Shogun Episode 8: Hiromatsu’s Decision Is Even More Tragic Than You Think

Toda Hiromatsu and Yoshii Toranaga's bond is put to the ultimate test in Shogun episode 8 "The Abyss of Life."

“SHOGUN” -- "Abyss of Life" -- Episode 8 (Airs April 9) Pictured: Tokuma Nishioka as Toda Hiromatsu.
Photo: Katie Yu/FX

This article contains spoilers for Shogun episode 8.

Nobody on Shōgun can accept that Lord Yoshii Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada) has given up. The crises facing the great daimyo are overwhelming: his enemies are gathering in Osaka, his army has been decimated by an earthquake, and his own half-brother has betrayed him. But this is Lord Toranaga we’re talking about here! Surely the soft-spoken falconer has a plan to come out on top.

Well it turns out that Toranaga does indeed have a plan to come out on top. It just can’t proceed until everyone has well and truly accepted that he’s been defeated. And to pull off that grand trickery, something truly tragic has to happen…and happen it does in Shōgun‘s heartbreaking eighth episode “The Abyss of Life.”

No, we’re not referring to the accidental death of Toranaga’s son Nagakado (Yuki Kura), though that is quite tragic. Instead it’s another, more intentional death, that convinces Toranaga’s friends and foes alike that the Minowara samurai is defeated. Near the end of episode 8, Toranaga’s closest ally and longtime general Toda Hiromatsu (Tokuma Nishioka) commits seppuku in protest of Toranaga’s surrender.

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After several of Toranaga’s vassals wear armor to Nagakado’s funeral in a provocative gesture, Toranaga gathers his crew for a final war council. Here he attempts to persuade them once and for all that the battle is lost and he will be surrounding to Ishido’s forces. As expected, several vassals speak up to challenge Toranaga’s apparent decision. One man even says what everyone (audience included) must be thinking: “Lord, we are unable to accept what must be a ploy.”

But Toranaga holds fast to his grand illusion of weakness, even when Hiromatsu declares his intention to commit seppuku. Hiroyuki Sanada’s face is a symphony of emotion as Toranaga watches his best friend kill himself on his behalf. Hiromatsu’s final words to his son Buntaro, are truly devastating: “Do not give up on our lord. Even when he has given up on himself.”

It’s a sudden, brutal moment that immediately becomes one of Shōgun‘s best scenes. But what was really going on inside the characters’ heads during it? Did Hiromatsu really believe that Toranaga had given up? Or did he know that his lord had one last great plan underway and Hiromatsu could become an important part of it with its sacrifice? Believe it or not, we actually have an answer thanks to episode 8 of the official Shōgun companion podcast.

Many storytellers balk at discussing behind-the-scenes details of their narratives, preferring that audiences rely on their own interpretations. But Shōgun co-showrunner Justin Marks, bless him, just revealed what Toranaga and Hiromatsu were thinking in this scene. In the podcast, Marks explains how Toranaga and Hiromatsu actors Hiroyuki Sanada and Tokuma Nishioka came up with a last minute adjustment before filming the moment so that they could better understand their characters’ perspectives.

“These three generals who are wearing armor as a demonstration of protest at a funeral, which is a very common historical phenomenon at the time, they’re in this position where they’re going to make a stand,” Marks said. “And Tokuma-san wanted to play Hiromatu’s insertion of himself as a choice that he makes to spare their lives. Because if he could speak up to his lord and die in their place, then they won’t have to commit seppuku.”

This explanation means that Hiromatsu didn’t just die for Toranaga but for several other of his friends as well. By committing seppuku, he essentially saved the lives of the rebel generals who wore armor to Nagakado’s funeral. This is a heroic act and one that Toranaga didn’t see coming.

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“Toranaga turns to Hiromatsu in shock because he did not intend for Hiromatsu to do this,” Marks says. “I don’t think Hiromatsu knew that Toranaga wanted these generals to commit seppuku in order to show his enemies that he had surrendered. In order for that narrative to be perfect his most treasured general really has to do it. And that’s something I don’t think even Toranaga really wanted to do. All of this was performance art for Toranaga. You see that this scene is truly a tragedy on a level that is more than what it even appears to be. Not only does his best friend kill himself in front of him but he really didn’t have to.”

The misunderstanding between the two friends makes what is already an awful event even more tragic. Thankfully, Lord Toranaga is well aware and appreciative of the major sacrifice that Hiromatsu made for him. According to episode 8 director Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour, Hiroyuki Sanada improvised Toranaga’s final lines to make that very clear:

“Hiroyuki proposed having Toranaga say, ‘thank you for your sacrifice, Nagakado my son. Thank you, Hiromatsu, you’ve given me more time.’ That wasn’t in the script originally.”

Eight episodes of Shōgun are available to stream on Hulu now. New episodes premiere Tuesdays on Hulu and Tuesday nights at 10 p.m. ET on FX.