“Shōgun” actress on shocking, explosive death: ‘She was going to go full-out’

Co-creators Justin Marks and Rachel Kondo break down the death in the intense "Shōgun" penultimate episode.

WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Shōgun episode 9, “Crimson Sky.”

For eight episodes, viewers have watched Hiroyuki Sanada pull political puppet strings as Lord Toranaga in FX’s expansive miniseries Shōgun. But in the penultimate episode, it’s Anna Sawai’s Lady Mariko who takes center stage. And in the final moments, Mariko, whom we’ve watched yearn for death throughout the season, devastatingly finds it.

In the beginning, Sawai tells Entertainment Weekly, Mariko sought freedom in death. But in carrying out Toranaga’s mysterious Crimson Sky scheme, she fulfills her purpose.

“She just wants to be free of all of it and that's why she is thinking that death is the only way," Sawai tells EW. "But once she does find that purpose, I think she's less about wanting to achieve freedom. It's more about having a purposeful death. Your purpose can be achieved by living and doing something like Toranaga-sama, and it can also mean a purposeful death. And I think that she understands that she will be getting everything that she wants for herself and for Toranaga-sama through her death."

<p>Katie Yu/FX</p> Anna Sawai as Mariko on 'Shōgun'

Katie Yu/FX

Anna Sawai as Mariko on 'Shōgun'

The episode is riddled with hugely intense moments, from Mariko’s standoff against Ishido's (Takehiro Hira) soldiers, to her almost committing seppuku, to the frenzied, fiery explosion that ends her life. Sawai tells EW that her death scene was shot over multiple days — the final of which happened to also be her final day filming Shōgun — with different directors. “We [had] a big gap in between one of those days that we shot me going against the door with a phantom camera, and it was just the door and it was just the blowing up. And then maybe, I would say, it was over a week later that we shot the actual scene.

“It did feel strange, kind of, having to do the same scene, same emotions, but on very different days. But I think towards the end of it, it was just like, okay, this is happening,” she continues.

Sawai says that from the moment Mariko told Toranaga she was ready to accept her part in his plan in the final moments of episode 8, she’d made peace with her impending end. “The moment she said, ‘I am ready for what you have for me,’ that's when she decided she was going to go full out,” Sawai says.

It’s demonstrated earlier on in the episode, when she attempts to leave Osaka castle and again when comes so close to committing seppuku because of Ishido’s initial refusal to let her leave with the hostages. The standoff features an impressive bit of fight choreography on Sawai's part. But Mariko's display is more figurative than literal, co-creator Justin Marks tells EW. "She's not there to take anyone down," he says. "She knows she can't, that she's outnumbered in every way, shape and form and out-armed, and what she's doing is expressing the strength of her will and in protest for all that's going on."

Mariko is forced to threaten seppuku after the injustice of being kept at the castle. Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis) begs Mariko not to kill herself, but once he realizes she was only going to die on her terms, for her cause, he agrees to be her second. Marks explains that even if it means death, Mariko would “rather have her own purpose in her own agency than live for someone else's her entire life.”

After Ishido storms in at the last possible second to grant her leave permits, Mariko briefly believed she could survive the night — hence her return to Blackthorne’s arms. “I think there was a brief moment as the night went on where she actually thought that she would survive this. And I think that she is surprised by that more than anything else, and gives into that brief moment,” Marks tells EW.

<p>Katie Yu/FX</p> Anna Sawai as Mariko on 'Shōgun'

Katie Yu/FX

Anna Sawai as Mariko on 'Shōgun'

But destiny had other plans. Thanks to Yabushige's (Tadanobu Asano) treachery, shinobi (hired by Ishido) arrive in the night, and Mariko, Blackthorne, and the hostages run to a storehouse to hide. But the shinobi are prepared: "Ready the fuses," one can be heard saying after the fleeing group — which at this point includes Yabushige, who is pretending he wasn't the very one to let the assassins in — secures the storehouse doors. There's no other way out, though. Mariko is the first to realize what's about to happen, and throws herself against the doors as the blast hits. "Let it come" are her final words to Blackthorne.

Finally, Mariko can greet her end, knowing that her death is serving a larger cause. "She steps forward into that door knowing that this is what she did come to Osaka to do in the first place, so it might as well be now," Marks says. Co-creator Rachel Kondo adds that there is a "serenity" to the heart-wrenching moment. "It's the serenity that comes with letting go, and her war that she's been fighting her whole life is now done, and she can rest."

--With reporting from Nick Romano

Shōgun's finale airs Tuesday, April 23, on Hulu and FX.

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