After six seasons of breakneck plot twists, earworm tracks, and iconic Cookie quips, Empire will soon come to an end. The final episode, airing, Tuesday, April 21 at 9/8c on Fox, will see the Lyons come together one last time as the groundbreaking series, which turned stars Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard into cultural icons, brings their unforgettable story to a close.
But with Empire shuttering production early in mid-March due to the outbreak of COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus, the ending sent to air on Fox won't be the one that showrunner Brett Mahoney originally intended. The series was halfway into filming Episode 19 of its 20-episode final season when Donald Trump declared a national emergency on March 13, resulting in production wrapping that same day before they could complete the last episode. Unable to film the series finale, at least for now, Mahoney was forced to get creative in order to bring a satisfactory ended using what footage they already had.
"March 13 [ended up] being our last day of shooting, so the questions were really stuff like, 'What are we going to do? How is it going to be and how we're going to move, moving forward?'" Mahoney explained. "As [the coronavirus] was becoming more of an issue, the plan on that Friday really was at the start of the day, if we were able to shoot like five more days, I was thinking I could really do the finale we intended by combining 19 and 20. Surprisingly, as that day moved forward, and it was clear that to maintain the safety and health of the cast and crew we weren't going to be able to continue shooting, that went out the window. So, then I had the choice to, if this was going to be the final episode with the material that we had, could I plan a somewhat satisfying finale from the materials we had?"
The answer to that question was to combine footage from Episodes 18 and 19, which had already been filmed, for a makeshift finale that wraps up the Lyon family's tumultuous, six-year journey. Though Mahoney says this last episode will provide fans with "some sort of closure," he remains hopeful that the cast and crew will reconvene in the future to film a proper send-off.
"That's absolutely been discussed," Mahoney added. "That's sort of where we all are, including the network and studio and the creators, at this point. That whenever production happens again, hopefully, we will be able to shoot a true series finale. Whether that will happen, who knows, because when will we ever start shooting again? There will be many challenges, of course, but that's the hope and the dream."
See how the Lyons' story comes to an end when Empire's series finale airs Tuesday, April 21 at 9/8c on Fox.