The Onus of Birth
Eren’s reaction to those final words, “I have already been born into this world”, is evocative of our own as they immediately bring our minds back to Eren’s fiery declaration in chapter 14.
Eren’s longing for freedom has always been, rather than a curiosity and ardour like Armin’s, more of a sense of indignation and righteous entitlement for a world that he has been deprived of. It is not a matter of pleasure, but of justice. As such, to him his quest for freedom is a duty that must be fulfilled no matter what, regardless of any personal reluctance he might come to feel.
This outlook on his purpose in the world reached its natural and bloody conclusion in Chapter 100. As he says himself, Eren grew attached to the Marleyans during his time in hiding, and his lack of any grudge against Reiner, the most guilty of them all in Eren’s personal tragedy, proves he bore them no ill will whatsoever. He struggles to even believe he could have said such violent things towards Reiner in the past.
But despite the obvious personal reluctance, Eren never viewed his mission as a personal decision, but as a duty. Just like with Reiner. Even after breaking bread with the Marleyans, he still possesses the will to kill their innocents if his duty demands it. This is all part of Eren’s Warriorfication; as the lines blur between good and evil, our heroes slide slowly into the moral darkness of their Warrior counterparts.
Throughout the series, Eren has received lesson after brutal lesson in his inability to be the kind of hero that both he and Reiner wanted to be. From his inadequacy in training, to seeing bright-eyed children watch as he is carried back on a stretcher in defeat, to realising that the monsters he had been killing were people all along, and then vitally, his revelation in the Crystal Cave that his very existence is a hindrance to peace and stability in the Walls. It is Historia’s exhortation to live freely and for his own sake that allows him to move past this existential blockade, and enables him to continue with the much simpler desire of helping the people he cares about; something we’ve seen with his disobedience in order to save Armin and his silence in order to save Historia.
However, it’s not so simple as that. The memory of Faye reminds Eren that in the world he lives in, there can never be true freedom or security for the people he cares about until the enemies are no longer knocking at their gates. Eren knows now that he’s not The Hero. But his duty has not changed, so far as in he must destroy the enemy. It is the combination of these two convictions that has led to this explosive result. While Eren has become a wiser, more open-minded and more forgiving person, it is the very disintegration of his overly severe moral boundaries that are leading him towards the same actions he once judged. No longer needing to be The Hero, he is willing to resort to ruthless measures to end these tragedies once and for all. Even if that means repeating them. In no longer hating Reiner, he is allowing himself to become more like him.
One of the absolutely brilliant things about this arc is how completely it has flipped over the perspective we’ve been accustomed to. In panels like below, Falco, the naive but good-hearted and self-sacrificing boy, seems so much like our hero, whereas Eren, the deceitful terrorist Titan making a war veteran sweat buckets and threatening to kill a building full of innocents above, would seem absolutely like the villain of the story had we not followed him from the start.
(Reiner’s reaction to Falco’s words here is also interesting, as he is surely remembering Eren’s words to him to the same effect, and is yet another example of how Eren is becoming more like Reiner.)
In Chapter 1, our protagonist watched as a Titan appeared out of nowhere and shattered the town’s peace, leaving blood and rubble in its wake. In Chapter 100, our protagonist is now in the Titan’s shoes.
But, to go back to the beginning, it is Willy’s speech that gives Eren the courage to do what he feels he must. Willy’s speech updates the fiery passion of Eren’s first affirmation of his birthright to his current understanding of it - he must seek freedom because he was born in this world, yes, but that is a tragic thing. It is a burden. His duty is not a passion, but an agonising labour. Tears are in Willy’s eyes as he says it. Eren likewise is surrounded by a miasma of despair as the conversation unfolds - it is why he needs to keep reminding himself that he must move forward.
The reminder comes right after he links both his and Reiner’s fates to their birth - destined for tragedy and destruction because of the burden that simply living in this distorted world places on them. Like Willy, Eren too felt incredible despair at his own existence in the Crystal Cave.
So when he hears Willy, who has clearly reached the same conclusion he has, still make the argument for destroying the enemy, he can’t help but take those words to heart too.
He gives a knowing, sad kind-of half-smile, closes his eyes in resolution…and acts.
Isayama masterfully sets Eren’s decisions in context without even needing to get inside his head by projecting his psychological space around him through the way that Reiner and Willy parallel him, and thus establishing exactly how the very same problems lie at the heart of all these characters’ opposite yet strikingly similar walks of life. The problems of peace, and the problems of freedom, in a world that denies them either.
Eren’s destructive solution to these problems can’t possibly put a stop to the cycle of violence. But the question is, will our heroes realise the fate they’re marching to and pull themselves out of it? Or will they fall headlong into becoming the monsters they swore to destroy?