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Survival of the Weakest in Attack on Titan} ?> Forget the proverbial answer to the universe hidden in the Yeager family basement; I’m more curious about the T-rex in Season Two’s opening cinematic.
Whether as a reimagining or reflection of the real world, Attack on Titan’s Germanic culture and firearms place it firmly in postdiluvian days, despite all those giants on the earth. Aside from the military’s trusty steeds, little more than an occasional forest creature dares to show its face betwixt all the blood and brimstone. But when a T-rex literally comes marching over the horizon in Season Two’s intro, I’m completely pulled out of my deadlocked immersion, brain scrambling to make sense of this world-building idiosyncrasy.
As the “king of the tyrant lizards” tramples over waves of ant-like human armies, accompanied by the show’s intense theme music, it becomes symbolic shorthand for misconstrued social Darwinism: survival of the strongest. The Beast Titan leads the dinosaur, along with a herd of other assorted creatures (each the largest species of their respective animal kingdoms), becoming an icon of unchallenged rule—as the most ruthless, most powerful, and most intelligent of his kind. With his nearly human, ape-like features, the Beast Titan poses as the missing link between monkey and man. And in a world where what it means to be human is the oft-posed, existential question, this makes him even more terrifying as Season Two’s archvillain.
“Strength preys on weakness. It’s a very straightforward arrangement actually,” Armin introspects, likening local bullies to the cannibalistic titans that keep humanity trapped within a walled city. From the moment Eren watches his mother get eaten alive because he isn’t physically strong enough to lift a house off of her, strength is portrayed as crucial to survival. After all, the only thing that gets through to a titan is another titan-sized fist to the face. Talking matters out is useless—until, of course, familiar-faced Titan Shifters make their appearance and the titans start talking back.
In Season Two, Attack on Titan begins to derail from its “fight fire with fire” mantra. It challenges that unconquerable visage of tyrannosaurus power, asking whether strength can take many forms—not all of them made of pure fortitude and raw muscle. The series calls attention to gender bias, as Annie topples Eren in a one-on-one mock battle, using her comprehension of anatomy to beat Eren’s brute force with ease. Like a domino-driven microcosm, this scene sets off a chain of challenges that shake the foundations of strength’s definition.
To argue that strength is a state of existence is to make oneself inhuman, and in pursuing that logic many a fictional villain has turned to immortality at the cost of the human experience of death. In Attack on Titan, Ymir’s strength and unnatural aging come at the price of her being trapped in a deformed, titan body that she likens to an endless nightmare. Similarly, the seemingly impenetrable exterior of the Armoured Titan shields an emotionally-damaged Reiner Braun. Time and again, those who seem strongest in one moment are revealed to be the weakest in the next—and the characters’ misconception of social Darwinism begins to crumble like the tower of Castle Utgard.
Rather than rectify its evolutionary stance from “strongest” to “fittest,” however, Attack on Titan turns to the still small voice that lies beyond the hierarchical pyramid of power. The Titans symbolize more than mere oppression and terror. They become embodiments of personal demons—abusive fathers, destroyers of long-held ideals, deniers of last rites, betrayers, and reminders of ultimate regrets. It’s fitting then, that Season Two does not combat its Titans by sending helpless citizens to the massacre or commanding soldiers to die in the line of duty. Rather, characters choose self-sacrifice in the face of senseless slaughter and level the playing field through unassuming heroics.
Commander Erwin’s arm is the price of the protagonist’s rescue. Hannes’ bloody end empowers the Eren at his weakest moment, unlocking the key to his ultimate ability. Marcel’s sacrifice establishes a foothold of humanity in Reiner’s heart that has yet to reveal its potential.
Yet Attack on Titan Season Two doesn’t limit its sacrifices to the physical, but also examines the psychological and emotional weight of sacrifice—the risk of choosing to love even when that love might be taken advantage of or not returned at all. Familiar stories tell us that sometimes giants are felled by little stones, beauty kills the beast, and villains focus on those who fit their definition of strength, paving the way for an unobvious hero to save the day. It’s not coercion, money, or even a rousing speech that convinces Ymir to risk revealing her titan form to save her comrades. It’s Krista’s empathetic smile that brings the calloused Titan Shifter to tears of bewilderment: “She knows how awful I am, yet she still smiles at me.”
True strength, as Attack on Titan echoes through Marco Bodt, is “knowing what it is to be weak.” It’s acknowledging that while we are scared, undeserving, incompetent, and foolish, we have relied on another’s strength when we could not support our own weight. It is choosing to be the shoulder another leans on, to act in selflessness and with courage even when our actions will not change the outcome of the situation. In doing so, we preserve and make a habit of our humanity.
By the finale of Season Two, it’s evident that the weak uphold the strong—unlocking true potential and teaching others to recognize different types of strength. It’s the survival of the weakest, not the strongest or fittest, that will ensure the world evolves into a moral society, transforming the efforts of humanity from a state of mere survival into one of free living.
The Beast Titan is an imposing foe, but as long as he continues to stride alongside the tyrannosaurus, his days are numbered. After all, the last time I saw the “king of the tyrant lizards,” he was looking a bit underfed in a museum.