[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from the Season 6 premiere of Justified. Read at your own risk.]
Justified's swan song got off to a predictably bloody start as a longtime fan-favorite character bit the dust on Tuesday's season premiere.
While much of the episode focused on the tension between Boyd (Walton Goggins) and Ava (Joelle Carter) as the latter tried to navigate her new role as an informant, Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) also tried to round up another person who could potentially lead him to Boyd: the newly released-from-prison Dewey Crowe (Damon Herriman). But try as Raylan might to get Dewey to talk (including twice breaking a restraining order), Dewey remained loyal to Boyd.
Unfortunately, Boyd didn't return the favor. After tentatively accepting Dewey back into his crew and using him as a decoy during a bank robbery, Boyd became concerned when a downtrodden Dewey (complete with a freshly broken jaw, courtesy of Raylan) began tearfully reminiscing about "the good ol' days." And once Dewey hinted that Raylan was looking into Johnny Crowder's murder in Mexico, Boyd shot Dewey in the back of the head, fearing that he was a rat.
"The three hardest calls we had to make on the show were killing Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale), killing Arlo (Raymond J. Barry), and, now, killing Dewey," executive producer Graham Yost tells TVGuide.com. "We love Damon. We've had so much fun with him over the years. Other than Boyd, he's one of the few bad guys who survived from the pilot. So that was a hard choice."
However, the death served a deeper purpose for Yost & Co. "We felt like if Boyd was to kill someone who was pretty harmless — hapless perhaps is a better word — just on a suspicion, then what would he do if he found out that Ava was betraying him?" Yost says. "That was the goal. If we had him do something so horrible that the audience lost affection for him and just saw him as a bad guy, the audience would see that we were doing that. But this felt like it was a little bit of a bracing slap, just a slight tap to just remind us all who Boyd is and has always been. The audience always will [love Boyd], but there is a line. We always need to be oriented on where that line is, and where Raylan stands versus where Boyd stands. They may be two sides of the same coin, but they are different sides of that coin."
TVGuide.com chatted with Herriman about saying goodbye to Dewey, why his character was an eternal optimist and his favorite Dewey Crowe malapropism.
When did you find out that Dewey was going to die?
Damon Herriman: I was doing the DVD commentary with Graham and a couple of the other producers for Season 5 and they said, "Damon, there's something we need to tell you." At that point, I didn't know for sure if Dewey was even coming back in Season 6. They were like, "Yeah, Dewey's coming back... but it's good and bad news. He's back, but he's actually going to die." That was definitely a bit of a shock. It's kind of weird. It's like hearing that someone you know has passed away.
Did they say much about why they thought Dewey should die?
Herriman: They were trying to come up with a way of having... Boyd do something that would really rattle the audience and their allegiances to him. [They thought] having Boyd kill Dewey would be the best way of achieving that.
What do you think it says that this character has grown into someone whose death would turn the audience against Boyd?
Herriman: It definitely gives me a good feeling that the audience came to like Dewey despite his various hare-brained schemes and questionable tattoos. I don't really take credit for that. I think the writing of the role of Dewey has been consistently excellent over the years. They have created this character who, despite saying and doing very heinous things that, on paper, would not elicit any sympathy from anybody, has managed to [make] audiences still strangely feel for.
Why do you think that is?
Herriman: I think that people connect with just how pathetic he is and how hapless he is. If Dewey said and did the things that he did but was this incredibly smart manipulative guy who is actually achieving some of the stuff that he was setting out to do, then it would be a completely different thing. But it's like a mangy dog that comes running at you barking. Part of you thinks, "Is that dog going to bite me? Do I need to kick it out of the way?" And then part of you thinks, "No, actually that would be really cruel because look at the poor thing, he's pathetic."
Dewey's such a hopeless case that the human side of me feels for him. Also, Dewey never really came across as being particularly malicious or evil. He just seems to have taken the wrong path in life just through circumstances that probably are out of his control. You never get the sense of this being a truly bad guy. It's more that he's a guy who's ended up hanging out with a certain group of people. You don't get a sense that this is a professional criminal, and he's certainly not a very good one if he is.
One of those bad influences ultimately killed Dewey. How do you think Dewey would've felt about Boyd taking him out?
Damon Herriman: He would be devastated, I imagine. He's really pouring his heart out to Boyd in that last scene and looks at Boyd as a friend, despite everything that's happened. Boyd is the one constant in his life and is like a mentor figure in a way. The fact that he's come back to Boyd after everything and still wants to please him, wants to maintain this friendship with him, and then have that happen? Yeah, he would be devastated. Thankfully, he never has time to [think about it].
It's even sadder that it's Dewey's warnings about the Mexico situation that make Boyd suspicious of Dewey. He was just trying to help!
Herriman: Yeah, that is a very sad irony. Had he not let out that little piece of information, maybe he would've been spared. We did talk about that. Is that little piece of information the thing that makes Boyd make that decision that Dewey's too much of a liability or would it have happened anyway? I think that's something to ponder but, yeah, Dewey is actually just trying to help.
Despite all the screw-ups and beatdowns, Dewey always seemed optimistic. Where does that misguided hope come from?
Herriman: I don't know. He is an eternal optimist. I don't know if we ever really know where that comes from in Dewey, [but] thank God it's there because it's made for some great material for me to get to play with. I guess if he didn't have that misguided optimism, he'd have nothing. If he actually had to sit down and face the reality of what his life was, it probably would be pretty depressing because on paper things have never really gone well for him. It's just a childlike thing. There's a little boy inside of Dewey. The little boy would be playing Cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers. Dewey's kind of doing that, but it happens to be in the real world. But he's not really any more adept or capable of making his way through than a little kid would be.
The writers have obviously had a lot of fun with Dewey's malapropisms through the years. Do you have a favorite?
Herriman: "The anus is on you," is pretty hard to beat. I always loved when they would put stuff in like that because that just created an even bigger challenge for me. That is a ridiculous thing to say, but it's only one vowel difference from the actual word. It's not hard for me to believe that Dewey would get that wrong. I think the key to all that stuff is just playing it really straight. As funny as the various things are for the audience watching Dewey, not much is funny for Dewey. He doesn't find any of this stuff funny. He's quite a serious guy.
The silver lining is that you have a new show — CBS' Battle Creek — coming on in March. Is it nice to play a character with a little more intelligence than Dewey?
Herriman: [Laughs] Well, it wouldn't take much, would it? The character I play is a detective. It couldn't be more different really. He showers for a start. He wears a suit and he's a really sweet guy. He's a detective who gets quite excited by the arrival of Josh Duhamel's character, who's the new FBI agent who's been brought in to help out this small, backward police department in Battle Creek. It's a complete departure from Dewey, and I love that. There's nothing I like more than playing characters that are very different from the last one that I played. I haven't seen any of it yet, but it looks really cool.
Any final thoughts on Justified?
Herriman: This is an amazing episode for Dewey and an amazing way to say goodbye to the character. And it's nice that [his death] does actually serve a purpose that resonates through the rest of the season. So I couldn't be happier. I'm just so grateful I got to be on that show and play that role. It's definitely going to be right up there for me as a career highlight for the rest of my life.
Justified airs Tuesdays at 10/9c. What did you think of the premiere?