'Justified' Season Four Finale Interview with Graham Yost



(By Mandi Bierly)

Spoiler alert! If you haven’t watched Justified‘s season 4 finale “Ghosts,” written by Fred Golan and Benjamin Cavell and directed by Bill Johnson, stop reading now. As he’s done throughout the season, showrunner Graham Yost takes us inside the writers’ room.




ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: In last week’s postmortem, you said the threat to pregnant Winona (The Following‘s Natalie Zea) would yield one of the best scenes the series has ever done. You did not lie.

GRAHAM YOST: The idea of a big shootout in the nursery just appealed to our dark, twisted Justified sense of a really horrific place for something like this to happen. The first time they did it, Winona shot the bad guy in the leg, and then Raylan [Timothy Olyphant] took over. Then they decided to try it once or twice with her actually firing as well. That was just an option we had in editing, and we went for it. We thought it was cool to see her firing the gun at this bastard.

Raylan reeling the first guy in and shooting him through the stomach — I yelled “Whoa!” so loudly, the person in the next office IM’d me to see what had happened.
That was Cavell, who just liked the idea of Raylan goading this guy. Raylan just wanted to see where all the guns were. He sees this guy’s got his gun in the front of his waistband. Okay, how can I get to that? Raylan did that once before, at the end of season 1, where he shows up at Bo’s cabin up in Bulletville, and there’s a guy who’s with Bo, and Raylan grabs his gun and just shoots him in the gut at close range.

And then Raylan shoots the second guy in the head, and the blood splatter on the nursery wall is tremendous.
Yeah, we just thought: “blood on the nursery wall, that is our show.”

There were some tough moments to watch, like Winona being told that perhaps they’d tear the baby out and kill it separate.
I look at those things in editing, and I go, “Do we need that line?” And you know what, he’s gonna die, so let’s make him as bad as possible. That’s dancing right up to the edge of our world. That’s about as arch as a bad guy can get in our show. But actually, my favorite stuff in the scene is the stuff between Raylan and Winona, where she’s giving the bad guy a little bit of guff, and Raylan says, “That’s why I love her.” It was like, wow, that’s cool. That was scripted, but it was kind of a late add, and probably a combination of Fred, Ben, and Tim.

Then you echo that later in the episode when Raylan tells Winona that she and the baby are safe, and she says, “I know. That’s why I love you.”

We’d struggled over whether or not there would be a final Raylan-Winona scene. Finally, we all got onboard with it, and it’s one of my favorite scenes in the episode.

The kiss was great. You feel like these are two people who genuinely love each other and genuinely understand why they can’t be together.
The kiss was fantastic. It’s scripted that they kiss and then say goodbye, but that kiss lingered. There’s just something about the depth of their love in this episode that I was really surprised by…. I would say that perhaps we didn’t have any plans for much of them together next season, but then when I saw that kiss, well, I don’t know. It’s up to Natalie’s availability. They’re just so good together.

Will the baby be born next season?

It is our expectation that we would see little Raylette or Raylene born in season 5.

Last thing about this scene: You’d teased that we’d get a shout-out in this episode to the book-turned-film that inspired Elmore Leonard’s style of writing. That was George V. Higgins’ The Friends of Eddie Coyle, which the main bad guy references as he’s telling Raylan they want him to take them to the safe house where Drew Thompson is being kept.
If you look up Elmore’s acceptance speech when he got his Lifetime Achievement award at the National Book Awards last fall, [at 6:00 in the video below] he references Eddie Coyle and going to a bookstore and just reading the first sentence. It’s interesting because in the first pages, the character name of the guy who’s trying to sell or buy guns is Jackie Brown. And Tarantino, being a fan of all of that, when he [adapted Leonard's novel] Rum Punch, he changed the character name to Jackie Brown.

When we pick up with Boyd (Walton Goggins) and Ava (Joelle Carter), they’re with Jimmy (Jesse Luken) prepping to retrieve Delroy’s body. Ava reminds Boyd that he’s always said moving a body is a good way to get caught.
It’s establishing the rule, which also explains why they hadn’t moved the body in the past.

They show up to the spot and find police have already found the body. Instead of leaving, Boyd goes up to talk to Officer Mooney (William Gregory Lee), which I thought was a surprising choice.
He’s Boyd. They can’t arrest him for just driving. So he’ll just go up. His relationship with Mooney has been on and off. It seemed like a smart way for him to find out more.

Boyd then decides to use Mooney and Lee Paxton (Sam Anderson), whose funeral home serves as storage for law enforcement, to help him switch bodies so it’s not Delroy’s body that was found.
That came out of the room. What would Boyd try to do? Okay, so, they’ve got Ellen May, she could testify, but if they don’t have a body, then the case might fall apart. So let’s take care of the body and get it out of there. We can’t? Okay, where is it? We’re still not done yet. It’s just that Boyd sense of he’ll always keep working a problem until it’s absolutely impossible to do so. And believe you me, at the beginning of next season, we’re gonna see him continue to work the problem. How can he get Ava out of jail? And what will he do in order to accomplish that?

Did you always know how this would ultimately play out: With Ava ending the season in handcuffs?
We wanted her to end the season in handcuffs, the question was what was it going to be [a result of], and we danced around many different things: Was she gonna kill Johnny in a public place and get arrested for that? Was she going to kill [Officer] Mooney? I remember getting a call from the room and they had this pitch for them trying to move the body, and I thought that’s cool because it’s kinda gruesome, and weird, and it allowed for a lot of sick, funny jokes.

Boyd and Jimmy digging up the grave for a replacement body was a surprisingly fun scene with Jimmy falling through the coffin.
Those guys in a graveyard at night, in a potter’s field, digging up a corpse, stuff comes up. I don’t know exactly the origin of Boyd’s run about who that is in the ground. The little behind the scenes thing is Jesse Lukens, on one take, when his foot went through, he actually damaged his foot quite badly. At the cast party, he was on crutches. He was in real pain. But we use that on Justified — if a character’s in real pain, we use it.

And then Boyd brings the body into his office at the bar — so great.
That was Fred Golan. [Laughs] He’s like, “Could we make it logical that they’d bring the body into the bar?” “Yeah, sure. They got to switch trucks and stuff and don’t want to leave it outside, whatever. It’s funny. Let’s do it.”

Was running the body’s head into the wall at the funeral home scripted?
I can’t remember. It’s freakin’ Weekend at Bernie’s, right? If you’re moving a dead body, you have to slam the head into a wall at some point. It’s a little cheesy, a little expected, but every now and again, we’ll go for that because it’s funny.

And it’s Jimmy, too.
And it was Jimmy, exactly.

Boyd didn’t make that trip because Raylan came to the bar and asked him to arrange a meet with Nicky Augustine (Mike O’Malley).
We knew we wanted Raylan to get Boyd out of there so Ava was alone for the whole body switch. We didn’t want to make it easy. And we love the ambiguity of it: Is Boyd doing it to protect Ava because Raylan might have something? Is Raylan really offering a quid pro quo? Does Boyd believe him? All of that stuff. Or is there an element where Boyd’s just gonna help this guy because he’s in desperate need and they’ve threatened his wife and child?

Tell me about the scene between Nicky and Picker (John Kapelos) in the diner.

That scene had to carry a lot of weight. It had to get a lot of exposition out. It had to explain that Boyd had called and was coming with Raylan, that there is conflict between Nicky and Sammy, which we’d heard about with Art and Vasquez earlier on. It needed to show that Picker was concerned about how Nicky was running things. And we needed to see that Nicky really thought of himself as unassailable, brilliant, and the guy who should be running things. It had to accomplish a lot. You have two great performers, and it comes together.

While that’s happening, Boyd is driving Raylan to the airport for the meeting. That’s another crucial scene that’s all dialogue.
That scene had a lot of talk between the writers, and Tim, and Walton. What can we get out of here? Tim is always interested in being clear that Boyd is a bad guy, but as he basically says, “You’re a white supremacist, you’re leading a church out in the woods. Who are you, and what do you really believe in? So if you say you love this woman [Ava], how is that different from all the other stuff that you’ve said?” Of course, Boyd maintains that it is different. We wanted to play up that dynamic, and then the whole notion of Boyd going at Raylan is something that we’d established pretty nicely in the opening of episode 10 when he says, “Raylan, you are an asshole, you should have been an outlaw.” And that just goes back thematically to Raylan and Arlo: Who is Raylan? How much is he like Arlo? Is he really just Arlo with a badge?

Raylan gave Boyd back his gun.
He takes the gun off him in the bar, now he is returning his gun. That, by the way, is Raylan crossing the line. He has no reason to give Boyd his gun back. In fact, he probably could have arrested Boyd for just having a gun given his criminal history. But here he does give him his gun back, which in our world is a sign of great affection. [Laughs] Oddly.

That’s what I was wondering: When Boyd mentioned Raylan being outnumbered four to one, which hardly seems fair (and Raylan responded, “Which way do you mean?”), Boyd offered to help, however jokingly. Would he have stepped up if it’d come to that?
It’s a good question. I don’t know. It didn’t get to that, so it’s hard to say what actually would have happened.

Raylan meets with Nicky in his limo.
The room came up with that and Cavell was very interested in writing that scene, so he wrote that and labored over it. It’s one of those, rightfully so, that he’s very proud of. I think it’s a great scene. And it had to accomplish a fair deal: It had to have Raylan make an offer that he knew Nicky wouldn’t accept, but at least he makes the offer. And we needed Nicky to reiterate that yeah, I’m gonna kill your wife and family. You had a chance, and you screwed it up, and you killed three of my men. There is a version of Nicky that would be smarter, which would be to say, “No, I’m not gonna kill your wife and child” and just lie to him. But again, that was part of the earlier scene in the diner, Nicky has just been rising in his own estimation — or at least we see that side to him more and more often as the season progresses.

So Nicky really didn’t have a gun on him?
Right. It was just sort of okay, let’s go back to the beginning [of the series] and imagine if Tommy Bucks didn’t have a gun on him, which is a question that Raylan asks Winona at the end of the pilot: What would I have done if he hadn’t pulled? And so, here we get the answer. Raylan’s not gonna shoot him. However, he has arranged for that result to be accomplished by other people. So he ends up getting what he needs.

When did you know Raylan’s out would be Nicky Augustine and Sammy Tonin (Max Perlich) not being fond of each other?
You know, we toyed with an earlier version where Theo was gonna remain the Big Bad and Raylan was gonna conspire to a degree with Nicky to take Theo out and remove the threat. And then because of Adam Arkin’s lack of availability off doing The Americans, and the way Nicky Augustine emerged as a character, it just became clear that he should be the threat, the personification of the danger that Raylan and Winona are in. And then well, how does Raylan get out of this? That was the big puzzle for us. But as I said, we’d already played with the idea of Raylan playing one bad guy against another and letting one bad guy do his dirty work for him, as it were. So this just became a different version of that.

So at what point exactly did Raylan call Sammy?

He would’ve called Sammy on the drive up with Boyd.

He had to fly in.
Right. But, I mean, the drive from Harlan to Lexington takes two hours. So somewhere in there. Or, perhaps he did call him beforehand.

That was a nice shot of the limo getting lit up with gunfire as Raylan was walking away. The limo was far enough in the distance that it didn’t look like an action movie cliché.
Bill Johnson, our director, just does great work on the show. He had that idea in his mind, and it took a lot of coordination.

What was Mike O’Malley’s reaction when he found out Nicky would be going out in that blaze of glory?
I didn’t speak to him directly about that. He was happy with the stuff that we got to do with him this year. Certainly he really enjoyed “Decoy.” You end up with a great scene between you and the star of the show, and that’s not a bad way to go on Justified. And he goes big: It’s not just one person shooting him. It’s a big Bonnie and Clyde moment.

While Boyd was off with Raylan, Ava ditched Jimmy and went on her own to get rid of Delroy’s body. Was that so only she would go down if she got caught?
We had lines in there that we cut, just for the sake of moving it along, which were to support also the idea that when she killed Delroy, and she and Ellen May cleaned up the crime scene and then moved the body and dumped it down this shaft, if she had done that by herself, and Ellen May didn’t know where the body went, that would have been a smarter move. It was just, “Yeah, I trust you, Jimmy, but I don’t want you to know where the body’s going.”

Mooney and Paxton were hoping to get Boyd, but nab Ava instead. When Boyd arrives and sees her in the police car, he goes after Mooney, and then the officers take Boyd down. That was hard to watch Walton get beaten up.
That’s the goal: We needed to physically show the beating he was taking internally, in a way.

And it was Cassie (Lindsay Pulsipher), who Boyd saw there when he was on the ground, who gave police the tip about the body?
Yes. This is her revenge for the death of her brother. That’s the chicken that comes home to roost. Something that started in the first act of the season pays off in the third.

Why did Paxton tell Mooney not to arrest Boyd for assaulting an officer? Was it just because you don’t want Boyd in prison if he has to figure out how to get Ava out next season, or was there something more?
It’s also the cockiness of the man who feels he’s really in control, who’s saying, “Oh, don’t worry about this piece of white trash. He’s not gonna harm us anymore.” And that’s, you know, perhaps a fatal mistake on the part of Lee Paxton. We’ll see.

Boyd was so forlorn, he couldn’t speak when Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns) resurfaced to tell him he wants him to handle his heroin distribution in Kentucky. Wynn just had Boyd nod.
That was state of mind. We just wanted to be with Boyd and what he was thinking. But on Wynn Duffy, one draft of “Decoy,” episode 11, had Duffy in it, and it was clear pretty quickly that we weren’t giving him enough good stuff, there wasn’t that much of a point for him to be there. So we cut him out of that, and then we went back and added the scene in episode 10, where he says to Mike, “Let’s run to Canada.” We just liked the idea of Duffy being this survivor: He survived Emmitt Arnett, he survived Robert Quarles, he’s now survived Nicky Augustine.

So we should expect to see Wynn next season.

Oh yeah.

Boyd going back to the house he and Ava wanted to buy was just brutal. When did you know he’d end his season there?
I think we knew that from about the midpoint of the season on. We knew we wanted to end with him there, and we wanted to have Raylan back at Arlo’s house with a fresh grave. Those were goals from early on.

Did you feel the fan pressure to include “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” in this season finale after they missed it so much last year?
No. Part of the thing was that because we didn’t actually have Quarles die at the end of season 3 — or we were not definitive, it’s always been our feeling that he survived — it just felt like the song didn’t quite work. If we had actually shown him die, then the song might have worked with him, but the problem was it would’ve had to come early because there’s so much that happened after that. So it just didn’t work in the season 3 finale. But along with Mags poisoning herself, there’s sort of no better thing in the series to go with that song than seeing Arlo’s grave. So I knew pretty early on that I wanted it in there. And then it was [music supervisor] Greg Sill’s idea to approach Dave Alvin to see if he would do a version for us. He performed live on the show in a bar in season 2. And you’ve heard his music several times throughout. It was just a different take on it, there was something a little more mournful about his version.

Why the close-up of Raylan’s cowboy boot?
Wow, now you are getting down to the nitty-gritty. That’s just Bill Johnson. Let’s shoot lots of little bits, stuff to cut to. And it’s a cowboy boot. We focus on the hat so much, it’s nice to be reminded that yeah, he wears boots as well.

And I suppose since he’s on a 30-day suspension that he’s –
Kicking back.

Looking ahead, will we have a time jump between seasons?

We’ve gone back and forth on that. So I can’t say for sure.

What can you say about Raylan in season 5?
Well, the big thing is we’re still not sure if he’ll have a haircut, so.

I vote yes.
A lot of people want him to trim that stuff up. We’ll see… He’s risen up in the Marshals service. He managed to get out of this apparently no-win situation and pull a win, so he’s doing well in that regard. But Winona’s farther away from him than ever. The child in all likelihood will be born. And there will be more bad guys coming along, and then how does it involve Boyd, and what brings the two of them together or pushes them apart.

And where is Winona’s mother, with whom Winona will live now?

At one point it was scripted that she was in California, another point we were thinking maybe Florida. We haven’t decided yet. One thing that did give me a momentary freak-out is that early on in the first season we hear that Winona, who had vowed she would never come back to Kentucky, came back when her mother took ill. But we never actually heard that her mother died. So it’s like, thank god. Because we’d just all forgotten it. In our world, her mother got better and moved out-of-state.

Ava will start the season in jail, and Boyd will be trying to get her out. Is Mooney the new sheriff now?
Mooney will be the new sheriff now, we’re thinking. That’s not entirely certain. I ran into the actor William Gregory Lee, and also Sam Anderson [who plays Lee Paxton], at the wrap party, and they both said a version of, “Well… I’m glad I survived the season, but given what I’ve done to Boyd, I don’t know how much longer this character’s gonna be alive.” So we’ll see.

Are we going to see a more vicious Boyd because of this?
I don’t think it would ever be just one thing. It’s a big enough story that we can see different shades and different colors of Boyd.

What about the format? Are you thinking another mystery? A return to the Big Bad?
We probably wouldn’t want to go straight into another mystery season. But that doesn’t mean a mystery couldn’t be a part of a season. Will it be a Big Bad? Maybe. There will be antagonists, I’ll tell you that.

Spoiler alert!
But for all the talk about this not being a season with a Big Bad, Nicky Augustine emerged as a Big Bad, he just wasn’t there from the beginning, so it wasn’t like introducing Mags in the first episode of season 2 and then paying that off at the end.

You mention season 2, which is what fans typically reference when they talk about the series at its best. But by the time the episode “Decoy” rolled around this season, that changed and everyone started saying season 4 is arguably its finest. Did you anticipate that going into it?
Oh god, no. Because we were trying something a little different, we were just hoping that it would be as good as the other ones. That was our goal. I don’t know if it’s the best. It’s interesting, once you start poking around in that, you see people like, “Oh no, season 3 is the best.” I’m like, “Really?” I mean, I liked it. And frankly, they’re all our children, so when people say, “Oh, I really liked season 2 more than season 1,” it’s like, “Thank you, I’m glad you like my son more than my daughter.” They’re all things that we labor hard on. For us, it’s honestly more like, “Wow, I loved that scene.” “That scene is one of our favorite scenes.” “That moment.” “That episode.” “That arc.” In terms of one season being better than the other, it happens. I think in retrospect, when we’re all done with this series, we can look back and say, “Oh, a little bit of a misstep there,” or “We hit our stride there.” But we had no expectation that people would like this as much as they have. For us, it was on an episode by episode basis: Is this working? Is this fun? And while some people have felt that the opening of the season, the first four episodes, were a little flat, I don’t see it that way. Two of my favorite episodes of the season are in the first four: The second episode, where we see the Truth family, and episode four, where Raylan is trying to track down Lindsey and Randall and get his money back and gets the chickens instead. Those are episodes that we’re really proud of. But we did get into a run between five, six, seven, eight, and nine that we felt good about.

Last question: What’s the likelihood of us seeing Dewey Crowe (Damon Herriman) again next season?
We have had some thoughts about Dewey, and we’ll just see if that pans out. We were terrified of overusing Dewey. But I think we could use him more for one season, perhaps. We’ll see. We just love having Damon around. It’s one of the most fun characters in the show. So we are always looking for something.





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