It would be a mistake to discount the thematic value of Ymir in Attack on Titan. Not Ymir Fritz, Ymir, the nameless girl off the streets of Marley turned queen of Eldia for a while. Even though she plays a noticeably small role in the grand scheme of the story, I would proudly say that Ymir’s character is one of my favourites in the show, despite the wells of depth exhibited by every single one of them.
A group of Eldians picked a kid who belonged to no name and named her after their all-powerful founder, Ymir Fritz. During her life, this kid had nothing, but all of a sudden, these people would sacrifice what little they had to alleviate any discomforts she might face, given the condition that she bring them even the smallest hope of freedom.
Ymir made a mistake here. She assumed that, for these folks, what mattered was who she was, that she was the one too precious to be seen as dispensable. She didn’t realise that all she was was her royal blood, the woman who can command titans once again and restore their empire. She was nothing more than the stray she was before.
When Marley finally discovered this group of Eldians, Ymir was immediately blamed for her lies, that she used her royal blood to control and manipulate these innocent folks. When it came down to the moment of truth, she chose to fall on the sword and save her people, taking this blame upon herself.
The second mistake she made was assuming fate as a concept; everything that happens has a cause and effect carefully crafted by some guiding hand, that her fate would be fulfilled here if she becomes a martyr. Instead, the entire cult, even the ones who were being manipulated by the devil-reincarnate Queen Ymir, was sent to Paradise. At the edge of the island, she was treated to the merits of her sacrifice as it amounted to absolutely nothing.
After a good 60-year nap, Ymir, or her titan body, finally allowed herself to make a selfish decision when she ate a single traveller outside the walls of Paradis, allowing her to become a human once more. At the path, with absolutely no possessions whatsoever, in a desert holding the real Ymir, a slave long after her demise, this woman only had this extremely laughable set of circumstances in her mind. The dubbed line goes an extra mile to highlight how ridiculous her hero complex was.
“The first thing I thought was if there is such a thing as fate, she is a fickle little whore.”
There was no karmic retribution, no greater destiny, nothing at play here. Her previous life had devoid her of any choice at all, everything was an externality. Even the one decision she made, the decision to call save her people led to the exact same outcome. But now, she was in Paradise. Everything was hers. Every decision she makes will alter her life.
She, of course, chose to use this free will to be a thief. She was not Ymir Fritz, she was a powerless nobody. She had no responsibility to anyone in the world, not even to herself. Her life was hers to do as she pleased. Nothing was sacred, and everything she could get her hands on was hers.
This routine went on for her until she overheard two men discussing the illegitimate child of a nobleman who was to be shipped to her death at the frontline. They talked about this poor wrench being stripped of her name who would have been better off never being born. They decided her life and her freedom is something that can be given or taken away.
This was unacceptable. Why should she have to be a hero and sacrifice herself for these people, fighting a different set of monsters? This one will not get lucky enough to be reborn. Ymir sought to expand her philosophy to this woman, so they can get back at the world together.
Christa Lenz was, however, unbendable. She would steal food for the potato girl despite getting nothing in return. Even as she tried to exhibit the rule of self, hoping to use Sasha in the future instead of serving in her best interest, Christa failed to understand Ymir’s reasoning. She would drag a nearly dead person to refuge in hopes that her legacy would amount to that of a hero, she would join the suicide corp despite the ability to live comfortably within the walls of corruption, and still cry at the prospect of facing death.
Ymir however, changed a little. Why did she join the scouts too? At some point, she clearly decided that this woman, to her, was more important than her own survival. She had the option to call it quits and go back to exploiting the streets, that this woman is beyond changing.
There was something about an innocent drive to be self-sacrificial that really pissed her off. At this point, her actions were less determined by her own desires and more by Christa’s decisions. Once again, factors outside her control are toying with her life. This time, however, she chose to accept them. In order to influence these outside factors, she would also have to take away Christa’s freedom. Her goal was simply to break the cage holding her to a determined set of decisions.
When she chose to sacrifice herself to save her comrades, no, honestly, to save Christa, for a brief moment, she decided that her will is still in control, that her desire to save the woman she loves is determined by nothing but her own feelings, rewarding her with the name Historia.
Not much later, Reiner made an offer in exchange for her compliance. If she agrees to return the Jaw to Marley, she will get to spend her last days knowing Historia will be alive in that country. This life WILL come at the cost of her freedom, though, as she will have to spend the remainder of her days making royal-blooded children for Marley.
But Ymir’s priorities still lay with herself. Her desire to see Historia again and be with her for whatever time she had outweighed Historia’s freedom. She was well within bounds to act selfishly once more. She probably wasn’t, but it doesn’t matter, even if it means looking her in the eye and lying to her face, letting Historia think that her compliance will be a heroic act to save Ymir.
Historia, however, had the catharsis she was due from the start with their final conversation. She was tired of Ymir showing the fickle-mindedness she used to condemn, where she became a victim to her feelings for Historia and stopped living for herself. Reiner, Marley… they could not decide what will happen to Ymir and Historia.
When she saw Eren was the coordinate, knowing that, in truth, the power was within the walls, she was able to make her final decision on her own terms. After stealing for years, she just wanted to give back what she owed, even if it means a painful goodbye. No part of this was a decision forced on her by Reiner, by Paradis, or even by Historia. Ymir decided Ymir’s fate. She never did give up her feelings for Historia, though. Those remained till her very last moments.
I hope this analysis helped you see why I believe Ymir was the thematic backbone for much of the series, especially after understanding Eren’s arc. The delicate equilibrium between the desire for freedom, for love and the sacrifices associated with morality, is heavily influenced by one’s circumstances and nature.