WARNING: The following article contains spoilers of the Attack on Titan manga. Read ahead at your own discretion!
The episode “Midnight Sun” was such an emotional ride. The fandom went on a frenzy on whether the Ackerman made the right choice of choosing Armin over Erwin. This one maneuver gave rise to many arguments back and forth and many fanfictions.
Now, as the manga comes to a close (proceeds to go cry in a corner) with the final chapter coming next month, I think it’s a good time to restart that discussion after everything we’ve seen so far. But before we get into that comparison, it is important to know the traits of everyone with stakes in this scenario!
In the Survey Corps, Erwin, Armin and Hange are the three pillars of the tactical department. Let’s look at them one by one and see how they fair up in their skills and thought processes. I included Hange in the discussion as Hange became the commander of the Survey Corps after Erwin died.
Erwin Smith’s Skills and Traits
Erwin bears an innocent motivation to “seek the truth” and a need for atonement, since his actions had led to his father’s death. He joined the Survey Corps due to these two reasons.Hajime Isayama
He was an exemplary leader of the Corps. His quest for knowledge about this world and how it became the way it is now is what drove him to carry out perilous expeditions again and again; going against the ever-present criticism from the public (before recapturing Shiganshina that is).
- In episode 25, the Attack Titan was ripping off the body parts of Annie (Female Titan) and sent them flying. One of the parts went crashing on a bridge where Erwin was standing. Although the others ran in fear, Erwin did not budge at all, which showed his iron-like sturdiness.
- His formation tactics (He basically invented them), the way he lured Annie into the forest and captured her and the tactics he used to expose the fake king and the Government demonstrated his high planning and observation skills. It also portrayed his strong will to carry forward with the plan, even it seemed crazy.
- The speech Erwin gave to his men to make them charge full throttle towards the Beast Titan in the face of obvious death showed high levels of leadership skills and the ability to convince others of his plan.
- In the first two seasons, Erwin portrayed himself as not having much compassion or empathy towards his fallen comrades. People often criticize him for this. But later on, during the Battle in Shiganshina, he explained to Levi that he did feel the presence of the fallen comrades and thought whether their deaths had any meaning. He’ll never forget the soldiers who gave their lives to push humanity forward, even as he sent more of them to their death. This showed he had empathy towards his fallen comrades.
Hange Zoë’s Skills and Traits
Hange’s backstory and how she (since the character’s gender is ambiguous, for the sake of simplicity, I’m going to refer to Hange as “she”) joined the Survey Corps still remains a mystery. In Chapter 20, she said that she relied on her hatred to get through the battles with the Titans when she first joined the Survey Corps.
During one such battle, when she kicked the decapitated head of a Titan, she realized that it was unusually light. This got her thinking and drove her to forget most of the resentment and insecurity she held onto. Hange then took on a new approach and turned to Titan research.
- As a way to avenge fallen comrades, Hange contributes to the Survey Corps by researching Titans.
- No doubt, Hange’s intelligence is superior to Armin’s or Erwin’s. The way she found a connection between Annie, Reiner and Bertholt by finding out that they all live in the same area was brilliant. It was through her research that the Corps got to know that the way to kill Titans was to cut its nape.
- Even though at times she appears to be careless (going too close to Sonny and Bean was dangerous), she is pretty observant and alert and can sense if something’s wrong.
Armin Arlert’s Skills and Traits
Although pretty intelligent, Armin always lacked the guts to be proactive. He requires external support, especially from Armin and Mikasa to do so. He lost his parents during the recovery mission and moved into the settlement.
Ever since Eren and Mikasa saved him from a couple of bullies, he had the mindset of “wherever my friends go, I go”. So along with them, he joined the training corps and later the Survey Corps. As a child, Armin was curious about the world outside the walls after reading a book of his grandfather’s. He and Eren shared the same goal of finding about the outside world and what it had.
- According to the guidebook, Armin was hopeless during combat and stamina tests in the Training Corps. However, he displayed glimpses of sheer brilliance in his classroom grades and in technical knowledge.
- The way he decoded how Reiner and Bertholt were working with Annie to capture Eren showed his high observation skills.
- Instead of taking down the abnormal Titan (the Attack Titan) in Season 1, he instead told others to let the abnormal Titan fight the other Titans and use this opportunity to retake the supply point.
- In Season 3, Armin’s plan to take down the Colossal Titan showed his high levels of intelligence and planning based on carefully reading the situation. The way he chose to sacrifice himself so that Eren could take down the Colossal Titan showed his determination and courage, which is not always seen.
All three of them occupied the position of the Commander of the Survey Corps. But who was the better commander?
Erwin Smith was the better Commander of the three
In terms of experience and accomplishments, Erwin definitely is the victor. After the coup d’état he successfully pulled off during the uprising arc, everyone in Paradis had respect towards Erwin. So much that he had become a symbol of humanity. Hange described the importance of Erwin to the whole of humanity in Paradis:
Erwin Smith – “The Symbol of Humanity”. To some extent, we can compare Erwin to My Hero Academia’s All Might – “The Symbol of Peace”. After All Might retired, crime rate increased and more villains started coming out from the shadows. In other words, it became chaos. The new Number one Hero, Endeavor, didn’t receive as much respect and awe as compared to All Might.
Similarly, after Erwin died, chaos reigned within Paradis Island. A coup d’état by the Yeagerists and other dark incidents marred the time that followed his death. It was there for everyone to see that Hange and Armin didn’t receive same levels of respect as Erwin.
But one could also partly point it to their lack of decisive performance in their time to shine.
The performance level of Hange and Armin dropped
We had high expectations on Hange and Armin based on past experiences. But it came crashing down. Let’s see why it was so.
Hange, even though a section commander, was first and foremost a Titan Researcher. Her subordinates in her squad respected her for that. But, because of her weird behavior and craziness, she didn’t command the same respect among the higher-ups.
While Erwin recognized her hidden talents and asked her to succeed him as the next commander of the Survey Corps, the same could not be said for everyone included.
I feel she wasn’t suited for the position because as stated before, she’s a researcher. She doesn’t have the qualities of leadership and authoritativeness, at least not as much as Erwin. Clearly, others don’t have as much respect for Hange as compared to Erwin.
Take the case of Floch. He thought highly of Erwin and said he would be the one to lead Humanity.
Floch said similar things about Eren and joined the Yeagerists. But what was his behavior towards Hange? Something like this I suppose:
Furthermore, Hange is more emotional compared to Erwin. When Sonny and Bean died, she broke down and just ordered around to find the culprit. It was Erwin who thought with a cool head and noticed that this was the work of someone inside. He quickly identified Annie’s unusual behavior and set up a trap to expose her. Hange only followed up on the ground work laid by Erwin and found out about Reiner and Bertholt.
As far as Armin is concerned, he was never the confident type. He had a good intellect but low self-esteem. Whenever he came up with a plan, he needed support to back it up. Mikasa and Eren were his constant companions. Wherever they go, he goes. He might not have realized it but, they had become the pillar of support that he couldn’t live without.
The first time his leaders asked him to take a decision, fear took over him and he asked Jean to take over. He gets over it only after realizing the dire situation they’re in.
As long as it was WITH Eren and Mikasa, Armin had the confidence to go forward with his plan. Even the escape mission in Season 4 was well executed because it involved retrieving Eren. This kind of proves that if Mikasa and Eren are not there in the picture, he begins to fall apart.
When Eren becomes an antagonist to the Survey Corp, Armin is shell-shocked. Eren, the person he trusts the most, outplayed him. He was in constant denial and kept believing that Eren would understand till the end. One of his pillars of support cracked and he lost his confidence. That is why his performance level dropped in Season 4.
On the other hand, Erwin has the qualities of leadership and authoritativeness (which Hange lacks) and also the qualities of confidence and strength (which Armin lacks). How would Erwin handle the situations which the Survey Corp members faced in Season 4?
Now, as some of you may know the following:
Erwin himself wavered between the roles of “a child who chased his dream” and “an adult who carried responsibilities.” In order to affirm his self-identity, he fabricated the false ambition of fighting “For humanity’s future,” and he continued to fool himself.Hajime Isayama
Also, his dream was limited to only finding the truth about humanity and he didn’t know what he would do after he found it. Whereas Armin had a grander dream.
This was one of the reasons why Levi picked Armin over Erwin, but let’s assume (for argument’s sake) that Erwin wanted to fight for the survival of the Paradis Islanders and his dream wasn’t so narrow minded. Let’s analyze from scene how Erwin could have handled if he had not died.
What would Erwin do in _________ Situation?
The agreement with Yelena and Zeke
After one year since Eren and the others saw the sea far beyond the walls, Marleyans forces started sending scout ships to survey the situation on Paradis Island.
One of the ships had Yelena and her subordinates. She wanted to work with the Islanders to restore and develop Paradis as per Zeke’s orders. She supplied them with all sorts of equipment and tech which excited Hange a lot.
This was the first mistake that Hange did. She believed an enemy without much fuss. She got so worked up on the new machinery Yelena gifted to them that she did not find the whole thing suspicious at the beginning itself. The “researcher in her” took over her mind.
If she were more vigilant, she would have checked the ship’s cargo and found the wine bottles which contained Zeke’s spinal fluid.
If Erwin was in this scenario, he wouldn’t have waited 3 years to act. Given his leadership skills and the ability to convince others, he might have set up an alliance with the Mid-East countries and take down the higher ups in Marley.
After the scouting ships came to Paradis, like Hange, Erwin would have used Eren to attack the ships and capture them. But there’d be a difference between what Hange did and what Erwin would have done from here on.
Hange diplomatically handled Yelena and her subordinates and then took them into custody after 3 years. Instead, Erwin would try to collect as much information about the outside world from Yelena and then try to gain an upper hand in the Diplomatic talks. Ermin MIGHT have had his suspicions about Yelena, the moment she extended an arm of friendship.
Now, with the following set of key things: The scouting ships, Information about Marley and the other countries (including the war to take ownership of Fort Slava), the equipment Yelena brought, Bertholt’s and Eren’s memories, Erwin would devise a plan.
Let’s not forget that Erwin’s a man who has a knack for taking calculated risks; by coming up with surprisingly bold plans. Look no further than the 57th scouting Expedition to understand what I am trying to say.
Also, Erwin knew already that there were humans beyond the walls thanks to his dad’s research and Grisha’s books in the basement only confirmed his theory. So, he would be emboldened to find out more about this unknown world and be in control if possible..
If it were up to Erwin, he would have convinced the higher-ups of the military to partake in the Marley, Mid- East war. He’d have chosen to help the Mid-East Allied Forces defeat the Marleyans soldiers. After all, the enemy’s enemy is a friend? Just imagine the Colossal and Attack Titans appearing to fight against the Marleyan forces at Fort Slava.
Defeating or stalling Marley, not only takes away their attention from Paradis, but also burns their resources. This would serve as the basis for possible alliance for Paradis Island with the Mid-East Coalition.
He would try to convince them that Paradis Island is not a threat to humanity. In fact, they would want to live in harmony with all the other countries of the world. The present Eldians aren’t like the Eldians of the past wherein the King used Titans to attack other nations.
The history of the Eldian Empire might be filled with bloodshed and hate but, let’s get over that. They too want to avoid bloodshed as much as possible.
If Erwin could give a magnificent speech to the newbies in the Survey Corps and convince them to charge at the Beast Titan on a suicide mission, why not something like that here? I am a very hopeful person, aren’t I?
He would even lend the power of the Titans which he has in his disposal to help the other countries to stall Marley, who was a common enemy. Paradis could then come up with an agreement of a fair trade for the valuable resources which others sought for. Seeing that the Islanders aren’t as bad as they thought, the other nations might agree on this and finalize a coalition with Paradis.
As a consequence of this, Yelena and Zeke’s plan would be completely ruined and thus preventing the need for a rumbling to happen.
Handling Eren’s insubordination
First of all, if Erwin took the actions mentioned in the previous heading, there wouldn’t be a need for Eren to disobey his superiors and go on with a full-fledged attack on Marley on his own. Eren was irritated with them because they did not take any action on Marley for 3 years. Even Armin thought the same.
This wouldn’t be the case if Erwin was there because he wouldn’t have delayed like this. As mentioned before, he would immediately sent troops to attack Marley in Fort Slava. Eren would have listened to him and thus not have the rogue mentality he has now.
But let’s say Eren is very persistent and wants to go ahead on his plan no matter what. Erwin would still take the lead. Instead of letting Eren attacking Marley head-on, Erwin would first go there and learn about everything while being incognito (the classic scout mentality). He would know about the Tybur Family and meet up with Willy Tybur.
Willy and his family are on good terms with the rest of the world. Could Erwin and Paradis have used him as a supporting figure?
Alright, for argument’s sake, let’s say Eren does go ahead with his plan and launches an attack on Marley and everything happened as per the actual sequence. Let’s say Erwin did not know about this and does what Armin does i.e., rescue Eren again. After that, Hange and the others put Eren in a cell. She basically treated him like some ordinary soldier in the Corps who disobeyed their leaders.
Erwin wouldn’t have done that. Instead, he would ask someone to keep a close eye on him and let him be out in the open. He wouldn’t have even let Zeke enter Paradis at all since he would have known about the rumbling from Kiyomi Azumabito. He wouldn’t trust Zeke at all.
Regarding Eren, he first would have asked for why did he go to Marley and launch an attack without informing anybody? What was his plan? Did he meet Zeke? What did he tell him? He wouldn’t have treated Eren like some ordinary chap in the Island. Instead, he would treat him with utmost respect.
For all this while, he took great measures to save Eren because he knew Eren is a great asset but also a time bomb. If Erwin left him uncontrolled, he’d blow up. So he’d carefully reason with Eren and Eren might listen to him because Erwin commands high respect and adoration among the Islanders.
When Eren first met Hange, she behaved in a very weird way which made him uncomfortable. Eren sees Erwin with awe and reverence and sees Hange as a crazy person. If Erwin was able to tame a wild Levi and make him join the Scouts, why not a rogue Eren?
Now let’s say Erwin did not do anything which was mentioned above. Everything happened as per the actual sequence until the bombing of the capital and killing Zachary by the Yeagerists.
The coup d’état of the Yeagerists
Hange is powerless when it comes to influencing the higher ups. As mentioned before, they did not have much respect towards Hange. But this is not the case with Erwin.
Premier Zachary decided to torture Eren for information and make him give up his Founding Titan’s powers. Seeing this was a crazy thing to do, Erwin would have talked with the Premier and convinced him to let him take care of Eren. If so, the revolt by the Yeagerists might not have happened. Also, Floch would have listened to Erwin when the commander spoke to him. Unlike Hange, Floch respects Erwin and would have even requested Erwin in a polite manner to let Eren go.
Now, this is when things wouldn’t have changed either way. Erwin wouldn’t have accepted Floch’s request and might have ended up in a cell just like Armin. Or he might have discussed with Floch that he’ll go to Marley and try to convince the other nations while working with Willy Tybur (This is assuming Eren doesn’t launch an attack on Marley).
If it doesn’t work out, he’ll let his gambling genes take over and let Eren go forth with the rumbling.
The circumstances of Hange’s death
Hange decided to sacrifice herself while others reach for the boat and go to Eren and stop him. What Erwin might have done is, ask Mikasa and Annie for help to distract the Colossals and escape at the same time. All three of them are high in combat skills (unlike Hange) and they would have joined the others in the boat.
What do you think on how things would have played out if Erwin was revived instead of Armin? Would he have prevented the rumbling from happening which caused all of our beloved to die? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!