As I noted about Reiner, the cruelest curse a character in Shingeki no Kyoujin can have is self-awareness. I suppose it’s lucky for them, then, so few in the cast have it. Events like this series portrays are surely much easier for people like Eren and Gabi and Erwin and Levi, for whom nuance isn’t in their vocabulary. The ones who carry the curse – Reiner, Jean to an extent, most pointedly Armin – really drew the short end of the stick (and Isayama’s pen).
It’s fitting that it’s Armin who’s thinking hardest about what went on in Liberio. Not only is he the one who probably would most like to have avoided it, he’s the one who killed the most people by far. Armin has always been the easiest person in the series to empathize with, because his neuroses seem the sanest and most rational thing in the narrative most of the time. So it’s rather sad to see him trying to justify what happened to himself (“Eren would have made this happen whether we’d helped him or not”, et al) and fail miserably. He’s all-in now, like it or not. It’s also interesting to see who he chooses to confess to (I always thought there was a little spark between those two).
Yelena has assumed an awfully crucial role for someone whose existence we couldn’t have guessed at until a few episodes ago. As the head of a Marleyan terrorist group, basically, she’s a hugely useful figure for Paradis – though they still don’t trust her even after three years of selling out her country to them for all it’s worth. Even with Yelena aiding Paradis a country with an army a million strong is not to be taken lightly, but Zeke’s got a plan for that. And it’s his plan that’s at the center of everything now, and “The Rumbling” seems to be the MacGuffin for the last phase of the series.
I do think, on balance, Shingeki benefits from getting away from Marley and back on more familiar ground. The cringey Holocaust metaphors are dialed down considerably, and you can tell Isayama is on more comfortable ground here. It still seems like we’re headed down the Nihilist route, with no one really deserving to come out of this alive, and that’s perfectly fine as a dramatic choice – the irritating thing is that all the historical allegory was so totally unnecessary if that’s the case (and only clouds the issue considerably). The challenge as I see it will be to make such a conclusion (if indeed we get it) emotionally impactful with no one being on the side of right or decency. “This world should be destroyed” is a stark statement of purpose, but it lacks something as a rallying cry.