Damn, dude. After so many years, Attack on Titan is finally going to end. It’s sad, but it’s also incredible. It feels like we’re watching a modern classic unfold right in front of us. It truly feels like something momentous is happening.
Unless the show somehow seriously dropped the ball in the weeks between me writing this and it coming out. Hopefully not!
When it came to characters, I was spoiled for choices. Maybe I could write an article complaining about Eren? No, not until the show’s over, at least. Levi, then? Or maybe Mikasa? Historia certainly deserves one.
But no. I quickly realized that there was only one answer. And his name is Reiner Braun.
Obviously: major spoilers ahead.
Got it? Good. Let’s get started.
The Want: A Hero of Marley
So, quick recap: Reiner is an Entian, a descendant of the people who had become titans and slaughtered the people of Marley. Now that Marley is in charge, the Entians are a second-class of citizen, looked down on and hated by everyone above them. They aren’t given the same rights as ordinary Marleyians. They’re all kept in a small, walled-off district, forbidden interaction with their ‘betters’.
Reiner wants to overcome the systematic racism that’s been pounded on top of him his whole life. He wants to earn the respect of his country and become an honorary Marleyian. To become his country’s hero. If he did that, his family’s suffering would be alleviated. He’d even be able to bridge the gap between his mother and his pure-blooded father. So he did all he could to become one of the Warrior Titans and earn that privilege.
But if there’s one thing we’ve learned about Attack on Titan at this point, it’s that the dreams of children are doomed to collapse.
The Lie and the Wound: Grim Reality
So… turns out, Reiner didn’t earn his place as a Warrior Titan. One of his friends, Marcel, had pulled some strings to get Reiner a place there. Marcel understood the terrible reality being a Warrior truly meant, so he sacrificed Reiner to protect his brother.
Then sacrificed himself to Ymir to protect Reiner. Hey, at least he didn’t completely throw Reiner under the bus. Or Titan, I guess.
Yeah, it turns out that everything Reiner wanted was actually a) completely impossible and b) an utter nightmare. Even as a warrior, Marley treated him like trash. All he’d accomplished was trimming down his own lifespan and making himself into a mass murderer.
Which is especially tragic, because his mission to infiltrate Paradis actually gave him everything he wanted. He wanted to be respected, admired. And in his training with Eren, he got just that. Eren truly admired Reiner, trusted him, looked up to him. What Reiner wanted in Marley, he found in Eren.
This is why Reiner developed a split personality. He became so engrossed in his role as a scout fighting the unstoppable Titan horde because it was everything he had ever wanted. I’d be willing to bet that Reiner would have thrown it all away to stay there if he could. To remain the older brother type that Eren admired so much.
But that darkness never left him. He couldn’t erase one simple fact: he was the one responsible for the death of Eren’s mother.
And eventually, the truth caught up with him.
The Need: Save the Future
When Reiner returned to Marley, he did so alone. Marcel, eaten. Annie, captured. Bertholdt, eaten. His dreams, his illusions, shattered. All that was left to him was a life of slaughtering people for those that hated him.
That, and a group of four children destined to inherit his fate.
At this point in his life, Reiner is on the brink of giving up. He is so broken that he straight-up sticks a rifle in his mouth to end it. It’s an extremely gruesome and depressing scene, especially when you remember what he used to be like. If he were alone, he’d have pulled the trigger.
But those children give him hope. Something to defend. He couldn’t avert the tragedy of his own life. But maybe, just maybe, he can find a way to protect them.
The question only remains: will he be able to do it?
I still remember when the first season came out. Before we knew who the Colossal and Armored Titans were. Before we realized that there were two terrified children hiding in those monstrous beasts. Back when we hated them and wanted to see Eren slaughter them.
Boy, how times have changed.
I am equal parts excited and terrified to see what the final season has in store for Reiner. Will he find some redemption in his final moments? Or will he die as he lived: a failure? Either way, no matter what happens, it cannot be denied that he is an absolutely phenomenal character. Easily one of the best this series has to offer.
I’d argue the best, but I don’t want all the Levi fangirls to slit my throat in my sleep.