'Boardwalk Empire' creator talks season 3 finale, what's next for Nucky

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And so the third — and arguably the best — season of Boardwalk Empire comes to a close. Below creator Terence Winter talks to EW about Sunday’s full gangster-style shoot-em’-up closer, reveals which characters survived the bloodbath, and gives plenty of teasers about what to expect in season four.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: More than any previous episode, tonight’s finale really had that Roaring ’20s mob-movie feel.

TERENCE WINTER: As the series progresses, we’re entering that territory, feeling more familiar — like those Warner Bros. gangster movies that you think of when you think of the ’20s. It seems like every decade doesn’t begin when it begins. Like the ’60s, for example, didn’t [feel like it began] until the Beatles got here in ’63. The ’20s, as we recognize them, didn’t really start until 1924 and we’re right around there. We haven’t even heard the Charleston yet.

What did the finale accomplish for you?

It brought us full circle. The full rehabilitation of Nucky’s (Steve Buscemi) rehabilitation with his brother. It brought a conclusion, of sorts, to the Nucky and Margaret’s (Kelly Macdonald) relationship — by conclusion I mean there’s no kidding each other now about who each other is and what has transpired between them. It really brought home to Nucky what being a gangster is, how ugly it can get, and how he needs to change if he’s going to survive. Even on the boardwalk at the end, the old Nucky is glad-handing and shaking hands. He’s not that guy anymore. He has to become a new person.

Did you consider keeping Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale) around for season 4? He was definitely entertaining.
We did. It’s always difficult when you have a character you love and an actor you love portraying that character. The tendency is to want to go through some writer gymnastics to see if there’s any way he gets away and comes back, even if it goes against the story logic. It became apparent that Gyp was just this monster who had to die. Even if we kept him alive into season four, he’d have to die very shortly into the new season anyway. We figured it would be a much more powerful way to end the season to have him killed in the finale.

Can you say if Gillian Darmody (Gretchen Mol), whose character was last seen following a heroin overdose, is dead?

She’s alive.

And are we to presume Eddie (Anthony Laciura) will recover too?

Turns out that kid was actually a pretty good surgeon. Even with that limited operating room, he did a great job.

Earlier this season, was I supposed to be laughing when Van Alden (Michael Shannon) had his spectacular freak out? Because I lost it.

I don’t think I laughed at anything more that we’ve done on the show. When I first got the final edit of that sequence, I probably watched it 10 times in a row. Seeing somebody explode with rage with that Three Stooges violence always makes me laugh. And frankly, they all had it coming. They completely underestimated this guy. The last thing he should be doing is working as a salesman, he’s the antithesis of a salesman, and to watch him go bananas was fun.

We also had a similar payoff, with a very different tone, by finally unleashing Richard Harrow (Jack Huston) in the finale.

Yeah, that had a season-long buildup. He hadn’t done anything like this since the first episode this year — he’s had a domestic story, a love story. But you knew it’s building and building.

More than previous seasons, this season felt like the mob-crime drama storylines were more frequently front and center. Was that a conscious choice?

They did come to the surface more, but it wasn’t a conscious choice. I didn’t sit down and say, “We need more gangster stuff this season.” The circumstances in Nucky’s life, in the post-Jimmy world, lend themselves to more gangster activity. He really did cross that line into full gangsterism by killing Jimmy, so more of his day would be taken up by gangster activity.

So now that Nucky is back on top, can we expect that gangster focus to continue into season 4?
Yes, more than likely.

The boardwalk is such a big part of the show, but that ending hints that Nucky might not feel comfortable on the boardwalk in season 4. Is that an accurate interpretation?

It’s still his kingdom and his empire, but I think he’s going to be a lot less visible and a lot more insulated.

What year does season 4 begin? Is there another time jump?

About mid-1924, so about a year later.

And what can we expect in that time period?

In 1924, we’re really into the booming economy, with a really young culture. It’s the year Capone (Stephen Graham) came into his own. [Meyer] Lansky (Anatol Yusef) and Lucky [Luciano] (Vincent Piazza) really became the gangsters we now know them to be. And in our fictional part of the show, Nucky will create his own gang.

Can you elaborate a bit about Capone?
It’s no historical secret that in 1924 he took over the town of Cicero, Il., and made it his base of operations. The question is how do our fictional characters interact in that world. Now former agent Van Alden is in between those guys, and that will play out in a big way.

If the presumed fifth or sixth season comes along and you’re told by HBO that it’s the last one, is your goal to conclude the story at the end of Prohibition?

Ideally, that would be a great end point — or the stock market crash might be another logical end point. Given the nature of what we do, you have to be prepared to wrap things up when it’s time to end. I hope I have enough advance notice to bring the story to a conclusion I’m really happy with and I’m confident that I will.

Do you have a final scene in your head?

Yeah. A vague one, yeah. But, of course, I can’t tell you.

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