It’s pretty impressive that after 54 episodes—probably about double the number required to tell a complete and satisfying tale—Titan is still bringing it. Armin freezes up after his hunch about Hoover turns out to be wrong, and so defers command to Jean, at least to decide their next course of action.
The thing is, while Jean probably wanted command, he tells Armin striaght up that it won’t be enough to get them out of this. When the rubber meets the road they’ll be relying on Armin’s strategic know-how, even if he’s finding it hard to focus, he’ll have to. Outside the wall, Erwin loses three whole squads in quick gory succession to the Beast Titan’s new tactic of hurling fastballs of rock at his forces.
Jean decides everyone will climb aboard Eren and attempt to distract the Colossal Titan, but screaming at him accomplishes nothing; he keeps heading towards the wall. Eren has to bum rush one of his legs and attempt to knock him down, but the Colossal simply kicks him off, sending him flying to the top of the wall.
Jean, Mikasa, Armin, Sasha and Connie all launch off off Eren before the rush, but instead find themselves confronted with a very alive and very pissed-off-looking Armored Titan. Looks like Hoover’s distraction bought Braun enough time to heal up.
Irwin and Levi spot Eren atop the wall, and Levi suggests his commander take the horses and survivors and withdraw with as many people as he can. Only the new recruits have survived, and the constant rock bombardment is starting to make some of them crack, including one who gives a lengthy monologue about their entire cause being hopeless and pointless, and no one really piping up to argue with him.
Erwin and Levi have an extended (and very moving) talk in which Erwin laments he won’t ever get to see the basement he longed to see his entire life. He also looks around and sees his fallen comrades all around him, watching him, wondering if they were sacrificed in vain. He asks Levi if it was all a sad delusion.
Levi is respectful, thanking Erwin for getting them this far, but it’s time to give up on the dream, lead the recruits into hell, and die. If he does, Levi will have that much better a shot at taking down the Beast Titan.
Still, Levi wonders how he can even reach the Beast when he’s on on a wide open field. In this, the Beast’s vanity and desire to present a show of devastating force leads to him making a critical tactical error: all of the large Titans spread out on either side of him provide the perfect ODM path for Levi.
That leaves Erwin to fire up his shaky, demoralized recruit squad, and shows why he was born to lead with a rousing motivational speech for the ages, which he starts up when one of the recruits asks why it matters whether they die fighting or cowering in a corner:
No matter what dreams or hopes you had, no matter how blessed a life you’ve lived, it’s all the same if you’re shredded by rocks. Everyone will die someday. Does that mean life is meaningless? Was there even any meaning in our being born? Would you say that of our fallen comrades? Their lives…were they meaningless? No, they weren’t! It’s we who give meaning to our comrades’ lives! The brave fallen! The anguished fallen! The ones who will remember them are us, the living! We die trusting the living who follow to find meaning in our lives! That is the sole method by which we can rebel against this cruel world! My soldiers, rage! My soldiers, scream! My soldiers, fight!
Hell, I was ready to charge into battle after that. By splitting into three groups and launching smoke flares simultaneously, Erwin hopes to affect the Beast’s accuracy enough to draw out the charge as long as they can, giving Levi the time he needs to reach his target. Unfortunately, Erwin is pierced through the torso in the first moments of the charge, which likely means his time is finally up.
So, did Erwin believe what he told the recruits to motivate them? Is he confident he gave his fallen comrades’ lives meaning, and does he trust those who outlive him to give his life meaning as well? We’ll see. But whatever happens to him, the Scouts, and the mission, let it be said that through his actions Erwin Smith rebelled against the cruel world until his final breath.