By Mandi Bierly
March 26, 2013 at 12:00 PM EDT
Prashant Gupta/FX

Spoiler alert! If you haven’t watched this week’s episode of Justified, “Peace of Mind” written by Taylor Elmore and Leonard Chang and directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton, stop reading now. Season 4’s penultimate episode was a hunt for Ellen May (Abby Miller), and though Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) won, Nicky Augustine (Mike O’Malley) has one final play — and it involves Winona (Natalie Zea). As he’ll do throughout the season, showrunner Graham Yost takes us inside the writers’ room.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did you always know Winona would be having a girl, or was it a debate in the room?

GRAHAM YOST: The biggest debate of all this season was whether or not to kill Arlo, and as I’ve said, there were three phone calls with [FX president] John Landgraf about that, long discussions with Tim, probably spent half a day or more in the room discussing that. Shelby being Drew is next in line for a big discussion: It didn’t really require FX’s involvement, but it was a lot of time in the room just making sure that it tracked. And then the decision about boy or girl was a little shorter, but it was a big room discussion: The argument in favor of a boy is Raylan’s whole deal about being the son of a father — how would that be directly passed on or not on in his relationship with a boy. And then we just thought everyone’s expecting that, wouldn’t it be more interesting if it was a girl? When he said earlier on in the season, “We don’t know if it’s a boy, maybe the nonsense will end now if it’s a girl” — we hadn’t decided at that point. It also just set up that nice exchange between Raylan and Winona with him saying, “I don’t know sh– about girls,” and her saying something to the effect of, “Oh, that’s so sweet that you think that that’s surprising.”

Now when we talked last season, you said you’d never put the baby in jeopardy — but the final moment of the episode, when Picker is posing as a nice delivery man putting together a chair for Winona, seems to imply differently.

There will be follow through on that [in next week’s season finale], and it will be one of the best scenes we’ve ever done. But anyway. [Sighs] I can make those pronouncements, but when it comes down to it, it all depends on how you do it.

On a lighter note, Raylan starts this episode entering the office to applause for bringing Drew in. Rachel’s comment asking him if he’ll now get a haircut, that was a shout-out to fans who’ve been discussing it all season?

It was a shout-out to fans, absolutely.

Shelby says he’ll only talk after they bring Ellen May into protective custody.

Stepping back for a second, we had decided fairly early on that episode 9 would be the one we’d found out who Drew is. Then we thought 10 would be the getting of Drew. And then we came up with the idea for 11 of okay, you’ve got him, that’s great, but bad guys are coming, can you get him out of Harlan? That left us with two episodes, and at one point, we were thinking that the Ellen May story would wrap up at the same time as the more personal threat to Raylan in the final episode, and that it would be this big cross-cutting back and forth. We just thought it would be better if we separated the two and just had 12 be the resolution of the Ellen May story and the resolution of the Colt and Gutterson story.

Let’s talk about Ellen May’s scene with Limehouse, when she tells him she thinks she’s going to die either way, so she’s just going to sit there and let him decide whatever he wants. It was the smartest we’ve ever seen her.

When [episode 10 writers Dave Andron and VJ Boyd] came up with Ellen May spitting on Ava, we just thought wow, we’re showing some gumption. We’re showing that this person has her own real feelings and now backed into a corner, we see who she really is. This is something that Tim [Olyphant] always loves, which contributed to the Constable Bob beat-down in episode 11, which is when characters are really backed into a corner, you see who they are. She doesn’t have to do anything heroic or daring — she’s not going to suddenly escape and do some trickery, although we played with that — we just liked the idea of her just standing up for herself and speaking the truth.

A part of me didn’t believe that Limehouse had let her go, even when the Marshals showed up and he told them they could search Noble’s for her, and even when he told Ava she wasn’t there and didn’t take the money.

We didn’t want to resolve it until you find out after the fact. Then you realize that she did have an effect on him, and it was really a culmination for Limehouse of hold on, all my problems stem from getting involved with all of this stuff outside the holler, and that has to end. He’s reflecting back on one of the themes of the season — the mistakes you make when you think you’re doing the right thing for good reasons, like trying to secure the future or whatever. That felt real, that he could make a choice that was more principled. At the heart of it, I’ve always felt that Limehouse is a principled man. That doesn’t mean he won’t do really harsh things, but when it comes down to it, while everyone has all sorts of competing motives and they lie, strangely enough, Limehouse is pretty straightforward right from the beginning.

Another thing I kept wondering was whether Boyd was going to suggest that he and Ava take the time to get married now, even though there really wasn’t any. Like, just for a second, when Boyd told Ava that it all comes back to her (but meant they had to take Ellen May from Limehouse) and that they should do now what they should’ve done a long time ago (but meant get rid of Delroy’s body).

That wasn’t the intention on that. Though I will acknowledge that for a long time, we thought that in the finale, they would be in the process of getting married. But it just didn’t track out, and Walton [Goggins] came up with an idea for the subsequent season — which I’m not going to tell you — that we thought would be more Justified, more like our show.

NEXT: Julia Roberts gets a shout-out

Is there a story behind Raylan and Art’s Julia Roberts conversation when they’re talking about whether they should go get Ellen May?

No, that’s just Tim and Nick [Searcy], with Taylor and Leonard, just kind of riffing. We liked it because Elmore [Leonard] does it all the time. In Out of Sight, when George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez, or Jack Foley and Karen Sisco, are in the trunk, they talk about movies. We don’t want to do it too much, but that’s a very Elmore Leonard thing. Just like in episode 11, there’s a reference to The Wild Bunch, and in episode 13 [the season finale], there’s a reference to one of Elmore’s favorite books/movies that sort of got him started on this whole crime fiction thing.

Because Limehouse wouldn’t deal with Johnny, Nicky decided to give Boyd the money to buy Ellen May and offered Boyd his cousin Johnny in return. Tell me about the meet at Johnny’s bar.

Various version on that. I mean at one point, it was Nicky going to Audrey’s because we needed to set up something else, and he was going to take Johnny. But then it was like, no, let’s have it at the bar. Then, where are these characters now: Boyd going into that situation is going to come in with guns out, and the bad guys are gonna have their guns out, and then we just needed to settle everything down quickly.

Did you always know that Ava would suggest she go to Noble’s alone to make the deal with Limehouse?

No, we had longer versions of the script, and we needed to pare it down. We had versions where Boyd and Nicky go and try to make the attempt and Ava’s already been there. It just sort of boiled down to this, and there was a logic to it that was pretty solid, so it seemed pretty simple for Ava to go make the pitch.

Boyd’s grin and line “Well, what are we drinkin’?” — was that scripted or something from Walton?

I don’t think that was scripted.

And Nicky referring to Limehouse as “Lemonhead?”

Mike did a run, he did like five different versions.

When the Marshals went to Noble’s, you had Limehouse and Rachel go at it.

Just working off the history, where they had a nice exchange in season 3. In a way, it almost harkens back to season 1, when Rachel had an exchange with Clarence Williams III [who guested as Mr. Jones] in the episode when they were looking for Rawley Pike [Alan Ruck], the dentist fugitive. It’s that thing of oh, so you think you can talk to me because you’re African-American and I’m African-American, when in fact, you’re working with “the man” and you are every bit as much involved in screwing me over as any of these other people. And her response is, kind of, “Absolutely, that’s my job.” So we liked that interplay. They’re fun together.

The Tim-Rachel-Raylan scene where they’re talking about whether to search Noble’s: Loved when Tim agreed with Raylan that it had to happen because Limehouse had been rude to Rachel.

It’s something that got played with. It’s one of those scenes that’s just a little bit of business that has to be accomplished for the story, which is, “We’re going in this direction, and you’re staying here,” because we needed to separate Gutterson from Raylan and Rachel so that Gutterson could go on his own to track down Ellen May and then run into Colt. It was as simple as that. So we needed a logic for it, and it made sense. And then we just try to make it fun.

You mentioned in episode 10’s postmortem that you were going to have Limehouse be more judgmental of Ava’s dark side then, but decided to save that scene for 12.

In 10, when she said “How much for the both of them?”, there had been a scene right before the exchange when Limehouse is talking to Ava about, “What the hell has happened to you?” and Ava’s saying, “Your hands aren’t any cleaner than mine.” We just didn’t need it in 10, because we knew we were doing this in 12. We thought it was better to concentrate it in one scene than to play it out over two episodes. Similarly in 10, there had been a scene between Limehouse and Ellen May that we shot where she’s sort of saying, “Well, what are you gonna do with me?” and we thought, you know what, we’re gonna do that in 12, so let’s pull that scene.

When Limehouse let Ellen May go, she went to Nicky Cush’s. I was expecting a conspiracy theorist to have a panic room.

We had played with that. That was a set we built, so we had certain limitations on what we could do. Man, we went back and forth, we had versions where Nicky imprisoned them in a locked bedroom and all this stuff, and it just became too convoluted. We had Raylan coming to the scene at some point. It was just, you know what, we don’t need that, let’s keep Raylan and Boyd apart. We always have to deal with the underlying Marshal logic, which is any of the stuff that’s going down, if Raylan runs into Boyd, he has the right to arrest him just for being anywhere near it. Then we just came up with this odd little showdown.

There’s a reference to the North Hollywood Shootout.

If you do a Google search on North Hollywood Shootout, you’ll see footage. These two guys were heavily armored and heavily armed, and it took the cops a long time to take them down. The debate was what do you do in this situation, and one of things that someone posited is, you shoot for the head, because their heads aren’t armored, and also the feet, because it’s very hard to armor feet. So that was the explanation.

Could we see Cush again?

We could. He lives.

Meanwhile, Raylan came to Johnny’s bar and got past Jimmy rather swiftly.

I think that there had been more dialogue with Jimmy, and it was just funnier to go faster. It’s also just fun the way he grabs the gun and gives it to Rachel. It’s just bing, bang, boom, and stepping up the competence again of Raylan.

After Raylan was a dick to Jimmy, and heard that Ellen May was at the church when Boyd called him, Raylan headed off and told Rachel to decide what to do with Johnny. What was her decision?

You will find it out by the fact that no one talks about it. We are leading the audience to believe that she let him go.

NEXT: The original sin

When did you decide everyone would catch up to Ellen May at the church?

Pretty early on in the breaking of 12. It all just sort of seemed to come back to that. We wanted to involve Cassie, we wanted to involve the notion of confession, we wanted Ellen May to get to a more accepting place with her faith in the universe. It felt like Boyd vs. Preacher Billy, the dear Joe Mazzello, was sort of an original sin for this season. It also helps carry on the sin of killing Delroy in the previous year. So it all seemed to feel like it happened there. And something that we’re proud of is Ellen May talking about being washed in his blood, and she says, “In Jesus’ blood, I mean, not the man I was party to killin’.” We all thought that was a pretty funny moment.

I loved how calm Abby Miller played Ellen May’s confrontation with Ava.

Gwyneth Horder-Payton did a great job directing the episode, she always brings a reality to it. And then also Taylor and Leonard. And the actors as well. There was a lot of debate about that scene, how it would play, what Ava’s attitude was, when does Colt come in, what’s Colt’s attitude — there was a lot of back and forth, a lot of discussion. Probably more discussion on that one scene than anything else in the episode, and probably more than most things in the season.

It’s interesting that Ava hears Ellen May in the process of confessing to Cassie, though she doesn’t mention her name, and still, she can’t shoot her.

We always knew that Ava wouldn’t do that, that when it came right down to it, that’s not who Ava is. That’s a simple line, she’ll go so far but no farther than that. That’s another case where you back a character into a corner and you find out who they really are.

Ava had a gun, so she could have put it on Gutterson when he arrived and helped Colt hold him until Boyd showed up. 

She would’ve been killed by a Marshal. I think she understands when the law comes in, everything changes. You’ll notice that she just sort of drifts away. If she were caught there by Gutterson with a gun, then she’s getting arrested. That little bit of math is something we have to do a lot. Make sure that Boyd doesn’t have a gun in this scene, otherwise he’s going away. Make sure that Ava doesn’t or that she doesn’t get caught. That’s a little of the fancy footwork we have to do.

Colt’s smoking break before his final showdown with Gutterson was a nice callback to when he killed Gutterson’s friend Mark.

A couple of weeks before we were headed into that episode, that whole exchange was pitched out by Ron Eldard. He had this idea for that scene. He knew that the scene with Mark was pretty strong, and he just liked the idea of this last cigarette and that he realized this was as far as he was gonna go. That’s a classic Western kind of thing, he knows it’s his last enjoyment of a moment of life.

I was expecting Colt to raise his gun at Ellen May, trying to at least get that job done, but it looked like he was trying to fire at Gutterson.

Yeah, there were versions where he pulled on her. This felt like the most resonant, the best version of a final confrontation with Gutterson. In episode 9, we had the confrontation between them at the church, and so we felt like it should end up back there.

And Gutterson took Colt’s sunglasses.

It was something that they came up with, and we left in. I was unsure about it, but if they’ve got a passion for it, let’s do it. Those sunglasses were something that Colt always wore outside. We needed him not to wear them in the church, because we needed to see his eyes in the final scene, but they were kind of identified with him. It’s something that both these veterans would understand and that goes back to WWII and long before that, which is the taking of a souvenir, a memento.

Cassie told Gutterson she’d hoped his bullet would find Boyd. Have we seen the last of her?

We have not seen the last of Cassie. We will see Cassie one more time.

Now we get back to Boyd and Ava — I loved the way he told her that he respected the way she handled the Ellen May situation on every level.

We shot that earlier in the episode [Laughs] so we hadn’t exactly landed on what Ava was going to do in the church confrontation scene, but we knew that she wasn’t going to kill Ellen May. It’s the bookend to when Boyd finds out that Ava killed Delroy, which is things are now not looking good in terms of the Delroy story, the aftermath, and he still supports her today, because he understands who she is and that’s one of the reasons he loves her: He doesn’t want to marry Lady Macbeth.

And then another sweet moment was when Raylan told Ellen May that Shelby was still looking out for her as he prepared to drive her to Lexington.

That was scripted. It was just that great bit of Jimmy calling him a dick, and he is so often to these people a real dick, and he is kind of a dick to her in the first two-thirds or three-quarters of that scene, and then he softens it up at the end with that.

The way Ellen May hugged Shelby, it made me worry about them for the finale.

I wouldn’t worry so much. The finale’s not about them. I hate doing this, but I’m gonna give you this one thing: That is the end of the Shelby-Ellen May story. It’s not the end of the ramifications of the Shelby story and the ramifications of the Ellen May story, but it is the end of their arc together.

I can’t believe they get a happy ending!

I mean, he’s going off into WitSec and she’s going to be protected for a while, that’s set up early on in the finale. They’re not going off to Mexico, so it’s not a complete happy ending.

Read more:

‘Justified’ postmortem: EP Graham Yost on the fun of ‘Decoy,’ more Tarantino homages, and the character he’s sorry won’t return

‘Justified’ EP Graham Yost talks ‘Get Drew’ (and Tarantino and ‘Brady Bunch’ homages) in our weekly postmortem

‘Justified’ EP Graham Yost talks Drew Thompson reveal in our weekly postmortem

‘Justified’ postmortem: EP Graham Yost talks Arlo’s death

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