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What’s next for Cobra Kai after season 4?

Recapping the karate opera’s latest libretto, with an eye toward what’s on deck for year 5

a white haired man with a dead look in his eye brings his fist level with the face of a man with his back to the viewer
Thomas Ian Griffith is spellbinding as Terry Silver, a character exhumed from 1989 who’ll bring new life to Cobra Kai in season 5.
Photo: Netflix
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Cobra Kai season 4 premiered on Friday on Netflix, and this year’s story arc and outcomes have us plenty optimistic for a strong season 5. Showrunners Hayden Schlossberg, Josh Heald, and Jon Hurwitz managed to cleanly extract everyone from the messy soap opera that wound up at the All-Valley Karate championship, leaving behind some clear good-versus-bad rivalries that should translate to fun and furious martial arts action in the next 10 episodes.

Maybe it took an extra season to get there, but fans could rightly view the first four years as a fully resolved arc involving Johnny and Daniel’s wary friendship, spilling into their son and daughter’s own conflict and maturing. Season 4 — a great cliffhanger notwithstanding — did end on notes that felt like the conclusion of a good popcorn-movie trilogy, albeit one that leaves plenty of territory for another big-time sequel to roam.

Not even a week since Cobra Kai season 4 premiered, fans are already guessing at where things could be headed in the next 10 episodes. Here’s how we see the order of battle for Cobra Kai season 5, which has been greenlit by Netflix, even if we don’t know when it will premiere, or any other details.

[Ed. note: Spoilers for the entirety of the Cobra Kai franchise to date will follow.]

nine teenagers’ faces peer out from the traditional japanese door of a karate dojo
Ruh-roh rensei, the Cobras are coming ...
Photo: Netflix

Who are next year’s bad guys?

Thanks to a bravura performance by Thomas Ian Griffith, Terry Silver is officially the big bad going forward. But you’d be forgiven for wondering who, exactly, will be along for the ride with him, be that willingly or manipulated. Season 4 wrapped up with practically all of Miyagi-do Karate’s enemies either in sympathetic places, or reconciling with their families and friends.

John Kreese (Martin Kove) is in the slammer, framed by former buddy Silver for the savage (but oh-so-satisfying) beat-down of Stingray. (Paul Walter Hauser; again, really?) At the tournament, we also saw Kreese reckon with his past and the corruption his martial arts philosophy has brought to young minds. It’s not entirely a face turn, but Kreese is more likely to need reluctant help from Johnny (William Zabka) and Daniel (Ralph Macchio) than to be battling them.

Tory Nichols (Peyton List) quickly wound up episode 10 realizing that she may have won a fixed bout to earn her All-Valley championship over Samantha (Mary Mouser). While that presents a lot of opportunity for classic character conflict, that conflict is with Silver, who did the fixing. Tory will be, at best, a reluctant soldier against Miyagi-do.

Kenny Payne (Dallas Young) appears to be drunk on his own power and prowess without realizing it, somewhat like Miguel Diaz (Xolo Maridueña) after his triumph at the All-Valley in season 1. He’ll be an important figure as Cobra Kai’s writers put in the work to establish a new high school class of rivals, but he’s too new, and also a little short to be one of Terry Silver’s lead stormtroopers. Kyler (Joe Seo) is solidly on Cobra Kai’s first-string of D-bags, but he’s a straight-away meathead follower, not an evil plotter.

Then there’s Daniel-san’s Daniel-son, Anthony LaRusso (Griffin Santopietro), whom Kenny thrashed in the locker room at the All-Valley. Although Anthony was revealed to be a bully, horrifying his parents, Kenny’s enmity would seem to keep him from turning to Cobra Kai or being tempted by Silver. Anyway, that particular twist seems to have been used, if not abused, already, vis-a-vis Robbie Keene (Tanner Buchanan). Regardless, there should be action between Kenny and Anthony in season 5, but right now that wouldn’t seem to have legs beyond being a strong subplot.

A teenager in a tuxedo with a white bowtie gets ready for prom, his mother and grandmother are at left and middle
Is Miguel’s (Xolo Maridueña) sojourn really to find his estranged father, or is something else going on behind the scenes?
Photo: Curtis Bonds Baker

What’s going on with Miguel?

Miguel’s departure from southern California — on a bus, to find his (apparently dangerous) father in Mexico — came so abruptly that one must wonder if Maridueña’s continued participation in the show is in some kind of doubt. It sure seems like a writing hedge to explain a character’s absence if their actor and the producers can’t come to terms (think: Bo and Luke Duke allegedly “racing NASCAR” while Coy and Vance took over in The Dukes of Hazzard’s fifth season).

Whatever the case, Miguel appears to have completely checked out. (Props to the writers, again, for subverting viewer expectations with the countdown scene to get back to the mat.) Although Cobra Kai went to Okinawa for season 3, sending another main character on a solo journey is still a lot to handle for an ensemble drama. But if Miguel/Maridueña leaving really is a work and not a shoot, there should be adventure galore as Miguel defends himself on the road.

a karate student in white readies himself, his sensei is wearing a black gi and has his back to the viewer
Tanner Buchanan, as Robbie Keene, supplied some of Cobra Kai season 4’s best action and best acting.
Photo: Curtis Bonds Baker/Netflix

Will Sam and Robbie hook up?

Pity poor Tory; her romance with Robbie had some real heat, and the two showcased some ass-kicking dance moves — literally — at the after-party. But with the fast-paced finale resolving to Robbie’s reconciliation with his dad (“I’m sick of blaming you, Dad!” was the sledgehammer line in an outstanding scene), that puts him back with Miyagi-do and the forces of good. If Miguel is out of the picture, well, that creates natural tension with Samantha LaRusso, and it’s sure to drive Tory bonkers. Because of the ready-made conflict, we’d put the odds at nearly even Sam makes a move on Robbie, or vice versa.

Elsewhere, as delightful as it was to see Hawk — now just plain Eli (Jacob Bertrand) — pick up a championship, it looks like his Samson-esque mohawk is no longer needed. He and Moon are an item again, and somehow Yasmine (Annalisa Cochrane) still seems serious about Demetri (Gianni Decenzo). Kenny and Anthony will likely brawl over newcomer Lia, but that triangle’s a little young to be next year’s romantic anchor. All this means our teenage soap opera could be well more subdued with the smooches next year.


Is Hilary Swank the next throwback guest star?

Cobra Kai has been generous with cameos from The Karate Kid’s theatrical releases, and its pull as a pop culture and social media phenomenon should be a lot stronger after a standout season 4. We already know that Chozen Toguchi (Yuji Okumoto), who had an unexpectedly endearing run in season 3, will return in season 5 to help Daniel deal with Silver. But are there any other characters left, from The Karate Kid cinematic universe, who haven’t made an appearance?

“Any movie that has Mr. Miyagi in it is part of our ’80s canon,” Heald told Polygon. That means that Hilary Swank — star of the lesser-known The Next Karate Kid — is, at least theoretically, on the table. Swank portrayed Julie Pierce in the 1994 movie, which also starred Pat Morita as Mr. Miyagi.

“Julie Pierce is very much a character who exists in this world in this universe,” Heald added. “You’ll have to wait and see. And we’ll have to wait and see, you know, when and if Julie enters our Cobra Kai story. But we are big fans of Hillary Swank.”

Not canonical, however, is the 2010 film The Karate Kid, starring Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith. That’s altogether a reboot, so Chan’s Mr. Han and Smith’s Dre Parker exist outside of this San Fernando Valley. A year ago, Jon Hurwitz noted (to Slashfilm) that Jackie Chan was referenced by name in season 1. “So I think, in our world, Jackie Chan is an actor and a performer,” he said. “If the characters on our show have seen a movie called The Karate Kid, they’ve seen that one.”

Fans tried connecting the dots long ago considering that Will Smith’s production company, Overbrook Entertainment, was in the credits for seasons 1 to 3, before handing off to distributor Sony Pictures Television Studios last year. Maybe that was behind the Jackie Chan hat tip in season 1, but it’s nothing more.

All four seasons of Cobra Kai are available on Netflix.