This Attack on Titan review contains spoilers.
Attack on Titan Season 4 Episode 12
“Of course, it would be nice if this is all just my wild speculation.”
A major tenet of this final season of Attack on Titan is that every episode has played around with where the truth lies, who the heroes truly are, and what the dangers of an unmitigated God complex entail. However, “Guides” allows these ideas to evolve in order to demonstrate the chilling dangers of propaganda and rebellion from a whole new and terrifying angle. “Guides” explores strong individuals that reach their breaking points, whether that’s expressed through raw anger or terrified obedience. All of Eldia and Marley’s recent actions set in motion a very dangerous chain of events that push certain characters, including Eren, to what might finally be the point of no return.
Attack on Titan’s previous installment, “Counterfeit,” looked at the dangers of propaganda and brainwashing in the form of Gabi and Falco’s reaction to the Eldian family that opened their hearts to them. The two are largely passive, but “Guides” breaks down a much more horrifying example of this idea when a dangerous uprising forms as a result of Eren’s captivity. These past few episodes have introduced several new characters that have been entrenched in Eldia’s inner circle for years, even if they’re still relatively ciphers to the audience.
Yelena and Floch have been two of the most compelling of these new characters, but they demonstrate their value in a truly chilling fashion. Eren is still a prisoner at the mercy of Dot Pixis and Darius Zackley. “Guides” steadily shows insurgency brewing throughout the episode and the rage that people feel over Eren’s incarceration. This reaches its boiling point when Zackley and several others are murdered through a bombing that’s meant to help facilitate Eren’s escape.
It’s one thing when a character like Eren or Reiner have their morals corrupted, but it’s new and disturbing territory in Attack on Titan to see regular individuals driven to such violent rebellion and treat it like progress. The group that helps Eren escape and form this new counter-organization are all new Survey Corps members and it feels very intentional that the next generation of this prestigious group are impressionable anarchists. It’s hard to not draw parallels between this riot against Zackley and what recently happened at the Capitol.
It’s obviously an unintentional coincidence and Eren is far from being a Trump-like figure, but this storyline becomes more prescient since this reactionary attitude is unfortunately still alive and well. Eren might still be the hero and maybe his plan will end this war, but there’s no denying that his actions have inspired these conspirators to take innocent lives–almost gleefully–and it’s frightening stuff. “Devote your hearts” is meant to be an optimistic chant, but it rings like a haunting war cry.
It’s also extremely effective to have Mikasa and Armin–Eren’s real friends–lost in doubt over how to help Eren when these renegades just blow stuff up to solve the problem. It doesn’t just place Eren’s future in a volatile place as he aligns with these loose cannons, but it makes Armin and Mikasa feel increasingly irrelevant and detached from Eren. Armin tries to remain optimistic, but it feels more and more like he’s really just trying to convince himself.
Eren’s cheerleading squad consists of fewer of his old allies with each passing episode and he instead becomes more receptive to the new scouts. Floch, Yelena, and company blindly treat Eren like a God rather than pragmatically examine his actions. Their devotion has already reached a frightening level where any sort of dissenting opinion becomes cause for execution. Their proclamation that Eren is “the only one that can save the Eldian empire” feels more like a threat than a bright disposition.
The scene where Eren graciously accepts his new position of leadership within this rebellion is dripping with pain. It feels like Anakin’s transition to Darth Vader and the sequence very intentionally frames Eren in an idolizing way where he almost looks like a completely different character. Mikasa and Armin’s strained, wavering support for Eren echoes over this moment and makes it even more foreboding. Hiroyuki Sawano and Kohta Yamamoto rarely have a false note when it comes to Attack on Titan’s score, but “Guides” features a different type of ornamented music during its concluding scenes that crescendo in such a triumphant manner. It helps accentuate the line in the sand that’s now been drawn between Eren and his former friends.
Attack on Titan has taken a few episodes to set the table and properly flesh out the major plan that’s in motion, but “Guides” is the aggressive return that fans have been waiting for. The installment is suspenseful and emotional in the best possible ways, especially when Eren’s story is viewed as an extension of the ideas present with Gabi’s rebellion in the previous episode. They’re both set to embark on major endeavors where they’re driven by their ego. They may both function as the eponymous “guides” that are referred to in the episode’s title, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re leading their parties in the right direction.