Ever since the shift in Eren’s behaviour in Season 4, some enthusiastic fans have been quick to label him the “villain” of the series. Adjectives such as evil have been used to describe him. This takes away from Eren the motives and reasoning behind his actions.
Attack on Titan is known for playing with perspectives. So, where did we go wrong with “labelling” Eren? Was wanting to protect those he knew over the rest of the world an act of villainy? Read ahead as we deconstruct why Eren is the perfect example of how being “evil” or “good” cannot be attached exclusively to heroes or villains.
Note: This article has some resemblance with this article on why Eren went forward with the rumbling. This article focuses more on Eren’s personal circumstances, so we suggest you read both to get a good idea of Eren’s motives!
What is “evil”?
Firstly, its important to understand what evil means. On the internet, its described as being immoral or wicked. An evil person is one that does immoral or cruel things with the sole reason to make others suffer.
Hillel Steiner in his work has mentioned that the difference between a wrongdoing and an evil act is the extra feeling of the “perpetrator’s pleasure”; the want of the person to inflict some harm or pain for their own joy. Furthermore, there is the “Consistency Thesis”. Daniel Haybron states that evil people have evil making properties such as a lack of empathy or the will to do something morally correct.
On the other hand, criticisms for Steiner’s theory is that someone could commit “evil” acts without deriving any joy from it. As you could make out, terming someone “evil”, and trying to size down what makes someone evil takes a lot of perspective.
You can read more about theories on evil here.
The importance of perspective
Perspective is a double-edged sword. While it allows one to look at things from many a directions, it takes away the ability to objectively classify someone, or something, as evil or good (maybe for the better).
So, how does this tie down to Eren? Eren is a character who’s reputation is on both extremes. While the world considers him a true devil ready to destroy everything, Paradis considers him a hero for his act of standing up to the world. Similarly, Reiner was considered a villain from the perspective of most watchers. On the other hand, we see how in Marley warriors attained special status.
This just comes to prove that Attack on Titan preaches us just how scary perspective can be; it can label a hero a villain. The story emphasises how some characters had no choice but to tread on the paths that were laid out for them. On that note, let’s consider how Eren could be “evil” (or not).
Was Eren “evil”? Is he a villain?
No, according to me, Eren is not an evil character or a villain.
Eren’s resistance to the actions of the Survey Corps cannot be termed evil. Branding Eren with one adjective or labeling him either a “villain” or “hero” doesn’t make sense. Despite so, his actions received much flak from fans as well. Let’s consider why Eren did what he had to, and how this justification gives us perspective on if Eren was “evil”.
Why did Eren plan to destroy the world? Does that make Eren evil?
His decision to act against the corps and activate the rumbling (you can read more about it in this article) was the result of the powers Eren was passed down from his father.
It was a simple case of protecting his loved ones over the rest of the world. A popular quote reads, “A hero would sacrifice you to save the world, while a villain would sacrifice the world to save you.” However, if you take Eren’s situation into consideration, why would a young boy want to kill the only people he has to save for strangers who look down at him and his race?
Marleyans and Eldians have been stuck in a cycle of hate for the longest of times. Therefore, Eren’s desire to wipe out titans and everybody outside of Paradis was nothing but a simple response to the failed attempt Marley had at exploiting Paradis. A villain would be one who would go out of his way to cause harm to his own people, or commit war crimes for the sake of pleasure. While this should not be taken as a justification for genocide, it puts things into perspective.
Who started this all?
Eren was burdened; the conflict became personal
Eren was caught up in a conflict that had been going for two millenniums. While he wanted to eradicate titans, his position was extra special as he was an intelligent titan; an asset for Paradis. At the thought of having one on their side, it made sense that everyone thrust their hopes onto the young boy.
Now, Eren had to bear the burden of being a titan shifter with a horrible history. It was not until the reveal at Shiganshina that he realised just how personal this battle was for him. He realised that his ability was more powerful than expected, and how his titan perhaps had an ability that was special to it. Seeing the death of Grisha’s younger sister, to seeing restorationists being turned into titans- the same titans he vowed to eradicate, could be nothing less of a shock.
The memories he saw when he kissed Historia’s hand show us how it was no wonder he got pushed to the edge. As time went by Eren could not dare tell anyone what he saw, opting to detaching himself from everybody. Eren probably felt that this fight was his personal one because of seeing his father sacrifice so much. He thought his burdens are better not shared with anyone else.
What could a 19-year-old possibly do? Paradis was at a dead end with no possible solutions to save their skin. Waiting for the whole world to attack them was something Eren could not dare see. Hence, going rogue and attacking Liberio was what he chose.
The change in Eren’s relationships:
Eren standing on the other side without his friends is a painful sight we all wished to never see. All of them have escaped death together while also sharing some peaceful moments. As mentioned above, his harsh behaviour was out of “tough love” to put it loosely. He did not want to let the hands of his close ones get dirty.
Eren had realised early on that he can only be stopped with certain death. This is why he allowed his friends to carry on and kill him. He knew that this would not only eradicate titans but allow him to repent his actions.
Here are some popular instances that have been used to term Eren as “evil”, but in a different light:
Eren’s last interaction with Mikasa and Armin
Definitely one of the most painful scenes in the story, Eren chides both Mikasa and Armin,having them captured by the Yeagerists. Eren hurls out hateful words towards Mikasa, telling her that he hates her. (To know if that was truly the case, check this article out). Enraged, Armin lashes out at Eren and they both get involved in a fist fight.
While on surface level it may look like that this was Eren’s way of cutting all ties with his childhood friends, he had a big reason for it. Disturbed by the thought of involving his friends in a plan that would guarantee certain death, a desperate Eren thought that ending on a bad note would be enough to keep both of them away from him.
Eren attacks Hange
Eren lashing out on Hange was perhaps the moment where most people stopped looking at Eren as a “hero”. Like most shonen main characters, Eren had an idealistic dream. This was shattered the second he realised humanity had existed outside of the walls. The immediate losing of “hero-like” characters such as morals and optimism led to Eren being labelled as the exact opposite; a villain.
At this point, Eren had seen what would happen when he kissed Historia’s hand four years ago. He managed to slip into his father’s memories to see the events of him and Zeke in the paths play out. As he states in Chapter 139, Eren had not wanted to die, wanting to remain with Mikasa and the others. However, bound by the future he saw, Eren had no choice to keep going. His anger at Hange was most probably out of frustration. He was longing for a solution that would perhaps help him not go on a bloody path.
Zeke Yeager: Eren’s character foil
Zeke provided the perfect contrast for Eren’s ideology. Both represented two sides of morality. While Zeke’s idea was to kill off his own people for the sake of the world, Eren wanted to only save the island and kill everybody outside of it.
Zeke’s character brings out the defining qualities in Eren. It only emphasises how much Eren cares about his right to live. Zeke’s ideology was more about dying out so that there is peace not just for the world but for your own people. Eren was ready to bleed and get beaten over as long as he could see the oppression of his people end.
Another contrast between the two is how Zeke wanted complete elimination of all Eldians, while Eren only wanted Paradis Eldians to survive. He had little to do with their race, but more so with his people at the island. His people had been wronged despite being nothing but peaceful for a century. Additionally, Zeke’s idea, and ultimately, the eradication of Paradis, would be seen as justified from the lense of the world as they hold onto ancient biases. Similarly, Eren committing genocide would seem like a logical option for most of the island’s population who do not want to die for the sake of those who ostracized them.
As Armin had said in Chapter 139, conflict would never end. Both brothers were ultimately doing the same thing, just on different scales. Similarly, Paradis vs the World is also on the same page. The conflict in itself portrayed two sides of the same coin. All that people lacked was empathy.
That being said,
Genocide should not be condoled. The story in no way justifies the idea of wishing death upon the rest of the world. At the same time, it brings up the argument of whether one should sacrifice themselves for those who see them as vermin. Attack on Titan realistically shows us how the lines of what is “good” and what is “bad” gets blurred during conflicts like these.
Eren definitely went against morals by involving innocents. Ironically, did Marleyans not do the same? Marley had used the ancestry of Eldians to brand even the current generation as evil. Marley thought that killing innocents on Paradis would be justified. Therefore, objectively critising Eren is the same as objectively critising Marley.
What Eren did was extreme. Based on his position it was hard to imagine if he could come up with something else. Eren valued the life of his people, and freedom the most. As we saw in Chapter 139.5, despite anything the conflict did not end and Paradis was struck down. Was this because of the rumbling? Sooner or later, Paradis would’ve been finished. Eren managed to stall the end of Paradis by giving it enough time to build itself up (for destruction unfortunately).
Eren himself understands that what he was doing was not correct. Despite so, he asserts that he would do it all over again; even if Ymir had no part to play in this. To save his own people, Eren had no choice but to kill more of the innocent. He was tired of seeing more of his own people being sacrificed for some worldwide agenda. It was nothing but a young boy doing his best to save his friends.
The importance of foreshadowing
There is enough foreshadowing in the first season to show how bleak the ending of the story would be. When pushed to the brink by Annie in the fight at Stohess, Eren mumbles how we would destroy the whole world. A conversation between Armin and Jean takes place after the said events. Here, Isayama presents a question that would be answered in the last chapter.
Jean questions if turning into a monster and abandoning one’s humanity is the only way to win. Armin maintains his stance that this is one way to do so. Jean wonders if Eren turning into a monster and killing all titans would be a win for humanity. (Praises for Isayama, please!) Turns out that Jean was correct. Even the vanishing of the titans was not enough for the world to put down their weapons. The same old conflict kept on dragging for years, even after the death of the whole cast.
In conclusion, it won’t be fair to box Eren or his actions into constrictive words that take away from us the ability to look at things from a 360 degree view. Eren’s actions were out of desperateness to save his friends, even if it came at the cost of the whole world and his own life. Therefore, calling him a “villain” or “evil” is putting him in the category of characters that act as obstacles in the path of a hero to attain a goal. Eren’s actions, in fact, allowed him to do what he wanted.
The depressing end of the story seemed somewhat inevitable. Whether one agrees with his actions or not, it is not hard to agree on that Eren died valiantly. What do you think? Is Eren truly evil and villainous or is there more to him than that?