Kenny the Ripper was the strongest man in the world. The oldest living Ackermann, all the power in the world was his birthright, and every action he took was to further this. However, cornered by Uri Reiss, the actual strongest being in the world, Kenny found this titan begging for an apology to the weakling whom his family had wronged. The rule of power was broken.
Freedom and the nature of power are Attack on Titan’s two central themes, with a lot of room for intersectionality. If Uri and the founders before him had this godly power, it must mean that they have been the freest people in the world, right? Yet Uri’s actions seem to contradict themselves. If he bears so much guilt, why does he say that he cannot die yet? With all this power, how is he not free to die on his own terms?
Kenny’s relationship with Uri sets this lack of trust within the power of the founder in our minds. Ymir Fritz is said to have been the most powerful Titan in existence, once the bearer of all nine as well as the power to control minds, yet we learn she was a slave, both before and after her powers, killed to protect the king who never mourned her.
The most confusing and hard-to-establish element of Attack on Titan is the way its time works. It’s important to understand that everything you perceive and interpret from this show depends on how you understand one essential moment.
When Eren kisses Historia’s hand, her royal blood allows Eren to see the last of his father’s memories, the one he himself would give him in the future, a haunting panel of him, above what look like clouds (but is, in fact, titan steam) finding himself to be free at last. What he also sees is everything he would have to do to achieve this dream, the death of Sasha, becoming the world’s most dangerous terrorist and losing all his comrades.
What haunted him, however, wasn’t this loss, it was the fact itself that this future was able to be passed down. This show exists on a singular timeline, and the fact that Eren was able to see himself be free, paradoxically meant that he had no control over this future. It WILL happen, and Eren has lost his freedom to act otherwise.
“Hey… If we kill all our enemies… Over there… Will we finally be free?”
For the next few years, he roamed around in Marley, perhaps wanting to witness what his freedom would truly cost, and as he did, he started to empathise with Reiner. Reiner was also seeking to destroy the lives of a vast number of people for his selfish desire to be a hero, while Eren’s selfish desire to see himself be free will lead him to do that very thing.
An important thing to remember is that Eren would have caused The Rumbling whether he would have seen the future or not. This means that, despite losing the freedom to prevent it, Eren was very much still willing to let the lives of everyone be equal to his freedom. He thus chose to, in a sense, apologise to Reiner for judging him so harshly.
When Eren was standing at the edge of the sea for the first time, while the pureness in Armin’s outlook on the world managed to sustain, Eren’s insight into what the world is actually like, the world he saw through Grisha’s eyes, who feed children to dogs as a lesson, who spit on them and tosses them aside for no crime they themselves committed, Eren no longer, in any capacity, shared his outlook of the world with the noble founders.
One of the primary concerns Historia exhibited before she was to eat Eren, was why the previous founders, with this much power, doomed their people through inaction. Eren, through absolute action and actively moving towards a goal, demolished the shielding walls meant to protect Eldians, the way the previous founders saw fit and finally activated the self-fulfilling prophecy of the end of days, and Sasha’s death was the last confirmation he needed to learn that his dream was to come true.
The final piece of this amazingly complex puzzle is Gabi. Gabi is Eren. There is no complex way to phrase this. Eren wanted an uncomplicated battlefield where the only thing establishing success is determination. Eren saw the world in black and white. You were an ally or an enemy. If Jean was unwilling to throw away his life to defend humanity, he was a coward, maybe even a traitor.
“This is revenge.”
“Did you... see it happen?”
All of this is Gabi. After years and years of internalising hate for Paradis, she would go to irrational lengths to fulfil her desire for revenge, for extinction, at the cost of Falco, who is her very own Mikasa and Armin. Unlike Eren, however, when the world started becoming complicated, when the battlefield became homogenous and allies started looking like enemies do, she did not have the power to ignore it as Eren did. She had to learn the hard way that the other side of the sea consists of people. People who are as innocent and as guilty as their will dictates.
Eren’s refusal to accept his situation as complicated as it truly is shouldn’t be misconstrued as laziness or malevolence. Nothing will ever justify his actions near the end, and Eren does not expect to die with sympathy. However, Attack on Titan can be seen as a cautionary tale, a tale of a dream turning into an obsession, blinding you of everyone you step on.