Warning: Spoilers ahead.
In this article:
- The Walls of Attack on Titan are some of the anime’s biggest mysteries, and as of the latest episodes on Netflix, they’ve been activated in what’s known as The Rumbling.
- Though we first know of them as a means to keep out titans and protect the last of humanity, the too-short episodes of Attack on Titan have peeled back layer after layer of the secrets of the Walls.
- From the what and when of the matter, to the why and the horrifying how, the Walls have a lot of meaning for society within the Walls and, more importantly, the world outside of them.
Ladies, gentlemen, and folks who are neither: The Rumbling has begun.
This announcement may not make much sense for someone who doesn’t watch Attack on Titan, but if you do, you’d know the unthinkable has arrived for the characters in the anime.
You’d also know that it’s been a wild ride to get here. We’ve collectively gasped by several betrayals, were floored by heart-stopping action sequences, and cried for everyone who’s died so far. But now, the countless Colossus Titans who once made up the Walls are about to kill so many more.
If you’re a little dizzy from everything we’ve learned about the Walls and the island that they stood on for over a hundred years (as well as all the different plans characters were scheming all this time), then that’s okay. Here’s a quick rundown of everything we know and understand about the three Walls of Paradis Island — Maria, Rose, and Sina.
The Walls of Attack on Titan: The Basics
For starters, the three Walls were (yup, past tense!) three large, 50-meter-high structures located on Paradis Island. The outermost Wall was called Wall Maria, the middle was named Wall Rose, and lastly, the innermost one was known as Wall Sina.
All three were named after Ymir Fritz’s three daughters, and guarded the last remnants of her people of Eldia from mindless, man-eating titans.
The three Walls were shaped like circles drawn around each other, with small arch-shaped Walled districts protruding from each circle in the north, south, east, and west sides. These districts were home to large communities that drew titans. This way, humanity could focus on guarding those specific areas of the Walls, which were too long to be managed fully all the time.
They were built in the year 743 by the 145th King of Eldia, Karl Fritz, though we don’t quite learn how and why until later on in the series. As anime viewers and manga readers, we first know of them as a way for humanity’s last surviving population to keep safe from titans that had wiped out all civilization outside of it (this is fake news — but more on that later).
The Walls, we’re told, protect the last remaining members of humanity from being eaten by Titans, who often came from the South. This meant that those living within the southern region of Wall Maria tended to be the poorest of all, as they can only afford to live in the most dangerous and least desirable area. Humanity’s elite, meanwhile, lived more extravagantly within the innermost Wall, Wall Sina.
The Walls of Paradis were strong, but not impenetrable: The story opens, after all, on the fateful day that the Colossal Titan peered over Wall Maria and kicked a gate open. They’re also not unbreakable. Later on, the Female Titan broke off a part of Wall Sina while trying to climb over it, and the Beast Titan goes ahead and uses Wall Rose as a weapon by crushing parts off it and throwing the rubble at soldiers.
Unraveling One of Attack on Titan’s Biggest Mysteries
For a time, we believed along with the people of Paradis Island that titans had destroyed everything and killed everyone outside of the three Walls. To prevent extinction, the last of humanity supposedly built these three Walls and ushered in a hundred years of peace.
But as each too-short episode followed another, we — along with the main characters — find out the truth behind one of Attack on Titan’s biggest mysteries.
The What and the When
We’ve known since Season 1 that there were titans within the Walls, which were supposedly built in the year 743 to protect its inhabitants from titans. We get a glimpse of one of these titans after Annie and Eren’s battle at Stohess District. Suddenly, along with the rest of the characters, we find ourselves staring at a colossus titan standing within the Walls.
The damaged portion of the Wall is quickly covered up at the behest of Pastor Nick, but we learn nothing more about why they’re there and how they even got there for a long time.
It’s only all the way in Season 3 when we learn the truth about the Walls and why they came to be.
In Grisha Yeager’s basement, Eren and the scouts find three books he penned: The Early Life of Grisha Yeager, The Extent of Our Knowledge of Titans and Their History and Information About the World Beyond the Walls.
These written accounts hold many shocking revelations for the people within the Walls and we who are rooting for them. But one of the most chilling truths we learn about is that the colossus titan within the Wall that we glimpsed in Season 1 is far from alone. It’s only one of countless that make up the Wall put in place by King Karl Fritz.
One hundred years ago, Grisha writes, the King decided to put an end to a long war waged by eight of the noble families of Eldia, which controlled eight of the nine special titans. The war had caused so much damage and bloodshed that the King, who held the power of the Founding Titan, was overcome with sorrow. He then decided to no longer partake in conflict, and moved his family and many Eldians to Paradis island.
There, he built three Walls around his people to protect them not from titans, as we were initially led to believe, but rather, from the warring humans of the outside world who wanted to eradicate the race that can turn into titans. The King then wiped their memories of the outside world and made them believe the lie we were told at the start of the series: That there were no more humans outside of the Walls, which serve to protect them from titans.
Once he was finished, he sent out a message: If anyone tried to attack Paradis Island, the colossus titans within the Walls would be released, and they would flatten the world.
But this, we also learn, is a bluff. The King had taken a vow renouncing war, which was passed on to every member of the royal family that inherited the Founding Titan. Thus, outside of the threat of The Rumbling — or the release of the countless colossus titans within the Walls — the king and his heirs would not do anything about potential invaders because of his vow of non-violence.
It’s also because King Fritz had felt deeply guilty for the destruction the Eldian people and its titans have caused in the world, and this guilt was passed on from generation to generation. He knew that at some point, his people would be attacked by the outside world. But, until then, he wanted them to live in paradise, and in relative peace.
The vow, as stated by the Owl, goes:
“If once again, Eldia is driven to sin, we will perish as it’s meant to be. I have made a vow renouncing war with the Founding Titan.”
In Episode 5 of the final season, we get the missing piece through Willy Tybur’s speech. In it, he recalls how the Kingdom of Eldia turned against each other when they ran out of enemies to vanquish, and this started the Great Titan War.
The speech touched on some bits of Eldian history we’re familiar with at this point, providing even more detail and context to the conflict that gave rise to the Walls. He also reiterated the King’s vow renouncing war, and his acceptance of a future where Marley might come and destroy the island. King Frtiz’s last request, he says, was:
“However, until that day of retribution, let me savor a brief paradise free of conflict within the Walls. That is all I ask of you.”
And then, just as Tybur begins to tell them the threat that Eren himself posed to the world outside the Walls, we learn how they were made: Using millions of his own people, King Fritz created the colossus titans that made up the Walls, thus ensuring peace for those within them.
The colossus titans within the Walls stand, arms linked, and have the ability to harden the entirety of their bodies. This hardening is not just as a shield over their form, like with Reiner’s Armored Titan, but it works to create flat, solid surfaces without cracks or joints.
“If the Walls walk even a single time… there will be nothing left we can do. All that can remain for humanity would be to flee in terror at the rumble of the footsteps that signal our end. These massive creatures would trample our cities, our societies… They would crush the flora and fauna in every ecosystem. They would literally flatten our world.”Willy Tybur
This is the threat that’s currently being realized in the anime’s final season by Eren himself, and something that our remaining heroes — Armin, Mikasa, Connie, Annie, Reiner, Pieck, Hange, Levi, and Onyankopon, among them — must try to stop.
Reading the Walls of Attack on Titan
The Uneasy Peace of Society Within the Walls
One of the most glaring ways the Walls stood for something more than just keeping titans out (or in) since the beginning of the anime is how they represented class and social structure, which bear a striking similarity to real-life society.
Sure, we don’t live in fear of literal titans, but much of our spaces are separated by class.
In Attack on Titan, the poor and those in the lower military ranks live near the outermost area, within Wall Maria. Like them, the poor around the world stand to lose the most when disaster strikes. For example, beyond the immediate violence of the Russia-Ukraine war, those living in poverty in Latin America are some of the hardest hit. The poor and marginalized are also the most at risk of the climate crisis that the rich are causing.
And when Wall Maria fell, many of those who survived and fled to the inner Walls were eventually sacrificed in an effort to prevent a food shortage among the people of Wall Rose and Wall Sina.
While the lives of those who lived at the literal margins were expendable, those who lived within Wall Rose and Wall Sina experienced more luxury, resources, and a higher level of technology. Some lived in mansions or castles above the poorest of them all: Those who lived in the underground city where Levi was born, where people live and die without ever seeing the sun.
The mindless titans outside of the world were used as a way to justify these Walls and the social divides they stood for. Because many are happy just not to be eaten, it’s easier to accept captivity — like cattle, Eren says, in the beginning of the anime — under control of the king and Paradis’s elite.
Thus, King Fritz’s last paradise, his wish for peace, is far from a perfect one. And as we saw throughout the first couple of seasons, it was maintained through oppressing many for the benefit of a select few.
On Mental Walls
Some fans have also sought to read the Walls in other ways. One reading is from u/MyNameHas2AsInItStop, who thinks of the Walls as a stand-in for the mental Walls we build to protect ourselves from feeling vulnerable.
Just as the Walls supposedly meant to keep out titans were themselves made of titans, many of us have a tendency to shut out what we fear with exactly the very thing we fear. They cite two examples:
- You fear being alone and abandoned, so you put walls up and isolate yourself from others so that you won’t be alone and abandoned.
- Because you’re afraid of failing an exam, you skip it. The end result might be the same — you don’t pass the test — but you get to tell yourself that you didn’t pass because you didn’t take it, not because you failed it.
People living within the Walls regard them in different ways. There are some who worship them, while others want to break free.
The metaphor fails a little when you consider the truth of why the Walls were really built and why everyone within the Walls have no memory of it. Those are all revelations made a while after this post was made on Reddit, but it’s a good point of reflection anyway.
After all, one recurring theme throughout the series is the question of whether you need to become a monster in order to beat a monster — Eren does this literally, while people like Erwin do so metaphorically. But less pronounced, at least until this final season, is the question of who makes a monster, and why.