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Did Toranaga Always Want to Become Shōgun? Series Creators Break Down Ending

'We look at him like Yabushige looked at him, where am I looking at a man or a God?'

Kat Moon

[The following contains spoilers for Shōgun Episode 10, "A Dream of a Dream." Read at your own risk!]

Throughout FX's Shōgun, Lord Yoshii Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada) has kept his truest intentions close to himself. Time and time again, the bushō stated that Japan's peace is of utmost importance to him. And for most of the series, we did not have much reason to believe otherwise: Toranaga wanted to avoid war at all costs, even if that meant his own surrender to the Council of Regents. But in the season finale — and almost certainly the series finale — "A Dream of a Dream," another part of Toranaga's heart was revealed. In his final conversation with the bushō, Lord Kashigi Yabushige (Tadanobu Asano) made a shocking realization — that becoming shōgun had, in fact, been on Toragana's mind. "It's what you've always wanted, isn't it?" Yabushige asks. His question was met with a long pause. "Why tell a dead man the future?" Toranaga responds before decapitating him as his second during Yabushige's sepukku.

"In the book, the answer is a little clearer," series co-creator Justin Marks said about whether Toranaga wanted to be shōgun all along. "The answer is yes, and he doesn't answer it until the 998th of 998 pages." In the last page of James Clavell's novel which FX's Shōgun adapts, Toranaga's intentions are laid out more explicitly through an internal monologue: "That's what I've fought for and planned for all my life. I, alone, am heir to the realm. I will be shōgun." 

Marks discussed how these last words in the book were depicted in the show. "That's the part of [Toranaga's] secret heart that he reveals in Yabushige's final moments before death," he said. "We decided to play it with a look, because how do you really articulate what's inside a person's secret heart? So that reaction shot should be enough." 

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Besides, being shōgun meant something different to Toranaga. "I think he wants to be shōgun but not in the way that his ancestors had claimed the shogunate," co-creator Rachel Kondo said. "It's a more complex, living thing for him — he wants to use the office of shōgun as a means of manifesting this great vision that he has for his country." Sanada, who portrays the character in the series, also shared his thoughts. "Making the peaceful era was [Toranaga's] dream, that's true," the actor said. "So if he need[s] a title of shōgun, maybe."

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In that last conversation with Yabushige, Toranaga also revealed that Crimson Sky — his undisclosed grand scheme to retaliate against the Council of Regents — has been completed. Because of Lady Toda Mariko's (Anna Sawai) actions, Lady Ochiba-no-kata (Fumi Nikaido) did not have the heir's army join Lord Ishido Kazunari (Takehiro Hira), thereby ensuring the Council of Regent's division and Toranaga's victory. So many of Toranaga's pieces fell into place that it begs the question: Did the master strategist put himself in a position where he would be impeached by the council from the very beginning?

"Toranaga would want you to ask this very question but he would never want you to try to answer it," Kondo said. Marks pointed to the scene in which Toranaga tells Yabushige that he doesn't control the wind, but only studies it. "If this is a show that is about agency, every one of our main three characters come to it from different places," Marks said about Toranaga, Mariko, John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis). "They all begin this story as prisoners, in one way or another." In Toranaga's case, he started as a political prisoner in Osaka facing impeachment. "Whether he had agency over that is almost, in Toranaga's world, irrelevant to how he reacts to it," Marks said. "And I think that's the part that is so interesting about him."

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Marks shared about how Toranaga's strategizing is unique. "You can see other characters setting up these situations, like Yabushige in the second episode manufacturing this 'encounter' in the woods where he just so happens to find Blackthorne — what a coincidence!" He said. "With Toranaga, I think his strings are a little longer and more invisible." 

That was why his words to Yabushige — particularly about his relationship with the wind — were so illuminating. "Very often he'll toss things to the wind and see where they land and study it, and then make his decision based on it," Marks explained. "And so part of what we were trying to convey with him was, by the end, this feeling that we look at him like Yabushige looked at him, with just the awe of mastery, where am I looking at a man or a God? I can't quite tell because who's to say what he does and doesn't control."

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All 10 episodes of Shōgun are available to stream on Hulu.