Still reeling from Lem's shocking death at the hands of Shane on Tuesday's explosive mid-season finale of The Shield? Well, you may want to brace yourself for another major loss: the show itself. In the following Q&A, series creator Shawn Ryan reveals why he decided to whack Lem, what other character made their final appearance on Tuesday, and whether Season 5's next 10 episodes slated to debut in early 2007 will be the cop drama's last.

Ausiello: First of all, this season has been insanely good. Phenomenal, in fact.
Shawn Ryan:
Thank you very much.

Ausiello: But I have to ask why'd you do that to poor Lem?
Ryan:
We just started thinking in terms of the classic tragedy and we came up with this idea. I didn't really commit to it until right before Christmas, because I love Kenny Johnson so much as an actor and as a person, and I didn't want to do it if I felt like it was just for shock value. I felt like we had to earn it, and by the time we got to Christmas, we were like six, seven episodes in and I felt like we were earning it, that the episodes were coming out well. I felt like we could get there.

Ausiello: How did Kenny take the news?
Ryan:
He took it like a real pro. The guy is rock solid. He was disappointed in the sense that, like most of the actors on our show, he knows that we have a special thing going and he likes being a part of it. He's definitely had an increased role this year, and that was about sort of building up to this moment and he understood that. I talked to him about other TV shows in history and how I thought this was possibly sort of an immortal moment for The Shield and something that he would be associated with something that could be special and very long-lasting. So, he got that, but obviously he was disappointed to go. It was an emotional day for all off us when we filmed it.

Ausiello: How so?
Ryan:
You didn't really want the evening to end because you knew when it did that Kenny was going to be done with the show. And we can feel the ending for all of us coming; Kenny was just the first sign. It was sort of impossible to ignore that we're not going to have the show forever. So I felt sad for him and I think all of us have realized that our time on the show may be coming to an end.

Ausiello: Have you made a decision about whether the next 10 episodes will be the last?
Ryan:
No. Probably in the next couple of months. We're starting to write the first scripts and then probably in a couple of months we'll make a decision one way or the other.

Ausiello: Might the success of The Unit be a factor in your decision? (Ryan is an exec producer on The Unit.)
Ryan:
No, it has nothing to do with it, really. I think if [The Unit] were to come back, we wouldn't start filming until the middle of July, which is right when we'd be finishing these 10 episodes of The Shield. So they wouldn't really conflict that much. Certainly, there's no scenario in which I'm going to have to pick one. I have the right and the ability with the companies that I work for to do both.

Ausiello: Are you leaning in a direction?
Ryan:
You always end a season really exhausted, and when you do it's sort of harder. I'm really proud of these 11 episodes that we did and I do think they were among the best that we've ever done. I worry about whether we can make more episodes of that quality. The fact that I'm sort of overworked and sick right now makes me lean toward ending it, but in a week or so I may be on the other side of the spectrum.

Ausiello: Would you consider bringing some Shield folks over to The Unit?
Ryan:
Maybe. Obviously, there's a whole group of actors over here that I love. I don't know if I'd bring characters over, but maybe I would bring actors over.

Ausiello: Is January still the expected return date?
Ryan:
It's possible that they could air in the 2006 calendar year, but I think the most likely scenario is that we will come back in January.

Ausiello: When do you go back into production?
Ryan:
April 10.

Ausiello: You told me last month that there would be two departures in the finale. Who was the other one?
Ryan:
Becca (Laura Harring), the lawyer. I think that's the last we'll see of her.

Ausiello: Will Forest Whitaker be back?
Ryan:
He's going to come back and do some episodes in the final 10, yeah.

Ausiello: How many?
Ryan:
At least two and possibly more.

Ausiello: And Anthony Anderson?
Ryan:
I don't know yet. I'd love to [have him back], it just depends on whether we have a story for him.

Ausiello: And what about Glenn Close?
Ryan:
Her daughter will be finishing high school this year, so maybe she'll free up for a week or two.