(Warning: This post contains spoilers from Season 4, Episode 18 of Empire, "The Empire Unpossess'd." Read at your own risk.)
It's not an Empire finale unless somebody bites the dust (or nearly does so) in bitter, dramatic fashion and Wednesday's shocking season-ender was no exception. With the Lyon family on the verge of losing the company they had built from the ground up, Andre (Trai Byers) took matters into his own hands and laid the groundwork for one of the show's most memorable deaths to date when he drugged Anika (Grace Gealey), who then hallucinated Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday), the woman she murdered back in Season 3.
Unable to escape the crushing guilt (and a taunting Ghost Rhonda) she literally ran through a glass balcony onto a table of champagne, her slick finger waves still perfectly intact. Ding dong, Boo Boo Kitty is dead!
But that doesn't even cover Wednesday's packed hour. The finale also saw Tory (Rumer Willis) die of an overdose, Lucious (Terrence Howard) and Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) finally tie the knot, Jamal (Jussie Smollett) head to London, Eddie (Forest Whitaker) gain control over Empire Records, and Blake's (Chet Hanks) father opening fire on him, Hakeem (Bryshere "Yazz" Gray), Tiana (Serayah McNeill) and baby Bella — their fates left in the air.
With so many questions left unanswered, we hit up Empire's new showrunner Brett Mahoney about those jaw-dropping events and what to expect in Season 5.
Is Anika really dead?
Brett Mahoney:Yeah, Anika is dead.
Going into Season 4, did you already know that this would be her ending?
Mahoney:No, we came up with it through the course of the season and we questioned whether this is right, whether this is wrong. Should we be doing this? But this was the direction [her story] needed to take.
Her death felt almost Shakespearean.
Mahoney:Shakespeare is a big influence on the show. But really, the big thing was just karma. We really wanted to give the audience what they wanted in terms of this is a journey that Anika took. These are the people that she aggrieved and we wanted Andre to be a part of it because we felt that he had lost the most in terms of his wife and his child. But then we also wanted Rhonda to be there. So we were trying to figure out how we could get Rhonda into that scene.
With Anika gone, what does that mean for Empire Records? Will Eddie remain in charge?
Mahoney:Eddie is certainly holding the reigns at this point. But I don't know that Eddie necessarily is interested in being the manager. Giselle is certainly in there and Eddie has thought of bringing in some sort of a surrogate to run Empire Records.
Cookie and Lucious argued over giving up Empire Records and rebuilding on their own. Though reluctant, Lucious agreed to start over. Does Anika's death change that?
Mahoney: Cookie [decided to] give up Empire because she was unwilling to allow Lucious to go to prison and she felt that she needed her man and the boys needed their father. And Lucious certainly did come to terms with that but I don't know whether that is a resolved issue between Cookie and Lucious. But Anika's death won't impact that.
The episode ends with Blake's father opening fire on him, Hakeem, Tiana and baby Bella. How will that shooting shape the events heading into Season 5?
Mahoney: I think that that shooting will actually change their paths dramatically.
Any hints as to who we should be worried about?
Mahoney:I think you should worry about all of them.
The shooting took place as Cookie and Lucious were exchanging vows, sort of hinting that the Lyon family is in for tragedy ahead. Can you speak on that?
Mahoney:That was one of the biggest surprises to me, is that they [Cookie and Lucious] actually got married and sealed the deal. But as they're doing that and they're hoping and dreaming that everything is fine with their boys, all the boys are going through these things that are certainly going to impact and test that marriage as well.
How do you think this marriage will impact the rest of the Lyon family?
Mahoney:It's been very clear that these two people love each other very much and belong together but I think with any marriage, once you do it, then it becomes the challenge of what you need to do to stay together. People often underestimate exactly how difficult it is to keep a marriage together and I think Cookie and Lucious will experience that.
Jamal moved to London to begin his journey of self-discovery. What can you say about his new adventure in London?
Mahoney:I don't think he's necessarily going to stop in London. Jamal may be doing a little world traveling. He's trying to define himself apart from the Lyons. Tory's dead and [in his mind], he's sacrificed everything that he's loved for the Lyons so he's leaving them. He needs to find out who he is apart from the Lyons.
Empire has become known for its wild storylines. Are you going to continue to up the ante or will you ground the show a little more moving forward?
Mahoney:I think we'll always have great, exciting moments where people will gasp. But I think what's important is that they come out of a grounded storyline. So even the shooting feels like, "Oh my gosh, it's a huge surprise" but it was set up with Blake challenging his white nationalist father during that talk show. And then Blake's father showing up and taking his wrath against his son and the Lyons, who he feels have wronged him. So I think it's big moments but coming out of grounded storytelling,
What are you excited to explore next season?
Mahoney:We're gonna continue to explore the idea of Empire versus family and what means more to these characters. What do they value most? What are they willing to sacrifice for what they want? And although Cookie and Lucious are married, what does that mean to keep a marriage together? They've loved each other for decades but what does that mean to be together?
Will Cookie's mom Renee be back?
Mahoney:I'm hoping that Alfre [Woodard] wants to come back.
Empire returns this fall on Fox.