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Bates Motel postmortem: Behind tonight's shocking ending

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Cate Cameron/A&E Networks

Spoiler alert: This post contains plot points from the May 9 episode of Bates Motel.

The moment Bates Motel fans have been waiting for has finally arrived… we think. In the final moments of Monday’s episode, Norman set everything in motion to kill Norma (and himself). After turning on the furnace in the basement, Norman shut off all the vents in the house, except the one in Norma’s bedroom. He then climbed into bed with his mother and shut his eyes.

Cut to Romero arriving home just in time to drag them both from the room. However, as the episode came to an end, only Norman woke up. Could this be the end for Norma? And why did the show decide to handle her death this way? EW spoke with Bates Motel showrunners Kerry Ehrin and Carlton Cuse, along with actor Freddie Highmore, about the monumental episode.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: There are so many big moments in this episode. I want to start with Dylan and Norman. What’s going through Norman’s mind when his brother essentially says goodbye?

FREDDIE HIGHMORE: I think there’s a lot of confusion at the beginning. The shock of it really stays with him all the way through until the end of the scene. It’s this rollercoaster that he’s on and he doesn’t quite grasp how grave the situation is until after, when he has the conversation with Norma and he realizes exactly what’s happened.

KERRY EHRIN: It’s part of the convergence of events that leads him to a place where he feels like there’s no way out, there’s no way to fix everything anymore. 

Is Dylan saying goodbye? Is he capable of giving up on his brother?

EHRIN: I think in the moment.

CARLTON CUSE: Yeah, for the time being. I think that he’s trying to try on a new role. As an independent man with his own sort of budding family unit, he has a familial identity now that’s separate from his original family for the first time. I think that he’s trying to separate himself out because he just emotionally can’t deal with the craziness. 

What was the significance of Norman finding the suitcase?

HIGHMORE: Self-awareness.

CUSE: Norman discovers that either he or his mother has done something truly, truly horrific and it’s such a painful and deep wound that it’s kind of a seismic event in their lives where he realizes that their relationship — or something — has led to this horrible external event and he’s just destroyed by it.

EHRIN: And especially on the heels of having been in Pineview and actually investing in getting better and believing that he is actually making improvement and believing maybe he imagined the stuff about his mom, that it didn’t really happen. And then to suddenly be smacked with that.

Cate Cameron/A&E Networks

You all obviously knew this big moment with Norma and Norman was inevitable, but I’m interested in how you came to the decision to have Norman potentially kill her in this very peaceful manner?

EHRIN: It was very much born out of the characters. We asked, “In what possible circumstance would Norman ever hurt Norma or kill her?” And what we really love about it is that he is actually trying to fix things for them in the only way he can think of. How he goes about that is in the most gentle way possible and that was a specific choice because obviously there’s going to be ideas or expectations about how that would go, but he wanted to take care of her and we wanted to see the bond between them before it happened. 

CUSE: Kerry and I have talked about this for a long time. It was a huge moment in the overall architecture of the five-year plan for the show and right from the beginning, we felt strongly that the story needed to have a beginning, middle, and end. That end would sort of collide with the events that the audience knows from the movie Psycho, but we weren’t going to deliver the exact same sequence of events. So we knew that the end of season 4, we were going to have this big turn but then in working out the stories day-to-day, this solution arose as being the one that made the most sense in terms of how Norman would actually make this attempt. 

How did you come to the decision that Norman himself would be a part of this, that he too was going to die if his plan worked?

KERRY: Again. it comes from the characters. When you spend a lot of time with characters, they start telling you what they’re going to do or how they’re going to do things and it just makes sense. He loves her so much he’s not going to kill her and then stay in the world. The whole goal was to alleviate both of their emotional pain and to stop trying and be eternally together. It came from day one, when Carlton and I felt this was a weird love story and to get to this point, we wanted it to have a kind of Romeo and Juliet quality. 

Cate Cameron/A&E Networks

Was this always happening in season 4?

CUSE: Yeah, very much. We had a very specific plan for what season 5 was and what Norman would be like in season 5 and what would be going on, so we wanted to deal with the issue of Norma at the end of season 4 as a way to set the stage for the final season of the show. The funny thing about Bates Motel is that it’s ostensibly a show about a kid who becomes a serial killer, but in our minds, it’s really a tragic love story about two people who you kind of are hoping against hope can summount the odds and be together. It’s like Titanic: you know the ship goes down but when you’re watching Leo and Kate, you’re hoping that somehow they make it. 

Freddie, I’m interested in your reaction to this. You knew it was coming, but when it finally came together, what were your thoughts?

HIGHMORE: Until the episode goes out, it doesn’t quite feel like the event has taken place. It doesn’t feel real until that final moment has occurred of it being shown. But what I loved about the ending of 9 was the moment of seeing the two of them genuinely connected and happy and tinged with this sense of foreboding of what Norman’s actually going to do, the idea that he wants them to go out on this happy note and we see that he’s right: They are really great together and that she and he both feel incredibly low at the end of 9 for differing reasons, but once they’re there in bed together, their love connects them and allows them to briefly let go of all of those thoughts and live in this dream, in this fantasy world of going to Hawaii and what that represents to them.

Bates Motel airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on A&E.