Attack On Titan Final Season Reveals Eren's True Power In 'Memories Of The Future'

That was a crazy game of Uno reverse card, wasn't it? Ever since we finally found out what was in the basement at Eren's house, "Attack on Titan" has been re-contextualizing everything we know and reinventing itself over and over again. After the last episode made it seem like Eren's efforts were all for naught and Zeke was about to enact his euthanasia plan, "Memories of the Future" pulls arguably the biggest magic trick of the entire show, changing not only what we think of Eren, but of one of anime's worst dads.

We don't know if the ending will pull it off, but "Attack on Titan" continues to make its case for being the defining anime show of this generation.  These past few episodes have also made the case for having one of the best character arcs in recent years.

All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues

Now fully in control of the Founding Titan, Zeke decides that his euthanasia plan can wait, and decides to convince Eren to properly join his side. The entire episode plays out in flashbacks, as Zeke scouts for memories of his father, Grisha, to show Eren that they were both raised as tools of revenge against Marley, that their father is a monster, and that it is a mercy to go ahead with the euthanasia plan so no one suffers as they did. Except that is not what Zeke finds.

What we get is a stealth sequel to the basement episodes where we see Grisha's life in Marley, now telling us what happened when Grisha got to Paradis Island and started a new family. Much to Zeke's shock and disappointment, Grisha did not immediately start recruiting gullible fools to his restorationist cause or indoctrinated Eren with tales of the might of the Eldian Empire every night before bedtime. Instead, he listened to Krueger, learned from his mistakes, and was to Eren what he couldn't be for Zeke: an actual father. We even see Grisha discover the hideout of the King of the Walls much earlier than we previously thought, and rather than fulfill the goal he set out to do when he got dropped on the island, Grisha decided not to kill the king, but turn around and dedicate his life to loving and raising his son.

It's a slap in the face of everything the characters in "Attack on Titan" believe, proving that people can actually change. It also shows that Eren's childhood was nothing like Zeke's, as we see baby Eren being showered with love and affection, getting support and care in ways Zeke never knew from his own family, which destroys him.

Because I Was Born Into This World

The thing about Zeke is that he's wrong, Eren is not a defenseless victim, never has been. Eren takes Zeke to a memory of his choosing, and we revisit a pivotal scene from way back in season 1, episode 6: Eren's first kill. As we see young Eren brutally and mercilessly stab away at the kidnappers that killed Mikasa's parents, we see older Eren tells Zeke that he has always been himself, from the moment he was born.

Sure, Eren still carried on his father's will to fight against Marley, but it was not out of a sense of duty or because of some indoctrination as a child — he always had the instinct to, as he says, take someone's freedom away before they can take his. That's why this scene is so pivotal to who Eren is as a person, and why it was the first scene that I thought of after the attack on Liberio last season. This scene was not the result of a lifetime of being raised as a soldier, but the actions of a self-conscious young boy who was full of rage and an urge to cause harm long before he started orchestrating mass killings in foreign countries; we as an audience just chose to look the other way and blame it on circumstances because he's the protagonist. Nature versus nurture has been a big part of "Attack on Titan" since its very beginning, with the bigger focus placed on nurture and how our circumstances leave us little choice in how we turned up. So seeing "Memories of the Future" arguing that a big reason for Eren being this way is just because he was born this way is both refreshing and impactful.

Just as impactful but in a totally different way is seeing Studio MAPPA recreate scenes from earlier seasons seamlessly, emulating the art style of Studio WIT while adapting it to fit their current style. We see this when we explore another key moment in season 1 of the show: when Grisha first shows Eren the key to his basement way back in the very first episode of the show. But in a stroke of pure framing genius, the camera pulls back from the iconic frame of Grisha holding the key in his hand to reveal the horror on his face as he sees adult Eren standing in front of him.

Earlier in the episode, we get a brief moment where Grisha seemed to have noticed Zeke standing next to him, but here it is undeniable that he recognized Eren watching him, and with that realization comes a look of defeat, knowing that no matter how much he tried to change, Grisha still ended up pulling his son into this war. Whether all of this was planned from the very beginning, or if creator Hajime Isayama and the animators are simply really, really good at finding moments and frames they can re-contextualize in a way that appears perfectly planned and foreshadowed in ways the very best shows like "Breaking Bad" were able to do.

It Was Eren All Along

With that, there's just one memory left to revisit, the massacre of the entire Reiss family and the moment Grisha stole the Founding Titan to give to Eren. Except that's not how things go down. After Grisha begged Frieda to use the power of the Founder to stop the Titans from entering the walls and killing everyone, we see the Vow of Renouncing War activate, and the will of king Karl Fritz speak out, repeating the same propaganda we heard the people of Marley and even Gabi say over and over last season: that the Eldian people needs to atone for their sins and die rather than risk the rest of the world — without any mention of Fritz' responsibilities or sins as the king who led his people on a path of war and bigotry.

Suddenly, before cutting his hand and turning into a Titan, Grisha reveals the true power of the Attack Titan, and the reason he seems unconcerned with Frieda using her power against him. It turns out that, while every Titan can receive memories from past inheritors, the Attack Titan can see memories of inheritors yet to come. Then Grisha decides not to kill the royal family because he's a doctor who vowed not to harm people — especially children. But Eren has other plans. In a fantastic and intense call back to the earlier days of "Attack on Titan" as a horror show, Eren pulls the biggest Uno reverse card in the entire show and all shouts at Grisha to get up and finish what he came here to do, to avenge the death of his sister, his wife, his friends. "You keep moving forward. Even if you die. Even after death," Eren tells his father, who seems to be fully aware of his words. Grisha even gets the protagonist fish-eye lens moment of sheer horror, while Hiroyuki Sawano pulls back on his roaring action score to deliver haunting horror-inspired tunes.

That's right, "Attack on Titan" just introduced time travel and time loops 79 episodes into its run, but the thing is, it kind of fits. Anime shows love to introduce a new secret ability that changes things late in the game, but again, the episode does a great job of making it fit seamlessly with what we know. Eren was not just manipulated, turned into a Titan, and thrown into this conflict because Grisha is a terrible person — it was Eren all along. He put these events into motion, and did what "Game of Thrones" set up with Bran but quickly abandoned — that everything that's happened was the choice of one person. Using the power of the Attack Titan, Eren sent future memories to Grisha in order to manipulate him to kill the royal family and set the events of the show in motion. He even made Grisha spare Rod Reiss in order to ensure Historia was drafted into the Scouts and meet the rest of the cast, all so Eren could activate this power when he kissed Historia's hand in season 3. That moment, which led to Eren seeing a vision of Grisha begging Frieda to use the power of the Founder to stop the Titans from entering the wall is also re-contextualized. Back then, we interpreted Eren's shock after seeing Grisha's memory as him witnessing what everyone has called the "sins of his father," but that's not entirely true. At that moment, Eren saw everything Grisha saw, meaning he also learned about the true power of the Attack Titan and saw memories of his own future, meaning the sin was actually his own.

There is a reason Eren turned into the cold, detached man we've seen for over a season now; a reason he's been so resigned to what's happening around him; maybe even the reason he laughed when he heard Sasha had died: because he knew what the future awaited and that there was no way to change it. That we got this reveal the same episode as we get a proper look at how the Vow of Renouncing War works brings the themes of the show to a boiling point, showing the inescapability of violence as a closed loop. Just as Frieda and the Founding Titan inheritor's are slaves to the will of a past inheritor, so is Eren — the boy who fights for freedom and said he hated Mikasa because she didn't have free will — a slave to the Attack Titan's memories of future inheritors. Like Paul in "Dune," Eren is now a slave forced to follow actions predetermined by memories yet to pass.

The Tragedy of Grisha Yaeger

But the tragedy of the Yaeger family doesn't stop with Eren. More than the game-changing reveals, the biggest magic trick the show pulls is turning Grisha, one of the worst anime dads ever, into one of the most tragic figures in "Attack on Titan." Hiroshi Tsuchida does a phenomenal job as the voice of Grisha, conveying unspeakable pain and horror as he realizes the death and suffering he's caused in the name of Eldia and his son's future. Worse yet, he doesn't even know if it's worth it, as Eren seemingly only showed him what he wanted his father to see to get him to act. "Was there really no other way? He asks his son, desperately, while asking if his wife Carla is safe (she is most definitely not).

Grisha also warns Zeke that he's seen Eren's memories of what's to come, and it won't be pretty. The terror on Grisha's face is enough to try and implore his firstborn to stop Eren at all costs. Before the memory ends, Zeke gets what he always wanted, for his father to hug him and tell him he's sorry and that he loves him. It's a tender, heartbreaking moment given everything we know about these two men, a painful reaffirmation of the show's message of how love and communication can prevent so much pain. But it doesn't matter, it's too late. Eren stops the memory and we're back to the Coordinate, but something is different. Eren may still be in chains, but there is no doubt he's in full control, and the whole world will pay for it.