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The Tragedy of Eren Yeager: How the Character Changes Throughout "Attack on Titan"

Jamal is a graduate of Northeastern Seminary and writes on a broad range of topics. His writings are based on other points of view.

Courtesy of MAPPA Studios

Courtesy of MAPPA Studios

The final season of Attack on Titan has many fans debating on what has happened to the series’ protagonist, Eren Yeager. His new-found willingness to kill civilians has stunned many viewers of the show, besides the in-series cast of the Survey Corps. Many have theorized that this “new” Eren Yeager is nothing but a regression back into his younger self from the beginning of the series. Is it though?

Courtesy of Wit Studios.

Courtesy of Wit Studios.

The Boy Who Hated Titans

Attack on Titan is the story of Eren Yeager. He starts out as an idealistic young boy who dreamed of going beyond the walls of their home of Shinganshina. His idealism is stripped away with the first assault of the Colossal and Armored Titans, leading to the fall Shinganshina and death of Eren’s mother, amongst many others.

The orphan, along with his close friends Armin and Mikasa, join the Survey Corps. His purpose is motivated by an intense rage to avenge his family upon the monsters who harmed them. He continues with this tunnel vision until the Uprising arc, where he and his comrade Historia are kidnapped by her family, descendants of the original King of the Walls. Their goal being to retake the power of the Founding Titan back from Eren Yeager, who himself had taken it by the willing self-sacrifice of his father, Grisha.

Despite their eventual rescue, the experience both humbled and traumatized the young soldier, who had up until now believed he was the key to the salvation of humanity within the walls. The truth of how he actually came about his powers causes him to become more cooperative and appreciative of his comrades and leads to the Survey Corps eventual victory over the titans on what has now come to be known as Paradis Island.

Yet this victory holds no peace for Eren, as he has now become aware of the true enemy over the sea, the nation of Marley. It’s during the interim four years between then and the Battle of Liberio that Eren undergoes his change.

It’s easy to see Eren as having always been a monster. Even before the fall of Shinganshina, he showed a natural leaning towards extreme violence, such as when he killed the murders of Mikasa’s family. Despite the somewhat shonen depiction of his anger as emo outbursts, there are moments where the true depths of his rage come out.

That said, I don’t believe the Eren Yeager who was an angry orphan is the same Eren Yeager who manipulated an early war between Paradis Island and Marley. This is why.

"The road to hell is paved with good intentions"

— - unknown

The Man Who Accepted Damnation

By time of the Survey Corp assault of Liberio, Eren is much more composed of himself and doesn’t give into the tantrums and rants that he had been known for. His conversation with Riener is important for this reason. He’s patient and bides his time, gaining information on Marley and its people. He even comes not to hate them and acknowledges that not all of them are bad people. When the battle does begin, he is still eerily calm, not going out of control as he had in the past, and is able to recognize key moments of the battle to swing it in the Survey Corps’ favor. Even the sight of dead children does not deter him.

The only time where he does display some of his younger traits is when he hears his longtime friend, Sasha’s, last words being “meat.” What seems to start out as laughter is actually a panic attack that he had one other time four years past when another longtime family friend, Hannes, was eaten by the same titan that ate his mother and despite Eren’s best efforts had been powerless to stop it.

Younger Eren was never subtle. He lost control at the meer site of a titan. He was quick to criticize anyone who showed lack of commitment in exterminating the titans. His titan powers only enable this rage further, repeatedly stomping titans into paste during the Battle of Trost. When he is captured by Riener and Bettold, comrades and friends whom turn out to not only be traitors, but the very titans who caused the fall of Shinganshina, he swears in a very cold and murderous fashion to make them suffer “in the worst way possible.” Young Eren was motivated by blind feelings.

However, I would argue that this incarnation ‘died’ during his captivity with the Riess family. Finding out that that his own father committed mass murder to gain the power of the Founding titan like Berthold and Riener, and that he himself then devoured him in a blacked out memory puts out that righteous fury forever.

From then on, he’s motivated by the protection of his friends, no longer believing in self-centered goals of vengeful satisfaction. His memory download from touching Historia only further distances Eren from his original self.

Eren Yeager now acts out of a sense of great burden to defend Paradis and his friends. Again this is why the conversation with Riener is the key to understanding this new Eren Yeager. No longer blinded by self-centered rage, he fully knows the consequences of what he’s about to do. He understands that there are innocent people in Liberio who are going to be killed because of him. He knows that he has manipulated his friends and comrades in the Survey Corps into a battle they didn’t want to fight yet. He knows that they will no longer trust him and that he will no longer be considered a soldier anymore because of his actions.

And he continues with it anyway.

Courtesy of Wit Studios

Courtesy of Wit Studios

The Road to Hell

Eren is haunted by the memories of his father through the Attack Titan’s abilities. Through them, the son understands that there are some goals that cannot be achieved without bloodshed and that it is extremely tragic, but that he believes is necessary. The knowledge of both past and future becomes a great burden that not only weighs on him, but also increases. It is a mounting burden that he carries alone because no one else can understand it or has seen the memories he’s seen. That while his friends cling to little moments of hope where some Marleyans overcome their prejudice, only Eren sees with a far-sight that the majority do not. Especially those in power.

This gravitas, this growing despair, is what is driving him to the familiar extremes, doing things he never would have done when he first joined the military. Yet there is no rage in his violence as there had been before. He is not relishing in the blood like he did during the Battle of Trost. No rants or tirades about revenge. This is who Riener is confronted with when reuniting with Eren four years later. A man who knows there’s no glory in what he’s about to do and that he is already damned and has accepted that destiny.

The irony in this is that this makes Eren Yeager more dangerous than his younger self ever was. Both are motivated, but older Eren is motivated by something higher than himself, driving him to sacrifice everything he once held dear. Whereas the younger version may have had an aversion to extreme violence, but he also had limits. As he is now, those limits are gone for of what he feels he must do. Eren absolutely has regret. But he just continues to “move forward.”

© 2021 Jamal Smith

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