The first two episodes of Attack on Titan this season have been excellent so far, but they’ve been missing something. Something big. Something titanic. That’s right—besides about 10 seconds of Eren trying out his titan powers, and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it flashback of Connie’s mother, there haven’t been any titans at all this season. That’s according to plan, as the show transitions to a new enemy: humans.
Episode two focuses hard on this shift. Levi makes his escape from Kenny and his soldiers, who are stealing away Eren and Historia, and in the battle that ensues, Levi takes no prisoners. Our former cadets must also follow the same pattern (and indeed, follow Levi’s order), to start fighting and killing fellow humans. At one point, Jean hesitates to kill one of Kenny’s soldiers, who then gains the upperhand and points her gun at him—she is instead shot by Armin, though, who makes his first kill. He later becomes sick thinking of his deed.
The wrap-up discussion that Armin, Jean, Levi, and the rest have is meaningful. Jean, who previously resisted the charge, changes his mind, saying that he wouldn’t hesitate anymore. Armin, unsurprisingly, goes philosophical and considers what kind of person his victim was and how it seems there could have been a non-violent way out of it. And Levi refuses to comfort his troops, and insinuates that they might be the ones wrong when all is said and done.
Armin didn’t have time to think. And now, he and Jean and Mikasa and all the rest are in a battle against other humans, like it or not, and they’re certain to continue down that route. Titans are certainly still their enemies, but in the near term at least, it seems that all their kills will be human in nature, and in a world where war between humans (this is all one country after all) is uncommon, this is extremely distasteful. But down that route they go.
Sometimes we’re taken down paths we’d rather not go, but find ourselves on anyway, unable to stop the avalanche we’ve cascaded down. I remember this happening to me at work once, where I felt I couldn’t stop the firing of an employee I was managing—everything happened so quickly and I thought what I was doing was probably right, even though it also felt wrong.
Last week, I saw someone in a similar situation—she confided in me that she didn’t want to go along with a vote taken at a meeting at which I presented, but just wasn’t sure what to do, and felt pressure to go along.
I think it’s easy to assume that we’ll stand up and have integrity in just the right moments. The hope is that we can be that person who stops the cogs of motion when needed to do what’s right, or least to put a pause in the system until we can think things through. Unfortunately, that won’t always happen, and when it doesn’t, I think what happens in our own wrap-up discussions, whether literal or in our own minds, is critical. In those times, we can slow down and make better decisions, sometimes those that can reverse course and bring everything to a tidy conclusion. And in other instances, the consequences have already occurred and we just have to do the best we can from here on out.
That’s exactly what Armin will have to do now. He can’t bring the woman he killed back to life. But he’s strong, so much stronger than he seems—and whatever route he goes from now on in this fight, it will be one he believes in, having evaluated the course of action and determined it the best way to go. And sometimes, “from here on out” is the best we can do.
Attack on Titan season 3 is streaming on Crunchyroll