‘Shōgun’ Finale Recap — Why Tell a Dead Man the Future?


Editor’s note: The below recap contains spoilers for the Shōgun finale.

The Big Picture

  • Mariko’s death sets off a chain reaction impacting all in the
    finale, revealing alliances and testing loyalties.
  • Yabushige meets his end with dignity as Toranaga unveils his grand strategy, showcasing the true heart of
    ‘s narrative.
  • Blackthorne’s fate takes a new turn following Mariko’s death, and he discovers his true purpose in Japan.

And, just like that, FX’s historical epic Shōgun has come to a close — not with a boom of cannon fire or an immense battle sequence, but with two men standing on the shores of Japan looking ahead to whatever the future might bring. Before touching on the wordless exchange between Lord Yoshii Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada) and pilot-turned-hatamoto John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis) that speaks volumes all on its own, it’s important to touch on what made it all possible in the first place.

The death of Lady Toda Mariko (Anna Sawai) in the previous episode somehow accomplished what an entire army couldn’t, but her loss is the equivalent of a stone dropped into a still pond, with its ripple effects carrying us through the entirety of this finale and likely beyond. With Mariko’s demise, Shōgun​ is now bearing an absence that it has no real way to fill — which is perhaps the biggest reason why “Chapter Ten: A Dream of a Dream” is more of a quiet epilogue than an explosive climax. Now that the dust has settled, what will become of everyone left behind to honor her memory? Was war really the desired outcome for all of this, to begin with? And does Toranaga have any real intention of wearing the title of shōgun?

Shogun (2024)

When a mysterious European ship is found marooned in a nearby fishing village, Lord Yoshii Toranaga discovers secrets that could tip the scales of power and devastate his enemies.

Release Date
February 27, 2024

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Mariko’s Death Hangs Over Everyone in the ‘Shōgun’ Finale

Image via FX

In case there was any doubt left about Mariko’s fate in the wake of Episode 9’s particularly explosive ending, the tenth and final episode of Shōgun removes all other possibilities with its definitive beginning. But Mariko’s death, while bold in its finality, also has the effect of knocking the wind out of everyone’s sails — including Lord Ishido’s (Takehiro Hira), who clearly didn’t consider the possibility that sending in a group of masked shinobi under cover of darkness would result in this outcome. Yet his reaction is all but overshadowed next to Yabushige (Tadanobu Asano), who, in addition to being rendered partially deaf as a result of the blast, seems to have lost a significant part of his soul in the process. Whatever the scheming lord envisioned when he secretly decided to align with Ishido out of a desire to save his own skin once again, it certainly wasn’t this. Mariko’s death shakes Yabushige to his very core in a way we’ve never seen from him, and not just because the man is scrambling around on hands and knees trying to capture imaginary catfish in a garden pond.

Similarly, Ochiba no Kata (Fumi Nikaido), mother of the Heir, is rethinking things in the wake of someone she once considered as close as a sister. Hers is a decision that isn’t made without a somber weight attached, especially in the wake of Ochiba and Mariko’s telling conversation the week prior. Yet Ochiba now seems to understand what Mariko had been trying to convince her of all along when the two women had been standing on opposing sides. Insisting that Ishido and the Council of Regents give Mariko a proper Christian burial is only the start, as well as penning the last line of Mariko’s unfinished poem with her friend’s parting words: “flowers are only flowers because they fall.” While Ochiba’s chief responsibility has been and always will be to her son, the significance of her friendship with Mariko grants her new clarity that is rendered even more poignant because of the judgment it enables her to make. We’ve been waiting for Ochiba to realize that her allegiance with Ishido isn’t the right choice and that she could ensure a better, stronger future for the Heir by backing Toranaga instead. It’s only unfortunate that she couldn’t see the right path before her until now.

Even while Mariko’s death carries a powerful sting, it turns out that she struck a crucial deal prior to what she believed were her last hours when she met with Father Martin (Tommy Bastow) before her intended seppuku. Blackthorne’s fate may have fallen by the wayside amid more pressing concerns, but that doesn’t mean the Council has forgotten about their original intention to knock him off by any means necessary — including their favorite avenue of ambushing someone in the woods and blaming a faceless group of bandits. In fact, Blackthorne believes that’s exactly what’s in store for him by the time he’s led out of Osaka by a contingent of guards and none other than the priest himself. Given that Blackthorne, as a self-professed Protestant, has made no secret of his distaste for Catholics, he’s all but convinced Father Martin intends to orchestrate his demise — until the priest shocks him, and us too, by revealing that Mariko made an arrangement with the Church to spare Blackthorne’s life. So Blackthorne is escorted to Osaka Bay, and Father Martin, his promise to Mariko fulfilled, sends the Anjin on his way, though no part of this departure feels like a victory — especially after Blackthorne discovers that the Erasmus has been sunk to the bottom of Ajiro’s harbor.

Yabushige Meets His End in ‘Shōgun’s Final Episode

Meanwhile, Yabushige’s ambition and self-serving nature have led to a consequence so severe that he can’t talk his way out of it this time — but one gets the sense that he doesn’t really want to. No one seems more surprised to bear witness to how far the lord has fallen than his nephew, Omi (Hiroto Kanai), who still bows to Yabushige upon his return to Ajiro but ultimately can’t overlook his treachery. Enough witnesses have named Yabushige as the one responsible for opening the door to the shinobi that night, and, when confronted with that fact, Yabushige can’t even try to deny it. What he asks for, however, in quick succession, is to be given “a good death,” like being ripped apart by cannon fire or eaten by a school of angry fish, and then, surprisingly, for Blackthorne to be his second. Toranaga denies him on both counts, ordering him to commit seppuku and asserting that he himself will second Yabushige, rather than the Anjin.

By sunset the following day, Yabushige makes his approach toward death, though not before a brief and meaningful exchange with Omi in which his nephew promises that their family name will be honored and attests to all that he has learned from his uncle. Now, as Yabushige asserts, the learning ends, as he hands off the final final FINAL.docx version of his will and continues to the cliffside, where Toranaga is already sitting in wait for him. The scene that plays out feels like the best representation of the Shōgun finale as a whole — a peaceful, intimate conversation between two people that explains what this show has really been about all along. As Toranaga reveals to Yabushige in his final minutes, his plan — which culminated with sending Mariko to Osaka — means that “Crimson Sky” has already happened, and it didn’t require an army to see it through. Although Toranaga’s forces will assemble against Ishido’s on the battlefield at Sekigahara one month from now, the difference is that Ishido will no longer have the Heir on his side by then. Ochiba, who’s secretly written to Toranaga in the wake of Mariko’s death, has promised to withhold her son’s army, leaving Ishido with no banner to fight under. The Council of Regents will disavow him “before a sword is drawn,” thus ensuring Toranaga’s swift and complete victory.

But Yabushige, even with the whole story laid out in front of him, still has more questions — one of them circling the outcome of Toranaga’s triumph. With a win assured, was all of that death and sacrifice meant to set him up to claim the title of shōgun? Throughout the series, Toranaga has asserted more than once that he has no desire to be declared as such, but does his secret heart betray him somewhat with Yabushige, if only for a moment? It’s an answer that Toranaga decides not to give, even though Yabushige swears he’ll take it to his grave. “Why tell a dead man the future?” Toranaga says, in an echo of Yabushige’s own words previously in the season. As the two overlook a very similar set of cliffs to the ones that nearly claimed Yabushige’s life early on, the disgraced lord finally reaches for death, with Toranaga the one delivering the decapitating blow.

Blackthorne Learns His True Fate, Courtesy of Toranaga, in ‘Shōgun’s Finale

In Shōgun‘s finale this week, Blackthorne is haunted by death — not just Mariko’s, even though the loss of the woman he undoubtedly loved casts a pall over everything. Alongside those instances of grief are apparent visions of the life that the Anjin could have if he were to make a very particular choice at this point, which seems to culminate in him lying on his deathbed, gripping Mariko’s crucifix while surrounded by relics of his time in Japan. It seems a rather ignominious outcome, considering all that Blackthorne has been through, but even if this episode dares to consider the possibility of what could be, “A Dream of a Dream” is also a hint at the outcome of the story, as the man who once came to Japan with a very different aim in mind finds new purpose, thanks to one final test from Toranaga.

Before that happens, Blackthorne discovers that his now-former consort, Fuji (Moeka Hoshi), having fulfilled her duty to their lord, now intends to take her vows and become a nun per her original plan. It’s a bittersweet conversation, as Blackthorne resigns himself to the knowledge that he’ll have to part ways with another person who’s become a friend, while Fuji clearly feels her own form of affection for someone she once viewed as a barbarian. Their exchange leads to a discussion of the swirling tensions in Ajiro, and the fact that Toranaga has been using the Erasmus‘ sinking to punish the villagers in retaliation, which so visibly disturbs Blackthorne that he asks Fuji to arrange a meeting with their lord the next day. Among the mountains where an earthquake once wrought devastation, the two men have a much-needed confrontation, one that proves just as seismic given what it reveals.

Not only does the timid fisherman Muraji (Yasunari Takeshima) divulge his true identity as loyal samurai and spy Tonomoto Akinao, but Blackthorne asserts a strong objection to Toranaga’s treatment of the people in Ajiro, especially since he’s concluded that his ship is not all that important in the grand scheme of things anymore. When Toranaga refuses to relent in his efforts to unearth the treachery he proclaims is hiding in plain sight, the Anjin insists that those people are not his enemy — he himself is. With Mariko’s crucifix in hand, and the specter of a different future at his back, Blackthorne attempts to commit seppuku in protest of Toranaga’s “callous punishment” of Ajiro, and nearly succeeds before his lord physically intervenes. “If you’re finally done,” Toranaga says, “rebuild that ship, and make me a fleet.”

The lord’s change of heart may seem strange, but, lest we forget, more details are uncovered through that final conversation with Yabushige. The destruction of the Erasmus was Toranaga’s doing, an act with a twofold purpose: to spare Blackthorne’s life from the Church’s hostilities and to test the Anjin‘s loyalties. Perhaps one day, Blackthorne will be made aware of the truth — but by then, the Erasmus will surely be repaired, and Toranaga will likely have to destroy it through some other means. It is certainly Blackthorne’s fate never to leave Japan, a fate that he seals for himself when he finally understands the significance his death can have. Helping Fuji say goodbye to her husband and son by spreading their ashes in Ajiro’s harbor is yet another nail in that future; releasing Mariko’s crucifix into those same depths ensures that he’ll never be that old man lying in bed, haunted by memories of the past. And so, Blackthorne commits himself to rebuilding his ship, starting with hoisting the vessel out of the water, an effort that appears difficult right up until Mariko’s husband Buntaro (Shinnosuke Abe) steps in and lends his strength to the cause. A new understanding seems to pass between Blackthorne and Toranaga in the aftermath before the lord turns his gaze toward the horizon and the limitless possibilities that his future victory will ensure.

In the weeks since its premiere, Shōgun has garnered many comparisons to Game of Thrones — with some of those assessments more apt than others. But one aspect that Shōgun could never be accused of mimicking is allowing itself to grow stale, or overstaying its welcome. Although the fact that Rachel Kondo and Justin Marks‘ adaptation of James Clavell‘s work will conclude here is a tough pill to swallow, the series is wrapping up on an undeniable high that would be difficult for a second season to match. Shōgun has been a television lover’s dream to cover every week, and with its finale, it’s certainly earned the consideration of being not only one of the best shows of the year but one of the best shows ever to grace the screen.

Shogun Film Poster

Shogun (2024)

Shogun’s finale is more of an epilogue for the series, as Blackthorne finds his true purpose in Japan in the wake of Mariko’s death.


  • Tadanobu Asano reminds us why he’s one of Shogun’s best presences with Yabushige’s story coming to a close.
  • Cosmo Jarvis and Hiroyuki Sanada are forces of nature in the scene where Blackthorne finally confronts Toranaga.
  • The final episode reasserts that Shogun should not only be one of the best shows of the year, but of all time.

Shōgun is available to stream on Hulu in the U.S.

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