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What to Expect on ‘Nashville’ After Connie Britton Shocker

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read ahead if you have not watched “Nashville” Season 5, episode 9, titled “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” which aired on CMT on Thursday, Feb. 23.

Connie Britton’s “Nashville” character, Rayna, was killed of this week’s episode of the country music series, sealing Britton’s fate — the actress is leaving the show.

Britton’s decision to leave the show was a creative choice that was made soon after the show moved from ABC to CMT, according to “Nashville” showrunner Marshall Herskovitz.

“When CMT picked up the show, Connie came to [co-showrunner] Ed Zwick and myself and said that she felt inner conflict. She felt that creatively, she wanted to move on from the show, and she was very torn because she loved the show. She loved the people on the show and it was like a family, but after four years, she felt she needed a different challenge, which is something I really understand as an artist,” Herskovitz tells Variety. “When we did ‘Thirtysomething,’ we ended the show because we felt we needed to do something else. The network and studio wanted to continue, but we felt we were finished. So I really supported the idea that Connie felt she needed to move onto other challenges.”

Here, the showrunner talks to Variety about filming Rayna’s death scene and Connie Britton’s decision to leave. Plus how “Nashville” will move forward without its original star…

What was it like on set filming Rayna’s death scene?

It was quite amazing not just for the cast, but for the entire crew. Basically everyone was in tears. It was extraordinary. Everyone was taken a little bit by surprise just by how emotional we were — we knew how sad and difficult it would be, but it just took on a life of its own. It was a very powerful, emotional experience for everyone.

You knew that Connie would be leaving the show, but why did her character have to die?

We had to come up with a storyline that made sense and did justice to the character and to the fans’ connection to the character. We spent a lot of time thinking, “Does she really have to die? Is there some other way we can do it?” And the answer was no. How could you possibly have this character who loves her children and husband so much not be in contact with them? Our joke was she could be held hostage by terrorists — that was the only thing we could come up with. We painfully accepted that the only way for her to exit the show was to have the character die.

There are two more episodes until the midseason finale. What can we expect next week, now that Rayna is gone?

The next episode is the funeral and the aftermath. It’s really one of the strongest episodes I’ve ever been involved with. It’s so remarkable and so emotional and full of grace and elegance and connection and love. The next week’s episode is life without Rayna. Everyone is still completely overcome by grief, but it’s at least beginning to look ahead to what stories might be, and it’s actually worked out from a creative standpoint really well. It’s the love and connection that holds this family together.

Since next week’s episode is the funeral, will Connie be back?

I don’t want to go into too much detail, but she will be seen in flashbacks.

Any chance she could ever come back in the future for a flashback down the road?

I don’t want to be coy, but I think that the 11 episodes that come after the break are very much about what life is like post-Rayna. Any more than that, I shouldn’t say.

How will Deacon and their daughters deal with Rayna being dead?

I can’t answer without spoiling. It will be very difficult, but life will go on. I think it’s important to say that I think we’ve struck a balance as time moves forward in the show between something that could be just utterly depressing and morbid, and something that utterly forgets about how important this woman was to everybody’s life. We found a way to balance the two. Life does go on, but Rayna lives on in these people and we feel the loss — some of them much more stronger than the others. Some of our storylines are about the inability to move on.

How will Rayna’s death impact Juliette (Hayden Panettiere)?

Let me say this: it’s been a real joy for me to work with Hayden and to watch her commit to this change in her character and the struggle she’s gone through and the slow progress that she’s made physically… I think we’re going to get to see a little bit of the old Juliette back in a great way and an exciting way. But more than that, I shouldn’t say.

Did Connie have any input into her send-off?

Input isn’t quite the right word. We worked with her very closely and she really liked the storyline and felt like it was emotionally very resonant. I think she understood that there was a connection between the stalker storyline and the death. We were working on the stalker story before Connie came to us and said she wanted to leave the show. We were always going to do that stalker story. It worked out thematically, once we decided that she was going to die.

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