[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from the series finale of Justified. Read at your own risk.]
In the end, Justified's Raylan Givens finally learned when to not pull his gun.
On Tuesday's series finale, Boyd (Walton Goggins) managed to evade the team of federal agents hunting for him (with dynamite!) and ultimately made his way back to Ava (Joelle Carter), who was being held captive by Avery Markham (Sam Elliott) in Mags Bennett's old marijuana drying shed. But after taking out Markham and turning his (empty) gun on Ava, Boyd was greeted by longtime rival Raylan (Timothy Olyphant), who ultimately opted to simply arrest his nemesis rather than kill him.
After a slightly more eventful standoff with Boon (Jonathan Tucker) — both men fired, but only Raylan survived after suffering only a flesh wound to the head — Ava escaped and the plot jumped forward four years. The epilogue revealed that Raylan is a happy father in Florida, though he and his ex Winona (Natalie Zea) are not together. Meanwhile, Boyd is once again preaching the Bible in prison, and Ava is living in California with a rifle by the front door. But when Raylan tracks her down — and meets her young son — Raylan decides to let her live free and even visits Boyd in prison to inform him that she died in a car accident and prevent him from ever looking her up again in the future.
So, why did Justified's writers decide to spare Boyd a second time? And how much has Raylan truly grown over the course of the series? TVGuide.com chatted with executive producer Graham Yost to answer one last round of burning questions.
As you crafted the series finale, what was the most important aspect of it for you?
Graham Yost: Tim [Olyphant] and I talked right from the beginning of the series that Raylan could grow, but not by much. That was, I suppose, the target for the end. The other big thing was an idea that Tim had at the end of last season for a line on the bridge when he's making arrangements with Ava to snitch on Boyd. She would say that she was afraid, and Raylan says, "You'll be fine." I came up with the title for the final episode, and it's "The Promise," and that's the promise. The promise was to take care of Ava, and that's what he does. That's the hero. Even though there's the sense that he'll maybe never be able to see Ava again, he's going to do the right thing.
Why did you decide that Boyd wasn't going to die?
Yost: Unforgiven is still almost a perfect film, and one of the things that David Peoples and [Clint] Eastwood did in that was take expectations of a western and put a big spin on them. That movie still ends up with the great big shootout in a saloon, in a brothel. You get what you want, but you don't get it in the expected way, and that was always our goal on Justified. We knew that everyone would expect a final showdown between Raylan and Boyd. All the stories were leading that way. But we didn't want it to just end with them pulling guns and shooting because it felt like we've done that already. We did that in the pilot. It's better to do something that's, again, unexpected and yet something that feels right in terms of the characters.
And Raylan choosing not to shoot Boyd gives us that slight growth you mentioned.
Yost: Yeah. Raylan made a choice early on, encouraged by his Aunt Helen and his mother to get out of Harlan. He made that choice, and killing Boyd would have been choosing the other direction. There's always been a fight for Raylan's soul, the criminal in him has sometimes led him to do things that weren't right, and he's not always managed to pull himself back from those. But I don't think he would be able to pull himself back from shooting a man who's not going to raise his gun. And Boyd was smart enough to give Raylan that choice. I think Boyd was willing to die at that point because he had nothing left for him to live for, but he didn't want to give Raylan the satisfaction or the easy way out. In a strange way that's unspoken, Boyd was giving Raylan the opportunity to have a better life by choosing the other direction. That was sort of a last gift in a way to his old friend.
Boyd did pull his trigger on Ava, but the gun was empty. Do you think Boyd knew it was empty, or was he actually prepared to kill Ava?
Yost: It's my feeling that he counted the bullets. Boyd is someone who's very aware of how many shots he has left, but he wanted to scare the hell out of her. He really wanted to make her feel like she was going to die. That's as far as he's going to go, even though he says to Raylan, "If I get out, I'm going to kill her and then I'm going to kill you." I think that was also him trying to goad Raylan into killing him.
Since the Boyd-Raylan showdown ended peaceably, things had to get a little hairy with Boon.
Yost: Yes, and, frankly, we needed a way for Ava to get away. [Laughs] But the question is raised by Art early on in the season: "Maybe you won't win. Maybe your luck will run out." Boon takes that luck as far as anyone can take it in terms of taking that luck away from Raylan. In many ways, [he was] one of the most formidable adversaries that Raylan's been up against in the course of the series.
And it let you finally get rid of the hat that Elmore Leonard didn't like.
Yost: Exactly.The hat dies but Raylan lives.
Did you always know the show would end with the time jump?
Yost: I had that feeling for a couple of years. I was so in love with the characters that I just wanted to get a sense of where their lives were going. It changed a lot, what the context of the time jump was going to be, but the notion of having one was something that I was pretty excited about from pretty early on.
We get to see Raylan as a happy father, but he's not with Winona. Do you think Raylan only deserved so much happiness?
Yost: We want it bittersweet. A lot of Elmore's books — the ending of Rum Punch, in the movie Jackie Brown — Max Cherry doesn't get Jackie. He can't ultimately trust her. He's in love with her, but he's got to let her go and not go with her. We wanted that bittersweet tone, which is a real Elmore tone. Not everything works out for everyone. They don't get everything. They get something. Boyd gets to live. Raylan gets to be with his kid. Ava gets a life, but she'll be always haunted a little bit by the shadow of Boyd and the web that they were all involved in.
When did you decide that Ava would have a child to be a living reminder of that haunting?
Yost: I can't remember the moment. I do know that it happened pretty early on in the breaking of the season. The notion of there being this child, that both Raylan and Boyd have children in the world, just felt right.
Is the child the reason that Raylan goes to see Boyd and lies about Ava's "demise"?
Yost: I think if he'd found Ava running whores or robbing banks, he would have hauled her in, but the kid seals the deal. He's going to protect Ava. He's going on a mission to lie to Boyd, which is not something that he's really done much of with Boyd. Raylan doesn't lie really that much, and I also feel that everything he says to Boyd, aside from the lying part, is very truthful. I think that Raylan does wander back despite all that has occurred to the fact that they dug coal together. I think that Raylan does believe that Boyd believed that he was in love with Ava. So, there's a lot of truth in that scene, even though the foundation is a lie.
It was great to see Boyd preaching again.
Yost: That was Walton's idea. I took that to the room, and the room said, "That's cool." And when we were talking about it with Tim, he said that Raylan should say, "You know, you're repeating yourself, right?" It's part of the whole emotion of the final season that we were after because everything comes back to the way we started.
Is it just a repeat cycle or do you think Boyd actually might be a believer?
Yost: One of the great things about Boyd is you're never entirely sure. That line Boyd says to Raylan — "I know. You've never believed a word come out of my mouth, but I have harbored the secret hope that you have nevertheless enjoyed hearing them" — that's something that Elmore said about Boyd when he was visiting us for the first season. Boyd is a complex character in that regard, and I think that when he believes something, he believes that he believes it whether or not there is some other motivation going on. So, I think he is fully invested at this point in being a man of the Lord again.
Did you end on the coal-digging notion as one final reminder of how bonded these characters are despite their different paths?
Yost: It's that shared history. We were just back in Harlan over the weekend, and people in Harlan really appreciated that line because coal is just a huge part of their history. People who dig coal together, they're down there and their lives depend on each other. In the pilot, we have the flashback of young Raylan and young Boyd fleeing a collapse, and that kind of experience, no matter what happens later in life, they were there for each other and they saved each other. That never leaves. So, that was important for them to come back to that. That was [Walton Goggins'] idea. We hadn't really landed on what the ending would be, the final lines. He said, "What about coal?"
And finally, how big of an upgrade is it for Raylan to be the most stubborn man in the world versus the angriest?
Yost: It's a huge upgrade. It's incremental, but it's a big increment. When you call someone stubborn, it's two-handed. It's, "Well, you're someone who has a strong opinion, but it's not all bad. Stubborn isn't all bad. Angriest man she's ever known, that's bad. So, that is a big upgrade.
What did you think of Justified's series finale?