This Attack on Titan review contains spoilers.
Attack on Titan Season 3 Episode 21
“After all, you started this story, didn’t you?”
Sins of the father and generational trauma are topics that have been especially relevant over the course of Attack on Titan’s past few episodes. They’re themes that always bubble under the surface of this series and this is a show that is so often in conversation with its past, but “Attack Titan” is the purest take on this yet.
The avalanche of events that happen through Grisha’s life and arguably even everything that happens in Attack on Titan are all the result of Grisha trying to do the right thing for his people and how terribly wrong that goes. As things get worse for Grisha, he works harder to pull himself out of this hole, but only finds that hole getting bigger and taking down more people with it. “Attack Titan” features the passing of responsibility between several individuals across generations, with the buck presently falling onto Eren. The difference with Eren is that he may finally be able to put an end to all of this.
“Attack Titan” continues forward with the fascinating events from Grisha’s past that lead to him finding a home within the Walls. It’s an episode that’s perhaps not as dense as last week’s “That Day,” so even though there’s still a ton that happens, the material gets a little more room to breathe.
Kruger’s epic takedown of the Marleyan forces is a particularly satisfying way to kick thing off. It’s not only beautifully animated, but it’s such a cathartic finish to all of the harm that Gross and his men did. This bout of destruction is also particularly fun because Kruger’s Attack Titan demolishes steamboats. This is the first time that any sort of water-based vehicles have appeared in the series and with the ocean looking to play a big part in what’s to come next, it’s exciting to think about how Titans fare in water and how that could effect upcoming strategies.
There’s a lot more Eldian history that comes under the microscope in this episode, but more than anything else this is a story about the reluctant bond between Grisha and Kruger. Kruger formally introduces himself as ErenKruger and explains that he’s one of the Nine Titans of Ymir (each of these Nine Titans also have official names). Grisha feels tremendous guilt over being the only member of the Eldian Restorationists that Kruger saves, but it’s become clear that Kruger oddly sees a lot of himself in Grisha.
The two have led very similar lives of compromise, both of which have seen them hurting their fellow man for the greater good. Kruger’s seen just as much death and pain in his life as Grisha has and “Attack Titan” is another excellent example of how this series can create deep sympathy for former villains. Not only is there a kinship between these two, but Kruger views Grisha as his successor, for both his cause and his powerful gift.
Some major Titan news gets dropped when Kruger explains that the reason that he needs Grisha to take over this mission is that everyone that becomes a Titan will die after thirteen years and Kruger’s thirteen years are up. Kruger wants Grisha to take over his Attack Titan powers and use them to storm Paradis Island and absorb the Founding Titan powers, lest the King eradicate Eldia out of fear. This thirteen-year time limit makes becoming a Titan even more of a death sentence for Grisha, but it’s also depressing news that Eren and Armin also now have expiration dates (Eren’s only got eight years left!).
Kruger may see the parallels between himself and Grisha, but Grisha struggles to admit it and accept this mission. He still insists that Dina would have made a better candidate due to her royal bloodline, but the bleak reality that Kruger paints for Grisha where Marley would have turned her into a baby factory to exploit her heritage actually makes her Titan fate seem much more humane. Kruger’s finally able to get through to Grisha when he breaks down the domino effect of how everything since his decision to leave the internment zone with Fay has resulted in the destruction of the Eldian Restorationists. Kruger knows that the rage that Grisha shares against Marley is as strong and pure as his own and Grisha accepts the responsibility.
What’s so wonderful about Grisha finishing Kruger’s cause is that Grisha not only now understands the docile actions that his father took in order to keep his family alive, but he actually respects him for it and hates himself for not being able to do the same. It’s a moving moment of hindsight for Grisha, especially when he reflects on how his “brave” actions as kid have only ruined everything and decimated his family. It’s an arc for the character that I wasn’t expecting when young Grisha first popped up.
It’s satisfying to see how much Kruger and Grisha’s relationship grows over the course of this episode. It’s never made explicit here, but it’s super touching that Kruger obviously had such an impact on Grisha that he names his son after him. He’s a symbol of Grisha entering the next stage of his life and correcting the faults of the past. Grisha owes his life to Eren Kruger, so why shouldn’t he honor his friend through his kin?
By far the episode’s most shocking moment is when Kruger’s goodbye to Grisha includes him hoping that the mission’s a success so Mikasa and Armin can survive, even though they’re not even born yet. This implies even wonkier effects going on with the collective memory of Subjects of Ymir where time is anything but linear. It’d be fascinating if Eren’s wishes in the future somehow trigger Kruger and Grisha in the past, making this all a causal loop.
Like the previous episode, “Attack Titan” splits its time in the past and the present. Eren continues to recall Grisha’s memories and along with the thirteen-year rule, there’s also serious information gained about the mysterious “Coordinate” that’s repeatedly come up in the past. It’s fairly complicated, but apparently when someone with Titan powers dies without transferring their abilities to a new host, their power gets transferred to a new Subject of Ymir, unbeknownst to them.
However, all of these Subjects of Ymir are linked through invisible paths that meet at a nexus, which is a giant hub for Titan powers and memories. This nexus is the “Coordinate,” which is where all of these paths meet at the Founding Titan himself. This makes the Founding Titan even more of a valuable figure since access to the Coordinate may allow access to any other Subject of Ymir’s memories or abilities? There’s still a lot to unpack, but answers are finally coming from Grisha’s books and memories.
Eren and company share all of this information along with the rest of the contents of Grisha’s basement with Queen Historia when they’re taken to trial. The entire circumstances behind this trial and possible execution feel a little meandering, but it’s appreciated to see Attack on Titan keep up appearances and feature the appropriate consequences to actions, even if their outcome is obvious.
Eren also makes a major discovery when he connects the dots and figures out why he was temporarily able to access the Founding Titan’s powers. He remembers that this took place after he came in contact with Dina Fritz’ Titan, which leads him to believe that touching someone from the royal bloodline after they’ve become a Titan triggers this phenomenon. Eren keeps this news to himself because sharing it would likely mean Historia losing her life in the name of experimentation, but this very well could be the detail that helps Eldia come out on top.
Eren’s Founding Titan theory is the biggest news to come out of their royal meeting, but “Attack Titan” also paints a broken love story between Historia and Ymir when Ymir’s letter finally gets read. Curiously, the happenstance nature of Ymir’s life is almost the inverse of Grisha’s existence. Ymir begins life as a beggar, gets taken into a cult and turned into a weird God, and then consistently faces the brunt of life. She becomes a Titan, luck fluctuates, and she learns to relish the chaotic nature of life. This is yet another human piece to this evolving jigsaw puzzle, but it helps fill in some necessary gaps (that flashback to season two’s “Children,” in this fresh context, is fantastic foreshadowing). It’s also one more example of love that gets cut short due to the horrors of war.
“Attack Titan” is another jam-packed installment of the series that effectively closes the book on Grisha’s past (for now, at least) while it also makes some significant headway in the present. Once more, the answers that come forward in this episode are all extremely satisfying and Attack on Titan knows how to properly balance its emotion and plotting. It’s a tall task to fill in hundreds of years of backstory while also playing around with a cast of characters that’s almost entirely new, but Attack on Titan makes it look easy. Now let’s watch Eren finish what Grisha and Kruger started.
Daniel Kurland is a published writer, comedian, and critic whose work can be read on Den of Geek, Vulture, Bloody Disgusting, and ScreenRant. Daniel knows that the owls are not what they seem, that Psycho II is better than the original, and he’s always game to discuss Space Dandy. His perma-neurotic thought process can be followed at @DanielKurlansky.