John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis) looks brooding in Shōgun episode 5, "Broken to the Fist"

Are We Really Saying Goodbye to One of Shōgun’s Best Characters?

I really don’t want to.

Week after week, FX’s historical drama Shōgun proves itself to be one of the most interesting stories currently airing on television, as well as one of the best historical shows to be released in recent times. But what of the fate of one of its standout characters, Lady Mariko?

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Every episode of the series is simply beautifully crafted, with compelling storytelling and stunning visuals—visuals that you can actually see since the Shōgun crew has decided to properly light up its sets so that we can have an idea of what’s happening without squinting at our screens. 

**Be aware that this article will contain spoilers for Shōgun up until the end of episode nine, “Crimson Sky,” as well as from the 1975 novel of the same name by author James Clavell. Proceed at your own risk.**

And every episode of the show is also an emotional rollercoaster ride since Shōgun definitely doesn’t skimp on the political intrigue and the violence of Japan on the brink of entering the Edo period. We have witnessed a good number of terrible things as we follow the effort of Hiroyuki Canada’s Lord Toranaga to save himself and his clan from the grip of the Council of Regents—like a good variety of assassination attempts, soldiers decimated by cannon fire, and even an earthquake to really top things off.

But nothing, at least for me, has been as shocking and had my stomach twisting in anxiety as the final minutes of episode nine, “Crimson Sky.” And that’s all because of Anna Sawai’s Lady Mariko, who is the best character in the show, and no, I will not hear any opinions stating otherwise.

What happened to Lady Mariko in Shōgun?

At the beginning of the episode, Lady Mariko arrives in Osaka together with the small party of men from the Toranaga clan—among whom are Cosmo Jarvis’s John Blackthorne, of course, and Tadanobu Asano’s Lord Yabushige, who has made switching sides his favorite pastime. But as we learned from the ending of the previous episode, Lord Toranaga is only faking his defeated submission—everything he has done so far has been to convince the Council of Regents that he really has accepted his fate, while he’s actually getting ready to strike.

Mariko, who has always been faithful to Toranaga, is an instrumental part of that plan. She’s tasked with formally escorting two of Lord Toranaga’s consorts back to his camp—a request that Mariko makes in front of all the assembled nobles and that backs Takehiro Hira’s Lord Ishido and the rest of the Council of Regents into a corner. 

That’s because the castle at Osaka has been steadily filling up with members of the country’s various noble families, who are all formally guests but actually hostages. So if Mariko is allowed to leave, then all the other nobles will want to do the same, but if she’s denied, then it’ll be as if the Regents have admitted to holding all the people inside the castle hostages—something that their families wouldn’t be able to ignore, not when it’s brought to light so brazenly.

And that’s not the only ultimatum Mariko—and Toranaga, who’s doing all the scheming—has to give. When she is indeed stopped from leaving the castle, she declares that she couldn’t possibly bear the shame of having disobeyed her Lord’s orders of bringing his consorts to him and that the only thing left for her to is seppuku.

When not even Fumi Nikaido’s Lady Ochiba, Mariko’s childhood friend, manages to convince her to surrender peacefully, it really does seem like Mariko is going to go ahead with her seppuku. She goes so far as to hold the knife against her chest—with a pained Blackthorne ready to act as her second—when Ichido presents her with the papers that would allow her to leave the castle.

That’s only a temporary relief of tension, though, one where Mariko and Blackthorne have a final chance to confess their love to each other and spend the night together. Deep into the night, a group of shinobi is let inside the castle by Yabushige, who is currently on Ishido’s side—their objective is to kidnap Mariko so they can prevent her from leaving once and for all while saving face for Ishido.

Mariko and Blackthorne cut their way through them, together with Yabushige and Toranaga’s two consorts, but eventually, they are trapped in a storehouse against whose door the shinobi quickly stack a series of explosives so that they can blow it open. And that’s when Mariko takes her final stand—to protest Ishido’s behavior, she stands against the door and is hit by the explosion’s full power right in front of Blackthorne.

So is Lady Mariko dead in Shōgun?

Sadly, yes, Mariko is dead. And it’s not just because it’s very unlikely for Mariko to have survived such a close-range explosion—it’s because that’s also what happens to her character in Shōgun the novel, which is the original material on which the show is based. 

The book version of Mariko is also killed by an explosion caused by the people Ishido has sent to capture her, and most of the characters that are currently in Osaka will then attend her funeral immediately after the incident—something that we can assume will happen at the beginning of next week’s season finale. 

By sacrificing herself, Mariko has not only fulfilled her duty to Toranaga but also to her father—whom we know she has been wanting to reach in death ever since the show started. The fact that this truly was her final act is also subtly hinted at by what she says immediately before the explosion. She refers to herself as Toda Mariko for the entire episode, taking her husband’s surname, but when she formally denounces Ishido’s action she does so as Akechi Mariko—her father’s daughter to the end. 

(featured image: Hulu)


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Author
Benedetta Geddo
Benedetta (she/her) lives in Italy and has been writing about pop culture and entertainment since 2015. She has considered being in fandom a defining character trait since she was in middle school and wasn't old enough to read the fanfiction she was definitely reading and loves dragons, complex magic systems, unhinged female characters, tragic villains and good queer representation. You’ll find her covering everything genre fiction, especially if it’s fantasy-adjacent and even more especially if it’s about ASOIAF. In this Bangtan Sonyeondan sh*t for life.