Five Thoughts on Attack on Titan’s “Sole Survivor”

By | September 7th, 2021
Posted in Television | % Comments

Welcome back to the titan war! The time has come to end things. We are finally watching the final season of Attack on Titan, and I got a feeling that not everyone is making it out of this one alive. If you are new to our coverage, this is the part where I explain to you that I’ve never been what you’d call a regular anime watcher, but something about this strange and at times horrifying has never failed to captivate me. There’s only one more after this, so get ready to charge into Attack on Titan season 4, episode 15, “Sole Survivor.”

1. Origin of a Monkey Man

A brief cold open shows us a young Zeke, experiencing some racism as a kid. I didn’t think much of this scene at first. It didn’t have anything larger to say about why people are racist, or what someone should do in a tough situation like that. By the end of the episode though, I was reminded that not every scene needs a neat little moral. That was a formative moment for Zeke, and the point of this episode was to sketch out the guy who has been our antagonist for most of the run of the show. We’ve seen him from lots of other perspectives, but this is the first time we see Zeke’s story as he sees it. That racist encounter was a small moment, but it sat with Zeke, much like his dad was consumed with the death of his sister.

So this is the whole Zeke Jaeger origin story, how he became a terrifying monkey man. Zeke’s story through is eyes.

2. Bad dad

Last time we saw these events, they were being told to us by Grisha. This time through the story, it’s clear that Grisha’s failures as a person are very responsible for… all the horror of the present day. Like his messaging. Early on, he seems to protect Zeke, insulating him from the family’s revolutionary cause. He lets Zeke consume Marley propaganda at a very young age, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that by the time they had started on the counter-programming, it was already too late. By the time they starting teaching him another perspective, Zeke had already grown to resent his absent parents. Their distance to him personally made it more difficult to accept their teachings.

It is also strongly implied that Grisha was just straight up abusive. And yeah, that tracks, he always seemed like something of a creep. This is most horrifyingly heard through a closed door, as Zeke listens to his dad berate and possibly beat his mom, all for Zeke’s failures. It’s just like, no wonder this dude ended up as messed up as he did.

3. Trading in for an upgrade

All the while Zeke is failing at his Warrior training, and just generally not getting a lot of positive affirmation. He only has one positive male role model in his life, and that was his predecessor as Beast Titan, Tom Ksaver. He’s exactly what I’d picture if you told me there was one nice person in Zeke’s life, sort of a kind four-eyed nerd who liked tossing around a baseball. He’s less of a warrior and more of a student of titan lore. You can see where Zeke gets it from. Ksaver’s backstory is the same kind of horror most of these characters deal in. When his Marleyan wife found out that he hid his Eldian heritage from her, she slit her own throat and her son’s. Holy crap, this sort of thing seems to happen a lot.

But this clicks another little piece into place. We know that Zeke sold out his parents, but it turns out it was more personal and out of fear than out of Marleyan patriotism as I had always assumed. Kind Mr. Ksaver begged Zeke to turn in his parents, to protect the kid. And Zeke obeyed because his biological dad was such a bastard, and Mr. Ksaver was so much nicer. When we jump ahead and see Zeke eat Mr. Ksaver to get his titan powers, he put on his glasses and calls him father. Zeke let his original family go long ago, and he grew up to be someone who maybe could have grown and healed, at least until he finds out that Grisha was still alive. Zeke is so traumatized from growing up with his dad that he vows to save Eren from their father’s evil influence.

Continued below

4. A villain personified, at last

A tough thing about following this season has been tracking the motivations of the bad guys. They’ve played things close to the chest. Zeke always struck me as being a Marley loyalist, but I can see now that his inner life is much more complex. Zeke hated Grisha, and trying to kill his own dad didn’t put those demons to rest. He believes in the cause of Marley liberation- sort of. By the time he made it through his war training and finally met his brother Eren, both of them had become total nihilists. So his new plan is to save the world from titans. How? By exterminating the Eldians, his own race, in order to put a stop to the titan curse.

When I was trying to figure out Zeke’s ideology, I couldn’t, because it doesn’t make sense. That’s because Zeke is totally being informed by his irrational emotions. He and Eren are trying to deal with their personal issues on the global stage, which is uh, not healthy.

5. Night mare

A few episodes ago, Gaby got gnawed on by a horse. This episode, she has her revenge, because two horses were immolated and cooked to death. That’s because in the present, sick of Levi’s torture, Zeke pulls the trigger on the bomb, exploding himself and Levi. Oh and those poor horses.

Zeke’s (apparent) last words were to his real father figure, Mr. Ksaver. It’s a testament to this show that I totally felt the weight of invoking a character I had met literally minutes before. I really doubt Zeke is dead, but we won’t have to wait long to find out. Next week is the finale of this half of the final season, and to call the situation a powder-keg is an understatement.

//TAGS | 2021 Summer TV Binge | attack on titan

Jacob Hill

Jake is from New York. He currently lives in Ohio. Ask him, and he'll swear he's one of those people who loves both Star Wars and Star Trek equally. He is the Multiversity Manager At Large. Say hi to him on twitter @Rambling_Moose!


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