Shōgun chooses grief over violence in its haunting finale, "A Dream of a Dream"

Shōgun's quiet finale proves just as hard to pin down as Yoshii Toranaga's plans, and is all the more beautiful for it.
“SHOGUN” -- "A Dream of a Dream" -- Episode 10 (Airs April 23) Pictured (L-R): Cosmo Jarvis as John Blackthorne, Hiroyuki Sanada as Yoshii Toranaga. CR: Katie Yu/FX
“SHOGUN” -- "A Dream of a Dream" -- Episode 10 (Airs April 23) Pictured (L-R): Cosmo Jarvis as John Blackthorne, Hiroyuki Sanada as Yoshii Toranaga. CR: Katie Yu/FX /

It's been quite a journey for FX's Shōgun. Over the course of 10 episodes, the limited series has established itself as one of the standout genre TV shows of the year so far, brilliantly adapting the events of James Clavell's 1975 novel with care and sweeping vision. Now, it's time for that journey to end. "A Dream of a Dream" brings Shōgun to a fitting close, albeit a much quieter one than I was expecting.

Yet rather than weakening the episode, I found the finale's restraint to be far more powerful than if "A Dream of a Dream" had leaned on war and copious bloodshed. Instead, the series delivers a powerful meditation on grief and acceptance that I'll be thinking about for a long time.

Beware SPOILERS ahead.

“SHOGUN” -- "A Dream of a Dream" -- Episode 10 (Airs April 23) Pictured (L-R): Tadanobu Asano as Kashigi Yabushige, Takehiro Hira as Ishido Kazunari. CR: Katie Yu/FX /

Shōgun Episode 10 review: "A Dream of a Dream"

"A Dream of a Dream" had me glued to the screen from its opening seconds, which depict an old John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis) lying in bed, with two grandchildren whispering to each other about the Japanese artifacts arrayed around his clearly European bedroom. Blackthorne clutches Mariko's (Anna Sawai) cross, looking wildly about, before it cuts back to the present...where he awakens in the aftermath of the explosion which killed her and cradles her body, screaming and praying over her.

And yeah, when the cold open has you on the verge of tears, you know you're in for a heavy one. Shōgun has had a consistently great sense of emotional weight, and this finale pulled out the stops in that department. "A Dream of a Dream" is a deeply reflective episode where we see the effect that Mariko's death has had on each of the major players in the conflict. Blackthorne is an emotional wreck. Yabushige (Tadanobu Asano) is mentally shattered by the fact that his betrayal led to Mariko's death. Lady Ochiba (Fumi Nikaido) and the Christian regents have second thoughts about the alliance with Ishido, who set those events in motion. Even Toranaga looks on the verge of tears at times, such as when he recites some of Mariko's poetry to his wife.

This is, simply put, a beautiful, sad episode of television; a bittersweet goodbye for this truly excellent limited series, just as the characters are bidding their own bittersweet goodbye to Mariko. It wasn't what I was expecting from the finale, but it feels like what was needed.

“SHOGUN” -- "A Dream of a Dream" -- Episode 10 (Airs April 23) Pictured (L-R): Cosmo Jarvis as John Blackthorne, Moeka Hoshi as Usami Fuji. CR: Katie Yu/FX /

Shōgun glossing over its biggest battle was a good choice

I expect that "A Dream of a Dream" will end up being one of the more divisive episodes of Shōgun, largely because it never actually shows the war which the series has been building up to all season. Instead, we get a moment near the end of the episode where Yabushige — who has been commanded to commit seppuku for his betrayal — is finally let into Toranaga's confidence. Toranaga reveals that Lady Ochiba has decided not to back Lord Ishido (Takehiro Hira) anymore, after his shameful attack against her childhood best friend Mariko. A brief flash forward plays as Toranaga narrates how he will win the battle when it does arrive, because Ishido will have no allies. In this way, Toranaga will fulfill his dream by ushering in a new era of peace as the Shōgun of Japan.

The battle he's referencing here is the Battle of Sekigahara, an actual battle which marked the beginning of the Edo Period in Japan. I doubt I'm alone when I say that I expected we'd see some of it in Shōgun's final hour, rather than the brief, bloodless glimpse we got during this conversation.

However, the more I sit on it, the more I think Shōgun made a good choice by focusing in on the heart of the story here at the finish line. Instead of a huge epic battle, we see the threads of Toranaga's scheme finally pulled tight. John Blackthorne, the Anjin, will never leave Japan; Mariko and Toranaga planned together to deal with the Christian regents, agreeing to destroy Blackthorne's ship in exchange for his life. His visions of a future life where he's an old man clutching Mariko's cross are exactly that: just a dream. They don't represent the actual future of the series, but rather a future that Blackthorne dreads would happen if he left, clinging to grief over the loss of Mariko for the rest of his days.

Quiet scenes such as those shared between Blackthorne and his former consort Fuji (Moeka Hoshi) hit harder than any battle. There's joy as these two come back together, just for Fuji to inform Blackthorne that her service is finished and she's now decided to become a nun. (Blackthorne tells her she'll be "the best nun." Don't mind me, just holding back tears again.)

Their final scene together, where they release Fuji's family's ashes into the sea, and she in turn helps Blackthorne drop Mariko's cross, serves as our big clue that the flashes of John as an old man are just a figment of his imagination. Shōgun has spent a lot of time driving home to both viewers and John that death can come quickly in feudal Japan. The show hasn't shirked away from realistic portrayals of grief, but few hit with quite the same gravity as Mariko's here at the end.

“SHOGUN” -- "A Dream of a Dream" -- Episode 10 (Airs April 23) Pictured (L-R): Tadanobu Asano as Kashigi Yabushige, Hiroyuki Sanada as Yoshii Toranaga. CR: Katie Yu/FX /

Toranaga admits that Crimson Sky, his brutal plan to overthrow the powers that be in Osaka, was never a military strategy. Where an army would have failed, he sent a single woman: Mariko. By giving up her own life, she ignited dissent among the regents, underlined how much the nobility were being held captive by Ishido, and ultimately provided the push Toranaga's forces needed to one day win the Battle of Sekigahara. In an age of television where big battles are becoming more and more common, it's a credit to Shōgun's confident storytelling that it decided to take a quieter, more personal route. It'll stick with me for quite a while.

Shōgun Bullet Points

  • Ishido tries to blame Toranaga for the attack on Mariko, saying that only someone as ruthless as Toranaga could have pulled it off. Obviously, no one believes him. But it is kind of chilling that by the end of the episode, we learn that Toranaga was killing townspeople in Ajiro Village as a way to test John Blackthorne following the sinking of the Erasmus. So even though Ishido was lying about the attack on Mariko, he wasn't wrong about Toranaga.
  • The costume design and cinematography in this episode are stunning. "A Dream of a Dream" is a beautiful hour of television.
  • It also features outstanding acting pretty much across the board. Cosmo Jarvis turns in an especially great performance as John Blackthorne.
  • The scene of Toranaga and Yabushige on the cliff, just before Yabushige commits seppuku, is another standout moment. Tadanobu Asano and Hiroyuki Sanada are wonderful to watch act opposite one another, and I'm really glad Shōgun gave them a big extended scene here at the end.
  • The unassuming fisherman Muraji (Yasunari Takeshima) reveals himself to be a samurai working for Toranaga. He starts translating for Blackthorne now that Mariko is gone. We already knew he was spying for Toranaga, but it's even more interesting that he assumed a whole different life in order to blend in with the people of Ajiro while serving his lord.
  • Lady Ochiba and Mariko's relationship is another highlight of the series, which didn't exist in the Shōgun novel. I love that the show made that a focal point in the back half of its run, and a crucial aspect to Toranaga winning the war.


"A Dream of a Dream" is a poetic, haunting finale to FX's exceptional Shōgun limited series. It was a daring choice to build up the looming war between Toranaga and Ishido all season, only to veer away from it in the final hour in favor of a quiet, character-focused resolution. I think it worked wonderfully, and gave us a haunting ending that is much more powerful. With this finale, Shōgun solidifies itself as one of the most flawless television series of 2024 so far.

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