Attack on Titan’s status as a legendary manga and anime may be unquestionably set in stone, but that didn’t stop it from having a surprisingly divisive finale. Depending on who's asked, Chapter 139 “Toward the Tree on That Hill” was either a masterpiece in long-form storytelling, or one of the most disappointing flops of recent memory.
The finale rubbed some the wrong way, whether it was because of the clumsy political implications, the unanswered questions, or unresolved character arcs. While it wasn't the worst conclusion to a manga in history, Attack on Titan’s ending will surely inspire debates for years on end, but not for the expected reasons.
Updated on April 5, 2023 by Angelo Delos Trinos: After a long wait, Attack on Titan's conclusive anime arc came back in Attack on Titan: The Final Chapters. The anime will adapt the manga's last chapters, but with some major changes. This list was updated to reflect on the manga's original polarizing finale one more time before the anime changes it, for better or worse.
Warning: Manga spoilers ahead.
10 Not All The Dead Got Closure
Some of the dead Survey Corps returned briefly in the final minutes of The Rumbling to say goodbye to their friends. Both the Alliance and the readers found this to be bittersweet. It was emotional to see Sasha, Levi, and the rest of their team one more time. Yet, there were no signs of any deceased individuals who may have had a greater influence.
Particularly, Ymir and Marco were gone. Jean and Historia, respectively, were on the verge of despair after their deaths. Marco and Ymir (who was obviously in love with Historia) had a significant impact on the story and other characters whether they were living or dead. Missed opportunities resulting from their absence drew more unfavorable attention over time.
9 Ymir Started The Rumbling Because Of Love
The tragedy of Ymir's death was that she was still bound to King Fritz's will. However, the final chapter revealed that Ymir continued to give Eldians Titans' powers in response to the king's demands because she still loved him. Eren admitted he didn't understand, but this was Ymir's way of expressing affection for the king who had exploited her.
One popular interpretation was that Ymir was waiting for someone in a similar situation to hers to break free from the cycle. This was the incredibly popular Mikasa, who murdered Eren despite his love for him. This inspired Ymir to break free, as evidenced by her erasure of the Titans' powers. Many readers questioned why this was portrayed as romantic.
8 Undoing The Titans’ Shifting Undermined The Tragedy
In the penultimate chapter, the impossibly powerful Founding Titan turned surrounding Eldians into Pure Titans as reinforcements. Among those shifted were Jean, Connie, Gabi, and more. As sad as this was, this was par for Attack on Titan’s course. Whatever tragedy this could've elicited was abruptly undone by Eren at the last second.
In-universe, this implied that Eren could’ve saved many Eldians (Connie’s village, those who drank Zeke’s wine, etc.) at any time, but chose not to. As a plot beat, Eren devalued the manga’s signature bleakness. Eren eradicating the Titans’ powers and fan-favorite characters regaining their humanity are nice, but together, they led to a jarringly saccharine ending.
7 Eren’s Masterplan Was Terrible
Eren exterminated 80% of all life in order to free Edlia. He did so in such a way that only the Alliance was capable of stopping him. As a result, the "Demons of Eldia" were redeemed to the world as the selfless heroes who stopped The Rumbling. The Rumbling could also scare the world away from Eldia. Having said that, this was a terrible plan.
Instead of abandoning Eldia, the surviving nations made it a target. Eren was too naive to believe that a single act of intimidation could end eons of wars and prejudice. All Eren really did was add to the world's fear and hatred of Eldia. Eren's plan not only backfired, but made matters worse.
6 Leaving Everything In Armin’s Hands Is Too Risky
Eren delegated the rest to Armin as a backup plan. Eren believed Armin, his closest friend and the smartest person he knew, could bring Eldia peace and a place in the global community. To say Armin faced an uphill battle was an understatement, especially given Eren's use of what amounted to a superweapon.
While Eren trusted and respected his childhood friend, putting the future of an entire nation in the hands of one person was too risky. Even someone as intelligent and verbose as Armin couldn't stop a post-Rumbling world from blowing up Eldia in rage. Unfortunately, the epilogue confirmed this.
5 Mass Murderers Were Forgiven Too Easily
Armin thanked Eren for becoming a mass murderer after hearing his justifications. This was intended to endear Eren to readers, but after murdering the majority of humanity, sympathy was the last thing he deserved. Eren's status as a monstrous anti-hero was acceptable, but his ability to be easily forgiven and even glorified was not.
Annie and Reiner, on the other hand, received new leases on life only after they did everything they could to atone for their atrocities and sins. In comparison to Annie and Reiner, or even the equally culpable Bertholdt and Zeke (whose death was unsatisfying), Eren received only a slap on the wrist for bringing the world to an end and driving humanity to extinction.
4 Eren Didn’t Need A Last-Minute Redemption
At the start of the final arc, readers both feared and praised Eren's villainous turn. Many fans admired Eren's transformation from a more edgy take on the typical hot-blooded shonen hero to an unstoppably determined monster. Fans thought it was a brave deconstruction. Unfortunately, this praise was short-lived, as the final chapter revealed it to be a ruse.
Eren's villainy was a ruse, and his atrocities, including the murder of his mother, were motivated by hidden good intentions. This was not bad or incorrect writing, but it was unnecessary. This, in addition to deflating Eren's terror, robbed the finale of a clear stance. This refusal to commit to Eren's evil or dark heroism destroyed any legacy he might have had.
3 Eren Doesn't Actually Understand Freedom
Since the beginning, Eren was driven by freedom. Whether it was freedom from the Titans’ terror or freedom from a hateful world, Eren did everything for its sake. The final chapter revealed that through The Paths, Eren planted the idea of “freedom” on himself when he was born. However, Eren gave himself a very simplistic understanding of the concept.
As Eren said in Chapter 121: “If someone will take my freedom, I won't hesitate to take theirs.” Basically, Eren was willing to commit global genocide for his self-centered freedom. If Eren was depicted as a villain, this would make sense. However, since he’s Eldia’s savior, Eren's self-centered ideology was inexplicably depicted as heroic and just.
2 The Finale Canonized A Militaristic Subtext
One of the most enduring criticisms of Attack on Titan was how it can be read as an endorsement of fascism. The defense claimed that the manga was a deconstruction of such politics. Case in point, Eldia’s militarism was a fragile, dead-ended last resort. However, this reasoning fell apart after the last chapter.
Fearing global retaliation, Eldia becomes a fascist state. A militaristic solution was almost always the only answer in the manga, and the finale cemented this problematic constant. In other stories, a country turning militaristic meant things went terribly wrong. Meanwhile, it’s a cross of self-defense and a necessary evil in Attack on Titan.
1 The Overall Message Is Fatalistic
Despite the characters' tenacity and themes of never giving up, Attack on Titan's divisive closing message was ironically pessimistic. War and hatred are unavoidable, so people should prepare for them at all times. While these exist in reality, Eren could literally fix or even erase them in a matter of seconds.
Instead of using his powers to arrange events in the most peaceful way possible, Eren reluctantly began The Rumbling because fate said so. Eren, for all his talk of liberty, was too defeatist and myopic to envision a truly free world. The manga's framing of this as a self-fulfilling prophecy rather than an avoidable one didn't help.
NEXT: 10 Anime Villains With The Most Wasted Potential