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Sleepy Hollow death: Showrunner Clifton Campbell on season 3 finale

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Tina Rowden/FOX

Warning: This story contains spoilers from the season 3 finale of Sleepy Hollow.

The original Witnesses are down a member.

In Friday’s devastating Sleepy Hollow season finale, Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) sacrificed herself to stop power-hungry god the Hidden One (Peter Mensah) from destroying the world. In a realm between life and death, Abbie wished Crane (Tom Mison) a heartfelt goodbye and moved on, leaving her partner to continue the fight against the apocalypse with the next Witness in line.

EW spoke to showrunner Clifton Campbell to get his thoughts on Abbie’s tragic end, the identity of the new Witness, and the nature of the bond between Abbie and Crane.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why kill off Abbie?

CAMPBELL: Well, we don’t like to look at it as killing off Abbie. The show for three seasons has been absolutely magic thanks to Nicole Beharie and her commitment to this character; she’s really planted a flag in Sleepy Hollow for all of us. Her relationship with Tom and obviously with Crane has been instrumental to the development of the show. As with a lot of genre shows, as television matures and evolves, it becomes important to recognize the frailty of characters, particularly in a world such as ours, and unrealistic to think that shows can live and breathe on one note. So it was with a great deal of thought and really going back to the roots of the show and the mythology of the show — it too has to evolve. To that end, Abbie Mills did everything she could as a Witness. She honorably served her partnership with Crane, and she made the ultimate sacrifice and completed her role as a Witness.

Where do you see this story going if the show is picked up for a fourth season?

We feel like we’ve got some story to be told yet, certainly, with Ichabod Crane and the modern world. We have a wide open field, and there’s been a lot of talk already. There have been a lot of positive season 4 creative discussions. First and foremost, we need to figure out where that new Witness is, who that new Witness is, and what that iteration of the show will look like. We’re all actually very excited about that possibility — very sad obviously to put the Abbie Mills version of this to bed, but Nicole has been an absolute dream to work with. She brought it every day, in every scene, and she and Tom gave us 110 percent always, and we look forward to what Tom’s new partner might give us.

Is there any chance that the new Witness might be someone already in the world of the show?

No, there is no chance it will be somebody that’s already in the show.

How about the men in the suits who roll up at the end? What can you say about that organization?

Ezra Mills [James McDaniel], Jenny and Abbie’s father, gives some voice to it, and, as we realize there toward the end of the season, may have been around for the inception of that organization or had some awareness of that organization. As it turns out, and this goes back to the very beginning with the very first bible created for the show, there was an organization that had obviously gotten wind of the supernatural, or maybe even more than that, and has been tracking Sleepy Hollow and monitoring what’s been going on. And with Abbie’s demise, it sort of rings a few bells. They need to sit Crane down and maybe have a conversation about what he knows and what’s going on. We have a wide open field with what that organization might mean at the moment. They clearly have some questions for Mr. Ichabod Crane.

Abbie tells Crane that her job was to carry him forward, and now her job is done. Could you speak about how Abbie gets to this point where she realizes that she’s taken herself as far as she needs to go?

In the season finale, we revisit some life-changing moments and relationships in Abbie’s life that indicate that her world, her life, and her job have sort of come full circle. Having some resolution in her life is key to one Witness passing on to another, and Abbie’s character has reached that point. It’s important that when one Witness sacrifices for another as she does, that she acknowledge that her job is done, that she has taken Crane as far as she can, and puts him at the doorstep of his next journey.

Are you worried that fans might take that line as a way of minimizing her contribution and making Abbie someone who existed to prop up Crane?

We have talked about that. I can’t respond to how people or may or may not read into something, but certainly it is not what happened. She wasn’t just someone who brought him along. There will be a time, I imagine, in the mythology of Witnesses, when Tom will do the same for a Witness that he’s partnered with. It’s not specific to Abbie Mills or Ichabod Crane. Ichabod was the catalyst for what had been going on in Sleepy Hollow; he wasn’t the reason why it’s going on in Sleepy Hollow.

Pandora says that Crane loves Abbie. What are the feelings between the Witnesses, and what did you want to say about their relationship in the end?

It’s impossible to not see the love these two have for each other. And we dramatize and show it in big and small ways — and, I think, as we’ve said all season long, very intimate ways — it’s just those stop short of being physical. The respect they have for each other, the honor, the commitment, is enviable. It’s human nature when they’re together that you’d want to see that mean something more, but in the world of Witnesses, something more is what they had. Tom and Nicole are very keen on understanding and giving the audience what that means, and we talked a great deal about at what point, and even if, that would manifest itself in a physical relationship. That was something that was talked about as, “Maybe someday,” but we all agreed that it felt more natural that they explore intimacy in a very unique way, and we felt that we accomplished that right up until the last minute.

We didn’t get much of the Mills sisters’ relationship in the finale. Was there any reason for that?

There’s always more we would have liked to have done. It’s a season ender, and we had to stop the world from being taken over, and we had to wrap up a few story lines. But first and foremost was a commitment to this character who has given so much of herself, and the actor behind it, Nicole, giving so much of herself to this role. The last half of the episode really needed to unfold with her goodbye first and foremost in mind.

This is coming on the tail end of another big loss. Why lead into this finale by killing Joe [Zach Appelman]?

This is Sleepy Hollow, and epic is the name of the game … When you want to build a dynamic season ender, and you want to look at the season as a whole and what you might want to set up for a season to come, you take your shots as deep in the season as possible so that your audience is with you there emotionally.

What do you hope that fans take away from this episode?

I hope they see the durability of what this show has set out to do, which is to capture a genre that is so completely unique and like nothing on television, that has its roots in the birth of our nation and the promise of freedom and hope. And I hope that they recall Nicole’s brilliant performance, and don’t ever let that go, and appreciate the need for a show like this to evolve. We have a lot more stories to tell. We have built a nice world here, and we’re very hopeful that we will be able to tell those stories.

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