Shutting down the machine – A look at Zero’s death scene in Metal Gear Solid 4

“It was then that the norms – manifested as AIs, the inheritors of Zero’s will… began to reproduce and take on a life of their own.”

MGS4-Big-Boss-Solid-Snake-and-Zero

The ‘after credits’ ending of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is in many ways one of the best scenes in the game, and it would be too much to list them all in a single article. That’s why this article will focus on one very important element in the scene: the death of Zero, by the hands of Big Boss himself, and its thematic relevance to the story.

MGS4-Big-Boss-and-Zero-4

The whole scene takes place at Arlington National Cemetery, the exact same place where MGS3 ends, and where forty years earlier the seeds that had been planted by the events of MGS3 were beginning to grow (notice the flowers that grew from the seeds of Big Boss’ bouquet serving as a visual metaphor).

Throughout the entirety of MGS4, Zero has been presented as the evil mastermind behind The Patriots organization, the true ruler of the world, someone who pulls the strings from the shadows. He is almost like a god, an omnipotent, omniscient being able to manipulate everything and everyone to achieve his goals. This is illustrated very clearly when Liquid-Ocelot, in his enthusiasm after successfully hijacking The System, looks up and shouts at the sky, as if he is really talking to a god in the heavens.

MGS4-We-are-Victorious

“Do you see this, Zero? We are victorious!”

Now, this image stands in stark contrast to what we see when we finally behold Zero at the end of MGS4. He is not a calculating strategist planning his next move. He is not a god with the fate of the world at his whim. Not anymore at least. Zero is trapped in his wheelchair, unable to move, kept alive by his medical equipment. His human side is gone. His control is gone. He is a prisoner to the machines that surround him. This is the real Zero. The same man that once served as the point of origin, the source, is no longer capable of anything.

MGS4-Big-Boss-and-Zero

“This man was the source of it all. And he doesn’t even realize it. He’s completely unaware of the fact that he led the world to the brink of ruin.”

Not only is Zero is no longer able to steer the fate of the world, he’s not even aware of it. His consciousness, his sense of good and evil, his human identity – none of those are still his. Big Boss takes a step back and observes Zero: a motionless, mentally absent body stuck to a wheelchair, with the only sounds coming from him the constant beeping and pumping of oxygen regulators.

MGS4-Zero-Beast

“Even the mighty Patriots began with a single man. That one man’s desires grew huge… bloated. Absorbed technology, began to manipulate the economy. We realized too late… that we had created a beast. We had helped turn Zero… into 100. His sin… was ours. And for that reason… I’m taking it upon myself to send Zero… back to nothing.”

As Big Boss describes Zero’s rise to power, the camera shows him from a very low position, making him seem large, powerful, looming over us like a deity. But the contrast is unmistakable: what we see is an old man with all his power stripped from him, everything that makes him human, gone. He’s at the mercy of the machines, machines that now rule him, instead of the other way around. He cannot even breathe by himself, his machines breathe for him. And as the machines have come to control what was once Zero, the AIs have come to control what was once human civilization.

MGS4-Big-Boss-Watches-Zero

“Powered by the industrial and digital revolutions that came before it, this age gave birth to a twisted economic revolution – a battlefield revolution. It created a new world without substance. In this new world, there were no ideologies, no principles, no ideals, not even the thing she treasured most… loyalty. There was only the war economy. It was a colossal error in judgment – one Zero couldn’t possibly have foreseen.”

In an attempt to establish a uniform, borderless world Zero created a system operating on a global scale – but the AIs tasked to carry on his will created a new world instead: a world depending on an economy based on eternal warfare, a world with controlled senses and emotions. A world void of human ideals, void of humanity, void of Zero’s guidance. It stripped mankind of its humanity – and perhaps Zero was among the first to lose his. He was once a man, but now, he’s just the empty shell of the seed everything grew from. Zero, just as the AIs he created as his successors, had fallen into corruption, and the decay of his human body only emphasizes this.

MGS4-Big-Boss-Turns-Off-Zeros-Oxygen-2

“Now that I’m actually face to face with him again, the hatred is gone. All I feel is a deep sense of longing. And pity.”

By shutting off his breathing equipment, Big Boss frees Zero from the grasp of the machines. He gives him back his human mortality. For the first time in this scene, we can see a bit of life, sounds coming from Zero himself, a final convulsion as the machines have no longer control over his body. In a way, Big Boss doesn’t even kill him. He allows him to die, something the machines didn’t. Big Boss shuts off the machines that have extended his life for years.

MGS4-Big-Boss-Kills-Zero

As Zero gasps for air, Big Boss wraps his arms around him and comforts his old friend during his final moments. We see flashes of the events of Snake Eater, memories of a past long gone. Are they Big Boss’, or Zero’s? Or perhaps shared memories? Either way, they’re recollections of the events that started it all, before Outer Heaven, before The Patriots, before the seeds of a single bouquet of flowers turned into a field. As Zero draws his last breath, Big Boss seems relieved that it’s over. He gently closes Zero’s eyes, and steps away from the wheelchair. Now, it’s his turn to be erased.

Big-Boss-Death-MGS4

  • MrVux007

    Let me sum up this article from my perspective
    1)Me, when i saw Big Boss https://culturallydisoriented.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/muyk44.gif
    2)Me,when i saw Zero in a wheelchair http://img1.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20130211050004/friends/images/d/da/Shocked.gif
    3)Me,when Zero died http://mashable.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Adam-Brody1.gif
    4)When,BB died http://mashable.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Greys-Anatomy.gif

    So you might say,it was an extraordinarily-shockingly-sad experience

  • solidsnack

    beautiful write up i loved this 🙂

  • Every time I view these scenes manly tears begin to fall 🙁
    Truly a master piece.

  • Golgari

    Great Scene. But my favourite part was when Solid Snake met Big boss for the first time. Music was so amazing at that moment that I cried. Really. Was so good.
    It’s going to be interesting to see if Zero will play a big part in MGSV. I think that he is still going to be in his shadows creating some kind of experiment that Skullface is talked about by the end of Ground Zeroes. Maybe we will have some kind of a cassette tape with Zero… I dunno. By the end of Ground Zeroes we already know that Zero has some serious power.

    • slyfennix

      Snake met Big Boss two times prior to that during the events of MG1 and MG2

    • Cipher

      I believe the “Grand Experiment ” is the Les Enfants Terrible project .
      Zero is – governing without borders- from the shadows :))

  • korruption

    I’m glad that fucking brown filter won’t be polluting MGSV. =D

    • It’s the glow of the sunset, that gives everything an orange tone. Adds to the atmosphere.

  • Venom_Sina

    Fantastic article.Beautifully written.No need to say this,but it is one of the best endings of all time.
    Thanks dear Nyxus.YOU ARE GREAT.

    P.S:This is my favorite part:”Even the mighty Patriots began with a single man. That one man’s desires grew huge… bloated. Absorbed technology, began to manipulate the economy. We realized too late… that we had created a beast. We had helped turn Zero… into 100. His sin… was ours. And for that reason… I’m taking it upon myself to send Zero… back to nothing.”

    • Dtoxz

      Hey HEY! We all know the greatest ending to a video game has yet to be seen. It’s written, but only seen by a very lucky few. 😉

      Excellent article though! You clearly know how to write Nyxus! Thank you for posting this piece as the ending to MGS4 can be a bit tough for some to grasp. Not only did you spell it out for us, but you did it with style! Gaming journalism is NOT dead and you just proved it.

      Do you guys think he will top this with MGS V’s ending? I’m looking forward to TPP so much.

      My favorite part:
      “They’re recollections of the events that started it all, before Outer Heaven, before The Patriots, before the seeds of a single bouquet of flowers turned into a field. As Zero draws his last breath, Big Boss seems relieved that it’s over. He gently closes Zero’s eyes, and steps away from the wheelchair. Now, it’s his turn to be erased.”

      This scene, along with the death of the boss in MGS3, draws a tear from me almost every time.

      -Excellent.

      You know I’m not surprised though…in a good way of course. MGS seems to draw out the passion in people and someone with a bit of talent for writing that speaks, er…WRITES from the heart, really shows it though that passion. Leave it up to the Metal Gear series to draw that out in someone! Good read, thank you

      • Yeah, it’ll be interesting to see to how MGSV will unfold, it looks like it will have a really dramatic story.

        • Gray Fox

          “really dramatic” ; rather “really disappointing/repeating/boring”

  • solidsnack

    it’s good to see kojima started retweeting movie stuff again, i feel a little relieved just to see him doing his old twitter stuff.

  • FOX

    This sure is epic.But i want more pictures and info of TPP from Kojima like before 🙁

    • Yeah, we all do.

    • Gatsu

      I know how you feel :(… I always loved when we got much of twitter pics each day and other news, but all info is so silent now. Well E3 is approaching so I think they will give some more news to us soon.

  • Shalashaska

    Wonderfully written Nyxus. You GO, buddy.
    This is some really good stuff
    I was like this when i read “notice the flowers that grew form the seeds of Big Boss’ bouquet serving as a visual metaphor” … how come i never noticed that after watching the ending like 20 times on youtube

    http://lewamack.com/Facebook/Pics/Confused-Surprised-Shocked-Q/Surprise-animated-computer-surprise__6_.gif

  • Solid Snakes Revenge

    This was a great read thanks Nyxus. The end is so sad when they make you watch that cigar drop. I recently just beat the game a bunch of times to get my platinum and I felt every time I saw it I felt more sad than the past time I saw it.

  • Javier

    Im hoping for a good explanation in mgsv of why “zero is the bad” in mgs saga. Or how he becomes that.

  • César H. Sandoval

    Great read Nyxus.

  • Gatsu

    Gotta say you really write well Nyxus :), I enjoyed reading this awesome stuff as always!
    One of the best ending scenes in gaming history.

    I wonder though how Kojima’s original idea of the MGS4 ending would’ve looked like, was it Snake and Otacon executed, captured or something? Well I’m sort of glad it didn’t go to that.

    Can’t wait to see the story ending of TPP, seriously. It’s gonna be so epic for sure!

    • This ending really fits the story as it is now. With the original ending the game would have been very different probably. But yeah interesting to think about.

      • Gatsu

        Yes I agree now it fits with the story :).

  • Shporet

    I want my chopper pictures!!!

  • PrinceHeir

    Man seeing this pic. You know Big Boss went through hell. I think Big Boss felt sympathetic to him. Even though Zero pretty much tried to ruined him and The Boss’s will and even though Big Boss suffered all of that. He still felt merciful to Zero.

    Since just look at him. He’s just in a vegetative state. Just like Big Boss said:

    “This man was the source of it all. And he doesn’t even realize it. He’s completely unaware of the fact that he led the world to the brink of ruin.”

    http://www.metalgearinformer.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/MGS4-Big-Boss-Watches-Zero.jpg

    Kinda felt sorry for him tbh. Greed, Power and obsession( preserve Big Boss image) consumed him too much. And now he ends being nothing more lifeless vegetable slowly rotting away.

    It would be interesting to see who and what kind of person Zero was when he had all of this power in MGS55.

    Still i do want that MSX remakes, but since Konami being an ass. We’ll never see them again(or at least Kojima’s own true vision of it)

    • Kol Leqejza

      honestly, there is NO reason to do them @all. the closure will be massive. if u play through the whole saga from metal gear – MGS V it will be like the snake who bites itself in it’s tail (ouroborus). the game will end before the saga begins – that’s perfect.

      • Gatsu

        I sort of agree. I would love to see the remakes, but also would be nice if MG1&2 are left the way they are. To show the changes of the saga during years, by graphically and gameplay etc.

        It’s really great though that Kojima was able to close the loop with the story, TPP being the last and with the vision he always wanted to create :). I know TPP is gonna have epic ending for us fans :D.

        • Edward Wokhands

          It’s just hard knowing that Kojima couldn’t fully express his vision until the PS1. It makes me wonder how many ideas he had for the story and gameplay that couldn’t be achieved. That’s the only reason I’d like a remake. MGS1 doesn’t really need one because it’s so cinematic.

    • MrVux007

      Dont worry im sure there will be remakes 🙂 (but just dont be suprised by the number of retcons once they are released 🙂 )

  • Venom_Sina

    Hey Nyxus.There’s a tiny,little mistake in the title of the article,where it says:”An look at Zero’s death scene…”.You used “An” instead of “A”.
    Thanks again for this article.

    • Thanks, changed it.

  • ObsessedGeorge

    Oh man, even though words can’t describe this scene, you did it, the way you write these MGS articles is amazing. Shivers up and down my spine. Every time you get me.

  • “He is almost like a god, an omnipotent, omniscient being able to manipulate everything and everyone to achieve his goals…”

    And himself. 😀

  • Neil Kapit

    Great article on a great scene. Even Solid Snake feels bad for Zero; he’s confronting the man responsible for almost everything wrong in in his short, terrible life, but when he finally sees that man as a decrepit, brain-dead shell, all you can see on Snake’s face is pity. (And unlike Big Boss, Snake was able to reach that empathic conclusion without helping plunge the world into endless war)

  • Theo Heisenberg Constantine

    MGS4’s story might have been a convoluted mess with plot contrivances and so on but this scene. this fucking scene was what made the story huge to me. like this is where mgs4 shined to me. like everything in mgs to me led up to this moment. two friends reunited to face their ultimate fate. and it was unreal seeing big boss and zero in the same scene in so long lol. like big boss and zero were really good friends and this is what their friendship led to. this by far was the best moment in mgs4 hands down.

    • Chris Jackson

      I really don’t understand people’s complaints about MGS4’s story. I think a few people started it, and others followed. It’s a great story that pretty much answers every question about most of it’s characters. That’s what it meant to do.

      I do agree that seeing Big Boss and Zero was the best part though.

      • Theo Heisenberg Constantine

        well i dont hate the story because i feel like kojima could have answered the questions in any way and people would still complain. like the nanomachines was the answer to everything and to me i accepted it because it made sense lol. the issue i have with mgs4 is it felt squeezed into just answer those questions i felt that the game would have benefited being split into 2 games to flesh out the story better but the story is serviceable and enjoyable. what i said wasnt meant to be taken as “mgs4’s story was shit” it was just rough around the edges and i felt it could have been better you know?

  • Frederick Guese

    I thought the scenes with Snake and Raiden were more interesting. This IMO is MGS4’s biggest narrative blunder. 🙁

  • Mohammed AL-Johani

    Gooooooood READ.

  • NakedSnake85

    excellent article ! really
    but one thing about phantom pain.. i dont fully get the fact that hideo aimed for a more serious tone in v yet the fulton remains..i mean look im okay with that but he could come up with something else.. i was watching the e3 2013 trailer and it hit me…imagine that u could sneak into an area clearing it somehow or clearing some key points and in the meantime ordering ur troops (a raiding patry) to storm and take prisoners via choppers jeeps etc.. it would be so cool.. ur thoughts? i understand though why fulton is used…but it was a great chance for hideo to go ultra realistic withV .even though i do enjoy all the unrealistic part of Mgs
    okay…im gonna rant now.. an other thing..the whole hayter/sutherland debate..okay im not okay that hayter is not big boss anymore BUT kiefer is great..he gives big boss something else i cant describe it really…BUT i dont like the fact that big boss was out of his character..let me explain…GZ ending…msf destroyed..and big boss was silent..i was expecting to see big boss to express his thoughts on that moment say a few words come up with a plan on the spot say some words of ecouragment etc..but i saw him just standing there…it felt that kaz wore “more” in charge than him u know/? i dont know its the only thing i disliked about it…and it seems that this will continue in TPP this time with a reason though..

    • Golgari

      Going Ultra realistic is impossible though I would love that. Ground Zeroes for example was very realistic. There was no fulton so you required to bring POW’s to the helicopter… But imagine TPP that is the size of Grant Theft Auto V and maybe even bigger. I’m not so sure that it will be “fun” to do the same thing over and over (via heli, jeep or something else) with large maps with missions that are varied between 1 or 6 hours for the mainstream gamer. A raiding party is a great idea but that’s not really stealthy and plus another micromanagement. iDroid is already full of functionality, not sure that we need more micromanagement there. Also troops storming the environment is another story full of complicated AI stuff that is beyond last generation of consoles and just not worth it.

      Fulton existed. That’s a fact and it looks very Gamey in MGSVTPP but at the same time you still require some stealth because enemies can shoot it and it’s basically the only way players can steal some stuff from your base.

      So yeah… Realistic stuff is great if it is fun. If it’s just complexity without fun then it’s not worth it. Gameplay wise Metal Gear Solid V will be a masterpiece. That’s enough IMO.

      • NakedSnake85

        i agree 100% with everything u said :

    • invader_skoodge

      I think your argument is the “cardboard box” argument. You wonder why is it there if this is a serious military stealth third-person shooter. But what you fail to realize it that this is METAL GEAR. It was never aiming to be ultra realistic and that’s why it differs from let’s say Splinter Cell. The crazy and weird elements of the game are it’s identity. The option to use these things are completely optional. It’s there for the people who want to use them, but as you can see in Ground Zeroes. You can take people by chopper. Kojima stated that the game will be very dark, so he balanced light hearted moments to keep everything fresh. What you describe might make sense to you in a realistic scenario but gameplay wise it would be very less fun than to extract people(and sheep.) yourself. so……

      • alecfoy

        exactly right, metal gear has personality! We don’t want that sacrificed for the sake of “ultra-realism.” plenty of other games have that anyway.

    • invader_skoodge

      About your gripe with Big Boss at the end of ground zeroes.

      The way he acted made sense in context.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shell_shock

      • NakedSnake85

        he killed the boss. that was a more painful experience than the destruction of motherbase imo.
        yet he was completely aware. plus i am a huge fan of the series since 98.. as i said i enjoy all the “silly” stuff metal gear has.. but i wanted to see an ultra realistic metal gear. thats all

      • NakedSnake85

        and plz i dont fail to realisze anything. as i said i am commited to mgs like no other : )

      • NakedSnake85

        also there is a valid argument to make about fulton.. i dont think that kidnaping enemies captures the essence of big boss very much.. mgs established that big boss had charisma and he was capable to persuade people to join his cause.. kidnaping them just does not give me that feel

        • korruption

          What’s more persuading than telling a soldier he has two options?
          a) Join our cause and help us fuck shit up
          b) We’ll drop you into the ocean

    • Gatsu

      Big Boss screamed in anger when that soldier was shot, which gave me the expression that he really cared about all of them. But then when they see the whole MSF fall down, I understood Big Boss was in a huge shock at the moment. Kaz raging all over the chopper but not him. Imo it made sense to me as not everyone might react to stuff like that the same way.

      I don’t mind Fulton. I guess it’s easier for them to persuade enemy soldiers to join their cause from inside the Mother Base, instead of in the battlefields where Big Boss has to focus on completing his mission and not chatting with random soldiers. Like in PW first Fulton enemy, then put in prison cell and let him out later to know he’s with ya.
      It’s also existed for real :), and experiments began in the early 50’s.

      Ultra realistic might work, like in GZ, but TPP is much bigger in the size of maps so carrying the soldiers to landing points might take long time. Also raiding enemy bases with troops would give Kojima and folks much more work imo. But don’t worry, Kojima has said that he will make TPP his best MGS yet :), have faith! TPP will be the perfect mix of serious/dark story with traditional humor moments, which Fulton has a part of.

      • Maurycy Zarzycki

        I’ve had a lot of discussions with a friend of mine who kinda liked MGS series but a lot of the technology (especially in MGS3) felt out of place, too new or plain impossible. So for each of his complaint I dug through MGS wikia and hey, turns out a large majority of the things in MGS series are at the very least plausible.
        He now likes the series a lot :). I wish someone did a comprehensive article/series of articles/book/documentary about the technology in the series vs real world tech.

    • Kol Leqejza

      ever cared to type fulten recovery into ur search engine of choice? there u will find, that it’s based on real-life tech.

  • slyfennix

    Great article Nyxus. I’d like to add my own thoughts to this scene. Zero started with ideals to unite the world. To achieve this he created the AI. The problems is that these machines that just follow protocol have no understanding of the ideals, not like us humans can understand them. I believe this is a metaphor for how humans try to institutionalize ethics and morals in bureaucratic rules and laws. By focusing on the rules rather than the ideals, future generations lose the meaning behind the rules and may take them to a, albeit logical point when seeing the rules, twisted conclusion.

    • Interesting point.

    • slyfennix

      I forgot to mention the state of Zero. By eternalising our norms and ethics by rules and protocols, which do not bear the understanding themselves, we mangle the old ideals and keep them alive in the same way that Zero is kept alive by his machines. We dont allow ourselves to move on create our own ideals. Rather we clamp to a phantom which we only know through rules. An understanding that is doomed to fail. To allow the world to change and live again Zero has to die. The wretched form in which Zero is kept alive by his AI signifies how we misunderstand the ideals of those who created the rules on which our society is built today, because we only know them through the rules they have left behind.

      In essence the message in this scene does not differ much from the ending of MGS2

      • Yes, and both Zero and Big Boss ended up being ruled by their corrupted ideas – ideas which were supposed to carry on the Boss’ will. They both lost their human side in the process.

  • MAG V Supreme

    Another great piece, my highlight is where BB says he helped zero create it all. It is huge on explaining/ confusing us about what really happen / happening in mgsv. I have awesome theories. Someday soon i will release them all and make all mgs fans go crazy. I do hope MGI keeps putting things like this and that we support it. Cheers to simple deeper looks.

  • Cipher

    Great article !
    I watched MGS4’s ending so many times I even memorized the whole conversation
    one of my favourite moment is when Big Boss says : ” the original members para-medic, signt, eva ocelot . They’ve all past away, only zero is left ”
    along with the flashbacks from MGS3
    great memories 🙂

    Cipher watches all !

  • Old Liquid

    What a beautiful article. Thank you for the wonderful read.

    He was spiritually absent in MGS4, and physically absent in Peace Walker, so we never got his direct briefing or interpretation of The Boss’s will. MGSV looks to be such an ambitious marvel of a game, so here’s to hoping that we will finally get to hear Zero’s revelation and his side of the story, by the man himself.

  • psychomantis18

    Nice job. Love that scene. I remember the horrible feeling I got from what seemed like the games end when it first goes to the credits. Then when Big Boss’s credit came up… oh.. orgasmic.. gave the walls a new coat of white

  • Justin Wentz

    So we all know that Shinkawa tries to embed the themes in the visual designs. I hadn’t thought of this before but I bet that he designed the wheelchair wheel as a solid circle so it would come across as a zero. Pretty cool.

    And I wouldn’t be surprised if the low camera angle on Zero is supposed to be directly reminiscent of the Lincoln Memorial in D.C.

    • Kol Leqejza

      good points there!

    • Good catch!

  • Vegas

    I played MGS4 as my second MGS, the first being Snake Eater. I am really sad that, the first time, i had no idea what was going on. Thanks Nyxus to make me feel what you guys felt in this moment because I couldn’t do it fully. Thats why I am so hyped for the V: it will the first Metal Gear i’ll ever see growing and the best thing is… It will be when 0 becomes 100.

  • WrongDirectionZ

    The ending of mgs4 was for me the most emotional part of every mg game… will alway love it

  • ShariganShinobi

    Nice to see everyone banding together. This ending was truly a satisfying ending. My Favorite part was BB reveal and the stand off, before the hug and acknowledgment of Snake being a part of BB’s life. Was a touching moment considering how much they have both been thru.

    Awesome Article.

    Incredibly excited for MGS 5. Booked the week of work.

  • very well written nyxus, good analysis. keep them coming

  • Stormy Rain

    Beautifully well written.

  • Ma2a

    Very powerful scene. Loved the interaction between Big Boss and Snake. When Snake watches him with a trembling mouth. I love them.

  • Pingback: Zero, The Patriots e os mecanismos de poder em Metal Gear | Girls of War()

  • Salad Snack

    my favorite quote in this scene:
    “Everything has its beginning. But it doesn’t start at one. It starts
    long before that – in chaos. The world is born – from zero. The moment
    zero becomes one is the moment the world springs to life. One becomes
    two, two becomes 10, 10 becomes 100. Taking it all back to one solves
    nothing. So long as zero remains, one will eventually grow to 100
    again.”