It’s hard to believe that just one season ago, we still thought this show was about humanity eliminating the titans outside the walls, with the Colossal and Armoured Titans being the final bosses. How wrong we were. After season 3 of Attack on Titan ended with the shocking revelation that an apocalyptic titan event has not in fact wiped out humanity outside the walls, it makes sense that Season 4 follows with a complete change in atmosphere and a major turn in the plot.
Our heroes in the scouts once took pride in sacrificing their lives to save humanity, slaughtering hundreds of titans with the hatred of knowing they are the reason they have been forced to live behind walls. They risked their lives in over 70 scouting missions to accomplish this, knowing that it could lead to a better life outside the walls. But now that hope has been diminished with the knowledge that the real enemy has been the rest of humanity all along. Outside the walls is only an island, filled with titans, and then the rest of the world beyond that island who want nothing more than their demise. The rest of the world has been turning Eldians into titans and unleashing them upon the island as punishment for the crimes their ancestors committed. Season 4 has really brought in the big guns, quite literally. The stakes are extremely high with the rest of the world pointing its more advanced weapons towards the small Paradis Island.
We start the season from the point of view of Gabi and Falco, two child soldiers from the continent of Marley who are striving to become Warriors, Eldians who will inherit a titan power. Marley was once conquered by the Eldian King Fritz, who’s wife Ymir wielded the power of the founding titan to do so. But Marley rebelled and the War of the Titans broke out, ending with King Fritz using the Founding Titan’s power to flee to Paradis island and shelter the Eldians he took with him behind three walls made from colossal titans. He used the Founding Titan’s power to wipe their memories of there ever being a world outside the walls and took a vow to renounce the war (but also warning that if the continents were to ever attack Paradis, he would unleash the colossal titans within the walls upon them).
In present day Marley, the Eldians who remained now live as second class citizens, wearing armbands which signify they’re Eldians and being forced to live sectioned off in camps – in a not-so-subtle nod to the way the Jews were treated in the holocaust. This is the life of the Eldians on Marley. They are devoted to the goal of being chosen as ‘Warriors’ in Marley’s military, which will grant them the honour of having one of the titan powers passed down to them. This improves their life slightly on Marley for both themselves and their family, which is why Annie, Bertholdt and Reiner committed their awful crimes back in season 1.
Introducing Gabi and Falco at the start of this season was vital to showing us Marley’s side of the story. We can understand their fear of the Founding Titan’s power and the Rumbling, which is why we can understand why they are so hell bent on destroying Paradis. On top of this, Marley is falling behind the rest of the world as technology improves. One day, Titans will no longer be needed in war and then Marley will be defenceless. Which is why they are so desperate to get their hands on the resource on Paradis Island. Gabi’s character in particular, although massively annoying to begin with, was vital for us to see how the people of Marley could change their opinions of Paradis with the right amount of reasoning.
But the biggest change to Attack on Titan in season 4 would be our protagonist, Eren Jaeger. It’s been roughly four years since the events of season 3. In that time, Eren has foreseen his own future after coming into contact with Historia during an awards ceremony. Eren knows what must happen in order for the people within Paradis to survive this war, and his complete change in demeanour tells us something bad is about to happen. This isn’t just puberty as Hanje jockingly suggests at one point, Eren is traumatized by something in his future and has become emotionally shut off in order to cope with his own actions. Attack on Titan teaches Game of Thrones how to execute the protagonist-turned-villain right with Eren Jaeger.
We’ve known from the start of the show that Eren has a pretty extreme hatred for those responsible for killing his mother, and that hatred just happens to have moved from titans to Marley. Although he has been reluctant in the past to do terrible things to fulfil his need for revenge, he has eventually overcome each obstacle in time and was even the one to deal the final blow to Bertholdt before he was fed to Armin. It doesn’t feel like Eren has taken an unnecessary turn for the sake of the plot. Eren turns up in season 4 in Marley, disguised as a wounded soldier. He gains the trust of Falco and uses him to reach Reiner. This conversation was brilliant, with the slow reveal that this wounded soldier has been Eren all along was spectacular – easily one of the best moments in the show. He’s finally able to look Reiner in the eye and talk. It’s here that we realise that Eren and Reiner are no different from each other, each aiming for a similar goal. And it’s in this episode that Eren proves he can also commit the same heinous crimes as Reiner in order to achieve this goal, as he then transforms into a titan within the camp and kills civilians – becoming the very thing he’s sought to destroy.
But this doesn’t feel sudden. Throughout season 4, we’re given flashbacks to what’s happened within the last four years. From the scout’s attempted negotiations for an alternative solution to the Rumbling, to Eren slowly coming to the realisation that he’s going to have to do something terrible to save the people he loves. We slowly see the light die out of Eren’s eyes as these flashbacks progress and he reaches a point of no return. This half of season 4 really set in stone Eren’s transformation into an anti-hero, and as it progresses it becomes harder and harder to excuse his actions.
Despite it being a shame that WIT studios felt forced to exit the project, the arrival of another animation studio could not have come at a better time. With half of Season 4 being set in a completely different continent and our characters have aged by four years, the different art style really makes sense – especially with the change in tone. MAPPA had a tough challenge with animating an entire season within six months – especially when you consider that a single scene of Levi escaping from Kenny’s squad in season 3 took WIT Studios months to animate. There’s no wonder MAPPA have opted to use CGI for this season and it still looks good. The titan battles are as well designed as ever, with the colossal titan having a vast improvement on its animation compared to the final fight in season 3.
And the decision to split the series in two was definitely the right one. As this season was only confirmed to have sixteen episodes to begin with, there were fears that the ending would either be rushed, unfinished or be finalised with a movie. Luckily, a second part was announced right after the final episode – and the release of the final manga chapter earlier this month means that we don’t have to wait six months to find out what happens if we don’t mind reading the manga instead. This was well organised and a relief to know MAPPA will get enough time to finish the project right (much unlike Game of Thrones).
For those who have read the Manga, they know these final episodes are going to be insane once Part 2 reaches us in Winter. I can’t wait to see the ending of this masterpiece of a story animated and shown to the world.