‘Justified’ Finale: Stars and Creator Break Down That Twist-Filled Ending (SPOILERS)

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Spoiler warning: Do not read on unless you’ve seen the “Justified” series finale, “The Promise.”

In what was perhaps the most unexpected twist of “Justified’s” six season run, once the dust had settled on the unpredictable series finale, all of our favorite characters actually succeeded in leaving Harlan alive. Despite the bloodshed and violence that punctuated our core trio’s lives (as is the case with most characters written by Elmore Leonard), all three managed to achieve the closest thing to a happy ending they were ever likely to get, with Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) moving to Florida to be close to his daughter, Willa; Ava (Joelle Carter) making a home for herself and her son Zachariah in California; and Boyd (Walton Goggins) finding some modicum of peace in jail after regaining his faith, despite being left unaware of his son’s existence and being told that Ava had died in a car crash three years prior.

Creator Graham Yost told Variety, “we basically knew what we were going to do for quite some time” when it came to writing the finale, and that the choice for Raylan to leave Boyd alive sprang from the idea that “it was a different way to go. Everyone’s thinking that Raylan’s going to kill Boyd, and for us, the feeling was, whether or not Boyd deserved it — and he did, because I don’t care what Walton says, he’s a bad guy — it wouldn’t serve Raylan, and Raylan would then not have grown over the course of the show. That was his little bit of growth.”

Goggins confided that he had hoped that Boyd would die in the finale, if only to give himself a sense of closure. “We talked about it for the weeks and months leading up to it, and before the season started, I had my own version of how I wanted things to end — for Boyd, anyway. Graham sat me down on the very first day we got back and said ‘what if everyone lived?’ and it floored me, it was a different way of reacting to that news, because I so wanted Boyd to die. It would’ve been much easier for me to say goodbye to him. But then when he pitched it and we talked about it and as the season progressed, things changed. I think he threaded the needle of creativity, and it’s very hard to do — how many people in the world have ever had an opportunity to end a six-year run? So I’m happy with it, I’m satiated.”

Olyphant was every bit as stoic as his character at the show’s finale screening, wryly admitting, “I liked the last episode — it’s pretty good.”

He confirmed that while he had some quibbles with the opening of the episode, “there was an elegance” to the last 30 minutes that he loved from the moment he read the script. As for Raylan’s decision to leave Boyd alive, Olyphant said that was his pitch before the season started, and something the cast, writers and producers had discussed at length. Speaking of the duo’s showdown, the star conceded, “that scene, tonally, wasn’t how I imagined it, but broad strokes, I liked the way it went down.”

Ava’s trajectory over the past two seasons has been one of immense growth, from discovering her grit during her stint in prison last year to finding the strength to choose herself and leave Boyd bleeding in the dirt just a few episodes ago, and Carter told Variety that she was “very happy about where she ended up. This whole season was about finding the opportunity to escape, and she did, and I’m proud of her. I know it was a lot of different emotions, and now the audience realizes another motivating reason for her to get out — don’t mess with the lioness and her cub. I’m very proud of Raylan for keeping his word and letting her be safe. Once again, she’s a true Elmore Leonard woman — she got away with it all.”

Yost agreed, “That’s what we wanted in season five, to let [Ava] find the strength within herself, and we knew that we would need that in the final season. And the whole thing was really that she would be torn between these two guys and she makes the choice that they weren’t expecting, which was to go her own way.”

Both Carter and Goggins admitted that regardless of their acrimonious split, Ava and Boyd would always love each other. “I don’t think Raylan gave him that news in an effort to save Ava’s life,” Goggins said of Raylan’s decision to tell Boyd that his fiance had died in a car crash. “You meet a man who will never get out and would never hurt her — that was never his intention — but he’s stopping the cycle of violence for this little boy, and if I am in service to that end, then so be it; end the violence.”

The final scene that Goggins shot was actually the penultimate scene of the episode, which proved that Boyd never lost his passion for preaching. “That scene was something that I pitched to Graham pretty early on — when he told me you were going to see Boyd again in prison, I said ‘can we please have him preaching?’ Because he’s been asked to do so many horrible things, and my fear was that the audience was going to feel in some way cheated or jaded because they put their emotions into this guy who turned out to be the antithesis of what they thought he would be, or held to that reality far back in the recesses of their mind,” Goggins recalled. “For me, I really wanted to be in a situation to remind the audience, ‘no, you weren’t hoodwinked, this guy really is charismatic and he is gregarious’ and the message was, ‘I have changed,’ so he’s been the person that he’s always been, but he’s a person he’s never been before, because it’s all rooted in truth. It was very cathartic. It was the last scene that I filmed. We did the last scene between Raylan and Boyd first, which was very heavy and very emotional, and then to go out on a spiritual — metaphorically speaking — high was a big deal.”

As for Raylan himself, Yost likes to think that he’s content with his life in Florida, even if he and Winona (Natalie Zea) aren’t together. “He’s always gonna love Winona; Winona’s always going to love him, but as they’ve shown throughout their time, there was no way it was gonna work — that’s just the way it went, and we got to get Jason Gedrick into the show,” Yost said, tipping his hat to his former “Boomtown” cast member.

In terms of what Yost will miss most about leaving Harlan after six years, the creator said, “I’m gonna miss writing like Elmore — we had carte blanche to ape his writing for six seasons and now we don’t get to do that anymore. But it was a blast. We had a good time doing it.”

What did you think of the “Justified” finale?

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  1. Ford Hanson says:

    I just binged watched 6 seasons of this entire show in two weeks. I am speaking with a drawl right now.
    I LOVED the finale. I was sure they all were gonna die. I totally agree with Walter about Boyd going back to preaching in jail. You always wanted to have faith in him and he got worse and worse with the cold blooded killings the last few seasons. That final scene of him was hopeful and I loved the last scene with him and Rayland in the jail. That was moving. Great show, I do not know how on earth I missed it before. I had no idea what this show was. I stumbled onto it.

  2. Bob says:

    The ending was perfect. Unlike Son’s of Anarchy which thought they had to kill everyone off.

  3. Amethyst says:

    I am happy that Rylan lived and continued to be a great Marshall (sorry in my books Raylan can do no wrong).
    However I must admit that I wanted Boyd to serve his time in prison and return to society a truly changed person, find Ava after BEGGING Raylan for help,forgive her and finally realize just how much having a child can change you for the better and break the cycle of violence and live happily after that with Ava and his son.

    • Rin says:

      Yes, yes, yes…I’m totally with your ending….I fell for Boyd myself and just wanted he and Ava to find a way out of it all..together.

  4. John Green says:

    I loved the finale,,,,a poignant, perfect ending,,, loved the show from beginning to end,,,kudos to the writers and all of the cast (living and dead) for their rich performances in the story telling,,, I hope the entire series comes out on DVD so I can re-visit Ava and Raylan and Boyd periodically,,, thanks to all for great entertainment — I will miss you !!

    • Susan Cary says:

      I was sad when Ava betrayed Boyd and I was hoping he and Ava would be together raising their son as a family in the last episode. Part of me thought Raylan should die in season finale. I loved Raylan in season 1-3 but his cocky “I always win” and the glorification of all his violence and lawless behavior didn’t make him worthy of a happy ending. He was really no better than Boyd, and his disregard for the law and the lack of accountability he was held to by the writer’s and his co-workers was a pitiful. His death at the hands of a criminal he under estimated would have been a more fitting ending to Raylan IMO.

  5. Olivia says:

    Loved this show! So sad it ended, but what a great final episode. It was a perfect ending. Great writing and acting. I especially loved the show down scene. I saved a lot of shows on my DVR and will replay when I need a quick fix. So many good lines that I’m sure I previously missed, it will be fun to see again.

  6. Tom Murnane says:

    Part of my first comment somehow got cut off…I was mentioning that I thought Justified’s final episode was the near-perfect series finale but that one thing stopped it from being perfect — I wish the show’s writers had found a way to spend just a little more time with Ralan’s marshal service colleagues in Kentucky. But they had a lot to squeeze into the final episode so I can’t really complain.

  7. Tom Murnane says:

    I thought it was a near-perfect ending to the show…. It had all the ingredients to make the best possible series finale. After all, it included a 21st century gun duel…. Sam Elliott going out in an unforgettable way….Ava’s storyline being brought to a very satisfying conclusion, including that clever “who dunnit” scene in which Raylan tries to guess which characters helped Ava escape….Loretta McCready showing who was boss in Harlan once and for all (can anyone say supporting actress Emmy nomination for Kaitlyn Dever?) ….and then the ideal closing scene/dialogue between Goggins and Olyphant in which they ended where things began six years ago — remembering they once dug coal together. After watching the final episode, I can’t imagine it going any other way….except for one possible thing in hindsight.

    In addition to the actors who played the “big three” of Raylan, Boyd and Ava, the show’s success was due in large part to the writing of Elmore Leonard and the show’s writers, backed by the consistently terrific acting of a long list of supporting actors. Great writing, great acting.

    Justified was so well written and acted that I believe years from now, when it comes time for someone to write the respective obituaries for Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins, I think it’s a safe bet the opening sentences for both will note their respective iconic roles on Justified (though Goggins might get an additional plug for his classic guest starring role on Sons of Anarchy).

  8. Pat Tucker says:

    I agree with Gerry Glenn. The last episode was great and surprising and I did not want the series to end. I think it was the best series I’ve ever watched on TV.

  9. gerry glenn says:

    Last episode was great however did not want the show to end it was one of the best ever !

  10. Joe Du Vall says:

    ‘Justified’ hooked me on the first episode and never disappointed. It would bring in a character who would grow on me or add something significant to the plot, then they were gone. Or, they would disappear and then come back in. The last 2 seasons were epic, the final episode the perfect ending.

  11. I loved the show from the beginning. I am sad to see it go. Then again, I am sad to see any of my favorite shows end. The only thing I didn’t like about this ending was that Raylan and Winona were not married. I could have sworn that in the earlier episode, they agreed to do what ever they were going to do together. To me that meant they would be together as a married couple, not as parents raising their daughter on a part time basis. Or did I misinterpret that conversation they had in the hotel room?

  12. Gene Graham says:

    I saw this program from the first episode to the last. I loved every one of them, and thought they were all too short. I actually thought that the finale was a little too calm, and felt like it didn’t really finish everything satisfactorily, but after watching it a few more times, I think it was just right. Reminds me of some of the original Clint Eastwood “spaghetti westerns” in a way.

    It was a great series, well acted, well cast and well written. Thanks to everybody who worked to bring it to the screen!

  13. Charles P. Owen says:

    I don’t know if anyone was completely happy with just how series ended, but give credit where credit is due for each surprise ending. I was caught off-guard by the fact that the “Raylan” character was NOT actually killed in the final shoot-out. Since he was complicit in the murder of some mobster in an earlier episode from a previous season, I figured they would allow his character to be killed while also killing the other individual in the manner shown in the finale. (Fast forward toward the ending) The final scene in the Marshal’s office would be the Chief US Marshal destroying evidence concerning this specific detail about this mob hit (it was clear he knew or strongly suspected “Raylan’s” involvement in this homicide) as his final act before retiring from the service himself.
    After reading the discussions from the writers and actor(s) about the Boyd character, I too was glad that he was not killed in the final episode. They steered away from one of those “been there, done that” endings where it seems every bad guy to get killed at the end of the movie or television show by the “good guy”. The fact that he went to prison showed that the system of justice does work and that those that murder others are held accountable in the end not by men but by a court of law and by a jury of their peers. As for this “transformation”, I personally saw it as just the “con-man” coming back out of the “Boyd” character…anything to improve his current situation. The writer’s intentions here missed their mark with me. I was just thinking “Same old Boyd from season two.
    The “Duffy” character was one of my favorites over the course of the “Justified” series. Although he was indeed a “bad” individual, to tell someone that is about to shoot him in his own motor home “it is the life we choose” and that he was going to look her straight in the eye when she intended to execute him (remember she gave him the option of turning around) is one bad dude! And his final line when talking to the 911 operator “911, do you need assistance? “Where do I begin” was classic. Surfing in Fiji was a fitting end to such a cunning individual.
    The “Ava” character just seemed to be all over the place. Constantly manipulated by the men in her life, I guess it too was fitting she “got away with it” and escaped it the manner so described above by the writers. A fitting end to series that had truly runs it course and was time to end on a high note. Thanks to all the actors and writers that made this show a “Must Watch” series for me and other fans.

  14. D Nelson says:

    The last thing Boyd said to Raylan was “we dug coal together” and Raylan replied “that’s right”.

  15. scarlet weaver says:

    to anyone, what was the last thing Boyd said to Raylan in the jail visit ? I have played it at full volume several times but cannot understand what he said. Going crazy over this

  16. Richard Belthoff says:

    I liked the episode but in the barn Boyd could not have pulled the trigger on his semi-automatic pistol to make a clicking sound when he aimed it at Ave because the slide would have locked back after he shot his last round into Markham. Unless he released the slide, it would still have been locked back when he told Raglan that he was out of the bullets and it would have been obvious to Raylan that the magazine was empty.

  17. Perfection. Sorry that Raylan and Winona didn’t live happily ever after. Loved Art.

  18. FX_Fan says:

    I’m not sure if I missed, they eluded Wyn Duffy helped Ava escape, but I don’t think they told us what happened to the rest of the money?

  19. Lee says:

    Overall, I liked it. I thought the ending between Raylan and Ava was a bit weak; I would have preferred to see some lingering sparks of affection between them. Was appropriate that all three survived

  20. Kathy Mitchell says:

    Best series finale EVER.

  21. Khamron Dell says:

    Watched “Justified” from the very first episode to the last one last night. Always thought that this was one of those shows that was much, much better than it was given credit for being. Loved the last episode and was very glad that the three main characters were alive at the end. Excellent! The cast and crew should be proud of a very good and very compelling show.

  22. Karen North says:

    Great ending to the best writing and cast on tv.
    Just one thing: that ‘4 years later’ was a complete surprise because I don’t think season 6 story arc about Kentucky as the next Colorado would have made any sense four years ago.

    I am really going to miss everyone who made “Justified”.

    Glad they left it open for a sequel :)

    • Billy says:

      At no moment was it implied that the season 6 story arc took place four years ago. For all we know, and I think it’s the most plausible explanation, the ‘4 years later’ epilogue takes place in our future (circa 2018-2019).

      Oh, and by the way, I think the Justified finale is absolutely how the last episode of a show should be done. The plots ended nicely and we got closure for the characters, with no unrealistic shock elements to try to make up for what a show lacks. It was simply great.

  23. Malinda Jo Muzi says:

    Absolutely loved it. Especially Ava getting her life back. I hope she got some of the money. I’ll miss the whole cast every Tuesday night. Justified was my favorite show ever on TV.

    • Barbara says:

      The ending of Justified left me smiling, and that was good. I am glad that Boyd, Raylan, and Ava were all left alive. I was a little surprised that Winona and Raylan were not together as a couple, but it makes sense that it would not have worked though they loved each other. I can even see Raylan reconnecting with Ava somewhere off in the distance, so I was very pleased with the ending. I will miss the show though

  24. Raylan is no longer angry says:

    I’m a huge fan of the show and I’m happy with how it ended, although I’m sad to see it go. BUT of course I have a few quibbles.

    Number one is the skip over the moment when Boyd gave himself up to Raylan in the barn. Why skip over it? That’s what all the tension was leading to, then they just cut to outside, fifteen minutes later and we see Boyd in handcuffs. I felt kind of cheated. I know their intention was to keep us hanging for a bit, but it was not as satisfying as if we actually saw the big climactic moment between them, plus the delay was too short. They should have spread the cliffhanger over a commercial break. (I feel like they’ve done this before, where they built up a lot of tension and then cut to later. Can’t remember when.)

    Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, Raylan looks TERRIBLE in that black hat! Egads, that hat looks atrocious on him. I know, I know, there’s only one white Stetson, but isn’t the point to show that he’s a new man? So give him a hat that is actually tailored to his head and, you know, looks good. He’s supposed to be finally comfortable in his own skin — that hat shows the opposite image, imho.

    And why the multiple mentions in the prison scene to Boyd’s former racism and anti-Semitism? That was years ago that he used to spout that shit, and didn’t he have his swastika tattoo removed? I don’t know why we need a reminder to when he was at his sleaziest. Yes, he’s terrible and has blood on his hands, but we like Boyd and want him to at least find some kind of peace.

    And for those who didn’t see the scene two episodes ago where Mary Steenburgen died in the RV, check it out. It’s easily one of the craziest death scenes on TV ever.

    Congrats to the entire crew of JUSTIFIED and thank you for the great work!

    • Daniel says:

      The black hat was Boon’s. And when he said “I put it on and it fit” goes back to the first season when Rachel asked “What’s the deal with the hat”

  25. fahl says:

    all good things…

    • Lamont Wilson says:

      Great show, great finale! The final episode was soooo good, I’ve watched it three times already and will probably watch it a few more.
      The decision to not kill Boyd was critically important and as it allowed the show to end with its strongest component, the interplay
      between Raylan and Boyd! How dramatic and well played was there jailhouse conversation. One of the things that has captivated me
      about this show has been Walton Goggin’s ability to deliver some of the most clever dialogue in such an enigmatic and captivating
      fashion. Never was he more brilliant than in his receipt and subdued acceptance of Raylan’s update on Ava. Olyphant was equally
      brilliant, as usual, in delivering his news. This scene, perhaps more so than any action or gunplay, was a fitting end which not only
      reflected the meaning of the episode’s extremely appropriate title, but paid just and due homage to the literary giant who inspired one
      of my all-time favorite shows!

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