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?