I am a Political Science graduate, major in International Relations and Foreign Service, with an interest in anime, religion and philosophy
This episode showcases the intricate political writing within Hajime Isayama's masterpiece through the building up of a fascist revolt after the fall of the military chief and a darkening of the protagonist by carefully distancing him from the rest of the cast. Hayashi's direction of the anime also allows for greater intrigue over the motivations of Zeke, as well as much foreboding over the uncertain future of Paradis Island. Dark clouds descend over the sunset as we journey through the twilight of Attack on Titan: The Final Season.
The Fall of Darius Zackly
As premier of the three military branches, Darius Zackly held significant control over the regime and acts as the chief diplomat through his interactions with Kiyomi Azumabito, the diplomatic envoy from Hizuru. While not much is shown of him, the episode reveals all we need to know about his governance.
For one, Zackly is incredibly cautious with information. He has ordered all the branches to ensure that the media does not know of Eren's imprisonment or the extent of his actions and with good reason. Media censorship would be a chilling sign of authoritarianism, but Eren's actions could threaten the stability of the still-consolidating regime that has put Historia Reiss on the throne. Furthermore, Eren's attack on Marley could encourage radical movements calling for a full-scale invasion of Marley with the intention to eliminate the threat. In a time when the entire world is poised to end Paradis, this radicalism should be cut at the root.
However, there is one aspect of Zackly's regime that reveals how even this justified censorship is coated with darker layers. When Mikasa and Armin approached him, Zackly forbade them from talking to Eren. The two noticed a certain chair by his desk. This was the same instrument to torture one of the nobles that headed the previous regime. The chair was a symbol of Zackly's sadism and petty desires. Yet the conversation leaned towards Eren potentially needing to be "convinced" to reveal his connection with Zeke and Yelena's volunteers. It might even involve the special chair. Ever since the Uprising, Zackly has revealed more malice than the other, somewhat noble participants. While Pixis desires the common good and Erwin seeks the truth of the world, Zackly simply wants to enjoy putting those above him out of their misery. Given that he has already extracted that pleasure from the former Assembly, he can now cement his control over the current state of affairs. To do this, he would also need to use the same dehumanizing measures to remind dissidents to keep in line.
It is no wonder, then, that he was a target for assassination.
The death of Darius Zackly was the signal for citizens to step up and proclaim their desire to build a new Eldian Empire. A cult of personality is formed around Eren Yeager, the imprisoned and "wronged" savior of the island, as the new leader and protector of the Eldian race. They are the Yeagerists and they are a familiar sight to our world.
The Yeagerists and the Rise of Fascism
"Guides" is the most politically-charged part of the early stage of the "War for Paradis" arc. Act 1 of this arc has cleverly set up the pieces, causes, and triggers for the rise of Eren Yeager's new role in the story. In Episode 9, the insecurity towards the Marleyean volunteers and prisoners of war creates a tense atmosphere of distrust even among the military, planting doubts in the people over their trust in the regime. Episode 10 follows this with their desperation to form proper diplomatic relations with the outside world as an alternative to Zeke's rumbling plan. A forced evacuation of a section of the Walls calls to question the intentions of the military behind their new alliances. Episode 11 focuses on the micro-narrative of Gabi's indoctrinated racism clashing with the unjustified use of Titans against innocent villagers while preparing us for the inevitable boiling point from the military's decision to keep Eren detained for provoking Marley. Hange's own secrecy of the matter worsens the once stronger ties the Scout Regiment has with the common people and journalists.
A combination of media censorship, doubt over the regime's actions, lack of vertical accountability, and disregard for civil rights results in a distrust of institutions, the rule of law, and authority. This is the breeding ground for any revolt to overthrow corrupt regimes yet it is the same place where extreme authoritarian tendencies are born.
Isayama builds up the tense atmosphere and conflicting feelings of our POV characters Hange, Armin, and Mikasa to great effect. Keeping us far from Eren and even putting Mikasa and Armin in direct danger, he tells us how this movement is a threat to the peace the protagonists seek. Marley may be the enemy but the political instability brought about by Eren's supporters will only divide the island and put the lives of ordinary citizens at greater risk than they already were.
More Questions Than Answers
Apart from the decision to keep Zeke's motives a secret, the anime also highlights Yelena's contradictory goals. She leads the Volunteers and has organized the Marleyean prisoners of war, giving them jobs to make a new, meaningful life on the island.
The conversation between Dot Pixis and Yelena is a clever showcase of information control. Pixis is aware that Yelena is telling him the things he wants to hear and lets her know via a pretty great line that to lie, "sometimes you have to mix the truth into it." Was Yelena speaking to Eren for personal reasons or was there more to it?
Hange's visit to Onyakopon adds more shades of grey to Yelena's whole M.O. She has killed those who have doubted the cause they fought for, yet in Paradis, she has appealed for Marleyeans in Paradis to be treated humanely.
Mikasa and Armin were on edge as they witnessed the lead-up to the Yeagerist revolt. After their visit to Zackly's office, they see some officers from the military, confirming that they will decide to take away Eren's Titan powers. Before Mikasa could barge in to appeal for Eren once more, Armin stops her. And in the nick of time, the Premier's office explodes thunderously. Mikasa shoves Armin out of the way but the two were still in the middle of this dangerous situation.
If Eren had a part to play in Zackly death, would the risk posed to his dear friends' lives have presented a problem for him? Of course, none of this was within expectation but the fact that Eren is taking radical action that puts his friends and the Scouts in danger is telling of how far down he has gone.
From here, we do not know about Eren's solution to the Paradis question that everyone in Marley and in the island is wondering about. It was clear that Eren and nobody else found no middle way between Historia becoming Zeke's successor and using the Rumbling to deter the Marleyean threat.
What is clear, though, is that, after the escape of Eren from prison, we, as an audience, will look towards new eyes. Eren is no longer our point of view. Everyone else is.