WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Chapter #138 of Attack on Titan, "A Long Dream," by Hajime Isayama, Dezi Sienty and Alex Ko Ransom, now available in English from Kodansha.
The penultimate chapter of the Attack on Titan manga delivers two landmark moments fans have been waiting a long time for -- and in one fail swoop. A first kiss and a final good-bye. The two participants are, of course, Eren and Mikasa, the 'will they, won't they?' protagonists of Hajime Isayama's wildly popular fantasy series since the very beginning. Protagonists -- or rather, protagonist and protagonist-turned-antagonist -- who have been locked in on two opposing sides of a desperate battle for the future of humanity for some time now.
Since Eren's slow descent into villainy began, Mikasa has been on an emotional tailspin, unable to reconcile the boy she fell in love with, who rescued her from a hateful attempt on her life in childhood, with the man delivering that same contemptuous violence to their 'enemies' outside of Paradis. Though she's fought valiantly (and successfully) to halt Eren's Rumbling, Chapter #138 is where the last Ackerman woman finally makes a stand. In Chapter #137, though the remaining Scouts and Warriors were able to separate Eren's Founding Titan from the strange, shining parasite nestled in his body -- the source of all Titans, it seems -- the latest installment reveals that this hasn't brought the final battle to a close. Nor does the explosion that decapitated Eren (for the second time), or Armin's explosive Colossal Titan transformation, kill him outright.
Though the Rumbling is over, "A Long Dream" launches immediately into the real boss battle against the parasite, while Eren's Founding Titan rises once again to do battle with the Colossal. It remains unclear, even now, how much of Eren's own will is controlling his actions, but he's certainly still antagonistic towards his former friends. With the parasite's Titan-transforming gas attack eliminating all Subjects of Ymir, other than Shifters and Ackermans, from being of assistance and Levi still heavily injured, it really is up to Mikasa alone to get inside the Founding Titan's mouth and deal the final blow to Eren.
What supersedes this climactic, and very much fateful, event can only be described as a coping mechanism for her. Remembering that the last words they ever spoke to each other were Eren's infamous "I've always hated you" admission in Nicolo's restaurant, Mikasa withdraws into a fantasy world to imagine a sweeter parting between them, an alternate timeline in which the two of them ran away following the war with Marley and decided to live out the last years of Eren's shortened lifespan in rural solitude. In reality, as the Colossal Titan takes a huge punch to the head from the Founding one, Levi creates a hole through the latter's clenched jaw with a Thunder Spear just big enough for Mikasa -- breaking out of her reverie -- to fly through.
Inside, Eren's head waits for her, held up by a long spine. It's unclear how aware he is of what's happening, though his eyes do appear to fix on her as she approaches before closing when she slices the head from the cord and gives him a farewell kiss. In her fantasy world, Mikasa imagines Eren asleep and holds his head close as she tells him she'll "see [him] later."
What are most likely to be the pair's final moments are saturated in the kind of bittersweetness you'd expect from Attack on Titan, a saga that rarely affords its characters moments of true happiness without snatching something else away. Despite this being Eren's third decapitation -- officially making him ironically bulletproof in a series famed for its character deaths -- readers are still unsure of his status. Can Eren truly recover from everything that's happened to him? Shifter Titans have miraculous regenerative powers, but regrowing an entire body might be impossible without the spinal cord. And even if it weren't, Eren will probably not want to continue living now that the Rumbling has failed, so many of his loved ones have died trying to stop him, and so many more will want recompense for his crimes.
Chapter #138's also doesn't clear up whether or not he actually meant the hurtful things he said to Mikasa and Armin when they were last together -- something they and fans alike have been agonizing over. Attack on Titan's finale may devote some time to clarifying this, whether through flashbacks or actual conversations in the unlikely event of Eren's survival. Either way, as difficult as it is to accept, this feels like an appropriate end to Eren and Mikasa's fraught and intense bond: born, and ended, with sacrifice.