Spoiler warning for Attack on Titan.
Erwin Smith, 13th commander of the Survey Corps, confronted the Beast Titan, the Armored Titan and the Colossal Titan at the Shinganshina District, becoming mortally wounded during battle against the Beast Titan. Levi, captain of the Special Operations Squad, decides against injecting Erwin with the titan serum, giving it to soldier Armin instead. In the Attack on Titan Character Directory (transcribed by fuku-shuu on Tumblr), creator Hajime Isayama spoke at length on the decision to kill Erwin.
"To have Erwin perish during that point was pre-planned," Isayama said. "I always wanted to portray Levi and Erwin as having an equal relationship. 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. Then little by little, he ended up in the position of leading this group, while he 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."
"When I drew that scene, what I considered was 'the moment humans reveal their truest nature is when they have been pushed to the brink of death,'" Isayama said. "For Erwin, this happened when the Beast Titan drove him to the verge at Shiganshina, and his true self materialized severely. During that moment, what he displayed to us was that wavering between fulfilling his 'dream' through the basement and the 'responsibility' of fighting the Beast Titan to the death. Seeing Erwin in this state, Levi felt as if he were urged on by Erwin - 'I hope you tell me to ‘abandon my dream and go to hell.’ He comprehended Erwin’s desire at that time. In this sense, it’s exactly because of Levi’s statement that Erwin was finally able to abandon his dream and transform into the adult who prioritizes responsibility."
"During that moment, I illustrated the panels while thinking, 'Everyone is a slave to something,'" Isayama shared. "Perhaps Erwin was enslaved by his 'dream.' And as long as he lives, he cannot find freedom from it - only in death is there liberation. For Erwin, Levi abandoning his rescue is also using death to release Erwin from his shackles."
Isayama adds that Levi understood Erwin's mindset, an understanding that arose from his interactions with Kenny:
"The scene where Levi decided Erwin’s fate - he was influenced by his interactions with Kenny," Isayama noted. "Levi still had the experience of being separated from Kenny during his childhood. He was constantly troubled by the thought of 'Kenny left because I couldn’t fulfill his expectations.' When the Uprising occurred within the walls, and he confronted Kenny again as an enemy, Levi sought to meet what couldn’t be satisfied previously. In the end, the underground caverns collapsed and caused grave injuries to Kenny, but Kenny didn’t save himself by utilizing the serum. Instead, he entrusted it to Levi before dying. From Levi’s perspective, the Kenny who always survived by being selfish actually did something selfless in his final moments - that shocked him immensely. Because of that experience, Levi didn’t revive Erwin. He accepted Erwin as human and chose to let him die."
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