Spoiler alert! If you haven’t watched Justified’s satisfying series finale — “The Promise,” written by Graham Yost, Fred Golan, Dave Andron, and Benjamin Cavell, and directed by Adam Arkin — stop reading now. As he’s done throughout the final season, showrunner Yost takes Yahoo TV inside the writers’ room to dissect key scenes.
Boyd lives! Did you ever think about going the other way?
Oh, yeah. We thought about it, but as much as it was about Boyd, it really came down to Raylan. If Raylan was to shoot Boyd, then what does that say about Raylan? Has he grown at all over the course of this series? Tim [Olyphant] and I, right from the beginning, felt that Raylan should grow just a little bit — and I’m making a gesture with my hand where my thumb and my forefinger are about a half an inch apart. In Elmore Leonard’s world, characters tend to talk about changing, but they keep on doing the same things. But there’s usually one character who nudges forward a little, and we felt that would be Raylan’s story. So we needed him to not kill Boyd and show that little bit of growth.
He went from angry to stubborn, as he says to Winona in the end.
From angry to stubborn.
As a fan, you expect yourself to be sad that Boyd ends up in prison, and yet, it’s nice to see him with a flock again when we flash-forward four years. He’s got a captive audience.
[Laughs.] It was just such a collaborative thing in the final run. Talking to Walton [Goggins] about it, he said, “What if I’m preaching again?“ And then when I told Tim that idea, he said something to the effect of, “Raylan should say, ‘You know you’re repeating yourself, right?’” It’s part of the circular motion that we were aiming for in the final season, bringing things back around. Raylan has taken Boyd down once again, and Boyd has now found the lord once again, and it’s just that cycle continued.
Their final conversation in the prison will move some fans to tears. First of all, Boyd telling Raylan that he knows he never believed a word coming out of his mouth but he hopes he enjoyed it — that’s from Elmore.
Yes. Very good. That’s what Elmore said about Boyd to Walton [“I don’t believe a goddamn thing you say, but I sure do enjoy watching you say it”].
Does Raylan really believe Boyd loved Ava?
I couldn’t say for sure… I would say Raylan would be willing to grant that Boyd believes he did, but he’s really using him. It’s interesting. If you deconstruct that scene, the whole reason Raylan is there is to lie to Boyd. He’s lying to this guy that he’s known for half his life or more — all his life, essentially. He’s there to lie to him and tell him that Ava’s dead, and he has to convince him that he’s telling him the truth, and so, to a certain degree, everything Raylan says in that scene is a manipulation of Boyd, and yet, I think that he’s also sincere. So he’s lying, and he’s sincere, and that’s really what we were going for.
There’s that moment in the pilot when Boyd and Raylan first reunite where Boyd tells him that Dewey Crowe said he had to run Raylan off at Ava’s. Raylan says, “You believe that?” And Boyd says, “Not if you say it ain’t so.”
Boyd believes Raylan. Raylan doesn’t lie to Boyd, and so that’s what Raylan uses. [Laughs.] So basically our hero turns out to be a liar. No, no, no. It’s for a good reason.
Right, because Ava doesn’t want Boyd to ever know that she had his son. I also forgot until I rewatched the pilot that when Ava and Raylan first reunite, as she tells him about killing abusive Bowman, she says Bowman had blamed her for having a miscarriage after he beat her with a belt and for not giving him a son to go hunting with him and Boyd.
Guess what? I forgot that, too. None of us had gone back and re-screened the pilot. We just thought we knew it. We should’ve asked VJ [Boyd] because, as StoryTron in the room, he was always very good at remembering all the details. But that never came up.
I thought maybe that’s why she wanted to get away from Boyd so badly.
Well, listen, I think she wanted to get away so badly anyway. The question we had in the room is: Did she know she was pregnant when she ran, or was that something she discovered a month into her fleeing? And we didn’t land on it. We really thought more that she probably didn’t know, but maybe on an unconscious level her body knew, and her body was telling her mind, and that was affecting her decision.
We just like the notion of these lives going on and the generation to come, and what do you owe that generation? And the idea of her trying to keep her son out of the web that she got caught in, we thought, was a pretty strong motivation — that Raylan would instantly identify with that, having been a child of that world himself, and it was hard for him to get out. I think that as much as he didn’t take Ava in for Ava’s sake, I think he was really doing it for the kid.
Her son, Zachariah, is buttoned-up just like Boyd.
[Laughs.] That was just our little joke, and everyone gave me such crap for it, but I mean, it may be just sort of a genetic thing that he said, “No, mommy, to the top.” I don’t know. We thought of having little tattoos on his fingers, just maybe Barney or a Teletubby or something.
At the end of the prison scene, Raylan and Boyd’s final exchange is perfect: Boyd wants to know why Raylan has come to deliver the “news” about Ava in person, and Raylan says if he allows himself to be sentimental, there is one thing he comes back to: “We dug coal together,” Boyd says. And Raylan gets the last line: “That’s right.” That felt like the truth: You go back to the pilot, and after Raylan shot Boyd in Ava’s kitchen, Raylan said, “I’m sorry, but you called it,” and he flashed back to running out of a mine with Boyd. Ava asked him why he said he was sorry: “Boyd and I dug coal together.”
Well, as I said, I think he is lying to Boyd and he’s genuine. It was Walton’s idea to put the “We dug coal together” line in it, and as soon as he said it, it just felt right. And it was interesting to have him say it this time as opposed to Raylan.
Let’s go back to the beginning of the finale: Markham (Sam Elliott) is pressuring Ava for the rest of his money, and just the way he pulled her chair closer to him…
That was Sam. They’re rehearsing the scene, sitting there. “How about if I do this?” And he just grabbed the chair and pulled it in. I went up to Adam Arkin and said, “You know, we should have a side angle so we can really get that sense of her being pulled in,” and he looked at me like, “Yeah, I know. Of course we’re going to do that.” But that is one of my favorite shots in the whole finale, him dragging her closer.
Ava tries to call Zachariah, but Boyd answers and agrees to come for the money’s sake. You’d told us dynamite would come back into play. Boyd used it to keep the marshals at bay, but you just wanted to see him blow stuff up one more time?
When we talked to Charlie Almanza [the show’s technical advisor], Charlie said, “Yeah, if someone started throwing dynamite, you pull back, and you try to create a perimeter.” So it actually became almost logical that Boyd could get out of it [and that Art would leave Raylan on his own].
And it’s logical that Grubes had a phone in his cabin?
You know what? We were talking about that. We found out that there are landlines up in the hills. So there, smartypants.
Boyd ultimately shot Markham, including one bullet through the eye. Why the eye?
Dave chose the eye, and our brilliant makeup team decided, well, we can put it just below the eye, so that we didn’t have to put latex over his eye and an application on top of that. It was really creepy on the set when Sam was walking around with that. Like, “Yeah, OK, I can’t look at you right now, Sam.”
And one little inside story on that: He actually recorded a line that Dave had written where, as he’s dying, he says, “There is no light.” It was a beautiful line, and it actually played quite well, but then when we were watching the cut, you just felt like with a bullet hole in that position, there’s nothing more that you’d be able to say. On the page and in the shooting, it was really cool, but in the cut, it just felt like it was a little too much.
It’s almost the opposite of Mags’s death [“Put an end to my troubles. Get to see my boys again. Get to know the mystery.”]
She was going into the light, in a way. Yeah.
Boyd pulled the trigger on Ava but he was out of bullets. Did he really want to kill her—
Did he count the bullets?
We don’t know. My feeling is that he counted the bullets and that he was just tormenting her. He wanted to kill her but couldn’t because it’s Ava and he still loved her, but he wanted her to feel like she was going to die.
When Raylan showed up at the drying shed, we got the standoff we’ve been waiting for: Hearing Boyd was out of bullets, Raylan kicked him another gun.
We debated for a long time where the gun came from. I mean, our logic finally landed on the idea of it being Birch, played by Otto Krause, who’s our stand-in who got that job — we told that story before. Really, Boyd would’ve taken his gun from him [when he walked Birch into the shed], but I think in one of the shots, you can see that he’s still got his gun in his holster. So we’re going to believe that at some point in the melee, he tried to get his gun out, and it hit the floor. But the other thing is, it’s Justified, and there are probably guns under every chair in our world.
Boyd refused to pull on Raylan, but he wanted Raylan to pull on him. Did he want to take Raylan down with him?
I mean, does he really want Raylan to do it, or does he just want to put it all on Raylan? I think Boyd’s point of view is somewhat suicidal, at that point. All is lost: He didn’t get Ava. He doesn’t get the money. Life as he knows it is about to end. He doesn’t get to go out in a blaze of glory. I mean, he could if he wanted — if he wants to pull on Raylan, he can go out in a blaze of glory. But it’s not the way Boyd wanted to do it, which would be running down the street and hiding behind cars and taking on an army. So he doesn’t get to live out the Ballad of Boyd Crowder and go out as an outlaw. At the end of this rope, he’s just throwing it back at Raylan’s feet. OK, this is up to you. What’s it going to be?
Raylan is transporting Ava when Boon (Jonathan Tucker), with Loretta in tow, stops him for their much-anticipated shootout. That location was gorgeous.
Just stunning. They picked another location on that road, and then it turned out something wasn’t permitted or someone else was there — there was some complication — and one of the location people said, “There is this reservoir down at the bottom of the hill. Why don’t we go look at that?” And I went down, and Adam saw it and said, “Oh, this is perfect.”
There’s a fence that goes along the road, but just at the area where we shot it, the fence actually drops down out of sight. So you get this clear view of the reservoir — the water and the hills behind — and it was just a matter of picking the perfect time of day, so the sun’s going down. That whole sequence was shot over a Saturday and a Sunday because we get two hours of the perfect light. We got as much as we could and then came back the next day to clean it up.
I heard Tim Olyphant say last year that he’s occasionally thought Raylan’s Stetson, which Elmore wasn’t initially a fan of, would get shot before Raylan would, and he’d have to find himself a new hat. That’s essentially what happened.
It’s just these tremendous writers, all of us working together. In [episode] 612, VJ or Chris [Provenzano] put it in the Boon/Loretta/Derek showdown scene, the idea that Boon always goes for the head shot because people might be wearing a vest. So that was a little bit of setup. That was one writer looking out for another writer. And yeah, Tim had wanted the new hat. So if you remember on the Paley Center panel [last week], which you moderated, you’d asked what people took from set, and Tim said he had something made and then he took it home, and he wouldn’t say anything more about it — that was the hat. Tim had that hat made, and Jonathan [Tucker] got to wear it for a couple weeks [as Boon], and then Tim grabbed it from him and said, “It’s mine because I made it.”
It’s more like the hat Elmore envisioned?
It’s closer. I’ve said this before, because Elmore used to say it: The hat he had in mind was what the troopers who were escorting Lee Harvey Oswald were wearing before Jack Ruby shot him. This is a much hipper hat.
Raylan falls, and you know he’s not dead — if only because there’s so much of the finale still to go. But were you hoping to make people a bit nervous? He stays down a while.
I would say that when we watched this with the people in Harlan [last weekend], the most gratifying things were the responses to [that scene] because they didn’t know what was going to happen. There was laughing when Ava and Loretta dropped down out of sight in their vehicles because the guns were about to go off. There was shock that Raylan falls down and Boon does, too, but their eyes were on Raylan. And Tim did that without a mat. It’s hard to do that and not hurt yourself, and he just did it. It looked great, and then Loretta stepping on Boon’s arm [so he couldn’t fire again at Raylan before dying], that got a good response. We were very happy about that, but yeah, there was just that moment: Wait a second? Have they killed Raylan? And you know that we haven’t. But what if they did? And that was the goal.
Let’s talk about Raylan’s exit from the Lexington office. He gives Gutterson his copy of The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Why is that significant?
Someone commented on the fact that we actually referred to Eddie Coyle at the end of Season 4, when those thugs are in the nursery with Winona and Raylan, and the scam that they’re actually pulling — which is they’re going to hold Winona while Raylan goes off and kills Drew Thompson — that’s from Eddie Coyle.
The Friends of Eddie Coyle was a seminal book in Elmore Leonard’s life. If you see the speech that he made when he accepted the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Book Awards, he talks about The Friends of Eddie Coyle. The first line [of the book] is something like, [“Jackie Brown at 26, with no expression on his face, said that he could get some guns”] — and that’s where Quentin [Tarantino] got the name Jackie Brown, which was not the name of the character originally in Rum Punch. So there is all this circularity in it.
But Elmore remembered picking that book up in a bookstore and just reading the first few pages, and it changed his life, and that’s the thing that made him make the full switch from Western to crime fiction. So we couldn’t have Raylan reading an Elmore Leonard book — then the universe would’ve folded in on itself, and we would’ve all been winked out of existence — but The Friends of Eddie Coyle seemed right.
You mentioned at the Paley panel that you sobbed on set. Was it this goodbye scene?
It was the marshals’ office, yeah. And Nick [Searcy] lost it, and Erica [Tazel], and Tim. Here I go again. Thanks.
That moment between Raylan and Art does sneak up on you. You can almost see it sneaking up on Tim in the scene.
Yeah, and [Steve] Porcaro’s music was just fantastic under that. That was a beautiful moment as they’re having a drink. We wanted to have this moment between them and then just have Nelson walk in. And it was Tim and Nick who said, “How about he comes in and breaks the moment, and then we just clink glasses and chug it?” Oh, and the other thing is, when Rachel and Raylan have their little goodbye moment in the office, she says, “Nice hat,” and he says, “I tried it on and it fit” — that’s a callback to the second episode [of the series] when she asks him about the cowboy hat.
When you flash-forward four years, we learn Raylan is in Miami with Winona and Willa — but Winona is now with a man named Richard, played by Jason Gedrick. You got in one last Boomtown alum.
We got most of everyone we could from Boomtown and Deadwood, and I got one guy in from Hey Dude, Dave Brisbin [who played the jewelry store owner earlier this season]. If the series had gone any longer, we would’ve had to go after Full House [which Yost was a writer on for a short time before he sold the screenplay for Speed].
It seems like Raylan and Winona still have a good relationship, which is good. But what happened between them?
Well, first of all, in terms of the scene, I would say big credit goes to [executive producer] Sarah Timberman. Initially, it was going to be two scenes, one at the playground, and then Raylan was going to take Willa home and we were going to see, Oh my God, it’s not his home, and there’s this Richard guy! It was going to take a lot of time, and we needed to get Tim off the set so he could get on a plane overnight to Germany and go be in Oliver Stone’s new film about Edward Snowden.
And Sarah said, “Well, wait a second. What if the whole scene takes place at the playground? And we have a moment where Raylan and Winona are together, so the audience thinks everything worked out, everything’s great, and then have the turn when Willa says, ‘Can daddy come for dinner?’ and then have Richard walk up.” So it was a great idea, and actually, Sarah wrote a bunch of the lines in that scene, but she is not getting any credit on the episode, so hell with her. [Laughs.]
But yeah, it was just our feeling that Raylan doesn’t win everything. He stays alive, he gets the bad guy, and he’s ultimately going to do a big heroic thing, as it turns out, for Ava — but he doesn’t win on everything. It just felt like the history of Raylan and Winona — they’re never going to make it work, and yet they’re always going to be in love with each other and they’re always going to be drawn to each other. When [executive producer Fred Golan] saw the scene, he said, “Yeah, I still think they’re going to end up together at least one more time and then break up and do it again.”
Well, the way Raylan looks at Winona as she walks away, it’s clear he loves her. Again, you’d expect that you’d be sad, but feeling that lingering chance for them, the disappointment is tempered.
Oh, God, yes. He’ll always love her.
Speaking of not changing, Raylan is still a marshal in Miami.
A few quick things there: One is it was a joy to get David Koechner back [as Florida-based Greg Sutter, from the Season 5 premiere]. He cracked jokes all day, and that was a tough day because that was Tim’s last day. We couldn’t get Matt Craven [who played the boss who sent Raylan back to Kentucky in the pilot]. He was out of town. But it worked out right, because we had a limited amount of time, and if Matt had been there, we would’ve had to go into his office and do a short little scene there and come out, and it just would’ve been really tough. This way, his office was set up, and his name plaque was there, Chief Deputy Dan Grant, but we had Koechner.
When Koechner throws the ball and says, “Right, Charlie,” that’s Charlie Almanza. We knew we wanted to get him on camera one time.
And when Raylan opens up the envelope and you see the [newspaper] picture of Ava in the pumpkin patch, up in the corner of the envelope, it says that it’s from the Seattle office of the Marshal Service, and up above that, it says Rachel Brooks.
Is Rachel the chief in Seattle?
She’s either the chief, or, it’s only four years later, maybe she’s not the chief, but it’s a big office, and it’s good experience for her.
We can assume Art is retired by this point. Where is Gutterson?
I think he’s in a band that’s playing at Coachella this weekend. No. I don’t know. You never know with Gutterson.
Raylan assumes it was Duffy who got Ava out of Harlan in his dog grooming van. He’s right, yes?
Yes. Listen, I think cradling Mike in his arms as Mike died in [episode] 611 was a wonderful, beautiful moment for Duffy. Of course, his mind immediately goes to dear dead Katherine’s tennis bracelet and ring because he is Duffy. The idea [of him being the one Ava called for help], of course he’s going to get millions of dollars to do it. It just felt like that was Duffy — Duffy manages somehow to survive.
How did you decide Ava would end up on a ranch in California, and open her front door to Raylan just like she did in the pilot?
We wanted to shoot something that looked like California, and we had a horrendous time finding a place that would work for us. One of the locations people was in the bar that Raylan and Art go into to see the corrupt [cop], and that bar was up in Frazier Park. And as she was closing the deal for that bar, she mentioned that we were looking for a house, and someone said, “Well, go talk to those guys at the end of the bar. They’re real cowboys,” and she went down. The guys said, “Oh yeah, I work at a ranch. We’ve got a place that would work for you.” Showed some pictures, and that’s what it was. It’s in Lebec, and so we let Lebec play Lebec.
The title of the episode is “The Promise.” When Tim came up with the idea at the end of last season that Ava would say she was scared and Raylan said, “Don’t be, everything’s gonna be fine” — to me, that’s what the whole final season was about. And it goes back to the pilot, when she says, “The minute you walked in, I knew everything was gonna be all right.”
With Ava, Boyd, and Raylan all alive, you leave the door open for a reunion, a movie, a spinoff? Is that anything you’d consider down the line?
Well, we’ll see. I mean, it’s taken over 20 years for Full House to get another shot on Netflix. So hopefully it doesn’t take us that long. [Laughs.]
Yes, we’ve left the door open, and it would all depend on story and appetite. But there was no point in killing these guys off. They didn’t deserve it. Well, Boyd did, but Raylan had to make a different choice.