WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Season 3, Episode 59 of Attack On Titan, "The Other Side of the Wall."
Attack On Titan's Season 3 finale is a quiet but by no means dull affair. While Eren and his fellow soldiers have just scored their biggest victory to date over the greatest threat to their existence, recently acquired knowledge of a new, possibly even greater one on their widened horizon makes the atmosphere a quietly tense one. It's the calm between two horrendous storms, and the only way out is to go through.
At the top of the episode, which picks up straight after the previous one, the whittled-down Scouts have little time -- or energy -- to bathe in the post-victory afterglow. In the meeting between the Scouts, Queen Historia and the rest of the military police discuss the contents of Grisha's Jaeger's diaries. Queen Historia rules that the information should be made public, no longer wanting to perpetuate the dethroned King Reiss' reign of oppressive lies.
This becomes a prevailing theme in the finale, with several characters wrestling with the idea of whether an awful truth is better to tell than a kinder lie. To this point, Eren chooses to withhold a key detail from his superiors: The knowledge that only someone of royal blood can fully utilize the Founding Titan's powers. He rationalizes his deception as being for the good of Historia, not trusting that the powers that be wouldn't force her to accept her destined Titan power that has a proven corrupting influence on her family.
We're visually reminded of this when Historia and Eren's hands touch during his medal of valor ceremony. The contact triggers Eren to see more of his father's memories, which show Grisha begging Historia's older sister, the previous possessor of the Founding Titan power, to return the erased knowledge of their peoples' origin to them so that the population can defend themselves against the coming Titan invasion, spearheaded by resource-hungry Marleyeans. His pleas are met with a cold stare, which, as we know, leads him to steal the power from her in an act of desperation, and later pass it onto his young son.
More importantly, after a year's wait, and with the Shiganshina refugees rebuilding their homes, the Scouts venture further beyond the Walls than ever before. How do we know it's been a year? Well, we're shown the changing of the seasons, for one thing, and for another, Eren has grown the Long Hair of Sadness. You know this hair. It happens when male heroes go through a transitional period of loss and, in their all-consuming introspection, forget that scissors exist. Standards in the Scouts are clearly slipping in the post-war period.
We should cut the kid some slack, though, as he's just been dragged through the worst six or seven years of his life. This change isn't just an aesthetic one, either. During their journey, the Scouts come across a small, immobile Titan and we get to see how finally knowing the truth about his peoples' long-time enemy has effected Eren "I Hate Titans" Jaeger. Season 1 Eren would have slaughtered the creature on the spot. Season 3 Eren chooses to let it be. This small, humane moment brings the seismic shift Attack on Titan has undergone in just a handful of episodes into sharp focus. Suddenly, Titans are no longer figures of chaotic evil but pitiful victims instead; enslaved pawns enlisted for someone else's war. "He's a patriot," Eren summarizes.
The Scouts continue on until they reach the white-walled exterior of Grisha's original home city. It's a huge leap of progress, topped only by a second: The sight of the ocean. Getting to one day see the sea has been the thing that has kept Eren and Armin going through their toughest times. Seeing the group splash gleefully around in the salty water is about as close as Attack On Titan will ever get to that weirdly classic anime staple of a "beach episode," and it's a sweetly satisfying point of closure for the show's first three seasons.
Of course, the fourth and final season looms large in the distance that Eren stares into. He may have mellowed out somewhat since achieving his short-term goals of avenging his mother's death and unlocking the secrets of his father's basement, but Eren is still the show's resident Debbie Downer. Before the credits roll, he reminds everyone that what lies across the ocean isn't the freedom they've dreamed of, but more enemies waiting to exterminate them. And what could be a worse adversary than a hungry Titan? Humans, of course.
The Season 3 finale of Attack On Titan is currently available to stream on Crunchyroll and FUNimation, and airs Saturday night as part of Adult Swim's Toonami block.