The Good Wife has always been a show about lying. From the minute Peter Florrick Eliot Spitzered that line of malarkey in the pilot about how he needed to atone for his personal failings with his wife, Alicia, the series unspooled into an irresistible tale of heartbreaking deception and unconscionable betrayal. But now it’s time for everyone to face a cold, hard truth: The critically beloved drama is coming to a halt. In anticipation of its finale (Sunday ay 9 p.m. ET on CBS), we gave The Good Wife creators Michelle and Robert King the kind of grilling Will Gardner would be proud of about the five-time Emmy-winning series.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So we’ve come to the end. What should every series finale achieve? What do you hope yours gives your viewers?
ROBERT KING: It should be surprising but inevitable. That’s a very difficult bar to hit, so… be kind. I hope viewers will feel like they want to start at the beginning of the series again. I hope it’s like Finnegans Wake, where the end leads them right back to the beginning.
When did you figure out how you wanted to end the series?
MICHELLE: We started The Good Wife because we needed a job. When we found ourselves picked up for a second season, we decided to write the show as if it were a story — with a beginning, middle, and an end.
ROBERT: We wrote the first 13 episodes as if it was a self-contained story, because when we did a series on ABC a few years earlier [2006’s In Justice], it never went past the 13th episode. But when we thought that things were clicking on The Good Wife and the cast felt like it was clicking, then we could write with some security that we could go further. It’s almost mindless to keep writing as if there is no end. That’s not really storytelling. That’s just like trying to imitate life or about making money. It helped us kind of feel that there was some shape to the series.
Is there a particular legacy you hope the show has?
ROBERT: Yikes, that’s hard to think about. I do think people will think of the show in terms of its multidimensional female characters. It might also be thought of as a gravestone on the 22-episodes-a-year paradigm. 22 a year is just too difficult, too backbreaking. But it would be nice if people thought of it in terms of its cynicism and its comedy; that’s what we found most fun.
Looking back, which characters surprised you most?
MICHELLE: Diane. When we conceived the show, she was more at odds with Alicia. Both Diane and Cary, at the very beginning, were slightly antagonistic toward Alicia. But we have a fault of falling in love with our antagonists. So that plan fell out the window.
ROBERT: People also seemed to enjoy Kalinda’s ambiguity, which is very odd for TV. TV always seems to want to move toward satisfying mysteries, not keeping mysteries alive. But whenever we failed Kalinda, it was for being too explicit about who she was. I think even though we have to commit to an idea when we write a script, it’s better that the audience have their own instincts of what it’s about.
Do you have a favorite character or, at least, favorite season?
MICHELLE: All the seasons are our children, so it’s hard to favor one over the other, but still, the first half of the fourth season probably won’t get into college and might live over the garage and work odd jobs for a while.
Did you ever consider changing the title sequence?
ROBERT: After the first season, we cut something together that was more Internet-based because we thought the newsprint dots were kind of dated. We liked it and thought it worked really well. Then we sent it by CBS and they said, “Are you kidding? It’s terrible.” They weren’t necessarily wrong. I think what they were going for was the familiarity, because there are so many other elements of the show that kept changing.
Do you know how many iterations of Lockhart/Gardner there have been?
ROBERT: It’s got to be five, right? Stern, Lockhart & Gardner was the start, and then Lockhart, Gardner & Associates. And then the next one would have had to have been when Will died — Lockhart & Lee, maybe — and then Harry comes back. Then Alicia comes back. So I think it’s got to be six. [Ed. note: It’s actually 10: Stern, Lockhart & Gardner; Lockhart/Gardner; Lockhart, Gardner & Bond; Lockhart & Associates; Lockhart & Lyman; LG; Florrick, Agos & Associates; Lockhart Gardner Canning; Florrick, Agos & Lockhart; and Lockhart, Agos & Lee.]
And now let’s get to Alicia specifically. Why doesn’t she have any friends?
MICHELLE: I would argue that she does. I mean, Lucca is her friend. We’ve been trying to play the truth of Alicia’s life, which is that she has had friends. Those friends have been in the workplace because Alicia hasn’t really had time for friends. She’s been a single mother.
ROBERT: We didn’t want to rely on what we felt were tropes of this kind of “troubled-woman show,” like going into therapy or having bitch sessions with two or three friends whom she sat and drank wine with. Alicia’s problem was a very singular one. Also, this show is about lying. And I think part of the show acknowledges the fact that people are rarely telling the truth even when they’re trying to be honest. And so I thought, “If we have her sit down with a friend, it would be a friendship of lies,” which I think was not necessarily where we wanted to go deeper
Is Alicia an alcoholic?
MICHELLE: Absolutely not. I think she likes her wine and tequila, but no, she has never suffered an alcohol-related problem. She’s never missed work. She’s never been arrested. She’s never done anything because of alcohol that she regretted.
ROBERT: She had this great episode with Lucca where she confesses, “I find myself drinking more and more.” And I do think that she, in theory, is on the verge of depression. And I don’t know if you distinguish between those two.
Was keeping Will Gardner’s death a secret your proudest moment?
MICHELLE: We were very fortunate in that the crew honored the show. Everyone who knew, including background actors, honored the show. They knew for months, and everyone chose to keep it quiet. It was really the nicest thing in the world.
ROBERT: What is so amazing is that we had to shoot three to four other episodes in which it was very clear that Will had died. And background was very privy to the fact that Will was dead in episodes 16, 17, 18, and 19 before we broadcast episode 15. We also credit CBS, which really understood the need, creatively, to keep it secret. We’re still a little confused by how they did it.
Where the hell did the shows within the show — Darkness at Noon and The Cow With No Country — come from?
ROBERT: We like making fun of things. There have been all these True Detective kinds of shows, which have a very dark spin, that felt like they were all written by suburban boys who didn’t really know true darkness but were writing toward what their interests were at the moment, or about what was cool. So we thought we’d make fun of that by doing it as a “Previously on…” at the beginning of the episode. It would be slightly confusing for a moment for the audience, as though they had turned to the wrong channel. Then we kept it going because Charlie Pollock, who played the lead in that, was so fun. Then on one of our vacations we saw War Horse, and we thought it was one of the dumbest things we had ever seen. Sorry to all the people who love War Horse! But that’s what made us decide to do the Cow With No Country satire.
You’re famous for your deep bench of Broadway-pedigreed guest stars. Is there anyone you couldn’t get?
MICHELLE: We did approach Lin-Manuel Miranda for a role, but unfortunately he wasn’t available, which was just a stab to the heart.
ROBERT: It’s very odd talking about who we wanted when, in fact, we got so much of what we wanted. We’d say, “Let’s try to write up a character that’s like a Wallace Shawn type,” and then we’d go to Wallace Shawn and hear that he wanted to do it. I don’t think Michelle and I will ever come upon that again. It was just a combination of good subject matter, a good place to shoot, a good lead actress in Julianna Margulies, and a crew that really made it easy for actors to come back again and again. So we shouldn’t really want more than what we got.
One last question. The current presidential campaign: Does it make you wish you had one more season?
ROBERT: Actually, our upcoming show, BrainDead, gives us a better prism for looking at this election. The country has gone insane, and the best way to address it is with a show about bugs eating politicians’ brains. Makes sense to us.
A version of this story originally appeared in the April 22/29 issue of EW.