This Attack on Titan review contains spoilers.
Attack on Titan Season 4 Episode 28
“I’ll kill them all…I will wipe every one of them off the face of this world until none of them remain.”
The primary source of tension across Attack on Titan’s final season is what’s really going on in Eren’s mind. Some fans of Attack on Titan have been unable to reconcile with the reality that Eren Jaeger is about to finish his Lelouch Lamperouge/Walter White-level evolution from plucky protagonist into ultimate evil. It’s a disturbing truth to accept, which is exactly why this introspective look into the people who surround Eren’s life–rather than looking at Eren himself–has made for such a powerful structure to these final episodes.
Eren’s dubious intentions are rich enough territory to explore in the anime’s endgame, but an equally uncomfortable question is posed in whether Eren’s former friends are capable of killing him when confronted with this fate. “The Dawn of Humanity” takes one last look at Eren’s humanity and the person he once was before it decides whether there’s anything left worth saving.
Eren’s presence has loomed heavy over every second of Attack on Titan’s final year, yet the character has been absent for nearly half of this 12-episode season. It’s been a jarring, albeit necessary shift for Attack on Titan to distance itself from Eren, all of which makes his return–even if it’s through flashbacks–in “The Dawn of Humanity” hit so much harder. The structure of this finale actually feels like a tribute to Eren and the extreme dichotomy that exists inside of him. The episode’s first half is restrained, friendly, and optimistic, while the second portion that’s set in the present descends into bloodshed and darkness. It’s the perfect balance for an Attack on Titan finale.
“The Dawn of Humanity” is such a beautiful encapsulation of everything that makes Attack on Titan such a masterpiece and why it’s going to be such a disappointment when the series is over. The decompression period that occurs at Marley might come across as frivolous, but there’s so much joy to be had in Sashai’s introduction to ice cream or Levi’s awkward interaction with a clown who doesn’t understand personal boundaries. It’s incredible that this finale makes time for these simple celebrations of character just as much as it caters towards all-out chaos. It’s extremely satisfying to get a subdued sequence where Eren, Mikasa, and Armin irresponsibly get drunk and pass out together in each other’s arms while Mikasa and Armin are forced to mentally prepare for Eren’s execution in the present.
The questions that “The Dawn of Humanity” asks its characters over their current motivations all resonate strongly, especially as individuals like Annie succumb to increasing ambivalence. There are some enlightening scenes where Eren begins to pull the threads of his plan together as he connects with Yelena, Floch, Historia, and Zeke. Different versions of Eren emerge in each of these conversations and it’s another brilliant demonstration of the multiversal game of chess that Eren is engaged in. These flashbacks are crucial keys towards Eren’s goal to erase this cycle of violence through sheer will, but they’re careful to not reveal too much information or fully expose Eren’s truth.
There’s a powerful discussion that takes place between Eren and Historia about the Rumbling and the future of the world that speaks volumes for how difficult it’s become for Eren to view himself as the villain in this war. Eren casually offers to alter Historia’s memories through the Founding Titan’s powers so that her conscience doesn’t have to weigh down on her. It’s a ghastly “solution” to their debate, but it’s such an effective example of the indomitable pride that fuels Eren. He enters an even greater level of faultlessness where all of his decisions are justified. Anyone who doesn’t side with him can be brainwashed into compliance.
This final season of Attack on Titan has tasked animation studio MAPPA with a lofty goal to match the level of visual bliss that WIT Studio brought to Attack on Titan’s first three seasons. The battle climax in “Retrospective” marked an all-time high for MAPPA’s animation, which makes their God-tier quality of work in “The Dawn of Humanity” even more gratifying. The extra week that MAPPA took to pull this episode together was clearly not squandered. The opening blows to this attack are stunning to take in and this battle plays out with such an epic sense of scale on every level. Glorious wide shots detail this assault in all its anarchic glory instead of quick close-ups that diminish the carnage. Hundreds of lives have been lost in Attack on Titan, yet these casualties hit differently as soldiers literally disintegrate into the bloody mist of generational hatred.
This massacre is horrific on multiple levels, but “The Dawn of Humanity” presents some especially grim examples of Titan brutality. There’s a sequence where a ship’s crew get boiled alive because the steam from the Titans that travel underneath them heat up the water to such untenable temperatures. Titans have always been terrifying, but they’ve never seemed as invincible and infinite as they do when under Eren’s control. This season literally ends with a Titan crushing the viewer and leaving them in a place of hopelessness.
One of the most satisfying elements of the final season of Attack on Titan is how previous themes and mission statements have become warped to reflect the opposite of their original intentions. The guiding force that’s pushed Eren Jaeger forward ever since Attack on Titan’s very first episode is his pledge that he’ll “kill them all” and “wipe every one of them off the face of this Earth.” This mantra echoes through Eren’s head in the episode’s concluding moments as he and his Wall Titan army advance forward on mankind. What’s so chilling as Eren reinforces his motivations here is that the broader nature of his warcry remains the same, yet the specifics are skewed. Eren’s threat is initially aimed at the Titans, but it’s now a warning against humanity itself as he leads a mob of monsters to demolish civilization.
There is no shortage of haunting images throughout Attack on Titan, but “The Dawn of Humanity” deserves respect for the unprecedented level of terror that it conjures during the culminating moments of the season. Most of the episodes from this final season have gone out on monumental cliffhangers. However, it’s a bold move to conclude on humanity’s collective horror and to underscore Eren’s villainy during the end of the season rather than some inspirational act of teamwork from the heroes. “The Dawn of Humanity” begins as an important reminder of Eren’s benevolence, but proceeds to then shatter that illusion and prepare the characters, and audience, for the reality that lies ahead for them: Eren is the enemy.
Some audiences may feel slightly cheated that this “final” episode is merely another temporary interlude until Attack on Titan: Final Season, Part 3 arrives sometime in 2023. It’s exciting that audiences will still have a little longer with these characters, their world, and that this isn’t truly the end. Fortunately, “The Dawn of Humanity” feels substantial on its own and that it’s not just a setup for the real finale. The series’ apocalyptic stakes have never been greater and this closing installment creates palpable anticipation for the final showdown that’s to come.
See you in 2023, subjects of Ymir.