FX's "Justified" is usually one of my favorite shows on television, but the just-completed fifth season was my least favorite stretch of the show. The Crowe family never clicked for me as major villains the way the show's other big bads have, a lot of time was spent on the bleakness of Ava's life in prison and Boyd's struggles to become a heroin trafficker, and at a certain point I was just waiting for the show to kick off the Raylan vs. Boyd endgame that will be the subject of the final season next year.

As I usually do at the end of the season, I got on the phone with "Justified" showrunner Graham Yost, who was good-natured (and good-humored) about discussing a season he knows hasn't been the series' most popular, and who explained some of the ways plans changed over the course of the season.

When exactly was it decided that next season would be the last?

Graham Yost: We talked about it with Sony and FX towards the tail end of the fourth season. WE had a meeting: me and Tim (Olyphant) and Fred Golan and Sarah (Timberman) and Carl (Beverly) and Michael Dinner, because at that point we were all the executive producers on the show. It really came down to me and Tim, but everyone was comfortable with what we decided. It was just our feeling that we only had so much story left, and to try to stretch it to a seventh season would not be the smartest move. It wouldn't be an entirely clean and separate seventh season. We might have had to stretch the fifth season into 20 episodes and done 10 and 10, or done that with the sixth season. And we just thought that that alone would be so difficult, given how hard it is for us to make it through 13. We've got friends across the lawn in Culver Studios who do "The Good Wife," and I think they look at us as pikers, because they've got to knock out 22 every year. But that's the nature of our beast.

So if you knew that going in, how much of the goal of this season was to put things in place for Raylan vs. Boyd in the final season?

Graham Yost: We knew it was a target, that it was our goal. There were certain pieces that we had to get in place by the end of the season. But I wouldn't say that's what drove us. What drove us was trying to make the Crowe story work and the Ava story work. The Boyd/Raylan aspect was a little separate from what was going on with the Crowes. Though it was related to it, and we had to keep that in mind. The Ava story, we knew we had to get her out by the end of the season. We knew we wanted her to keep on going from the frying pan and into the fire; she would solve one problem and then have a worse one coming down the line. We wanted to get to a point where she'd done everything she could to stay alive, only to be confronted with the stark choice that Rowena the nurse gives her: you can stay in solitary, and that's its own kind of death, or be prepared to fight every day for the rest of her stay. And that would be a very tough decision. So we knew we needed to get to that.

You said that one of the goals of this season was to tell the Crowe family story. How well do you think you did that?

Graham Yost: It's so funny, because we were in this position in season 3, where people liked the season but weren't loving it. Although, I gotta tell ya, there are some people who think this is our best season, and I choose to listen only to them. (laughs) Our biggest concern was not to repeat ourselves and not to make this the Bennetts, part two — to make the Crowes a distinct family. What we got with the actors gave us that. It was a different constellation. Daryl Crowe was a very specific Elmore Leonard- type character, very loosely inspired by this bad guy, Clement Mansell in "City Primeval." Just the guy who the hero's trying to get, and he always manages to just weasel out. That wasn't such a big thing for Clement, but we quickly hit on that for Daryl: that he would always get other people to do his dirty work. And we liked that as an attribute for a big bad. The things we got along with that was Alicia Witt as Wendy, and I think that worked out great. Jacob Lofland as Kendal really emerged as a strong character and a really strong performance, and A.J. Buckley as Danny. We didn't really have Danny fully formed in our minds. We knew he was a knife fighter, and we knew he was brutal and that he had a shorter hair trigger than the other Crowes, but his performance really gave us something to work with. That was a real pleasure.

Alan Sepinwall has been reviewing television since the mid-'90s, first for Tony Soprano's hometown paper, The Star-Ledger, and now for HitFix. His new book, "TV (The Book)" about the 100 greatest shows of all time, is available now. He can be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com