John’s Old-Age Visions In ‘Shogun’ Explained: Did Anjin Get To Leave Japan?


FX’s historical drama series Shogun had a regular amount of flashbacks in order to flesh out the backstories of the lead characters, Mariko and Toranaga. But it never moved forward in time to predict the outcome of somebody’s actions. That said, the final episode of Shogun opened several years into the future of the timeline in which the narrative existed to show an old John Blackthorne rotting away in his bed in London, with a cross in his hand, while his grandchildren were busy going through all the things he had brought back from Japan. The last episode showed old man John two more times: once when he regained his consciousness after getting his wounds treated and once when he was about to commit seppuku in front of Toranaga. Now, were these glimpses into John’s future merely a figment of John’s imagination? 

Spoiler Alert

As far as my deduction skills go, I think that the visions of old man John didn’t happen in John’s life. It is John’s destiny to stay in Japan and he will never be able to run away from it. He will rebuild his ship for Toranaga. And, as promised by Toranaga, he is going to keep him in that cycle for the rest of his life because John is amusing to him. In addition to that, John is loyal to Toranaga. So, it’s good to have a funny guy around who is also ready to lay down his life for you. No, that’s not just my opinion. I know for a fact that the flashes of old man John that we see are actually figments of John’s imagination because we can see old man John holding Mariko’s cross. But in reality, John throws Mariko’s cross into the sea while submerging the ashes of Fuji’s husband and child at the end of Shogun Episode 10. Since there’s no time travel, alternate universe, or multiverse shenanigans going on here, it’s safe to say that John threw away Mariko’s necklace and stayed in Japan for the rest of his life. 

Old man John is the manifestation of Blackthorne’s worst fears. Yes, he has a wife and two children. So, technically, he should aspire to go back to his home in London and live a peaceful life with his family, his children, and his grandchildren. But Mariko’s death changed him literally (his eyes were injured, as per the book and the 1980 TV series) and figuratively. He felt that if he kept Mariko’s token of faith (the cross) as a mere piece of memorabilia and took it back to England, he would be dishonoring her. Sure, he would be able to tell cool stories to his grandchildren. However, his mind would be plagued with thoughts of failing Mariko. That’s why, instead of letting Mariko’s sacrifice go to waste, John decided to emulate her sense of humanity and faith while staying in Japan. His memories with Mariko were tied to Ajiro. And he couldn’t see it being torn apart by Toranaga. That’s why he put all his effort into saving the village.

John’s premonitions in Shogun actually reminded me of the “half-remembered dream” conversation between Cobb and Saito in Inception, where they talked about growing old, being filled with regret, and waiting to die alone. I don’t think John knows if his feelings of regret and loss are organic or a result of Toranaga’s manipulation. John says that he was the one who was lying to Toranaga. But it’s eventually revealed that John never had the upper hand, and Toranaga was one step ahead of him, initiating the idea of devoting his life to him in John’s mind. When John decided that he wanted to die for Mariko or live for Toranaga instead of rotting away in a bed in London, it wasn’t really his decision. It was Toranaga’s voice subtly turning him in the direction that benefited the ruler of Japan. By the way, yes, I am saying that Toranaga isn’t the hero that everyone thinks he is. He is an extremely shrewd individual, and John Blackthorne’s transformation into a loyal servant—who didn’t go back to his wife and children in England and stayed back in Japan—was one of his most successful experiments.

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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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