By Natalie Abrams
April 19, 2018 at 11:12 PM EDT
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Warning: This story contains major spoilers from the series finale of Scandal. Read at your own risk.

Most of Scandal’s fearless Gladiators ultimately got a happy ending Thursday, finally taking down Cyrus and ensuring that Mellie would stay in the White House for years to come — but not everyone made it out of the series finale alive.

In the wake of Olivia (Kerry Washington) going public with the news that black-ops organization B613 has secretly been controlling the White House for more than 30 years, the whole team of Gladiators was called in to testify. But after Lonnie (Michael O’Neill) killed himself to ensure Olivia (Kerry Washington) would get that closed-door hearing about B613, David Rosen (Joshua Malina) was basically reinstated on the case, so Cyrus (Jeff Perry) sent Jake (Scott Foley) to kill him.

Though David Rosen appeared to initially escape death by effectively talking Jake out of shooting him, Cyrus pretended to offer a confession, but instead poisoned David. That’s right, the white-hat-wearing attorney general of the United States did not survive the series finale.

“He was really the last good, pure person there,” executive producer Shonda Rhimes told EW ahead of a live table reading and panel benefitting the Actors Fund, which was moderated by EW’s Henry Goldblatt. “And for that to happen, he was the last hero they had left, and in that sense, it felt necessary.”

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Malina actually found out the truth about Rosen’s fate the night before the table read, during a phone call with Rhimes. “We had a great conversation,” Rhimes said. “He was actually kind of excited and honored, which for Josh was amazing. It was a slightly emotional phone conversation for us, and it was lovely.”

“At the time I was told,” Malina said, “My heart starting pounding in a way that I never would’ve predicted, which was revealing to me that my buy-in was much deeper than I realized, that this would actually land with some kind of emotional impact on me. Once I had a moment to process it and think about it, I was delighted. I feel like in the universe of Scandal, it makes all kinds of sense. I’ve always argued that David was among the better people, and the better people don’t fare well int he universe of Scandal, so I thought it made a lot of sense. When I ultimately saw the script, I was delighted about what Shonda had written for me.”

Shooting his death scene, however, was physically difficult, and ultimately took roughly five to six hours to film. “I was delighted that they had a stunt double on hand, but we never used him,” Malina said. “It was so physically demanding that I didn’t have too much time to think about what it meant emotionally, so I just saw it as a physical challenge. I knew I still had scenes to film after it that would take place earlier in the episode.”

The rest of the cast found out the shocking news at the table read. “They had tissues set up all over the tables, and we used them all,” Washington says. “I was proud of our writers, I was like, ‘Good for them, all the way to the end, they are going for it.’”

But Cyrus didn’t end up in the Oval, as Rowan (Joe Morton) ended up testifying against him, ultimately landing Jake behind bars and forcing Cyrus’ resignation. While Abby (Darby Stanchfield) loses out on a happy ending with David dead, her fellow Gladiators do get to stand in the sun. Quinn (Katie Lowes) and Charlie (George Newbern) get married, and live happily ever after with Huck (Guillermo Diaz) by their side.

True to Washington’s tease that the ending would be somewhat open-ended, the series finale closed sometime in the future, in which Olivia Pope’s portrait is hanging in the National Portrait Gallery, meaning Olivia does someday make it to the White House, either as POTUS or first lady — but it’s up to the audience to decide which.

“There’s a moment at the end of the episode where you know that she’s sort of heading off into her future, and so it felt like the right way to go because we’re not going to say what that future is,” Rhimes said. “I know there are people who are like, ‘I wanted her to end up with a man,’ and that’s just not a thing I’m going to write for any character. I can’t teach a woman that her job in life is to end up with a man as a happy ending to a story — ever. Even if she can be happy in a relationship, that’s not going to be the ending of anybody’s story ever, whether or not she’s going to fall in love and be happy. So that wasn’t going to be a thing we were going to do.”

Side note: Bellamy Young, who plays Mellie Grant, revealed to EW that Rhimes’ daughter Harper is among the duo of young women looking at Olivia’s portrait.

According to Washington, there is a definitive answer as to whether Olivia is POTUS, but we’ll never find out. “I thought it was really special,” Washington said. “I love that she left us wondering. She says she knows exactly what it means, and maybe the other writers do, but we don’t, and I think that’s pretty fantastic that we get to leave with questions, we get to leave with the gift of using our own imaginations to complete this story.”

Check back for more Scandal series finale coverage on EW.

Shonda Rhimes’ political drama: Sex! Murder! Olivia’s suits!
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