These Attack on Titan reviews contain spoilers.
Attack on Titan Season 4 Episode 14: Savagery
“You know what I hate the most in the world? People who aren’t free. They’re no more than cattle.”
”I wanted to talk with you guys…”
Those were the ominous words that Eren shared with his old comrades and new enemies at the end of Attack on Titan’s previous episode. This anime regularly features an exceptional amount of destruction courtesy of deadly powers and brutal battles, but this season’s development of Eren Jaeger is so substantial that seven words can be even more terrifying than dozens of strikes.
So, they talk. Nearly a third of this episode is talk as Eren calmly dresses down his best friends and every second of it is emotionally explosive. Floch takes over the Survey Corps with fellow Jaegerists and he talks to them to sway the masses and inspire a revolution. Zeke even talks to Levi in a manner that allows him to let down his guard enough that he’s temporarily able to make a play to escape. Attack on Titan is full of painful physical altercations, but “Savagery” is all about how the savage nature of words can hit harder than any Titan punch and sometimes be even harder to recover from.
Mikasa and Armin try to properly get inside Eren’s head and understand his recent actions, but he has absolutely no interest in justifying himself or explaining his actions like he’s a super villain in the third act of a story. Eren’s goal is very simple and rather than waste any time he systematically hits his friends with mind games where they’re left destabilized and vulnerable. Eren’s words are devastating, but his ice cold expression through the whole chat is just as alarming. He’s lost the Kruger outfit, but he’s even more unrecognizable.
Eren is absolutely ruthless when he flatly tells Mikasa that he’s always hated her and doesn’t flinch when her tears start to run. He knows better than anyone else how much this callousness will destroy Mikasa as well as how integral she’s been in his prolonged survival for all of these years. It’s heartbreaking to see Eren so thoroughly abandon the few remaining people that actually care about him as a person and don’t just view him as a means to an end or a weapon of destruction. He praises Zeke just as much as he insults Armin and Mikasa.
Armin and Mikasa are stunned through most of this and they have every right to be. A lot of time has passed offscreen, but it’s ridiculous to think that season three concludes with Eren and Armin excited about the future while they splash in the tide of the sea and now they’re decking each other out while they spill each other’s blood. It’s been a while since a conventional fistfight has come up in Attack on Titan and it hits even harder since it’s Eren and Armin.
There are clear parallels in the choreography of Eren’s beatdown on Armin that mirror the Attack Titan’s assault on the Armored and Jaw Titans. It’s a breaking point for this duo that have always had each other back and the audience is still left to question if Eren has truly fallen for Zeke or if there are still other levels of deception present here where this behavior is a mask for something bolder.
Every second that passes in this conversation there’s another grain of the old Eren that falls through the hourglass and he’s less recognizable from the moment before. Every word bites and it’s even more gutting when Mikasa instinctively defends Eren and attacks Armin over the situation like she’s some brainwashed partner in a toxic relationship (and in many ways, she is). Mikasa is still compelled to help Eren, even after all of this and she’d probably even go down smiling and thank Eren if he just snapped and decided to eat her. Some of this has to do with the chilling information that Eren reveals about the nature of the Ackermans and how Mikasa is basically imprinted to him on some degree, but even without this inherent connection it still feels like Mikasa would selflessly be by Eren’s side and hope for the best.
Another component of Eren’s plan plays out elsewhere with Hange, Floch, and the new trainees in the Survey Corps. Floch is able to so swiftly influence these recruits and poison the well, which makes for a frightening extrapolation of the Jaegerists’ previous terrorism. So many honorable characters have fallen over the past episodes, but it stings to watch a group like the Survey Corps become completely bankrupt of values and just another tool for the enemy. So many characters use words like the ammunition for a weapon in “Savagery,” but it’s a strategy that fails Hange. She tries to share the news that the wine is spiked with Zeke’s spinal fluid, but she’s ignored and her treatment remains horrendous. It looks like she’s set to be a hostage for the time being, that is if she’s not just outright killed as some trust exercise that Floch puts his new recruits through like he does with Keith Shadis.
Whether Floch and company believe or care about Zeke’s spinal wine is irrelevant because everyone gets to figure this out the hard way once Zeke puts his power into action. The forest very quickly fills up with Titans and the second half of “Savagery” is full of action to balance out the war of words that happens earlier. Many of Marley’s residents get triggered by Zeke’s gambit and it’s exciting to see the side effects of this “wine hangover” go fully into effect.
Unfortunately, Levi’s own men enjoyed these libations, which forces him to take down his comrades with zero time to contemplate alternatives. This decision clearly weighs heavily on Levi and reflects how committed he is to his mission. “Savagery” makes this exercise especially painful as Levi sees the faces of his friends before he cuts down their Titan forms.
This is a mentally exhausting maneuver for Levi, but it’s also a stunning action sequence that’s one of the best fights in Attack on Titan since season three. There’s wonderful choreography to Levi’s carnage as he takes advantage of his claustrophobic settings. It’s satisfying to see the anime go all out with this encounter and that Levi doesn’t stumble over these obstacles and allow Zeke to get away.
The tension between Levi and Zeke has been present in Attack on Titan for seasons and the assault in Liberio only teased the tension that exists between these two. This has been a long time coming and it’s given the attention that it deserves. Perhaps the best part of it is that Levi shares this success with Erwin and declares that this is just as much his victory and that his spirit can find some peace now.
A lot is left up in the air by the end of “Savagery” and each episode continues to unearth the status quo more than before. Levi and Zeke’s story concludes on the most disturbing note of the lot as Levi keeps Zeke in a form of grisly suspended torture that would make Asami from Audition blush. It’s the most extreme action that Levi has ever taken and it’s another reflection of how everyone is getting pushed past their limits.
However, these past few episodes have proven more than anything that this type of radical behavior seems to be the only way to survive and those that don’t adapt to these heartless ways are the ones that get trampled over by “progress.” Zeke just wants to return to that game of catch from his innocent youth, but it’s impossible. The kids in Eldia and Marley are more familiar with hand grenades than they are with baseballs. “Savagery” begins this thought and “Sole Salvation” shows that the two can sometimes be equally dangerous.
Attack on Titan Season 4 Episode 15: Sole Salvation
“Sole Salvation” begins right where “Savagery” finishes, but the two episodes are structured so differently that it’s hard not to get whiplash when watching them back-to-back. Levi’s torturing of Zeke greatly intensifies, yet the episode retreats into Zeke’s subconscious as he mentally suffers for his actions and hopes to stumble upon absolution while he physically gets ravaged and turned into living viscera.
This flashback into Zeke’s childhood and one of his last remaining moments of true innocence might initially feel like a disappointment from the heavy action that’s present in “Savagery.” However, it’s presence here is not unlike how memories from past Titan bearers will flood the current users at unexpected moments. They have no control over when these memories will overlap with their own and are left to ponder the greater significance of it all.
The purpose of “Sole Salvation” is nebulous at first, but then it becomes clear why this piece of the story is currently being told. “Sole Salvation” functions as a release of pressure from a run of episodes that have become impossibly tense. In the past, flashbacks have been utilized to fill in context from different perspectives and also allow the audience a much-needed breather. The jump backwards this time seems like it’s a gentle form of escapism, but there’s still a dark edge to it that amplifies the dread that’s prevalent in the present. It’s not so much a reprieve from danger as it is an explanation for the bloody turn that’s about to take place.
“Savagery” highlights Eren’s rage towards the “cattle” and “slaves” of the world, yet “Sole Salvation” underscores that these are exactly the conditions that brought Eren and Zeke into this world. Grisha’s entire mindset towards family and children is even comparable to a cattle breeder. The biggest question that’s hung over the second half of this season is how exactly Eren and Zeke have come to terms with each other and “Sole Salvation” beautifully gets that point across in the most tragic way possible.
Zeke and Eren are two attempts at the same idea and they’re able to find an empowering and dangerous invincibility in their dark roots. It’s almost as if they consider their increasing need for bloodshed and violence vindicated because they were always designed to be destructive weapons. One doesn’t get upset at an atom bomb for exploding . Eren and Zeke are just the two explosions at the end of very long wicks that Grisha lit years ago.
Zeke’s upbringing succeeds as a valuable counterpoint to what’s been shown with the childhoods of Eren, Grisha, Reiner, Gabi, and Falco. Grisha hammers in the ideology to his son that if he hates the world then it’s his responsibility to change it. This mantra soon becomes synonymous with Zeke’s desire to become a Warrior, which begins as an extension of his father, but blossoms into a bold act of independence. A young Zeke gets pulled in two directions as he forms a friendship with Tom Ksaver, a Titan researcher and the previous bearer of the Beast Titan.
Tom’s influence on Zeke is a vital part of the boy’s development and Ksaver feels like the type of productive person that Grisha could have become under purer circumstances. Tom selflessly uses himself as a guinea pig for the sake of knowledge, whereas Grisha endangers his own family for data.
Tom isn’t without his own sins and he becomes a mentor figure for Zeke, but it’s fascinating to consider how differently Zeke and Eren’s lives might have gone with someone like Tom as their father. They could maybe be living normal lives rather than the immensely complicated scenarios that their existences have become. They’re ready to commit genocide to an entire group of people and Eren and Zeke still treat this like the lesser of two evils. It’s just an extended game of catch that’s been going on for generations.
“Savagery” and “Sole Salvation” do not mess around and in a season of very strong episodes they’re two installments that immediately stand out and feel memorable, but for completely different reasons. Both entries are emotionally draining and connect on every level. It genuinely hurts to see these characters tear each other down after they’ve gone through so much together.
So much of the second half of this season has revolved around Eren and Zeke’s secret plan and with only one episode remaining it’s truly unclear where this all will land. Eren’s half of the plan seems to be successful, especially from the Jaegerists’ perspective, but Zeke appears to have hit a real roadblock that may or may not ruin what Eren has in motion.
Other crucial players like Gabi, Annie, and Reiner also need to fit into all of this somehow. Attack on Titan has always been heading towards a dark and depressing ending, yet the moral compasses of so many characters have become magnetized and off center that even the “winners” might be too disgusted with who they’ve become to be able to celebrate.
At the very least they’ll probably stay away from the wine.
Sole Salvation: 3.5/5