Let’s dissect that Shōgun finale 

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Now that Shōgun has ended its run, let’s take a spoiler-filled look at the final episodes. 

NB: The folllowing contains major spoilers for all episodes of Shōgun. 

For the past nine weeks, we’ve been treated to some of the best telly in a while. Shōgun came about not too long after HBO’s gripping True Detective finished its run, but how lucky are we to have two such compelling, intriguing TV shows back to back?

I doubt you’re reading this unless you’ve watched all of Shōgun, but here’s a recap of what the show is about anyway. The 10-part series takes place in feudal Japan where the emperor has just died. His son is too young to take over, so a council of regents is looking after the country and not all of them have good intentions in mind. 

We see most of the action through the eyes of a western ship navigator, John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis), who’s captured, along with his crew, in the very first episode. He’s ultimately given to Yoshii Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada), a powerful daimyo (or lord) who sees potential in Blackthorne. Their communications are often translated by the mysterious Lady Mariko (Anna Sawai). The three characters’ paths cross and intersect in the most surprising ways. 

Shōgun started out as Blackthorne’s story. We watched as he struggled being captive in a strange land, then earning Toranaga’s trust and becoming his hatamoto. Later, we saw him acclimate to Japanese culture and even adopt it as his own. 

blackthorne shogun
Credit: FX Networks

Many of Shōgun’s characters were based on real people, and while details were fictionalised, based on James Clavell’s novel of the same name, the narrative followed some true events. The narrative quickly presented us with the question of whether Toranaga might become the first shōgun of his time – essentially a military leader or a commander-in-chief.

In the context of Shōgun the TV show, Toranaga becoming the shōgun would essentially replace the council of regents to rule the country, and as per Toranaga’s wishes, lead it to a time of peace instead of continuous war. 

But let’s back up a little bit. In our episode 10 review, we briefly discussed the events of episode nine, which saw Mariko sacrifice her life as the castle in Osaka was infiltrated by an army of shinobi. Mariko takes the full blast of a door being blown open, hoping to shield Yabushige (who let the shinobi in in the first place, the treacherous wimp), Blackthorne and Toranaga’s consorts. 

Throughout Shōgun, Mariko has wished for death. Her tragic backstory – her father killed a daimyo, bringing dishonour to the entire family, who were then sentenced to death, except Mariko who had just been married off to Buntaro – led to a life of discontent. As we’ve noted before, Mariko is the heart and soul of Shōgun, and her sacrifice at the end of episode nine was tragic, but it also felt cathartic. Not only was her final act in life a selfless one, but she also reclaimed her family name, Akechi, in her final moments, finally letting go of the anger and shame she had been holding on to for so long.  

Now then: the finale. What a finale that was. As I mentioned in my review, I assumed the final episode would mostly consist of a battle between the villainous Ishido and Toranaga. There would be much death, limbs separated from bodies, and blood covering the camera lens. 

How wrong I was. The episode was a much quieter affair, but not without some of the brutality we’ve come to expect from Shōgun

First, we glimpsed an old, presumably dying Blackthorne as he remembered his time in Japan. Blackthorne learned that Mariko had saved his life by offering up his ship, which he found sunken in the water on his return to Edo. In Osaka, Mariko also asked the Portuguese Father Martin to spare Blackthorne’s life. 

Toranaga also learned of Yabushige’s betrayal. Yabushige might have been the most intriguing character throughout the run of the series, which is really a credit to Tadanobu Asano for his impressively complex and nuanced portrayal of such a slippery character. Toranaga ordered Yabushige to commit seppuku, acting as his second. 

The pair disappear into the woods and share a few words on a cliff before the inevitable. There’s an intimacy to the scene that took me by surprise. I was expecting violence, blood and battles, but I was presented with catharsis and stillness. Here, Toranaga revealed that not only was he the one who sunk Blackthorne’s ship, saying he will sink the next one he builds too, confining him to Japan, but that Operation Crimson Sky was already finished. 

You may remember from earlier episodes that Operation Crimson Sky was a battle plan devised by Toranaga and his men. It would see them rush into Osaka and use the element of surprise to take control of the city and eliminate Ishido and his men. 

shogun episode 9
Credit: FX Networks

How naive of us to assume such an operation would be a military one. Shōgun has time and time again taught us to expect the unexpected, so I guess the joke is on me for believing that the final episode would focus on an act of war. 

Toranaga reveals the operation was more of a covert one; Mariko successfully created a rift between all the regents and exposed Ishido for the coward he is. Ochiba, the heir’s mother and Mariko’s old friend, also pledges allegiance to Toranaga after the events in Osaka, turning the tide for him. Without the heir’s army, of which Ochiba is in control, Ishido doesn’t stand a chance against Toranaga’s troops. 

“I sent a woman to do what an army never could,” Toranaga muses to the surprised Yabushige. We also get a nifty little flash forward which shows us the war in Sekigahara, which ends before it even starts. Yabushige deduces that Toranaga wants to be the shōgun, that he’s no better than any of the other power-hungry people around him but Toranaga doesn’t respond. 

Yabushige pleads for Toranaga to reveal his one true desire, but Toranaga simply raises his blade and says, “why tell a dead man the future”. You may remember that earlier in the season, it was Yabushige who said these exact words to Omi but oh, how the tables have turned. Yabushige ultimately plunges a sword into his belly as Toranaga chops off his head. 

The series ends on a mournful note as Blackthorne takes his consort, Fuji, to spread the ashes of her family and begins to build a new ship. Buntaro joins in, signalling a sort of peace between the two men, both grieving for Mariko. 

shogun episode 10
Credit: FX Networks

Now, I’m sure you’re all wondering the same thing. Will there be a Shōgun season 2? 

Probably not. The series covered the entirety of Clavell’s novel, so a second season seems unlikely. The character of Toranaga was based on Tokugawa Ieyasu, who did indeed become a shōgun after the battle of Sekigahara, ruling the country until his death in 1616. A second season could dive into Toranaga’s life as the ruler, but the series would have to further fictionalise events and depart from major themes that have been prevalent until now. 

Whether or not we do get more of Shōgun, I think we can all agree that we’re lucky to have so many great TV shows at the moment. 

All episodes of Shōgun are now streaming on Disney+. 

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