are exhausted but try to get Ymir to escape so she at least will be safe. She refuses, expressing that she's grateful to them for saving her from her "eternal nightmare" and stating that she's the only one that can understand their circumstances. They're all people that weren't able to do anything with their own power, and she decides "playing goddess" (the selfless actions she used to criticize Krista for) isn't so bad. Reiner just looks plain exhausted, while Bertolt alternately apologizes to her and thanks her while crying.
In Chapter 55, as screams echo through the building everyone is in, Connie can be seen covering his ears with an expression like he's about to cry. Poor Connie really has been through a lot lately, and he's showing signs of hitting some kind of limit.
Erwin's past. He was curious like every child was and decided to tell his friends what he heard. And as a result his father was killed. You can just tell he blames himself.
In Chapter 56, Erwin demonstrates how he has to do the salute with his left arm now that his right one is gone.
Despite being shown to be a brat just moments before, the image of Reebs' son hiding behind a tree, having most likely witnessed his dad's murder, is pitiful.
In Chapter 57, Reebs' body is discovered and the Survey Corps are blamed for his death. Hearing people sneer at and condemn the Survey Corps when they're the ones who are trying to save them is beyond upsetting.
Jean, Connie, and Sasha are all still uncertain about taking human lives, Jean even doubting if he wanted to be apart of their plan anymore, as he admitted he joined the Survey Corps to help save humanity.
The deaths of the rest of Hanji's squad by the antipersonnel 3D maneuvering gear. Keep in mind that it's just modified 3D maneuvering gear, but the fact that this weapon, used by the Survey Corps to kill Titans so humanity can go beyond the Walls, is being used to kill humans in order to keep secrets at bay, is pretty disheartening.
Even worse, these people joined the Corps thinking that their death would come at the hands of a Titan, yet they are killed by the species they're fighting for and trying to protect, and with the aid of the gear they use no less. Dramatic irony at it's most tragic.
Levi's expression when he and Hanji's squadmates are attacked by the Humanity Suppression task force and the three squad members are killed via modified guns. First, it's startlement and confusion at what happened as Levi was barely able to avoid being shot twice, then you can see the realization setting in when he sees their bodies. This is someone who's a skilled fighter with swords and fists, and he's seen his own comrades ripped apart by Titans, but seeing them being killed with guns so swiftly, was something he was truly not prepared for.
The confirmation from Ymir that Titans do not eat for pleasure, but are instinctively trying to devour a Shifter in order to regain their human form. Hanji is also kind enough to remind us that these are most likely all innocent people who would never have done this otherwise, and have been trapped as Titans for who knows how long. As Hanji says, their existence is "another tragedy". Which is sobering considering it comes from Hanji, who has gone from hating the Titans as much as Eren, to becoming fascinated with them from a scientific standpoint to now feeling well-founded pity for them.
In hingsight, people mocking Hanji for getting attached to the Titan, naming them, and finding it painful to torture them to find out things about them. It turns out that she was the only person showing sympathy and affection towards people who had been turned into titans.
When Kenny Ackerman confronted Levi, in the bar in Chapter 58, he talked of how they both lived in garbage and how finding out about how vast their world had been a huge blow to Levi. It makes one wonder how he took it...
It's really hard not to feel bad for Jean; he entered the Survey Corps to help protect humanity and now he was deliberately being told to shoot to kill when the Human Suppression Task Force is on the Special Ops. trail. It gets even worse as he has one of the members at gunpoint, but he yells at her not to move or he'll shoot. His mercy ends up with him at the member's gunpoint after she kicks the rifle out of his hands and it leads to a Dead Hat Shot..
It's possibly made sadder that the one panically yelling his name is Mikasa. For all that she appears to barely notice his existence, we see that she does care about him and reacts frantically when it appears he's about to be killed.
The death of Levi's former friends and comrades in A Choice With No Regrets, Isabel and Farlan. What makes it a sad irony is that the events leading to their fate is very reminiscent of Eren's choice that inadvertently caused the death of Levi's squad later. In short, they're on an expedition when a terrible storm arrives, and Levi eventually makes the decision that he will go off alone to find Erwin and kill him in the confusion than stay with Isabel and Farlan. Shortly after doing so however, he finds the remnants of a Titan attack and realizes their footprints are headed straight back to where he left his friends. He internally scolds himself for making the wrong choice and arrives just in time to see Isabel getting eaten while she tearfully calls for her "Big Bro" (what she called Levi), followed by Farlan shortly afterwards simply waving his hand sadly at him before being devoured as well.
And it only gets worse from there. Levi proceeds to slice the Titan's belly open in a desperate attempt to save Farlan that way, only to pull out what's left of him. After a Roaring Rampage of Revenge towards all the Titans present, Levi comes across the severed head of his "little sister", a pained gaze still trapped in her eyes, causing him to fall to his knees in horror before stroking his hand over her eyes to close them.
Levi's reaction in the OVA's adaptation takes the cake. Upon finding Isabel's remains and seeing a Titan finish off Farlan, Levi can be seen in shock. A moment later he unleashes his rage on the titan, screaming the entire time in the most anguished manner. After finishing the titan Levi is left standing over Isabel's remains, sobbing.
The song "So ist es immer", which plays during the trio's happiest moments and is repeated at the end, in the aural equivalent of jumping up and down on the shredded remains of your heart.
Poor Armin after he killed the MP soldier who was about to kill Jean. He was seen in tears and throwing up outside of the squads' hideout and when Mikasa went to comfort him, he asked if she had felt like he did when she killed one of the human traffickers when she was nine. Then, even though he was feeling like shit, Armin immediately tried to apologize to Mikasa, knowing that he hit a sensitive topic with her and that he had gone too far, disregarding his own anguish and trauma.
What's even worse is that the whole reason Armin was able to take out that MP soldier was because she hesitated in shooting Jean. Armin lampshades this by remarking that that MP soldier was more moral than he was, as he didn't hesitate to shoot.
The MP soldiers' expression in the flashback in Jeans' perspective made it even more poignent. Until now, we've seen the Central MP like Kenny Ackerman and the rest of the anti-human task force as unhesitating in killing. To see a member of that same group hesitate to pull the trigger when the others before didn't reminds the viewers that even if they are enemies, you can't label them all as "evil".
Jean's guilt, justified or not, that his hesitancy forced Armin's hand is also rather sad.
Armin's sad assertation that they're not good people anymore.
Marlow and Hitch angrily denouncing the Survey Corps for the destruction of Stohess during Eren's battle against the Female Titan. They recount the great loss of life, once again hitting the reader with the fact that hundreds of people died in that attack.
Somewhat worse is Hitch's genuine sorrow for Annie. She has spent all this time believing that Annie was killed during the battle and that her corpse was too mangled to be recognized, and has only her roommate's possessions to remind her that she even existed. Her face when Levi explained that Annie was the Female Titan is just heartbreaking, and suggests that she really did think of Annie as a friend.
The entire injection scene as told through Grisha's eyes. We see the frightened, tearful Eren injected and when he transforms there is a panel of him screaming making it clear how painful it is. It only gets worse after Eren recovers from being a mindless Titan after he's eaten his father. At first there's just a look of confusion which slowly becomes absolute horror as he wails over Grisha's remains.
The fact that Eren who lost his mother to a Titan and vowed to kill them all in revenge became the very creature he hated and devoured his remaining parent.
Kenny's brutally honest"Reason You Suck" Speech to Historia, about how her father never loved her and is only using her to get what he wants. Even if it was a lie, Historia had started to take comfort in the new reality Rod was crafting for her, and seeing it destroyed completely breaks her.
Historia thanking Eren for telling her she was a normal person, before sticking the needle into her arm. Even though Historia ends up not injecting the serum, it shows just how close they came to losing.
In Chapter 68 we're treated to Rod's memories as Historia slices through the nape of his Titan form. Rod as a frightened and frustrated child imprisoned by his own father while pleading with him to kill the Titans, Freida and Uri's bright hopeful smiles and vows to resist the First King's will turning into the dead-eyed stare of the possessed, and finally Rod confiding in Historia's mother, stating that she is the only one who understood him. Seeing an earnest young man who wanted to better humanity transformed slowly into a manipulative fanatic and finally into a rampaging monster is heartbreaking.
Eren seeing three children and realising that they're a lot like he, Mikasa, and Armin were when the Colossal Titan broke the wall. Armin replies that they're probably going to see what they saw, but says that unlike that day, he, Eren, and Mikasa are on the wall and can fight back.
Along with some Mood Whiplash, the conversation turning from the main group mocking the new members of the Survey Corps to one of the new members wondering what happened to them to make them get that look in their eyes. Jean asks if he really wants to know, and he says no.
Chapter 71 gives us Shadis' backstory, including the moment when he realises why he's never been able to make a difference.
Shadis: Average men aren't able to accomplish anything. Special people do exist. It's just that I wasn't one of them.
Chapter 72 has Eren, Armin, and Mikasa thinking that they see Hannes for a moment before they see the man's face and not only realize that he isn't Hannes, but remember that Hannes is dead and they'll never see him again.
Eren's reaction when Armin reminds him about their dream to see the ocean is very sad. Before, Eren would always react to the prospect with enthusiasm, but here, he hesitates and gives little more than an "Oh, alright then.", coupled with a lackluster smile. He isn't being mean about it, but it's clear that he's lost the drive to see the ocean with Armin, something that they promised to do together since they were little. The uneasy/shocked look on Armin's face when he realizes this signifies what is likely the first crack in their relationship. It's... really heartbreaking to see, considering how strong Eren and Armin's care for one another has been throughout the series, so far.
Chapter 76 has Jean, Sasha, and Connie attacking Reiner with hesitation. Although it is unknown currently what happens to Reiner there's a high likelihood he died from that attack. The look of sadness and hesitation in finishing their former comrade says it all. Sasha and Connie also both hesitate and have to be reminded by Jean to attack Reiner.
Chapter 76 also has one for Reiner. As he sums it up, all he wants to do is be able to go home after killing the horses. The way nobody can hear him beg for them to wait is sad because he just wants it all to be over, and even that is being taken from him.
Chapter 77 begins with the truth behind Marco's death, accidentally catching Reiner and Bertholdt discussing their plan and they end up pinning him down, force a traumatised Annie to remove his manouvre gear, and they leave him to be chewed on by an approaching Titan. And all the while, a confused Marco is screaming for them to just explain themselves before he is killed. Annie is visibly reluctant and horrified to leave Marco to die, and when Marco is being eaten, Reiner snaps back into his innocent personality and has no idea what is happening.
The part with Annie needs some elaboration. Namely, Reiner and Bertholdt capture Marco and pin him down when suddenly, Annie arrives. A panicked Marco pleads for Annie to help him, to which she gets a horrified face and, upon hearing Reiner say they have to kill him, she calls Reiner a "piece of shit!" The face on Annie as she sees Marco asking her to help him is the heartbreaking part, you can practically see her thinking "No, don't ask me for help! I'm one of them! I'm sorry!"
The next we see of Reiner, he is hanging out of the Armored Titan's body, with the top half of his head missing. While the Survey Corps celebrate, Reiner's former friends are clearly in mourning. Jean tries to put on a brave face but it quickly cracks when he realises Connie and Sasha are in tears. He angrily grabs both and tries to justify their actions before breaking down himself. Eren just sits there in his Titan form, staring at the Armored Titan. When Hange rallies everyone to get ready for the "next one" (aka Bertholdt), Mikasa responds with an exhaustive, submissive sigh, and then goes to comfort Armin who sadly comments that because of their lack of knowledge about Titan Shifters, killing Reiner was their only option.
Chapter 78's Bertholdt is rather stoic and unflinchingly comments on the war and how people must die, which is either awesome (if you think he's right that he himself needed to grow a pair) or alarming (if you find this shift upsetting). But this chapter delves further into Bertholdt feeling that although no one is at fault, people have to die, so he'll do what he can to make sure no more people have to suffer. He ends the chapter with a very deliberate parallel to Mikasa's Catch Phrase about the world being both beautiful and cruel, except that he never remarks on anything being beautiful. For Bertholdt, the world really has only ever been cruel.
Chapters 79-81 which sees the death of almost the entire Survey Corp. Most of the veterans are killed via bombardment. Hange and her squad were blown up by the Colossal Titan. Erwin leads the recruits in a desperate charge at the Beastial Titan to buy time for Levi to kill it. Erwin dies as does most of the recruits and Levi is prevented from finishing off the Beastial Titan at the last moment by the Cargo Titan. At the end of the chapter only the former 104th and Levi are confirmed alive.
Marlow is killed as the Beast Titan hurls rocks at the advancing recruits, with his last thoughts being about how Hitch is probably still asleep in her bed.
Levi's Moment of Weakness of hesitating to kill Zeke before he finds someone - who he hopes to be Erwin, not knowing that Erwin was struck down almost immediately - to give the Titan injection to, so they can eat Zeke. After this, when Zeke escapes him and the situation becomes desperate, all Levi can think about is how he promised Erwin he'd kill Zeke, and the opportunity may have slipped from his fingers for good. It's another uncharacteristically vulnerable sequence for Levi, and yet more evidence that Erwin is his Living Emotional Crutch... who seems to have died just like Levi knew he would if he returned to the field.
Chapter 82 features the self-sacrifice of Armin, who gives up his life and his dream of seeing the outside world and the ocean, so that Eren can defeat the Colossal Titan. Eren remarks that Armin was the bravest of all of them, and he's right. Armin abandons his dream of seeing the ocean for the sake of the Survey Corps victory, which is a nice call back to earlier in the series when he said that those who couldn't throw anything away could never change anything. The chapter is titled "Hero", and that's exactly what Armin is.
Armin: "I'm leaving it to you, Eren. My dreams. My life. Everything. This is all I have that I can throw away. If it's Eren, then he'll definitely make it to the ocean... He'll see... the ocean... for me."
As well as the aforementioned sacrifice, Sasha is injured and unconscious, many people are already dead, Connie is out of action because he's holding Sasha, Jean has been injured by debris and can't fight, and Mikasa is basically all on her own, about to make what Connie obviously considers a suicide move, until Hanji shows up to save the day.
The end of Chapter 83, Reiner is crying. Throughout all of Reiner's traumas, he has never shed a tear, even when Marco was being fed to a Titan (although that could be attributed to shock and memory loss) and Annie was crying profusely. Reiner is laying on a wall, limbless and missing most of the skin on his head, blindfolded, and has to have realized that not only have they failed to capture Eren, the enemy now has Bertholdt and Zeke is taking him and leaving Bertholdt behind. The one person Reiner holds above all the others and has sworn to protect is being left for dead or worse, and there is nothing he can do about it.
It's easy to miss in a lot of the panels, but is obvious to see in one of the final panels in Chapter 83 - after discovering that Armin is close to death, Mikasa is crying.
The inevitable but lamentable consequence of people being raised for horrible things like war is present in 83. The hatred is overwhelming and makes one want to cry. Jean, at first having to be the one to remind Connie and Sasha to attack Reiner, is now horrified at how he's being treated, limbless and defenseless and blind, under Hanji's sadistic thumb. Bertholdt's situation is possibly worse: He too is limbless and can't do anything, but everyone around him is arguing over who to feed him to and whose life to save, treating him as food to be eaten. Even on the human side, things aren't good. It's Erwin or Armin, and one life has to be saved at the cost of the other. Levi at first agrees to give Armin the serum, but when shown Erwin's body, almost immediately changes his mind. This act of snatching away Armin's life has Eren horrified, and Mikasa even has her blade raised as though to force Levi out of it.
In Chapter 84, the choice is made on who to save with the titan serum, but its how its done and the aftermath. Erwin himself thanks Levi with his final breaths, refusing to be saved. Secondly , Bertholdt is summarily eaten by the newly Titan Armin. They leave him limbless and broken, unable to transform, right in front of Armin. He's desperately crying and screaming futilely for somebody to save him, specifically Reiner and Annie, while his former friends from the 104th force themselves to watch; all of them crying (even Eren).
The moments just before Bertholdt gets eaten by Armin actually becomes much sadder the more you think about it; He woke up coming face-to-face with a Titan with barely a few seconds to mentally process what the hell is going on, and in that very moment of utter confusion and terror, it's more than likely that he forgot all about his mission along with being the Colossal Titan while screaming and begging his former friends to save him, and seeing their crying faces is what made him remember. It his last moments, he remembered that he was the one responsible for so much suffering and death to the people living in the Walls and that he would never be forgiven by them for what he did. He started screaming for Reiner and Annie only after remembering that, despite the futility of it.
Eren once mentioned that he would make Bertholt's death especially excruciating since Bertholt was indirectly responsible for the death of Eren's mother. However, it's pretty clear that while Eren got his wish, he's far from happy seeing Bertholt screaming for help as he dies horribly.
While Levi initially chooses to give Erwin the serum, he remembers his last conversation with Erwin and the look of sheer happiness and relief on his face after Levi told him to go with the rest of the recruits and die, and that he'd take care of the Beast Titan. Levi being Levi his emotional process through all this is fairly subtle, but his flat resignation when he tries to have some last words with Erwin and is told that he's already dead, clearly not totally prepared for that reality yet despite his decision, is rough.
The reveal of how Hanji survived. Moblit threw Hanji into a well, away from the Colossal Titan's blast, saving her, and the last time Hanji sees him, it's obvious that they both know that he's about to die. By the time Hanji gets out of the well after the blast, Moblit is nowhere to be found because he wasn't just killed, he was completely obliterated.
Armin's fever dream/vision at the beginning of Chapter 85. The cries of "it hurts" combined with the skeletal visage of Bertolt's titan quietly weeping is truly haunting.
When Armin realizes how he survived- at the cost of forfeiting a chance to save Erwin- it's clear that he's suffering Survivor Guilt, not to mention feeling bad that Mikasa and Eren attacked Levi and got in trouble for his sake. Levi and Hange can't offer much comfort, since they had believed Erwin was more valuable to humanity, and the most they can say is to urge him to do what he can to ensure that the choice made was the right one.
The tragedy of the Eldians. An entire race of people living within walls, sealed by forces beyond their control, suffering for the sins of their bloodline, not even for actions they themselves have taken. Whether it's Eren, trapped by the Titans and the First King, or Grisha, trapped by the Marleyans and the legacy of Ymir Fritz, it'a hard not to see how everyone has gotten the short stick here.
And yes, the Marleyans do have their sympathetic moments. Their entire kingdom is a ranked hierarchy, with Eldians living in squalid ghettos, afraid of the world outside, but remember that just eighty years ago the Marleyans fought and won a desperate war against the Titan Shifters, ending seventeen hundred years of oppression and genocide... supposedly. The government is likely lying to everyone, and driving up hate against the Eldians, manipulating everyone for their own sick gain.
More of a tearjerker in hindsight, but the fact that the Survey Corps, the quest to retake territory from the titans, Eren's desire for revenge...all now have much less meaning. The people who were supposed to be heroes freeing humanity from the Titans know that their purpose has been undermined.
In chapter 87, Grisha is forced to watch as his comrades from the Eldian Restoration Movement are transformed into mindless Titans by the Marleyans, and sicced to chase after one of their members who wasn't transformed into one. This includes Grisha's first wife, Dina, who is turned into the Smiling Titan.. It also gives a new meaning to one of the first things Grisha asked from Keith, when they first met: "You're not fighting them, are you?"
In the same vein: Those mindless Titans? Look close. Those are the same ones that attack the Trost district, including the Bearded Titan that nearly ate Armin and did eat Eren, the Huge-Mouth Titan that bit Eren's leg off, and the infamous Uguu-Eyes Titan.
In Chapter 88, Eren and Armin realize that since someone who inherits a Titan's power usually only lives for 13 years, that most likely means Armin has 13 years of life left and Eren only has eight years at most. Mikasa despairingly trying to deny that both of her oldest friends are going to die fairly young is heartbreaking.
Worse, they've essentially only delayed Armin's death by thirteen years.
Also from Chapter 88 - the person who saved Grisha was called Eren Kruger. In the process of explaining things to Grisha, he reveals that both sides are manipulating history - Ymir never turned the world into a paradise (as shown by there being absolutely no indicated of that), but she also never created a hell (as indicated by the presence of pure Marleyans), and the stories have become the truth to so many because people started telling them, indicating that the real truth of what happened to the world may very well have been lost forever.
Ymir's entire backstory. She was a homeless child in what was most likely an Eldian ghetto, abandoned so early by her parents that she didn't even know her own name. She was taken in by a con-man and passed off as the reincarnation of Ymir Fritz which allowed him to extract money from people who worshiped her. She had no idea who "Ymir" even was, but went along with it because she was fed and cared for and she made people happy. When the Marley forces raided the cult, the con artist desperately blamed her for the deception, and she was dragged through the streets and stoned before ultimately being turned into a mindless Titan. Throughout the scene the look of horror and confusion on her face is heartbreaking.