First, let me warn you that this article will contain major spoilers. If you’re only watching the anime with no intention of ever picking up the manga (that’s just plain silly in my opinion) this article will still contain spoilers since the anime has been, and will continue to be, loyal to creator Hajime Isayama’s vision.
For those of you who have kept up with the manga, we have finally reached the end to our long journey. Eleven long years we have watched Eren Jaeger struggle to avenge the horrendous and brutal attack on Shiganshina that cost his mother her life. We watched him foolheartedly tackle (quite literally) every obstacle in his path, stubbornly risking his life time and time again and giving in to his rage, which presented itself as a terrifying force that has earned our respect.
For those of you who have followed along, let’s recap the last arc in which Eren initiated the Rumbling, as thousands of colossal titans stomp the Earth in an attempt to eradicate humanity. Eren’s plans have changed from double crossing his people with his half-brother, Zeke. Instead of sterilizing all Eldians in the hopes of putting an end to all future titans, Eren wages war with anyone outside the island of Paradis to the dismay of his comrades and friends.
The last three issues changed the game as new twists and turns divided fans into whether or not Eren’s plan was necessary, honorable, or even successful. A few revelations were made. Ymir, the original founding Titan sworn to servitude to King Fritz, following his orders to continue to alter the memories of Eldians and remain impartial to the world of man, is revealed to be a lost girl longing for human connection. It is revealed she is in love with King Fritz and honors his last orders until Eren shows her sympathy.
The origin of the titans is also revealed as an evolutionary anomaly that allowed Ymir to create a form that would protect her and immortalize her, thus creating a generation similar to her liking. Isayama blends both the doctrines of religion such as Christianity and Buddhism with a more scientific evolutionary approach when it comes to Ymir’s beginnings.
Ymir’s power is so great that those who inherit the founding Titan are sometimes able to see the past and future all at once. Most of those who inherit the power sympathize with King Fritz’s ideology and therefore cannot see the greater picture. Eren manages to set Ymir free and is granted an immense insight into the future upon coming into contact with members of the Fritz family (both Dina and Historia). Four years prior to the War on Marley, Eren sees an inevitable outcome for his people. He knows the only way to free the world of Titan is to die, but to make his death more meaningful he chooses to make himself an enemy to mankind in the hopes that his friends, Eldians, will deliver the final blow and prove to the world that Eldians are on the side of humanity. Mikasa and Armin are the ones to deliver this final attack, beheading Eren and presenting their victory to the world.
Eren’s true intentions are revealed to Armin in Ymir’s spiritual plane. Eren confesses his love for Mikasa to Armin and admits that he wants Mikasa to think of him forever, to want no other and to remain loyal to him. He admits that these feelings are childish but honest before succumbing to his death by her hands. Mikasa buries Eren where it all began, under the same tree he slept under in the opening sequence, perhaps explaining why he was crying in those first few moments of the first issue.
The final battle includes an all out Titan war, in which titans from past and present battle aimlessly until Zeke uses his final moments to persuade them to fight for humanity. His final act is ended shortly when he returns to the waking world and calls out Levi, who beheads him as promised, accepting his fate. Zeke’s acceptance was aided by Armin’s reminder that life is worth living even for the briefest moments of pleasure and happiness. Whether it’s reading a good book, or walking with your friends down a market on a sunny afternoon. For Zeke, playing catch with his mentor made life all the worthwhile.
Reiner finally earns his redemption by destroying and aiding in the overall destruction of the seed of Ymir’s power and thus ending the Titan power throughout the world. Some fans believed Reiner’s reward would be his death, but I found this ending more fitting. Reiner receives his mother’s approval and love as she admits how happy she is that he no longer has a Titan ability and gets to live a full life.
In a tearful epilogue, the world remains at war out of superstition and resentment. Yeagerists on Paradis still exist, forming a militia hellbent on protecting their island from foreign conquests. Three years have passed and Reiner, Pieck, Gabbi, Annie, Armin, Jean, and Connie remain together in the hopes of demonstrating to the world that peace is possible among nations. Mikasa visits Eren’s grave and after a warm speech has her red scarf snatched away by a dove.
So what do we think? There’s so much to look at here. So May themes interwoven within the plot. The obvious being the cyclic nature of war on mankind and the spiritual toll it takes. Eren’s wrath is based on an ignorant desire for revenge and later develops into a complex desperate need for peace and an end to a never ending madness that has hurt so many. Was Eren successful? Yes. His original goal was to eradicate all titans, which he does by forcing the only people able to kill him to do just that. His newfound desire to inspire peace could only be done by becoming a villain the world could collectively join together to destroy. Though war and distrust still remain beyond his sacrifice, as was to be expected based on the nature of man, there is still hope that mankind can continue to coexist and will be much safer now that titans no longer remain.
Isayama created what most writers would deem an inevitable ending by closing off all other paths to redemption, peace, or closure and presenting us with a conclusion that answered all of our questions. There was no path to be taken that could have spared Eren his life. He was destined to die the moment he opened his eyes in the first panel.
Was Eren a hero? A martyr? That depends on one’s perspective. If you ask me, I would ask in return, what else could he be? His sacrifice, despite endangering the lives of those he loved, was for the hope for a greater good, a demonstration of the willpower to break the chains we clasp on ourselves and the generation that follows.