By Rafael Motamayor
One of the biggest anime surprises of 2019 was The Promised Neverland, a horror series that focuses on atmosphere rather than gore or jump scares, all while still handling tear-jerking and heartfelt moments wrapped in a gripping tale of survival.
The show’s biggest strength, however, is how it manages to pack a shocking number of twists and turns in just 12 episodes! Twists that might kick-start a whole season in another anime would instead be resolved in a manner of a couple of episodes in The Promised Neverland, and it all felt earned.
With 2020 now (finally) over, and the horrors of 2021 still unknown, we’re preparing for Season 2 of the show by looking back at some of the shocking moments from The Promised Neverland Season 1. Let’s dive in.
NOTE: Spoilers abound for The Promised Neverland Season 1.
Sister Krone meets her end (Episode 8)
Since her arrival in Episode 2 as a new pair of eyes to watch over the kids, Sister Krone remained a big question mark in The Promised Neverland. With an apparent desire to take down Isabella, it seemed like Krone was the ally the kids desperately needed, until she wasn’t.
Episode 8 is filled with excellent moments (another one of which we’ll talk about a bit down the list), but this is the first indication that things aren’t going the way of our protagonists. Krone is given “a promotion” and moved to another farm, except the promotion is actually her execution at the hand of one of the demons that eat children.
To make matters worse, the scene flashes back to Krone’s childhood, how she was raised on a similar farm and managed to move up the ranks to become a Mom, only to be easily discarded when she was no longer useful.
If the main kids think things are hopeless for them, this scene is a grim reminder that they exist in a system without winners. Even if you manage to internalize your situation and set out to survive no matter what, you can still be killed by a demon with a pretty flower that blooms with your blood.
Ray is revealed as a traitor, then a double agent (Episode 5)
After a couple of episodes heavily foreshadowing the possibility that Ray was a traitor working for Mom, Episode 5 quickly puts to bed all doubts and confirms Ray to be a true double agent.
Except, nothing is what it seems with The Promised Neverland. When Norman confronts Ray, he immediately confirms his status as a traitor, but he also reveals he’s been playing a long game for years in order to plan out his escape, as well as making sure Norman and Emma are safe from the child-eating demons.
If Ray was already a bit of a secretive wild card, this moment cements him as the group’s biggest secret weapon, with more knowledge about the state of the world than he’s letting on, and the ability to keep Mom busy while planning his escape.
The escape plan is a literal cliffhanger (Episode 9)
When Norman tries to leave the house on his own after being told it’s his turn to be eaten by demons (also known as “being adopted”), he finally manages to climb the huge wall surrounding the house. On the other side of that wall, Norman finds a cliff.
The reveal works because it’s delayed to the audience. We see Norman climb over the cliff, but we don’t see what he sees. We can only imagine what he sees because the next time we see Norman he seems to have aged 20 years in an instant.
But the true shock comes when Ray and Emma ask Norman what it was he saw, and the shock in everyone’s eyes when Norman reveals the truth is enough to suck all hope out of you.
No matter how well the kids plan their escape and manage to outsmart and outrun Mom, getting over that cliff is a bigger challenge than they could have imagined!
Isabella’s origin story (Episode 12)
Episode 12 is a nonstop, high-octane thrill ride, not the least of which because it finally gave us a backstory to the season’s antagonist—Isabella, a.k.a. Mom.
After serving as a formidable, caring, smart, cruel, terrifying villain, this episode pulls back the curtain to reveal a scared little girl who did what she had to in order to survive.
Turns out, Isabella was very much like Emma herself. She tried, and nearly succeeded, in escaping. But when she faced the huge cliff, she decided to give up and become a Mom because it ensured she’d make it to adulthood. She studied hard, gave birth in what looks like a prison cell, and was promoted to be the Mom of a farm of her own.
But wait, that’s not all! Just when Isabella thought she had made it, she discovers that Ray is actually her son, in a heartbreaking moment where Ray starts humming a song Isabella sang to him in the womb.
In a rare moment for Isabella, she shows the horror in her face as she realizes she’s raising her own son to be devoured. When Ray asks her why she gave birth to him, she simply answers, “Survival.”
Ray’s fiery sacrifice (Episode 11)
It was always clear Ray had way more secrets up his sleeve than he was letting on, and that he had planned a lot of the events of the show, but this episode proved just how far along Ray had planned.
While he told Norman that he had planned his escape for years, that plan did not include Ray himself. Rather, he was planning to sacrifice himself to allow Emma and Norman to escape all along.
Seeing a 12-year-old kid willingly talk about his own sacrifice is already shocking, but seeing Ray pour an entire can of gasoline on himself with absolute resolve is just heartbreaking.
That we later discover that he planned all this as a middle finger to Mom for giving birth to him in a cruel world that will eat him alive just adds to the shock of the moment.
Mom’s secret basement (Episode 6)
When Don and Gilda were still doubtful of Emma and Norman’s claims that the orphanage was actually a farm, they stumble upon a secret basement in Mom’s room, where they find every toy belonging to every kid that was “adopted.”
The scene is one of the tensest moments in the entire show, with the lighting and music creating a creepy atmosphere taken right out of a horror movie.
It’s not just that Don and Gilda are discovering the truth, it’s that they hear Mom’s footsteps getting closer and closer, almost discovering them—all while a ticking clock reminds us that the kids’ time is running out.
Phil becomes the one and future leader (Episode 12)
From the moment Emma planned to escape the farm, a debate emerged about whether to bring all the babies or if only the oldest kids should escape. While Norman was eventually persuaded by Emma, Ray heavily opposed the idea of bringing everyone along because they’d just slow the trio down.
Except it all worked out beautifully. Episode 11 revealed that Norman was using Ray’s self-immolation plan as part of his ultimate escape plan, and had accounted for nearly every detail.
But there was still the question about how many kids to bring. Episode 11 then ends with the reveal that Phil, the adorable but extremely suspect 4-year-old, had been left behind.
Episode 12’s focus was on the perfectly timed escape, but the emotional crux of the episode was in seeing Phil valiantly say he should be left behind with the younger kids.
Already somewhat aware that the farm was meant to harvest the kids rather than find them adoptive parents, Phil volunteers to be the next Emma and prepare the younger kids before they get harvested. It’s a beautiful moment that balances heartbreak with absolute horror.
Mom breaks Emma’s leg (Episode 8)
This is, of course, the episode where everything goes wrong, and Isabella reveals herself to be a formidable villain.
No matter how much the kids thought they were ahead of Mom, Isabella was pulling the strings all along, and manages to defeat everyone. She gets rid of Sister Krone, and drops all pretenses that she’s a nice and caring mom.
First, she fires Ray as her spy. Then, she treats Emma and Norman as adults and tells them what she’s doing and why she’s doing it. She coldly introduces herself to the two kids, saying, “Nice to meet you,” as this is the first time they can openly talk about what’s going on and how she’s been trying to raise them without knowing the cruelties of the world.
In an effort to make them give up and lose all hope, Isabella breaks Emma’s leg in a single cold and calculated move, and then has the audacity to coddle and comfort her.
Norman is shipped out (Episode 10)
If breaking Emma’s leg was Isabella’s way of crippling the kids’ escape efforts, immediately telling Norman he’s to be shipped out the following day is what finally crushes their spirits in the cruelest way possible.
Norman’s goodbye plays over three episodes. First comes the shocking announcement that he’s to be sent off the following day, then comes the last-ditch attempts at preventing Norman from leaving (and discovering the cliff), but it is when Norman accepts his fate and says his final goodbyes…that’s one of the most shocking and emotional moments of the show.
A heart-wrenching moment of defeat, as Norman was there from the very beginning where we find out the truth about the farm…seeing Norman accept his fate remains one of the most shocking moments of the entire season.
The truth about Grace Field House (Episode 1)
The first episode of The Promised Neverland is a master class in building a horror atmosphere.
We find this picturesque orphanage with a sweet caretaker where the orphans are genuinely happy. Sure, there’s something off about the whole thing, such as the neck tattoos and the weird exams taken in dark rooms lit by the creepy glow of screens, but it is not until the final moments of the episode that The Promised Neverland reveals itself as one of the most fascinating and distinct shounen anime shows of the past few years.
The buildup is absolutely perfect, with Norman and Emma leaving the house to go after 6-year-old Conny to give her the stuffed animal she left behind as she was being sent to adoption. But what they find instead is a very much dead Conny, lying in an unnatural position and tossed like she was a garbage bag, with a flower sticking out of her chest.
The way the animation in the scene places extra attention to the tiniest of movements in Norman and Emma’s faces as they look in absolute horror at the demonic creatures that killed Conny, and realize the truth behind the orphanage is enough to give you nightmares and also hook you on the remainder of the season.