Season 4 of “Attack on Titan” peaked my interest so much that I came back to the show, and binged Seasons 2 and 3 to catch up. I had dropped the show years ago after its first season when it came out, as it just emotionally drained me, with the show killing off just about every character I liked who was not in the core group of series protagonist Eren Yeager’s friends, often in gruesome, gory, unceremonious and horrifying ways.
But it’s key to the point of the show, and what it says about war. While it’s arguably gratuitous, “Attack on Titan” doesn’t treat death with the dignified, clean way other shows do. It’s bloody. It’s disgusting. It’s horrifying. And it can happen to anyone in war, no matter how likeable or competent they are.
This current season also highlights exactly how good and noble intentions get warped in the heat of war. Season 4 focuses on Eren Yeager, who has the power of not only the monstrous Attack Titan, but also the Founding Titan, which has the ability to wake up the man-eating titans in the walls on Paradis Island, his home; as well as the Marleyans who orchestrated the plot in Season 1 to break the walls, killing thousands by letting man-eating Pure Titans into civilian zones, the first of which was Eren’s hometown. Essentially, Eren wants to kill the Marleyans and everyone who lived outside the walls because he knows they won’t stop until everyone who lives on Paradis is dead, while the Marleyans want to kill everyone on Paradis Island because they are not only extremely racist against them, but they know that if they manage to wake up the Titans in their walls, it would mean the deaths of everyone outside the walls. Additionally, only Eldians — who mostly live on Paradis — have the ability to turn into titans, so if they managed to exterminate them, the only people who could turn into titans would be Eldians under control of the Marleyan government.
It’s basically like if only one race of people had the ability to end the world through some superpower only they could use, which lead to other people hating them, so they retreated to an island to live in peace, always having the threat of ending the world if the outside world invaded. Meanwhile the people on the outside world plot to kill them to finally be free of the threat of being wiped out, even conditionally. That’s a gross oversimplification of the reasons why Marleyans hate Eldians like Eren Yeager who can access the power of the titans, but it does show how both sides feel justified in their actions to destroy the other.
In truth, both sides are wrong, as they both inflate slights against each other and past atrocious acts committed against them to justify genocide. The history of “Attack on Titan” is unclear, and is so poisoned by propaganda that it can’t be trusted (it’s alluded that over 100 years ago, Eldians used their powers to suppress and subjugate Marleyans, but once in power, Marley decided to do the exact same thing to Eldians), so the only thing that really matters is that both sides don’t know how to resolve their issues and find a diplomatic solution, because extremist ideologies on both sides have made that impossible (though in truth, it seems like Marley is the main perpetrator of extremism, with Eren’s extremism being a direct result of their actions; and it only takes extremism on one side for diplomatic relations to break down).
Every episode in this show seems to follow the same basic idea that war is horrible and has terrible consequences that are impossible to foresee. Its main plot is driven by the loss of loved ones to the carnage of war, though it isn’t immediately obvious until our protagonists’ true enemy (Marley) is revealed. And in order to restore peace, order, prosperity and dignity, Eren’s friends and acquaintances throw themselves into the maw of war — creating more carnage in hopes of forging a better life for the people on Paradis. Throughout the series, Eren’s end goal is just to put a stop to the violence, to create a world where his people can live peacefully without fear of annihilation. It’s arguable that Marley wants the same, but it never crosses their mind that to achieve this mutually amicable goal, all they need to do is stop fighting, stop using the power of the titans in general, and to form diplomatic relations. Of course, there’s a bit more to it than that — Marley also wants to keep its place as a world power and also see conquering Paradis as a way to reaffirm that — but broadly speaking, fear of annihilation is a major reason Marley justifies its hatred of Eldians and Paradis.
It seems they would naturally have to part ways with the power of the titans, as Season 4 opens with the age of titans coming to an end, in which Titan Shifters like Reiner and Eren are starting to become irrelevant due to advancements in technology. Progressing upon this path, eventually even Paradis’ Wall Titans would become irrelevant once people learned how to bomb cities from the air, and eventually developed the atomic bomb.
“Attack on Titan” opens very much with themes of Nature Vs. Man, with the Titans representing unstoppable, unpredictable forces of nature beyond human comprehension our heroes must survive and fend humanity against (until Season 3’s finale, the people on Paradis are under the impression that they are the only humans left in the entire world). But it ends with a central thesis that war and most things that can kill humans are all man-made constructs, and that death is final, horrific, and often unflattering. It also shows how extremist rhetoric and ideas that dehumanize people can lead to terrible outcomes.
Characters on both sides of the conflict justify their actions by claiming that they had no choice, that there was no other way. While this might be the case in some instances, like how Eren and company have to react to Marley’s attempts to overrun its walls with titans, not everyone in this show had no choice, specifically on Marley’s side, who, driven by deep seeded racism and hate, actively turn people into titans, and consistently chose to antagonize Paradis throughout the show’s first three seasons. Though, that’s the thing with extremist ideologies; they can make it seem like there’s no other option by clouding your mind with fear and false preconceptions.