'Justified' producer on who lived and who died in the finale, and a Mags cameo that wasn't
With "Justified" over (here's my series finale review), I got on the phone with showrunner Graham Yost to discuss why certain characters lived, others died, and which characters (Mags? Quarles?) he might have brought back under different circumstances, all coming up just as soon as I come back here with a jackhammer...
I want to start with the hat, because I know it was one of the few significant creative disagreements you ever had with Elmore (Leonard). At what point did you decide you wanted Raylan to end the series wearing the smaller Stetson that met with his approval?
Graham Yost: Pretty early on in the season, we knew we wanted to create a character who really modeled himself after Raylan to one degree or another, and he would get a hat, and Raylan would end up with the bad guy's hat. It's still not a perfect match for what Elmore wanted, but Greg Sutter — Elmore's researcher of 30 years — says he thinks Elmore would have gotten a big kick out of it.
You called the finale "The Promise," and Boyd even references the promise Raylan made to him in the pilot about what would happen if he made Raylan pull. But Raylan winds up not keeping that promise. Why not?
Graham Yost: He fulfills a different promise. He says to Ava on the bridge at the end of season 5 — she says, "I'm scared," and he says, "You'll be fine." And that's his promise to her. And it also actually goes back to the pilot when Ava says that when she saw Raylan at the door, she knew everything was going to be okay. That's ultimately the promise that he keeps.
You could have killed off one or all of the members of that core trio, yet Raylan, Boyd and Ava all survive the finale. How did you come to that decision?
Graham Yost: It was a number of things. We didn't feel like we were a kind of show that would kill of Raylan. We're not a tragedy. In Elmore's stuff, tragedies happen, but usually the good guy survives. Often, the Elmore women get away with the money, or at least get away. So it came down to Boyd. And while Boyd may have deserved a bullet for all the heinous stuff he did, it came down to Raylan. If he was the one to kill Boyd, we felt that would be a sign that Raylan hadn't grown over the course of the series. Often in Elmore's world, the hero will grow just a smidge. I think of the guy in "Pagan Babies," with all he goes through, he ends up going back to Rwanda with the money, and he's going to put it to good use. He's not so much of a criminal anymore. I think that the idea is that Raylan would just grow enough that he wouldn't put Boyd down. That felt right.
It felt like this season was really leaning heavily on the notion of Boyd as a genuine bad guy, as opposed to the charismatic, lovable rogue so many of the fans had come to love. How intentional was that?
Graham Yost: A little bit. We toyed in (episode) 611, when Boyd gets out of the hospital by killing Carl, we also had an idea that he was going to have a shootout and kill Nelson, or even Tim Gutterson. The problem is our marshal adviser, Charlie Almanza said, "Then it's really Blackhawk helicopter time. The 8th Army invades if a marshal is killed." It would have really disturbed the whole track of the final run. The other thing was that Boyd has done enough bad things to deserve a bullet, especially killing poor Shea Whigham's character, Hagan. Yeah, he's a bad guy. I would have to have conversations with Walton about it sometimes, and I would have to remind him, "Walton, Boyd is a villain. He murders people. He's charismatic and he's enjoyable and we love him. But he is a bad guy." So we wanted to bring it back to that. The Boyd that we met in the pilot is a bad guy. That was part of the whole circular motion of the final season.
You mentioned circular motion, and so much of this final season has been peppered with callbacks to earlier events from the series, and it feels like half the dialogue in the finale is people repeating things they said to Raylan when they first met him.
Graham Yost: That's just the fun of doing a final episode. You're trying to quote these things one more time. As much as we're having characters reappear, we're also having bits of dialogue and conversations come back to haunt them.
It really did seem like the dialogue was next-level this season, like you guys were pushing hard to squeeze every last drop out of those characters and put the most Elmore Leonard-ian lines in their mouths before you went.
Graham Yost: Absolutely. It was one of the great pleasures we had for six seasons, was to write like Elmore Leonard. We don't get to do that anymore. That's it. So we wanted to, as you say, squeeze out every last drop that we could.
You knew you were going to lose Garret Dillahunt halfway through the season to another commitment, so you had the mercs for a while, and then Boon came in. Knowing that you had Garret for a limited amount of time, how did you decide that was how you wanted to build that character, while having someone else be the rival gunslinger?
Graham Yost: It was a kind of a two-fer thing. We had Garret only until Christmas, so we knew we wanted to bring in someone else. And the idea of bringing in someone younger, so it's Raylan 20 years ago — that was really appealing. The young gun is a part of Western myth: the gunfighter up against his younger self. So we wanted to create a character who was a bonafide threat, who really could shoot Raylan.
Not only was Boon echoing Raylan, but the Jeffrey Pierce cop character in the finale. He's walking and talking like Raylan, and Raylan seems dumbfounded to be on the receiving end of those insults. And Ty Walker talked a bit like Boyd. Was it intentional to have these other echoes of your main characters?
Graham Yost: Ty Walker talking like Boyd was just something that developed out of the evolution of Walker's character. It was Taylor Elmore and Ben Cavell who developed that in the scene at the bar in the third episode, where Boyd says, "Damn, man, you like to talk as much as I do." That just sort of happened. (As for Pierce), he was great. Jeffrey was in Alcatraz, which was co-created by someone Fred (Golan) and I worked with on "Boomtown," so we had that connection. But Tim got a real kick out of those scenes, having those things said to Raylan that he's said to so many people for all of those years.