Attack on Titan is well known for its lack of plot armor. So it was no surprise when Captain Levi Ackerman was faced with the conundrum of saving either Erwin Smith or Armin Arlet with the Titan serum.
Attack on Titan Season Three produced some of the best scenes the series has to offer. Among them was Erwin’s final speech and charge towards the Beast Titan, Zeke Yeager.
With both Armin and Erwin injured, the infamous “serumbowl” scene was set into motion, leaving Captain Levi with an impossible choice. He ultimately ended up saving Armin and letting Erwin die, which led to one of, if not the most tragic death scenes in Attack on Titan thus far.
Fans of Attack on Titan felt waves of emotions surrounding this decision, but in the end, had one question in mind. Was saving Armin the right choice?
Attack on Titan: Erwin Smith, the saviour of humanity
Erwin was well aware that the charge against the Beast Titan would be a suicide mission. All in all, he was correct.
Right before Levi was about to use the syringe on the dying Armin, Floch arrived carrying Erwin who was on the brink of death himself. He then proceeds to tell Levi that Erwin is a “devil” that led many to their deaths throughout Attack on Titan, but a devil that humanity desperately needs to be set free.
Floch’s argument for saving Erwin resonated with Levi. However, it had the opposite effect than Floch had intended.
As Levi attempts to save Erwin, the commander unconsciously slaps it away and mumbles. At that moment, Levi saw how tranquil he was and could not forcefully make his friend relive this “hell on earth.”
With a heavy heart, Levi finally makes the decision to save Armin, while letting his old friend have peace for the first time since he became commander.
Erwin’s death was foreshadowed throughout Attack on Titan
In Attack on Titan, Erwin’s death was foreshadowed, in his and Levi’s discussion prior to their mission to reclaim Shiganshina. The latter asked of his commander what he planned to do once the secrets in the Yeager family basement, and of the outside world, were revealed. All Erwin could reply was that he did not know.
In the battle, moments before Erwin’s demise, he informed Levi that he only led countless of his juniors to their deaths because he wanted to confirm if his father told him the truth.
Matter of fact, Erwin was the one who entrusted the syringe to Levi. When the moment finally came to use it, Levi realized that the former had fulfilled his ambitions once the basement was opened. Erwin no longer had the drive to lead the Survey Corps.
Armin had a lot to offer
Unlike Erwin, Armin still had a lot of ambition extending beyond the answers in the basement. Since the beginning of Attack on Titan, Armin has been portrayed as a dreamer. Ever since his childhood, he dreamt of being free and traveling the world outside the walls.
He wanted to see the oceans, the deserts, and all the world had to offer. Although he is still a rookie, Armin is a young soldier with intelligence and potential that might just be what the Survey Corps needed.
After Erwin’s group returned the government of Paradis to its rightful owner, Historia, Armin and Eren are overheard by Levi. In this conversation, an optimistic Armin enthusiastically reminds Eren about their dream to see the oceans. Showing that he always had his goals in mind.
Did Levi make the right choice in saving Armin?
Levi's choice was complex, containing more than one reason. It is not believed that there was plot armor protecting Armin, to begin with. That goes against almost everything we know about Attack on Titan.
Just as Erwin’s death, Armin being saved was foreshadowed through scenes in Attack on Titan. So it’s safe to say that Eren’s emotion-packed speech, while gut-wrenching, had little influence on Levi’s decision.
Levi did not choose to save Armin because he thought of him as the protector of humanity. From what we know, Armin has far less to offer in that regard over the experienced commander.
There is no certainty that Erwin would have stopped fighting for humanity, just as there is no guarantee that Armin will live up to the potential he portrays. This made Levi’s decision all the more difficult.
All in all, Levi’s choice to save Armin was, at its core, a more emotional one. His love for his friend, and desire to see him finally be at peace led to his choosing Armin. A moment that will live in the hearts of the Attack on Titan fanbase forever.
Which, in and of itself, is the right choice. As Attack on Titan progressed, Armin went on to show that he is quickly acclimatizing to his role and making decisions that aid in the fight against the Titans.
All the while, Erwin gets to rest knowing the fate of those in Paradis is in good hands and he has got to accomplish his lifelong goal.