With the end nearing for “Attack on Titan”, the show has finally addressed a looming elephant in the room: That neither side of the Marley-Eldian conflict was truly correct, and that neither side can justify the large death toll of their conflict, at least the Marley/Yeagarist side of the conflict (non-Yeagerist Eldians were never the aggressors; they have been relegated to reacting to Eren Yeager and Marley’s offenses).
In this week’s episode of the Final Season of “Attack on Titan”, Eren is completely absent, as Hange, Connie Jean, Mikasa, Levi, and Armen (non-Yeagerist Eldians) join forces with Onyankapon, Yelena, and the Marleyans Annie, Reiner, Magath, Falco and Gabi, and it’s clear that if the two sides are going to work together, they’re going to have to work some serious issues out, as the Eldians are responsible for killing their fair share of Marleyans when Eren invaded their country, and the Marleyans have killed scores of Eldians, with Reiner and Annie being the worst offenders, given how cruel their infiltration of the Eldian Scouts Regiment was, and how devastating their initial attack on Eldia’s walls was.
This goes beyond working through personal problems — this is a group of people forced to work with those who have murdered some of their loved ones, united by the overwhelming need to stop Eren’s genocide. And it goes beyond the typical horrors of war — Marley’s attack on Eldia’s walls led to innocent people get eaten alive.
It becomes painfully obvious to all that the lies fed to them, either by Marley or the Yeagerists, justifying the war were attempts to blatantly manipulate them, and that they were pawns in someone else’s conflict. After witnessing the horrors of the conflict, and having to deal with the excruciating guilt of having committed some of them, I don’t think any character from either side could ever think of a reason that could every justify them.
A lesser show would have glossed this over before getting caught up in the “save the world” aspect of their mission, where their good deeds would essentially cancel out all those they’ve killed, and everyone would become friends. It’s important for a show that delves this deep into the horrors of war to make death have meaning, and there is a sense that, while everyone in this episode has a better understanding of each other and are willing to work together, not everyone likes each other, and certain characters will never be forgiven.
Still, it was great to see all their propaganda-based justifications for the conflict — particularly on the Marleyan side — fall apart once they had to actually sit down and talk to the “island devils” their government told them they had to destroy.
This also highlights a key truth about war: for the most part, war involves strangers killing strangers; the individuals on the ground have no quarrel with each other. Nothing highlights this better than perhaps the famous Christmas truce between the Germans and the British forces in WWI, in which men who were trying to kill each other hours earlier came together to celebrate Christmas, in which they both united in jubilation. No doubt under different circumstances, many men from opposing sides could have been friends, and it is clear that is also the case in AoT.
This all brings to mind Doctor Who’s anti-war speech from the “The Zygon Inversion”:
“This is a scale model of war,” the Doctor said. “Every war ever fought, right there in front of you. Because it’s always the same. When you fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you have no idea who’s going to die! You don’t know whose children are going to scream and burn! How many hearts will be broken! How many lives shattered! How much blood will spill until everybody does what they were always going to have to do from the very beginning. Sit down and talk!”
Weather it happens off-screen after Eren is stopped or not, the only way for AoT’s main conflict to come to an end will be for the people of Marley and Eldia to sit down, talk and come to an understanding, much like we saw happen in this episode.