[Warning: This article contains major spoilers about the series finale of The Following. Read at your own risk!]
Ryan Hardy is dead.
At least, that's what all his loved ones think - but viewers know better.
On Monday's harrowing series finale of The Following, the last glimpse any of the characters have of Ryan (Kevin Bacon) is he and vengeful serial killer Theo (Michael Ealy) hurtling off of a bridge during a tussle (after Theo miraculously survives what looks like a gunshot wound to the head).
But, in classic "his body was never found" fashion, the show pulled a last-minute bait-and-switch. In the final moments, the camera follows a figure wearing a hoodie walking ominously through the corridors of a hospital, clearly designed to make the audience think we're watching Theo coming to finish off Gwen, Max (Jessica Stroup), and Mike (Shawn Ashmore) - who, yes, survived his horrifying stabbing from last week's episode.
Instead, we're actually trailing Ryan. After figuring out that it's actually FBI Special Agent Lisa Campbell (Diane Neal) who's been pulling the strings behind the scenes, in partnership with financier Eliza (Annet Mahendru), Ryan goes to Campbell's room and tells her that he's going off the grid to protect his family, and is going to make it his personal mission to stop people like her going forward. (We did see him promise Gwen that he'd leave the bureau, although we're guessing this isn't exactly what he meant.) And he wastes no time in getting started: As Ryan walks out of the room, we hear Lisa flatlining.
We're guessing the next item on his to-do list is tracking down Theo, whose body was also mysteriously never found in the water.
TVGuide.com turned to executive producer Alexi Hawley to break down the series finale.
At what point did you guys come up with the ending, and why did you decide this was the right way to close out the series?
Hawley: We always wanted the end of the season to be about Ryan Hardy finding the answer to his central question: Can I have a life outside of my obsession? Sadly, the answer turns out to be no, but we definitely wanted to drive out of the season with Ryan as vigilante. In terms of it being the end of the series, I like the idea that we don't wrap things up neatly. That doesn't feel like The Following to me. I'd rather leave the audience with a final image of bad-ass Ryan Hardy, on a mission to protect the people he loves.
Was anything changed about the final episode once you knew you were writing a series finale?
Hawley: No. Given the realities of our air dates, we had to lock the last two episodes before we knew our fate.
Were there other endings that were considered? Perhaps a happy ending for Ryan?
Hawley: Happy endings are hard on The Following. That being said, we do leave with Max and Mike together and in love. And we leave Ryan on a mission that (if he succeeds in removing the danger to his loved ones) could see him reunited with the people he cares about.
Are we to assume that Ryan is going to forge a new career as a vigilante?
Hawley: Yes. But at what cost to his soul?
In your view, is Ryan still a good person at the show's end?
Hawley: I think he is. He is making the ultimate sacrifice — his own happiness — for the greater good. The only way he can protect the people he loves is to be dead. In the universe of The Following, being a good person sometimes means doing bad things to bad people.
In the show's world, do you see Ryan ever coming back into Gwen's life?
Hawley: I do. If Ryan is able to ensure their safety, I'd like to think our last image would have been of Ryan Hardy holding his child.
What is the significance of Campbell's final words to Ryan about serial killers?
Hawley: Campbell's question is why is it that most known serial killers are poor (except maybe Robert Durst). The idea of a small group of ultra-wealthy people with the means to keep their serial killing proclivities a secret was an exciting idea for us to pursue, and would have given Ryan Hardy a different brand of evil to pursue in Season 4.
Theo's body was never found either. With so many shows being rebooted into different incarnations now, is that intentionally leaving the door open for The Following to continue in some form?
Hawley: Having his body not be found was intentional, but it wasn't meant to set up a different incarnation of the show. Mostly it was left that way in order to make you think that Theo was the person moving through the hospital at the end of the finale.
Any final words about The Following?
Hawley: Kevin Williamson created such a compelling world withThe Following — one that I am lucky to have been a part of. I'm incredibly proud of this season, and am honored to have worked with such an amazing cast and crew.
What did you think of the series finale of The Following? Sound off in the comments!