Things in present-day Paradis are pretty grim, but leave it to Hange to liven things up a bit by getting all pedantic about an incarcerated Eren repeating “fight” into his mirror. Hange is there to talk, just like the first time they met, only this time they’d prefer if he did most of the talking. If nothing else, Hange believed Eren would never sacrifice Historia (which is necessary for the Rumbling). Yet here they are.
Flash back to two years ago, with the Scouts and Yelena’s Marleyans welcoming the first outside visitors to Paradis’ rebuilt port: Paradis’s sole friendly nation, Hizuru, and its special envoy, Azumabito Kiyomi. During initial pleasantries, Kiyomi presents the shogunate crest: three katanas forming a triangle. Eren urges Mikasa to reveal what she’s only ever shown to him: that very same crest on top of her right wrist.
That’s right: Mikasa is the long-lost descendant and rightful heir to Hizuru’s throne. Queen Historia immediately feels a deepened kinship with Mikasa, as both were born with a heavy burden to bear. It’s just that unlike ‘Tori, Mikasa likely has no intention of uprooting her life, so say nothing of leaving Eren’s side.
Kiyomi has come to Paradis on Zeke Yeager’s invitation, as he enticed them with the prospect of mining the unique resource known as “Iceburst Stone” which fuels Paradis’ ODM gear. They’re excited at the prospect of restoring their former glory by taking the lead in an innovative industry. It also becomes clear that the Azumabitos of Hizuru are particularly concerned with profit, however it can be acquired.
Zeke’s plan to use the Rumbling to protect Paradis consists of three stages, as presented to Historia and all the island’s higher-ups. First, there will be a “test run” of the Rumbling, then strengthening of the Paradis military. Finally, the Founding Titan and a Titan with royal blood will be passed down. Zeke will pass the Beast Titan to a royal, and for thirteen years that royal’s primary task will be to have as many children as possible.
This plan makes sense in the present, but it does nothing about the overarching problem of the power of the Titans bringing ruin upon Eldians. Basically, the cure (i.e. the successful defense of Paradis) is worse than the disease. Hange understands this, and doesn’t like the prospect of kicking the can down the road to future generations, as previous ones did to them.
Back in the present, Hange tells Eren she felt the same urgency to weigh the protection of their lands against the cost it would incur, but still wishes Eren hadn’t gone off on his own, which severely limited their remaining options. Eren’s only response is that no prison can hold him now that he has the Warhammer Titan, so if Hange has “anything up her sleeve”, now’s the time to come out with it.
As for Queen Historia, she became pregnant in the ensuing two years, as discussed by a good old boy’s club getting drunk and discussing future strategy. The father of the child she’s carrying once threw rocks at her on her farm and later volunteered at her orphanage as penance. It was Historia who initiated their eventual liason resulting in her pregnancy.
One old man, Roeg, drunk on wine, can’t believe the queen got herself knocked up, and suggests they make her a Titan despite her pregnancy; no one else thinks that’s right or wise. Roeg suspects it was Yelena who convinced Tori to get pregnant, but he really has no idea. These guys, by the way, are being attended to by Greiz and Niccolo, who serve under Yelena.
Looking back two years ago, Eren, Mikasa, Armin, Sasha, Connie, and Jean are all hard at work building a Paradis railroad, of all things, when Hange and Levi pay them a visit to report that Hizuru gave their reply: they won’t help Paradis open trade with other nations, as they’re committed to a monopoly on the island’s resources.
The rest of the world’s nations remaining united against Paradis, Root of All Evil, creates stability they’re unwilling to give up. That means they have little choice but to rely on the Rumbling for defense, which means sacrificing Historia. Armin wishes they’d reconsider a more peaceful path, but Mikasa tells him it’s no good; as long as those nations don’t know who and what they really are, they’ll always fear them.
An alternative plan, then, involves showing them who and what they are, by setting up a base in Marley. Eren worries time is running short; he only has five more years as a Titan. Then talk turns to who will inheret his Titan. Obviously, Mikasa volunteers first, but Jean vetoes, as there’s too much mystery surrounding the Ackermans.
Jean volunteers, but Connie believes he’s too valuable as a future regiment commander. Connie volunteers, but Sasha says they can’t leave such an important role to an idiot, so she volunteers. Connie says she’s more of an idiot than he is, so that wouldn’t work. Then Eren says he doesn’t want any of them to have to inherit it. They’re all too important to him, and he wants them to live long lives. This causes all of them to turn red—apropos for Valentines.
Back in the darker, bleaker, narrower present, Mikasa, Armin, Jean and Connie discuss what’s next now that Eren seems to be going all in on Zeke’s plan. If Eren is choosing Zeke over them, they may need to cut him down, but of course Mikasa would never allow that. She assures them it won’t come to that, that he still cares about them.
But Jean mentions how the old Eren would try to keep Mikasa off the front lines. The new one pulled them into an unnecessary battle that got Sasha killed. And worse, Connie mentions how Eren laughed when he heard Sasha had died. Armin decides that he and Mikasa will talk to Eren alone and try to see how he sees things. Because he may not be Eren anymore, and thus may not consider them as important as exacting final revenge upon Marley and the world.