Shogun Episode 9: How Mariko Wrote Her Own Ending

Does Lady Mariko die in Shogun episode 9? Her role in "Crimson Sky" explained.

“SHOGUN” -- "Crimson Sky" -- Episode 9 (Airs April 16) Pictured (C): Anna Sawai as Toda Mariko.
Photo: Katie Yu | FX

This article contains spoilers for Shogun episode 9.

Lady Toda Mariko (Anna Sawai) has a lot to live up to on Shōgun – or as Forrest Gump once said about Lieutenant Dan – a lot to “die up to.” Her father, Akechi Jinsai, saved the realm by killing the corrupt Kuroda-sama but was forced into committing seppuku for the act of treachery. Jinsai’s wife, children, and vassals were also executed – with only Mariko spared, having been sent off to marry the loathsome Toda Hirokatsu a.k.a. Buntaro (Shinnosuke Abe).

Since then, Mariko has been desperate to find a route to an honorable death so that she can both redeem her family name and join her loved ones in the echoes of eternity. In Shōgun episode 9 “Crimson Sky”, she finally gets that opportunity. Let’s talk about it … but first: a disclaimer.

As you may have noticed by now, suicidal ideation is a recurring theme on Shōgun. This is in keeping with the precedent of James Clavell’s 1975 novel and the real life history of Sengoku period Japan upon which Clavell drew. Shōgun is a big story about powerful people who will usher in an important era of world history. These characters live within a culture in which the act of seppuku can represent many things: a code of honor, a political statement, and an acknowledgement of a world that’s much bigger than one individual.

Ad – content continues below

In the following sections of this article, we will discuss the sacrificing of one character’s life within the context of a larger victory. Please keep in mind that this is a fictional story about an era a long time ago. Consider not reading on if you find discussions of self harm triggering. And remember that the world is better with you in it.

Did Lady Mariko Die?

A pretty consistent rule on episodic television is “no body = no death.” It’s understandable then why Shōgun fans would lean on that to adage in hopes that Lady Mariko survived the events of “Crimson Sky.” Unfortunately, she did not. The only reason we don’t see a body is because the explosion in the store room that took Mariko’s life detonates a split second before the episode cuts to black.

On the ever-useful official Shōgun companion podcast, episode 9’s director Frederick E. O. Toye all but confirms it, saying of Mariko’s final moments with Blackthorne:

“It’s a sad moment, you know. I really do feel saddened that their relationship – at least in a physical world – ends in that moment. I think that Blackthorne begins to understand the gravity of her role in this change of hands that happens. The Edo Period begins after this. And her role in that was massive. She believed so much in Toranaga’s plan that she was willing to sacrifice for it.”

Toye’s quote is important not solely for us to come to terms with Mariko’s death, but to remember that it was far more complicated than the simple murder at the hands of Ishido’s shinobi than it appears to be. Yes, Mariko didn’t set that fuse herself. Yes, it was Yabushige’s meddling that put Mariko’s ultimate demise in motion. But this is still a self-sacrifice.

Because even before the shinobi attacked, Mariko was fully prepared to commit seppuku to accomplish three simultaneous tasks: 1. to free the captives the regents were keeping in Osaka Castle. 2. To honor her lord. 3. To honor her father. With all of that at stake, one death seems like such a small price to pay … even if it means never being able to see the Anjin again.

Ad – content continues below

Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis) even offers to “second” for Mariko’s seppuku when her fellow Catholic regent lets her down.

“This was a big point of discussion for the [writers’] room,” co-showrunner Rachel Kondo revealed on the Shōgun podcast. “For the entire show, Blackthorne has always disagreed with Mariko’s approach to death. Maybe [this moment is about] just accepting that she wants to choose what her life will stand for and this is the way she’s going to do it. Maybe this is something that Blackthorne comes to understand that he loves about her. I think this is, for lack of a better way to put it, possibly one of the most loving things he can do for her.”

Did Lord Toranaga Just Win?

Yes, he probably did! Lord Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada) may just be the smartest, most cunning individual in television history. He understood that one woman could achieve what an entire army couldn’t. Toranaga’s “Crimson Sky” plan always sounded pretty far fetched. Even before an earthquake decimated his troops and his half-brother turned cloak, Toranaga likely didn’t have the manpower to successfully siege Osaka – certainly not without an unacceptable number of casualties.

So the perpetual schemer dreamed up a ploy to lay bare just how powerless Lady Ochiba (Atsuko San) and the heir’s regents really were. Rules and rituals matter in Osaka. Lady Mariko, simply by asserting her personhood and her faith in her lord, made it clear that Ishido (Takehiro Hira) has a castle full of noble hostages. What’s particularly impressive about this is that Mariko is not acting as a mere pawn of Toranaga but as a legitimately faithful servant who also gets everything she ever wanted from this last stand.

Back in episode 1, the Portuguese sailor Vasco Rodrigues (Nestor Carbonell) shared a bit of advice with Blackthorne about the Japanese, telling the Englishman: “There’s a saying out here that every man has three hearts. One in his mouth for the world to know. Another in his chest just for his friends. And a secret heart buried deep where no one can find it. That is a hear that a man must keep hidden if he wants to survive.”

While every man may have three hearts, Mariko has but one and it beats strong as hell. Nothing about her is hidden. Though she uses silence as a weapon against her husband, he still knows exactly what she wants: to die. Pretty much everyone in Ajiro knows how Mariko feels about Blackthorne as well. Because the heart in her mouth, the heart in her chest, and the heart buried deep are all one in the same. Even the poem she shares with Lady Ochiba and the court is so devastatingly clear. One doesn’t need to have a Ph.D in the subject to know how “While the snow remains veiled in the haze of the cold evening a leafless branch…” ends.

Ad – content continues below

What Happened to the Real Life Hosokawa Gracia?

Like many characters on Shōgun, Mariko is based on a real life figure. While we won’t know how those other characters’ fates compare to their historical counterparts until the finale next week, we do know that Mariko has a similar ending to hers, Hosokawa Gracia.

Hosokawa Gracia, born Akechi Tama, was a Catholic convert and a vassal to Tokugawa Ieyasu (who is the inspiration for Toranaga). When Tokugawa’s enemies attempted to take Hosokawa Gracia hostage in Osaka Castle, she killed herself, causing a great outrage among the political power players in the capital. Lady Gracia’s method of suicide is debated, however. Due to suicide being a mortal sin in her faith, she could not kill herself and instead had her family retainer do so, which is what Lady Mariko likely intended to do.

“Mariko is a little bit different in that she wants to not commit suicide if possible because then she can maintain her loyalty to her religion and her father and Toranaga,” Kondo said. “She would probably have symbolically stabbed herself and then waited for the second to actually kill her so she wasn’t technically committing suicide. Which is what happened to the real Lady Gracia.”

Mariko’s story deviates from Lady Gracia’s a bit after that. It’s Yabushige’s ever-changing heart that ends Mariko’s life. But it’s Mariko’s own heart that effectively wins the war before that.

Nine episodes of Shōgun are available to stream on Hulu now. The finale premieres Tuesday, April 23 on Hulu and airs that Tuesday night at 10 p.m. ET on FX. If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the 988 Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States.