The final cliffhanger of Attack on Titan's first season may be the least of the Survey Corps worries
After four long years Attack on Titan has returned and it hasn’t missed a beat. Now three episodes in, we have now been subjected to three cliffhangers and spoon-fed some horrifying revelations that seems to only deepen the mysteries they should be illuminating. One of the best things about Attack on Titan is that it provides fertile ground for speculation and it's now been almost half a decade since Studio WIT left us high after the massive reveal at the climax of the first season. Now that we’re properly dug into the new narrative, we’ve finally reached the moment where we can begin one of my favorite activities. Trying to figure out just what the hell is going on.
The big mystery of set to simmer throughout the first season was the origin of Eren’s ability to transform into a titan, seemingly caused by mysterious, half-remembered experiments at the hands of his father Grisha in media res between the fall of Zhiganshina and Eren’s military training five years later. Wrapped up in this mystery is the unknown contents of the basement of Eren’s home and, now, the appearance Annie who possesses the same ability as Eren. The origin the ability, the reasons for its development, the historical ramifications, and the possibility of more individuals with the same power, are all unknowns which could change everything. Now we begin the second season with a new mystery staring us in the face.
Annie and Reverend Nick each seem to hold the answers to these burning questions but, despite the Survey Corps holding them both in custody, we're no closer to any answers. The proximity of the information we al so desperately need makes the uncertainty that much more tantalizing, especially after witnessing the lengths Annie and Nick are willing to go to to protect the truth, both making it clear they would choose death before divulging the truth. Only after witnessing the human cost of the war on the titans was Nick even willing to give up a single name. This, in itself, provides us some clues, however. Nick has made it clear that he is protecting the secrets of his church, which means the titans in the wall are anything but a mystery lost to the ages and a very real conspiracy may be at work. Annie's similar reticence may indicate she also has someone to protect.
Annie’s actions during her first appearance as the female titan indicated she was attempting to capture Eren relatively unharmed, delicately holding him in her mouth after defeating his titan form. If she felt some sort of connection of kinship after learning he could also transform into a titan and held the same goals then approaching to talk him would have been a more reasonable strategy. If she considered Eren an enemy then she would have crushed him on the spot. So where was she taking him and why? When Mikasa and Levi rescued Eren and made their escape, their final glimpse of her titan form showed her weeping in defeat. Whatever emotional investment drove her action remains a mystery but, perhaps, she was facing real consequences for her failure.
Despite Annie's cold exterior, it seems unlikely she was working against the human race as a whole. While capable of dispassionately slaughtering members of the Survey Corps that proved obstacles to her mission, she made more than a few meaningful connections during her training. Most notably, she twice chose not to kill Armin when given the chance. After coming to admire him for his insight and conviction, her mercy not only proved that she had formed a real emotional connection, but also that these same aspects of character which would make someone a great threat to her if her enemy was truly the human race was the very thing that ultimately made her decide to spare him.
The appearance of now three other abnormal titans indicate that there are most likely others besides Annie and Eren with the ability to transform, but their origin has remained a mystery to which we are only now receiving disturbing clues. The beast titan’s particular speech pattern stood out, closely resembling the dialect of Sasha’s hometown, and the bloodless disappearance of the people in Coney’s village, particularly the titan with useless limbs that seemed to have exploded out of his house is as close to a direct statement that the titans which appeared to have broken through Wall Rose were, in fact, their own friends and family. But how and why did they change?
All of this questions touch on yet another mystery that has been, strangely, ignored by Eren’s inner circle. Just where has his father been? A traveling doctor even before the fall of Wall Maria, now vanished without a trace, who seems to have devised some way of allowing humans to transform into titans. Grisha Yaeger’s disappearance also conveniently coincides with the rise of these new threats to humanity. Although the conspiracy within the church indicates Grisha may not be the only individual with these means, there is the possibility of a connection with Annie. Retrieving her benefactors wayward son would certainly explain the tremendous risk undertaken by such a conservative character. Coney's village may be the outcome of yet more experiments and, given so many recruits seem to be from this region, may indicate even more members of Eren's class may share Annie's secret.
As always, the answers will probably reveal themselves with excruciating slowness and create just as many questions as they answer, but one common thread may indicate the direction all this is moving. Before being sidetracked by Eren, Annie had secured herself a place in the Military Police who protect the heart of civilization, reserved for only the most elite soldiers yet supposedly furthest from harm. The secret of the titan in the wall seems to be known among the inner circle of the church of the wall, which likely means the royal family is also privy to and withheld this knowledge from the public. While it seems there may be several groups with connections to the titans in play, all of them are pointed toward the center of humanity in Wall Sina. The developments of the past five years may just be a more obvious expression of an ongoing conflict among ruling factions within the government.
There are a number of reasons Attack on Titan has found so much success among western audiences, but it’s similarity with the popular zombie genre is one I find particularly fascinating. When you think about it, most titans are just supersized zombies, mindlessly chasing down and consuming humans despite being incapable of digesting them. Anyone familiar with the genre should know that every great zombie story shares a common narrative thread. The real enemy isn’t the zombies at the door, but your fellows survivors inside with you.
You’ve heard my piece, so hit me with your own theories! What was Annie after in the first season? Why is there a titan in the wall and how is the church's involved? Who are the abnormal titans and what do they want? Comment below and share your wildest speculations!