By Mandi Bierly
April 09, 2014 at 05:10 AM EDT
Prashant Gupta/FX

Spoiler alert! If you haven’t watched Justified‘s season 5 finale, “Restitution” written by Fred Golan and Dave Andron and directed by Adam Arkin, stop reading now. As he’s done throughout the season, showrunner Graham Yost takes us inside the writers room. (If you want to jump right to season 6 talk, click here.)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’ve said before that the writers were thinking of the show’s final season when you sat down to map out this year. How early on did you decide that season 5 would end with Ava between Raylan and Boyd?

GRAHAM YOST: We hit on that fairly early in the break of this season. I think we might have even thought about it when we were just loosely kicking ideas around at the end of the previous season. We tend to gather a little bit and think, “Well, what are we gonna do next year?” It just seemed like a really cool thing if Raylan was the reason that Ava got out of prison, and the reason he got her out of prison was to go after the criminals of Kentucky and specifically Boyd, and how is that gonna play out?

It surprised a lot of fans, including me, that she stayed in prison the entire season, but you had to get her that desperate that she’d be willing to turn on Boyd to save herself. At this point, she realized her only options to stay alive in jail were to remain in solitary or fight for her life every day.

We needed to get her desperate, but we also wanted to see her on her own and show that she is capable of surviving — it’s just really tough. Our idea was Ava keeps her head above water, just barely, but there’s only so many moves she can make, and she ends up right up against it. She’s done everything she can. We introduced the notion in the previous episode of Raylan understanding how bad her situation is. Our feeling is that he has two thoughts: One is that she could help them get Boyd, although he’s gotta question how much he can really trust her. But the other thing is, he doesn’t like to see her in jail. As much as Raylan can talk about people riding the rap and all of that, I think he does care for Ava.

Let’s back up to the beginning of the hour. Darryl was cut loose and Gutterson was assigned to tail him. Darryl walked over and expressed concern about Gutterson’s comfort level if he had to sleep in his car, and Gutterson responded, “This may as well be a slow night in the champagne room for how comfortably erect I’m gonna be watching your bitch ass squirm about.” I love how for Gutterson, it always comes back to having an erection, a boner, a hard-on. Where does that come from? Because it’s awesome, and I look forward to it.

(Laughs) I don’t know. It’s one of those things that becomes self-propagating, you know. It’s worked in the past, let’s do it again. But now that you’ve said it, we’re never gonna do it again. You’ve ruined it. I’ve got to call Jacob [Pitts] right now.

Darryl’s smoking in that scene was also tremendous.

Michael [Rapaport] did a great job of smoking this season. (Laughs) There was a lot of gusto in his cigarette smoking. It was a big gesture. There was lots of smoke and big burning amber and all of that. That scene was pretty much the same from the first draft on. And then you get those two actors together and there’s a little bit of magic. We loved that scene, too.

I see why you were so adamant last week that I not pronounce Jimmy dead at the end of that episode.

Because he was gonna be soon!

Finding out that he tried to escape as Boyd arrived at the bar to warn him that the cartel was there made you love Jimmy even more. Way to twist the knife.

I know. We wanted Boyd’s situation to be desperate. You might forget exactly who it was that shot Jimmy, but that’s who Boyd shoots in the house later on. So he exacts his revenge. In the first writing of it, we just had, “Jimmy gets shot.” And it was Arkin who came up with the idea of, let’s shoot him through the duct tape, and let’s not have him die immediately. So it becomes this extended thing: As he’s dying, he knows he’s dying, and Boyd can’t do anything, and Boyd is just powerless. We thought that was pretty wonderful the way Adam did it.

The duct tape around the mouth — he couldn’t scream and you’re imagining the blood building up.

Yeah. And Jesse [Luken] didn’t have to memorize any lines that episode, and yet he did a spectacular job just acting with his eyes and his body.

Did he get a goodbye cake? And if so, what obscenity did you request this time? (Ed note: You might recall Costco refused to write Wade’s line, “Can I get you a blowjob?” for James Le Gros’ farewell cake.)

There was no obscenity, but I believe they got a screenshot of him being bitten by a snake from the previous season and had that be the top of the cake.

The cartel was going to kill Boyd, but not before he lured Darryl to them as well. While Boyd replaced Raylan’s name in his phone with Darryl C. and texted him to set up a meet, Raylan was determined to prove to Wendy that Kendal was innocent. I loved how Jacob Lofland’s hands shook just enough that he couldn’t drink the cocoa Raylan brought him for their chat about their first kills.

A couple things on that scene: There was a shot where he was really shaking, and we said, “That’s too much. Let’s just have it be the one move when he’s holding the cocoa.” But Arkin got in there on the set and kneeled down and worked with Jacob. I think the kid is a really good actor, and I think that Adam gave him a lot of good experience just in that one episode. The whole season working with Tim [Olyphant], Alicia [Witt], Michael [Rapaport], and AJ [Buckley] — I think he’s learned a lot. That scene was just about everything anyone could ask for.

And we learned more about Raylan as he talked about Arlo making him kill a feral pig when he was 11. How he felt just as sick to his stomach when he first shot someone on the job. How he wonders if he became a Marshal to prove to his father that he was badass or just to spite him.

That was a lot of Tim working with Fred. Fred did those scenes, and Tim had a lot of ideas: Let’s make it about this, let’s make it about that. And that’s where they ended up.

Once Wendy saw that Kendal wasn’t shaken enough about shooting Art, so he mustn’t have done it, Raylan wanted her to wear a wire and get Darryl to confess. Ultimately, she used her phone to record an emotional heart-to-heart with Darryl at Audrey’s. Why did she tell Darryl that she’d recorded him? Did she want him to come at her so she could kill him?

I mean, listen, there are sometimes where we leave out the connective tissue, just feeling like we don’t want to slow down to do that and we believe that the audience will catch up anyway and they’ll be satisfied. But the connective tissue that we didn’t show was her contacting Raylan and saying, “I’m going in, and I’m going to record him on my phone,” so Raylan is getting there with all due haste. So she knows that Raylan is gonna show up. I think that’s one of the reasons why she told Darryl. But I like your version, too. I do think there was part of her that just wanted to be done with this, and the only way to be done is if they had a fatal confrontation.

Was that always the way you envisioned Darryl going out?

There was a time in the early drafts of that scene where we had Darryl pick up on the idea that something is going on, and he’s behind the bar, and he goes for the shotgun, and it’s not there, and she’s got it. And then she was gonna blow him away with the shotgun. A little bit Chekhovian — the shotgun introduced in the fifth episode will go off in the 13th. But it became too laborious to get there, so we just went for the hidden gun. But I would say there were different versions of her tone and her approach to him. We had to shoot that scene before the rest of the episode because Michael was going off to do a pilot for DreamWorks with Ed Burns. So we had him up to a certain point, and then we had to put him on a plane and that was it. His last day of shooting was doing the car stunt — the big crash and pulling away from Gutterson. So we had to shoot this big confrontation a week before the rest of the episode. I joked with Rapaport that he was shot in the crotch because he was leaving the show early. “You know, if you’d left on time, I might not have had to shoot you there.” But that wasn’t it. It just felt right for Wendy to do that to him. And he just played it so well.

Raylan did show up, and it’s not like he let her shoot him… and yet he kinda did. How should we read that?

I think exactly that: he didn’t but he kinda did. To us, it’s very different from Nicky Augustine where he conspired with another criminal to have that happen. He could’ve been more vociferous and said, “Wendy, put the gun down.” One thing that Tim [Olyphant] loves to do — and that Raylan loves to do — is to have the criminals play by their own rules. And in this case, Darryl was all about family. You don’t want me to get in the middle of family, do you? So you two gotta work it out. And that’s how Wendy worked it out.

Let’s get back to Boyd: He tried to lure Alberto’s men to his side by promising to party with them in Vegas. They pretended he’d succeeded, and then they laughed at him. I can’t see Boyd Crowder in Vegas.

We think Boyd’s been to Vegas. He has been to Iraq and Kuwait. He’s a Harlan boy, but we believed it well enough. We’d had a version earlier on, and it was gonna even be in a previous episode, where Boyd would actually be successful in talking them into it, and then I just said, “Nah…” and then we all kind of agreed: Let’s not have him be successful. Let’s have him just always be bad till the Marshals come to his rescue.

Yes, so Raylan finally responds to his texts calling for a meet at Ava’s house. Rachel and Gutterson showed up instead and we got a shootout. Handcuffed Boyd killed the guy you mentioned earlier with a cool shot behind his back.

The behind-the-back shot was me. I like coming up with that weird action stuff. And actually, I had said to Dave, “Can he be looking in a mirror, so his body would be facing one way and he’d be shooting another,” but this sort of twisted version was better. We did have another scene where Rachel and Gutterson are in the car, and they get the call from Raylan and off they go [to Ava’s]. It was a great scene. The fun thing was Rachel saying, “Are you sure you’re gonna be okay?” And Gutterson says something like, “I’ll aim for the guy in the middle,” meaning he is seeing double right now from the accident [when Darryl lost the tail]. Nothing that bourbon and Ibuprofen won’t cure. So you see him later on in the aftermath scene popping a couple Ibuprofen. But we just thought it was more fun to have that Town Car pull up and then be surprised when they came out.

I also liked the way Rachel touched Boyd’s jacket when she sweetly told him she was going to use the file Raylan has on him to make him pay. Was that touch scripted?

No. That’s Erica.

So here’s my question: Boyd is a smart man. Rachel just made that threat, and then the next thing he knows, Ava’s miraculously out of jail because her cellmate and the guard have recanted their stories. Does he know something’s up? Are you gonna play with that?

We’re gonna play with that. It was not our feeling that Boyd would have connected those dots. Because I don’t think he takes Rachel’s threat all that seriously. I don’t even think he takes it seriously from Raylan, not entirely. I think Boyd has a little bit of, “Okay, well if you could’ve done something, you already would’ve.”

Art is now awake, and it seemed like he and Raylan are good. Art revealed that Raylan’s transfer to Florida has come through, and Raylan was ready to go.

There’s that scene where Raylan’s talking to Winona — that’s our bookend for the season of Skype calls. It was Dave’s idea that Winona just suddenly start crying — she is just so happy that he’s coming — and that it has an effect on Raylan. We wanted to see this genuine emotion between them. And then it was Natalie [Zea] who said, basically, “Can I have a treacle cutter?” She was afraid of it getting too sappy. So Dave or Fred came up with, “So mama can finally get a nap.”

Is there a story behind the baby’s name, Willa?

There was a writer’s assistant on The Powers That Be named Willa, who I haven’t seen in 22 years or more. She showed up with her kids and husband in Monterey last week, so I got to see her.

NEXT: Setting up the final season, and wondering who’ll leave Harlan alive

When Raylan told Rachel and Vasquez that he was leaving, they asked him to help them go after Boyd for a RICO case before he heads to Florida.

One question you might have is, is Boyd really Vasquez’s target? We’ve established he has a really strong animosity towards Katherine Hale, so there will be more to play with all of that.

Well let’s talk about Boyd’s scene in the RV with Katherine, and Wynn, and Mikey.

And Mikey.

Katherine agreed that Boyd is lousy at running heroin, but she said from what she hears, he’s really good at robbing banks.

We wanted to bring Boyd back to being Boyd, and we wanted to be done with heroin, and we wanted to do something that was a little more dynamic and a little more fun. We just thought, well, he was pretty good at robbing banks. So let’s get back to that. The question that’ll come up is, well, what does that mean? Is it just a bank-robbing crew? Or is there something else going on? Is there a bigger score? And the only little hint I’ll give you there is that notion that Raylan is doing one more thing before he goes to Florida. We’re thinking of Art coming back to the office to do one more thing before he retires. We also look at Boyd, and Katherine, and Duffy as, if we do that one last big score, then we can all just go to the south of France — although I can’t imagine Boyd there. But anyway. There’s that thematic thrust of, “one more thing before I go.”

And as we’ve discussed before, that idea of “one more thing before I go” is like saying, “someone is going to die.”

(Shouts) “Mendoza!” Yeah. Before he goes off on his boat called Live-4-Ever.

Are we going to see Boyd robbing banks in differently areas next season or just in Kentucky?

What do you think? He’s gonna be robbing banks in Switzerland?

I just mean we saw him in Detroit, in Mexico this season. Are you focused on keeping him in Kentucky as much as possible in the final season?

Listen, I mean he could go to Tennessee and he could go to Ohio — all within a few hours drive. But it’s that world. The question is, how many banks? And what are we building towards?

Now we get to the final scene of the episode: Ava and Raylan met on the bridge, where we’ve seen Boyd do so much of his business over the years, to go over how she’ll turn state’s evidence.

Here’s the funny thing: So we’re watching it in post, and I said, “Can we lose those frogs?” And they said, “No, we own those frogs.” The frogs were ribbiting while they were shooting. And I said, “Well, what about the sound of the water? Can we bring that down?” And they said, “No, that was real water running under that bridge.” We’re in California. Water never runs under that bridge except for maybe two days a year. But there had been a storm earlier that week, and so there was water under the bridge for the first time, I think, since we’ve ever shot there. If you’re really paying attention, you can see raindrop marks on Raylan’s hat. A big storm front was coming through, so they had to hurry to get that in. As they were shooting the last shot, the rain started to come in and that was it.

The last two lines of the season are Ava admitting she’s scared and Raylan saying, “Don’t be. Everything’s gonna be fine.”

That’s Tim. “Everything’s gonna be fine.” I think that was just a brilliant idea. Because that just sets up, well, man, you just promised her, so you better deliver. So it’s gonna be an interesting season for him. And then the song: We took a break from [using a version of “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive”] in season 3.

And people were not happy. They like hearing that song in every season finale.

Exactly. We didn’t want them to where it absolutely has to be there, although I would say that it’s gonna pretty much have to be there next year. Although we’ll see, maybe we’ll just run it in the first episode. But I had as a goal from early on using a female cover of the song when a season would end with a dilemma for Ava. It really is the question: We know it’s gonna come down to Raylan and Boyd, but what’s gonna happen to Ava? And will she survive this story? Or will she be killed? It felt like almost more than any other time we’ve used it, it was appropriate. The singer is Ruby Friedman, and we heard that version three years ago at the end of season 2, but went with the Brad Paisley version, and then Dave Alvin last year. So it was time for Ruby, and it was actually written in the script that as Ava walks back to the car Ruby Friedman’s version kicked in.

It’s pretty badass and gets you geared up for the final season.

It’s the most percussive version of the song. It has a real drive to it. And also, she did this thing where her version of the song starts with voices a capella humming, and we use that as Raylan and Ava are about to part. [Justified composer Steve] Porcaro just managed to support that and really work his cue, his composition for that scene, right into the song. It ended up really coming together.

Ava’s in such an interesting position with Boyd now: She has to get close to him, but she can’t do it too quickly (which would be suspicious) — nor would she want to, as their reunion showed. Will we have a time jump to start the final season, or will we pick right up?

We haven’t decided. We may have a jump to get Art a little healthier faster. But we’ll see. Or they’ll just shoot him up with Miracle-Gro and he’ll just suddenly recover.

When will you head back into the writers room?

After the Fourth of July. That’s the plan.

We talk about this every year, whether Rachel and Gutterson will get more involved. This seems like the best chance now with the common goal of getting Boyd. 

They’ll be a lot more involved. I can’t tell you how heavy it’ll be. I don’t know how much we’ll do personal private stories, like Gutterson and his friend in season 4, how it came down to him and Colt (Ron Eldard). It may be something like that. It may be something different. But they are going to have more of an investment in the story. Rachel’s one of the driving forces behind Raylan being asked to stay.

We’ve already reported that Mary Steenburgen’s Katherine Hale will stick around for next season.

We’ve made a deal with Ms. Steenburgen, and it’s for a big chunk of the season.

Do you anticipate adding more new Bads or staying with the players we have in the game now?

I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a couple people who came in and achieved some kind of prominence. It’s a simple thing of math: If it’s just Boyd, and Wynn, and Katherine Hale, who exits when? And what do we do until that point?

At this point, do you know how you want the series to end, in terms of who lives and who dies?

Um… They’re all gonna get on a big party boat and go fishin’ in the Keys. We honestly don’t know. Tim and I were talking a couple of months ago, and a friend of his said, “‘You know, I could see this series ending with Raylan living, and I could see it ending with Raylan dying,’ and I don’t know what you’re gonna do.” And Tim said, “That’s fantastic.” So we’re really paying attention to that. So we don’t know what we’re gonna do. BUT, that said, every season, I or someone else in the writers room will come up with a version for the end and we’ll kick it around for a little bit. I had one version at the beginning of this season, then I went to a different one about halfway through. And then at the end, a couple writers said, “You know, what about that earlier version you had?” So we’ll see. We have been thinking about it for sure though.

UPDATE: Joelle Carter phoned Entertainment Weekly Radio (SiriusXM 105) to discuss the season finale. Here’s a clip.

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