Developed by Graham Yost from the work of Elmore Leonard, the final season of Justified is focused on the long-brimming conflict between Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), and how it will all finally come to a head. Up until now, they’ve been tap-dancing around the fact that they’re on opposite sides of the law, but as Boyd hopes for one final score that will enable him to leave Harlan forever, Raylan would like nothing more than to put an end to all of the criminal activity in Harlan County.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, showrunner Graham Yost talked about knowing that this is the end for the long-running series, how being a showrunner is tough but also the best job he’s ever had, where Justified will rank in his career, the experience of collaborating with Elmore Leonard, that the ending for the show has changed, year by year, since they started talking about it in Season 3, whether any of these characters could ultimately ride off into the sunset and to their happy ending, exploring that final journey for Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder, taking the shackles off of the entire season, and just how awesome it’s been to collaborate with this cast, over the years. Be aware that there are spoilers.
Collider: How difficult is it to know that this is it for the show?
GRAHAM YOST: It’s funny, when you’re in the middle of it and you’re just trying to break the stories and get the scripts written and look at the cuts, it’s chaotic. You’re just wrapped up in doing the job. And then, there came a point where it got real, when we were breaking Episode 12 and we knew there was only one more episode before we were done. It’s strange.
Do you want time away, once it’s all done, or do you want to jump right back into work?
YOST: I can’t help but always be thinking about ideas. There are a couple projects that I’m a godfather on, so there’s work to be done there. And Noah Wyle and I sold a limited series idea to FX, so we’ve gotta do some writing. I’ll be busy, but I have no desire to just jump right back into another series. For me, it would almost be disrespectful to Justified to jump right into another one. On the other hand, I understand why people do it. Being a showrunner is tough, but it is incredibly rewarding and it is, without a doubt, the best job I’ve ever had.
What has being a part of this show, telling this story, and collaborating with Elmore Leonard meant to you, and how do you think it will rank in your career?
YOST: That’s an interesting question. I think without a doubt, it will rank as one of the things that I’m most proud to have been involved with. I remember William Goldman, the great screenwriter, saying that, no matter what he did in his career, when he dies, the New York Times obituary will say, “He wrote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” For me, it’s probably always going to be Speed. I feel very lucky that I’ve got a nice list of things that I’m very proud to have been a part of. Because this is the only series I’ve been on that has gone the distance, that counts for a lot. I can’t put a hierarchy on it, but working with Elmore Leonard was huge. It’s not that we worked together, but he was such an influence and we got to spend time with each other. I just loved hanging around him. He was just such a hoot. That was a great joy. And then, to really delve into his work, and do that on a weekly basis, was a great challenge and incredibly fun. People are often very complimentary about the writing on this show, but it’s because of Elmore. He set a certain tone and landscape and a type of character that we were allowed to play in, so we were encouraged to write like that, and then FX allowed it. John Landgraf and his team really got Elmore Leonard. And then, it all came together with the cast, with Tim [Olyphant], Walton [Goggins], Joelle [Carter], Nick [Searcy], Jacob [Pitts], Erica [Tazel], Jere Burns, Margot [Martindale], Mary Steenburgen, Sam Elliott and Garret Dillahunt, and I’m just talking about the recent ones. That’s been great. And then, there’s the day-in, day-out of being in that writers room with these incredibly smart, incredibly kind, incredibly funny and supportive people. We’ve had a lot of fun, and I’ll miss that.
Is the last episode anywhere close to what you thought the last episode of the show might be?
YOST: You know, it has changed, year by year. We’ve been talking about the ending since about Season 3. When we got the order for Season 4, we knew that chances were that we were going to go the distance. Once you know that, then you start thinking about the end. But, it has changed. It has changed every year, and then month by month. We had a concept for the end, but if we don’t get there, it’s because we found something better. But, we had a plan.
To see Dewey Crowe go out in the first episode of this final season really set a tone that anyone could go, at any time.
YOST: Anyone can go. We could kill them all.
Is there a chance for any of these characters to get to have their happy ending, and then ride off into the sunset?
YOST: The answer that I will give, which to a certain degree almost gives away too much, is that we are doing an Elmore Leonard show. There is a certain way he ends his books. That is all I will say.
How fun has it been to explore that final journey for Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder?
YOST: We don’t have to stall anymore. We don’t have to come up with some reason why Raylan can’t get Boyd. That’s what it’s about, and there is a lot of freedom that comes with that. There is the sadness, when he killed Dewey Crowe, that we had to say goodbye to Damon Herriman, who we’ve just loved working with. But that’s part of the deal, and he understood that. The fact that dear Dewey, who was scheduled to die several times, over the course of the series, and we said, “No, not yet,” made it to the last season is a testament to how much we love that character and Damon. Everyone has the vision of the Better Call Saul spin-off. His pitch, last year, was that Dewey Crowe becomes a fugitive P.I.
Did you intentionally back Boyd into a corner, so that he’d be forced to fight his way out?
YOST: Yeah, we wanted to let Boyd really be Boyd. When you’re heading to the end, there’s no reason to keep the shackles on. The shackles come off. This is his last big gamble and his last big quest, so it either works or it doesn’t.
You have had a very interesting dynamic this season, with Sam Elliott, Garret Dillahunt and Mary Steenburgen. What were you looking to do with that?
YOST: There’s some stuff we do consciously, and we put up themes on a board and talk about them. There was the notion of doing one last thing. When there’s one big score and then you’re out, that usually doesn’t work too well for whoever is planning that, in crime fiction. And then, other things emerge. A group of the writers went to Lexington and Harlan between the seasons, and one of the things they picked up on was the sense of Harlan as a shrinking community. Where once there were a hundred mines, now there are seven. It’s got that sense of time passing, which is also a very Western theme, and especially the Westerns I love, like the Sam Peckinpah movies where the men are always a little bit out of time. Things are changing around them, and it’s about how they adapt to that. We’re allowing ourselves a little more time to ruminate on things, and think about their lives and their place in Harlan history, and what the future may or may not hold.
Has it felt different, working on this whole season, because everything really is on the table?
YOST: Yeah. Episode 8 has a scene thrown in that wasn’t discussed in the room, wasn’t in the outline and wasn’t discussed with me. As (executive producer) Fred Golan put it, “I don’t know if I would have had the balls to write that scene,” and it became one of our favorite scenes. It was a real swing-for-the-fences, what-the-hell moment. We’re in the last stretch, so we can try stuff like that. That was really gratifying, and that inspired all the writers to think of what they could do. We were able to do anything we wanted, within the Elmore context and confines.
Raylan is supposed to be finishing his last case, so that he can go off with his family. Is Raylan Givens someone who could ever fully leave this life behind?
YOST: Tim has always pitched that Raylan would end up being a technical consultant on a crime show in Los Angeles. Tim, as we all have, just fell in love with our technical advisor, Charlie Almanza, and his stories. Charlie has been a big part of the show, too.
What’s it been like to collaborate with this cast, who really have become so entwined with their characters, over the years?
YOST: In a word, it’s been awesome. They care, and they carry the Elmore torch high. They’re very proud to be involved with anything to do with his name. They feel the responsibility and the freedom that comes with that. You reach a point where they know the characters as well or better than the writers. There’s times where they’ll catch things and say, “Boyd wouldn’t say that,” or “Raylan would do this.” We give that a lot of credence.
Were there any characters that you initially brought in thinking they would be one thing, and then they turned out a different way?
YOST: If things didn’t work out, it was generally not the fault of the actor. It was just the fault of the writing that we couldn’t find something to make it work. The first example is Boyd because he was supposed to die in the pilot and we kept him alive. And then, there was Wynn Duffy. He was initially supposed to die in the shoot-out in Season 1, but we basically said, “Well, did we see him in a body bag?” He got shot, but we decided to bring him back and that evolved to the point that he joined the main cast. He’s in the main title sequence. He has give us so much joy. Jere is so much fun to work with, and Wynn Duffy is so much fun to write. He’s unpredictable. It’s really hard to even describe what he is. He’s a very complicated character.
Justified airs on Tuesday nights on FX.