Death: It Is Not What It Is Cracked Up To Be (04-07)
Xena Faces Her Destiny (08-11)
Honor and Dishonor (12-21)
Xena: The Friend(ly) Ghost and the Bard in Mourning (22-31)
The Redemption of Love (32-41)
Do Not Believe Everything a Ghost Tells You (42-46)
Tidings of Comfort and Joy (47-55)
Fade to Black (56-59)
Introduction"For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,/ When we have shuffled off this mortal coil...Thus conscience does make cowards of us all..."--Hamlet III i
Insert the Shakesperean reference of your choice.
 Some of the greatest love stories of all time are tragedies: Aida, Romeo and Juliet/West Side Story, Antony and Cleopatra (as recounted with a twist in the episode of the same name), Siegfried and Brunnhilde (used as the basis for the Beowulf trilogy in Season Six), Hero and Leander, Love Story, and the list goes on. Yet, the question remains: Why do we "enjoy" a tragic ending? Is it because we seek the catharsis that accompanies the shedding of tears?
 It may be partly that. I personally feel comforted, albeit wrung out, after a good cry, but there is another, more basic reason: stories of love in a tragic setting help us face the great unknown that Hamlet is describing in the quote above: death. We can try to thwart it, delay it, or, as our heroes have often done (most notably in IDES OF MARCH/FALLEN ANGEL), escape it. Yet it is always there, looming: unknown, terrifying, and inevitable. We all seek to put death into perspective and affirm to ourselves that there are some things, notably love -- perhaps only love (as Akemi says in her suicide poem: "but time...and love...they go on...") -- that transcend death. This is the moral of FRIEND IN NEED, and as Xena herself put it in ONE AGAINST AN ARMY, "Even in death, Gabrielle, I will never leave you."
 I shall examine this concept both from within the Xenaverse (within the story) and as a member of the real world (outside the story, looking in and sometimes from a very personal perspective). For the former, I will periodically indulge in a short bardic interlude for the purposes of illustration, for which I beg the gentle reader's patience.
Death: It Is Not What It Is Cracked Up To Be
 The following interchange from the Chronicles of Narnia, an allegorical series of children's stories written by C.S. Lewis, is enlightening. It takes place after the resurrection and rejuvenation of King Caspian, who has died of old age and whom Eustace knew as a boy:"But," said Eustace, looking at Aslan. "Hasn't he - er - died?"--The Silver Chair, by C. S. Lewis
"Yes," said the Lion in a very quiet voice, almost (Jill thought) as if he were laughing. "He has died. Most people have, you know. Even I have. There are very few who haven't."
 As Aslan observes, very few people have not died, and it has been said that no one gets out of this world alive. Yet, before we encounter death, we fear it, and avoid any discussion of it. It makes us very uncomfortable. In Japan, such discussion is particularly taboo, but more of that later. Personally, as an only child, I was terrified of death -- not of my own, but that of my parents. I was suffering from the primal fear that is behind the fear of death: separation anxiety, the fear of being left alone. My fear haunted me throughout my life. I would always think about how my family had found out about the deaths of my grandparents, via a telephone call, and as older members of the extended family died, I increasingly dreaded the call that might come in the middle of the night.
 That call came in 1999. I survived. Although I could barely deliver a eulogy for my father through my tears, I was able to celebrate his life and accept his death. Afterwards, people who, because of the fear I described above, were afraid of using the "D" word to me, expressed their condolences over my "loss". "Loss"? I would sincerely reply, calling upon my recent experience with what I had been fearing for decades, "Heaven forbid that I should lose my father! He died [I no longer feared the word]. But I know exactly where he is" and I would point to the zenith, and then to my heart. Xena's words to Gabrielle in the final scene were thus particularly poignant, when she described "the place where I'll always remain, your heart", because they echoed my own sentiments of thirty months earlier.
 The perspective with which death is regarded in Japan makes it an appropriate setting for the series finale. While discussion about death, and overt mourning as we do it in the Occident, are shunned, there are many things that are regarded as more important than death, notably honor. Honor transcends death, which is not an end, but simply a transition. For example, when the Emperor Hirohito died, he acquired a new name, Showa, which symbolized his new status. Xena and Gabrielle will experience death -- actual, not presumed death (DESTINY/THE QUEST) or near death (IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE?) -- coming between them at last. They will learn with certainty that despite this, neither of them will ever be alone again, because their mutual love can also transcend the transition that Xena has made to another plane of existence.
Xena Faces Her Destiny
No one knows ghosts like Harukata.
 Xena learns from Harukata that the 40,000 souls lost in the burning of Higuchi are on her conscience. She has never been able to forgive herself completely for her past misdeeds, and now she is burdened more than ever. Gabrielle quickly tries to assuage her guilt by noting that it was a horrible accident, and Xena might well take a page from her bard's book and reply: "Is that supposed to make me feel better?"
 Xena knows that she must make this right. Harukata explains he has been unable to free the souls because he is mortal. Xena understands that in order to expiate her sin, she must enter the spirit realm, as she did in order to deal with Alti [ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE, THEM BONES, THEM BONES].
 Xena realizes that she is going to have to die, as a means to an end. At the end of A FRIEND IN NEED I, she nearly has Gabrielle perform the deed, as she had done with others, including Gabrielle, in her previous battles with Alti. Xena intones one of the most tender sentiments she has ever shared with her beloved bard: "if I only had thirty seconds to live, this is how I'd want to live them, looking into your eyes".
 She cannot, however, burden Gabrielle with being the instrument of her own death. She knows how her own heart broke when she had to administer the coup de grace to Akemi and she will not subject her friend to that. Instead, she seeks another means. A means by which, perhaps, she can also save Higuchi from being burnt a second time and thus achieve a measure of atonement.
Honor and Dishonor
 From what both Akemi and Gabrielle say about the armies massed against Higuchi, the leader, Morimoto, is a living, as opposed to ghost, servant of Yodoshi, who is almost universally acknowledged as being a monster, both in life and in death. Yet, despite his horrible master, Morimoto wears the ornate helmet of a general, and appears, at first, to command the loyalty of the samurai in his army. His intention is to destroy Higuchi. Xena intends to stop him and at the same time, enter a realm where she can dispatch the source of this evil plan: Yodoshi himself.
 She now accepts that she will die, and despite her fears ("Akemi, I know what I must do, but I'm afraid that this day, what's done may not be undone."), she is determined to act with honor. After teaching Gabrielle the pinch, she watches, sadly, as her soulmate leaves on what will turn out to be a wild goose chase, bidding her a silent farewell. She then buries her armor and sword, and dons the armor of a samurai. In this sacred quest, she cannot sully her honor with the sins of her past that are, in a way, represented by the armor she has worn.
 At this point, I will take a bardic excursion. The last part of the scene that we all found so painful to watch is seen from Xena's point of view. I wish to share my impression of what she was feeling and how she would have appeared to her enemies...While the pain of the arrows was not as cruel as that of the nails that had once pierced her palms and feet, still Xena could feel her lifeblood ebbing from severed arteries with every beat of her faltering heart. She knew she was going into shock. Still she wielded the katana with leaden arms and time seemed to slow down as she cut down soldiers like stalks of wheat, screaming a new battle cry: "Gabrielle! Gabrielle!"
If she could not spend her last thirty seconds gazing into those adoring sea green eyes, at least she could die with her best friend's name on her lips.
Now before her swam the face of the one who had ordered the onslaught of arrows while he hung safely back in the ranks: the sneering face of Morimoto. Time seemed to stop entirely.
Xena exhaled. It was over. She had conducted herself with honor. She could allow herself to die.
She closed her eyes and raised the katana vertically before her, and did not even feel Morimoto's blade as it struck her neck.
 I am describing Xena adopting that particular posture at the end because of the appearance of her head when Gabrielle comes to claim it: the features, although sad, are composed, the eyes closed. Had she died while trying to ward off Morimoto's attack, her features would have been the way they were when Yodoshi lifted her by the hair in the teahouse: teeth bared, eyes burning with hatred. As Gabrielle later tells Morimoto, he would not have struck off Xena's head if the warrior princess had not allowed it.
 The expression on Xena's severed head reminded me of nothing so much as the expression on Obi-won Kenobi's face when he saw Luke and Leia safe on the Millennium Falcon. His mission, he saw, was accomplished. He closed his eyes and raised his lightsabre before his face as Darth Vader delivered the final blow, to an empty cloak [Star Wars IV: A New Hope].
 Xena sees that her mission, like Obi-won's, has been accomplished. She therefore permits herself to die. In fact, she might have already been clinically dead from hypovolemic shock before the blow was struck. Morimoto was a means to this end, and by dying in this fashion, Xena obtained great honor and the general had none.
 This was not lost on Morimoto. Rather than putting his "trophy" on prominent display, he had it hidden on the edge of his camp, with the haunting, composed face turned away from the people in the camp. In his rage, he stripped Xena's body of armor and, he thought, dignity, and hoisted it as food for carrion birds. He treated his fallen enemy in a dishonorable fashion, and this was evidentially noted by his troops, in view of their later actions.
 When Gabrielle, a true friend in need, arrived to claim the body, she showed how much she had matured as a warrior since the last time she had raised a war cry in the rain: "I want vengeance!" [WHO'S GURKHAN?]. This time she screamed out, in the middle of three armies of potential enemies, "Give me her head!" She subsequently accused the craven Morimoto, who professed to be an honorable samurai, of being a fraud. He did not deserve such a trophy because he had obtained it in a dishonorable manner. In honorable, single combat, she defeated him three times. The last time, when threatened by his katana, she even defeated him with a weapon she had not previously used. Whereas less than 40 years before, women -- foreigners -- were not permitted to possess katana, thousands of samurai now stood mute and watched the bard cross blades with their leader.
 At this point, I would like to emphasize, another contrast between honor and dishonor. After Akemi dispatched her mortal father in a non-traditional fashion (via the pinch), out of necessity, and for the greater good, she still felt that she had to claim back her honor, that had been sullied by her insidious attack. Therefore, it was she who raised the wakizashi on high and then plunged it into her abdomen in a rite of sepukku, after which Xena severed her head with the katana. In contrast, at the end of their brief combat, Morimoto begged Gabrielle to dispatch him with a single blow through the neck, and then grimaced in anticipation of the blow. Gabrielle knew he was not worthy of such a dignified end, and knocked him unconscious in disgust. The gathered samurai bowed to her, and later bowed to Xena's lifeless form when Gabrielle rode from the camp with her friend's remains across her saddle. They saw clearly who had conducted herself with honor, and who had not. To illustrate this, again I will indulge in a bardic digression:Consciousness returned slowly to Morimoto. It had stopped raining and he was lying prone in the mud. He raised his head and gazed at emptiness.
His troops were gone. The camp and the horses were gone. His helmet was gone. His trophy was gone.
He was no longer samurai. He was ronin.
He tentatively fingered his wakizashi, but his heart quailed to think of slitting his belly without a second to strike off his head.
He grasped his katana and slowly stood. He would have vengeance on the living - and the dead - who had brought him to this dishonor.
 From this point on, the armies no longer figure in the drama. The samurai have seen that Gabrielle and Xena have conducted themselves with honor, and their leader, a true follower of the monster Yodoshi, has only brought them shame. They have chosen to act in an honorable fashion, and have acknowledged the bard and her warrior mentor as the victors. They abandon their dishonorable leader, and disband. Thus, our heroes save Higuchi, both from fire and from siege.
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