This is an interesting one because after reading the later parts of the manga I can’t help but feel some of the later deaths are far worse than those we’ve seen in the anime so far. That said, I’m going to use some later manga context to decide my decision – though I won’t say what that is to prevent spoilers.
There are of course loads of deaths to choose from – in the first couple of arcs when the walls fall soldiers and family members die a lot, I mean Eren’s mother, Armin’s whole family, most of the soldiers in Shiganshina, 200 soldiers in Trost. In the second half when the Scout’s go beyond Wall Rose and encounter the Female Titan a lot of people – most notably the majority of the members of the Levi squad.
I didn’t go for any of those though. In episode 13 after the smoke has cleared following the reclamation of Trost, just when the writers allow us to think the death by Titans has finished for an episode or two, we find one final death: Marco. It’s testament to the show that most of the cadets in the opening half that they all have very distinct traits and Marco is one that manages to hold everything together. Unashamedly afraid of fighting the titans and happy to be reliant on people that aren’t particularly strong themselves, he was a pillar of stability in a group of highly strung and frightened people.
His death is particularly traumatic because it’s completely unexpected. For some, quite ridiculous, reason you just don’t think that anyone else would die at that point in the plot. While I’ve seen criticism of the show saying that the typical shounen plot armour exists because Isayama didn’t have the guts to kill of Eren when he had the perfect opportunity. Of course, this isn’t fair because you need to have a central group of characters that can go through the show for a while without dying so that they can develop. Apart from that very core group though, no one is safe from death and Marco’s death brutally shows that.
And let me say, the manga only adds to that.