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Justified Postmortem: Walton Goggins on Boyd's Surprising Fate and Saying Goodbye

Get his take on the series finale

Adam Bryant

Justified just couldn't find a way to get rid of Boyd Crowder.

Although the character originally died in the Elmore Leonard novella that inspired the series, executive producer Graham Yost decided to keep Boyd alive on the show because of how test audiences responded to Walton Goggins' charismatic performance. Six seasons later, Yost still couldn't see fit to have his hero Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) end Boyd's life in the series finale.

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Justified boss explains the series' final showdown and Raylan's last heroic act

Instead, the two men's final showdown was, as usual, a war of words. After Ava (Joelle Carter) told Boyd the reason she shot him and left him behind was because she did what she thought he would do, Boyd had no more fight left in him. Holding an empty gun, Boyd attempted to goad Raylan into shooting him, but ultimately, Raylan was content to let Boyd live the rest of his days in prison.

That choice paid off when, after a four-year time jump, Raylan visits Boyd in prison to lie and say Ava died in a car accident. Although the two old friends, now divided by glass, have always been on opposite sides of the law, the series ends with both men perfectly acknowledging the bond of their shared history: "We dug coal together," Boyd says. chatted with Goggins about escaping death a second time, Boyd's heartbreaking love for Ava, and saying goodbye to Boyd Crowder for the last time.

Were you surprised that Boyd didn't die in the finale?
Walton Goggins: No, I had known about it for a while. It was never in question whether or not Boyd was going to live, but it was a question of how that conversation was going to go down and what that showdown was going to look like. What struck me over the course of this season was that the showdown that I was anticipating between Boyd and Raylan was never in the cards.It was always inherent to the story, because of what has transpired over the last three seasons, that for Boyd, it was going to be a showdown with himself. And that [comes] in the answer to the question that he asks Ava. When he gets that answer, it's game over for him, and the showdown that everyone thought would happen between Raylan and Boyd actually turns out to be a showdown between Raylan and himself. He is answering the question in the pilot, "Are you the angriest man in the world or aren't you?" Boyd got his answer, and then Raylan ultimately gets his answer.

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After Boyd gets his answer, he certainly seems to be goading Raylan into killing him. Goggins: He's asking for permission to die. There was no provocation that Boyd could have said beyond what he said in order to get Raylan to pull that trigger. After hearing the answer to that question, it doesn't get much lower than that for Boyd. So, he turns to his friend and says, "As much as you thought that I would have hurt you, in this moment, I would never hurt you. I'm asking you to fulfill this prophecy. End it -- end it, man, please." And Raylan decides that he's not going to be that guy anymore.

Was there some part of Boyd that thought he could still "win" if he got Raylan to shoot him?
Goggins: I think the inherent competitive nature of their relationship was gone at that moment. It was a domino effect of conclusions, of the answers to these questions. Have these people grown or haven't they? And I feel that Boyd in that instance changed for the last time in a real way. And I feel that Raylan, 30 seconds later, his life was forever changed by not pulling that trigger.

Before Raylan even walks in, we see Boyd try to fire his gun at Ava but it's empty. Would he have killed her or did he know the gun was empty?
Goggins: That's the decision of the writers. I disagree with it, to be quite honest with you. He absolutely knew there were no bullets left in that gun. Something that we filmed that didn't actually make the edit, for whatever reason, was that Boyd pulls the trigger not once, but twice, and then points the gun to his temple and he pulls the trigger again. It was just a symbolic gesture or metaphor for, "This is what you've done to me. This is how much pain I'm in." He would never have hurt Ava, ever.

Justified Postmortem: Walton Goggins breaks down Boyd's shocking choice

Based on what we've seen of Boyd, Ava is telling the truth about what Boyd might do in the same situation. Does he realize on some level that she's right or is it just an emotional gut punch to him?
Goggins: She's the only person with authority to tell him something that would truly land, and she says it with conviction. She means it. It's simple and it's the truth, and he hears it for the first time. Look, there are things that need to happen in order for a show to go a certain way, and there were conversations that were had about Boyd, and I disagreed with a lot of them. I fought tooth and nail not to sacrifice the person that I spent six years playing to become a convenient villain for the last season. You know, that's not who Boyd is. Boyd rarely killed anyone that wasn't trying to kill him. He's not a psychopath, he's a sociopath, but every death that happened this season by the hand of Boyd Crowder came from an attempt for the writers of the show to make Raylan have the white hat. That's the way that the story needed to go, and I think that they did a good job. They didn't fully sacrifice Boyd's experience and point a finger in the face of the audience that fell in love with Boyd Crowder, and I think that's important.

Yes, I am sure there will be many fans pleased that Boyd didn't die.
Goggins: Yeah, and because of the sparing of his life, they both get to have the conversation at the end of the story, which is closure for both of them. It's real closure and something that was very cathartic, for Boyd at least. Boyd never would have hurt Raylan. He never in a million years would have hurt Ava, ever. That's what the writers decided that they needed to have the audience believe in order to create tension, but for me as an actor playing Boyd Crowder, he would have burned the world down before he hurt the only person that gave reason to his existence.

You said before that Boyd had changed, but there he is again preaching in prison. So how much has he really changed?
Goggins: That scene was very, very important to me. After playing the role of the villain that they wanted, and after Graham decided that he was going to live, it was important to me that we remind the audience of why you fell in love with this guy. That it wasn't a wasted emotion for six seasons, but rather it was a confirmation. To me, that was showing Boyd in a joyful way, because Boyd is best when he has an audience. Although he says it in that slick-willy way that Boyd is capable of delivering his medicine, he's also saying any man can walk towards temptation, but it takes a real man to walk away from it. "I had to lose it all," and he did, before he found some peace.

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How do you feel about Raylan lying to Boyd in order to keep Ava from looking her shoulder the rest of her life?
For me, it wasn't about Raylan Givens protecting Ava Crowder. [Boyd's] not a guy looking to get out of prison, who's going to hurt anyone. He's not vengeful at that moment. He's laid that down. For me, I think the higher side of that interpretation is for Raylan Givens to protect not Ava, but the cycle of violence from this little boy that's Boyd's child. He's lying in the most altruistic way. He's a guy saying, "This is a life that I can truly save." Not from Boyd Crowder -- it's not just about me. It's [saving] him from a life of violence. [Raylan] can spare him this inevitability, if Boyd were to come back and touch his life in any way.

Boyd gets really emotional during that visit with Raylan. What did that truly mean to Boyd? Goggins: Raylan gives Boyd the two things that Boyd he's always wanted from Raylan: an acknowledgment that his love for Ava Crowder is real and the acknowledgment that our friendship doesn't just exist in the realm of adversity. It is a shared struggle that we went through, and that it means something. It's not a friend and it's not an enemy. I don't know that there is a word for that in the English language, but maybe it's just a commonality. But Raylan gives him that, and it is an echo to after he shot me in the pilot, when he says, "We dug coal together." That means everything and it means nothing, and I think the same thing applies to the finale.

On The Shield, Shane died. Did it make it any harder to walk away from this show since Boyd is still alive?
Goggins: It's hard, man. It's hard. Speak to me a year from now, and I might feel very different, but right now, it's really difficult. Boyd's someone that I vociferously defend, someone that I love and I couldn't feel any other way about him. I may be alone in my feeling about him, and that's okay with me, you know?

I don't think you are.
Goggins: Well, thank you for saying that. Who knows? Maybe I'll get to button my shirt up another day as Boyd Crowder sometime in the future.If that doesn't happen, I'm damn sure grateful that I had the opportunity to play a character out of the imagination of Elmore Leonard.

Are you glad Boyd survived? What did you think of the series finale?