Attack on Titan is full of moments in which the main characters must prove themselves, and not merely their skills.High-pressure decisions and life-or-death situations lurk around every corner, and sometimes they can make or break a character. Naturally, the most difficult choices often fall on those with most authority, so commanders and captains have the Scouts' lives in their hands more often than they might like.
Captain Levi Ackerman, as Commander Erwin Smith's most loyal colleague, is no stranger to such situations. In Season 3 of Attack on Titan, Levi had to choose between saving Armin Arlert and his best buddy, Erwin, who were both on the verge of death. Fans frequently criticize his decision to preserve Armin.Levi's choices are sometimes considered as selfish because he chose to rest his friend over the one who would benefit humanity the greatest. However, this is not always the case.
More than Only Erwin Smith affected Levi's Choice
The negative perception of Levi's decision to save Armin over Erwin is based on the assumption that Levi only cared about his friend and chose to let him finally rest in peace. Many fans of Attack on Titan believe Erwin is the better option for survival. However, upon closer inspection, it is clear Levi made this decision based on a number of factors. It was one of the most selfless decisions he could have made.
Arguably, three factors influenced Levi's decision. There was, of course, Erwin, but Armin and Kenny Ackerman also played a role in the decision. Levi was initially determined to save Erwin. But in his delirium, Erwin pushed the syringe of spinal fluid away from himself. That action led Levi to remember the three things that made him save Armin.
Before Erwin's charge toward the Beast Titan resulted in his death, Levi wondered what would happen if he realized his dream. Erwin was unsure, admitting that after his was realized, he had no hopes or dreams. Levi recalled overhearing Armin, Mikasa, and Eren conversing the night before they ventured outside the walls for the first time, and the look of hope and belief on Armin's face as he told his friends about his dream to see the sea. Kenny Ackerman's dying words were the third factor; Kenny told Levi that everyone is a slave to something, and that a person's inability to let that thing go would eventually lead to their destruction.
After recalling all of this, Levi reflects on the conversation in which he told Erwin to abandon his dreams and die for humanity, as well as Erwin's relief. He realizes his friend was grateful because he couldn't make a decision. Erwin would never be able to free himself from the shackles of his dream unless Levi did it for him.
Levi's Assessment of Armin Arlert and Erwin Smith
This forced Levi to evaluate Erwin against Armin. Erwin's dream had left him corrupted and twisted, feeling unfathomable guilt, while Armin's hopeful eyes and voice insisted with optimistic enthusiasm on the future of humanity. While Erwin had no plans, no hope and no vision for the future, Armin was brimming with potential and still had hope for a brighter future. This direct comparison between the dream that weighed Erwin down, and Armin's hopes that never corrupted or controlled him, was a large deciding factor for Levi's choice.
With Kenny's words in context, Levi realizes that without his dream, there will be nothing left for Erwin. Nothing to propel him forward with the same unwavering determination as before, and nothing to divert his attention away from his deteriorating mental state. Erwin would almost certainly be a shell of his former self, as he was a slave to a dream that would be his undoing.
Levi's Most Selfless Act in Attack on Titan was a Personal One
With these influences in mind, it's clear that Levi's choice was never selfish or thoughtless toward humanity. Rather, his decision was completely selfless on a personal level; Erwin was one of Levi's closest friends as well as his guiding light, so letting him die would have taken an emotional toll on the Captain. He didn't want Erwin to die or to lose his friend, but what was important to him forced his hand.
What drives Levi in Attack on Titan is saving the lives of his comrades and making sure the deaths that do occur are not meaningless, and Erwin taught him how to do this. He showed Levi how to use his strength to save others and gave him a path forward. So in letting go of Erwin, Levi also let go of his own sense of purpose, his own drive and fulfillment. He gives up on the only person to ever show him how to accomplish what was most important to him. In an attempt to remove the burden from Erwin, Levi ensured his very own suffering -- the most selfless action he could have taken.