Attack on Titan returns after a week off (due to an earthquake in Japan that interrupted the airing of episode 73) with “Savagery” and “Sole Salvation”, two episodes that are completely different in tone yet do more to answer questions than virtually any season 4 episode prior.
I feel like watching “Savagery” and “Sole Salvation” back-to-back was honestly the best way to do it. Though in concept they seem opposed, they both focus on Zeke and his grand plan, which is not at all what I expected it to be.
I’ll start with “Savagery”, which is an aptly-titled episode if ever there was one. It was savage both in the traditional sense, in which Levi was forced to butcher 30 of his soldiers because they drank the spinal fluid wine and were turned into Titans, and savage in the more metaphorical sense, with Eren absolutely wrecking his long-standing friendships with both Armin and Mikasa.
It’s hard to give up on Eren, after spending so long with him as the guy to root for (even when he was annoying and yelling everything in the early episodes), but I genuinely sat there watching his conversation with Mikasa and Armin wondering what in the ever-loving hell was wrong with him. The cold callousness with which he dismisses his best friends was unnerving. Telling Mikasa that he’s always hated her? Savagely beating Armin? This is a man who is just totally dead inside. What happened to him?
He fully admits that all of his choices have been his own, and then accuses the two of them of being manipulated – Armin by Bertholdt’s memories (which is why he continually visits Annie) and Mikasa by her Ackerman blood.
I remember that Mikasa and Levi being Ackermans was meant to be a big deal, but I never really understood why. Eren explains it a little bit in “Savagery” – the Ackermans were “designed” to protect the royal family at all costs – but it isn’t until “Sole Salvation” that you realize that one of the powers is the Founding Titan is to rewrite the DNA of Eldians. So the Ackerman family had something done to them to make them into the perfect bodyguards. Levi had previously asked Mikasa if she had a “trigger” event. She, for lack of a better word, imprinted on Eren instead of the king, and it stands to reason that Levi likely imprinted on Erwin. It’s why they are so loyal.
Levi was eventually able to overcome that protective instinct when he chose to save Armin instead of Erwin, but then it could be argued that it was in Erwin’s best interest to let him die.
My heart broke for Levi in “Savagery”, even more so than it did in “Children of the Forest”, which just showed him losing faith. Levi, despite his fighting skills and cold way of speaking, does care about people. The fact that it’s essentially his choice – bringing the wine – that led to the deaths of his soldiers is just mean, and him being able to see the faces of his comrades in their Titan forms was like a gut punch. But Levi is still Levi, and he does what he has to do in order to stop Zeke.
Honestly, if anyone is going to survive a Titan apocalypse, it will be Levi.
Levi versus Zeke round two was brutal, as expected of someone with Levi’s skill. But holy cow, Zeke literally tearing Titans apart and using them as flesh boulders is a whole new level of disgusting. As much as I love getting to watch Levi kick ass and take names (especially after weeks of him sitting by a fire drinking tea), that scene was hard to stomach.
“Sole Salvation” takes us on a detour through Zeke’s memories, and we get to see his version of what happened back in Liberio, after getting Grisha’s perspective back in season 3. Let’s be real, here, that episode actually made me feel sorry for this dude, and those are words I never thought I’d say. Grisha was just a terrible father, planning to use Zeke from the very beginning, forcing him into Warrior training and basically giving up on him when he didn’t perform well enough to stand out. (Ironically, it was his poor performance that brought him to the attention of Ksaver, which is what led to him being the Beast Titan.)
Poor Zeke must have been so confused, getting the Marleyan propaganda from his grandparents and the Eldian propaganda from his parents. I originally wondered what could have made him turn on his parents so young, but after “Sole Salvation” it really does make sense. His parents really put the fate of their entire civilization on the shoulders of their child. It also helps to know that he didn’t want to, but that he was convinced to do so by a man who was more his father than his biological father.
We also, at long last, have learned Zeke’s ultimate plan, and it’s not at all what I thought it would be. Ksaver was studying the Titans and learned some interesting things – like the fact that the Founding Titan can rewrite Eldian DNA. It occurs to Zeke that if they can rewrite Eldian DNA, they can make all Eldians barren, so that no new Eldians will be born, and Titans will eventually die out. This becomes his goal – that and saving Eren, once he learns they are brothers, from any brainwashing done by Grisha. Eren ultimately agrees to the plan.
Still, I can’t believe that this is what Eren wants, or that he meant what he said to Armin and Mikasa, no matter how cruelly it was delivered. It seems counterpoint to everything he’s wanted up until now. Even in “Savagery”, he talks about freedom and how important it is to have choice. He’s given speeches about how he has the right to live in the world and how he wants to destroy his enemies. Zeke’s plan is the antithesis of his entire philosophy. Is he, perhaps, the one who is manipulating Zeke?
Listen, I don’t want to tell you how to do your jobs, but if the Founding Titan can rewrite Eldian DNA, can’t they just…make them not turn into Titans anymore?
Also, how does Historia’s pregnancy fit into this? Also, give us Historia, for crying out loud. It’s terrible that one of the few female characters in this series is literally currently barefoot and pregnant and just sitting in a chair somewhere.
There is still so much that we don’t know about the history of this world and the Titans themselves. Until “Sole Salvation” introduced Ksaver, it never occurred to me that there were people who actually studied the Titans. Are there more? Or was Ksaver the only person interested in researching?
I’ve speculated before that I don’t think we’re getting the whole truth. Grisha’s version of events it the most biased in the story, because he is blinded by his hatred of Marley; not to mention, he admitted that he couldn’t read the language of the books that he found. But I also believe that Marley has inflated what happened for propaganda purposes. Nor do I fully believe what Willy said in his speech in “Declaration of War”, because he also was after a specific purpose. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. I just hope we learn it at some point.
There is only one episode left, allegedly, but I have to believe that there will be a second half to this season. There is no way they can adequately conclude this story in only one episode. Cross your fingers and your toes, people.
Author: Jamie Sugah
Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.
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