By Shirley Li
January 18, 2019 at 09:00 PM EST
David Giesbrecht/Netflix

WARNING: The following contains spoilers for season 2 of Marvel’s The Punisher. Read at your own risk!

Forget Pete Castiglione — Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) is fully the Punisher now. At the end of The Punisher season 2, Frank chooses to embrace the skull, to stop hiding, and to embark on his one-man crusade to punish those who deserve it once and for all.

Before he did so, though, he tied up some pivotal loose ends: He finally killed Billy Russo (Ben Barnes), said goodbye to Amy (Giorgia Whigham), cut ties with Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah), and even told Karen (Deborah Ann Woll) not to involve herself with his mess anymore. It’s a 180 from where Frank began the season, and below, Bernthal dives into why Frank chooses his new path, what it was like filming his final scene with Barnes, and what he’d love to see more of if the series nabs a third season.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you react to reading Billy’s death scene? It’s so quiet, compared to their showdown at the end of the first season.
JON BERNTHAL: 
I think there’s all kinds of things behind [that]. Billy Russo is the last person remaining from his old life. Obviously there’s Curtis, but Billy was a part of his family, so it’s a loaded thing. I think the reason why he kept him alive in the first season was to punish Billy, to make him know loss, and I think there’s a lot of regret in making that decision. I think he knows that Billy’s caused so much death and destruction, but I think that Frank, ultimately, is coming to peace with what his true purpose is, and that is to be a cold, blunt instrument of war and kill those that need to be killed. And he very much thinks Billy Russo falls into that category.

What do you think of Billy’s last line, which Frank cuts off? Was Billy about to apologize or double-down in justifying everything he’s done?
I think potentially, he would have apologized, and I think Frank knows that. Ben and I talked a lot about that last scene. There was a part of us that really wanted to give Billy a much longer scene and give him another chance to appeal to Frank’s humanity, but the bottom line is, Frank’s done with that. Sadly, I think that’s what this season is really about: Frank realizes that he’s a magnet for violence. Selfishly, he decides that he can be put to use, and his job there is to go and put Billy down. It’s something that needed to happen, no matter what Billy says.

That’s why he turns down Madani’s job offer, right? He figures he’ll never have a normal life?
Yeah, and I think that he no longer trusts in any institutions. He wants to be judge, jury, and executioner, and I think comic loyalists will be pleased with that. And really, again, we sadly end the season in the complete opposite place from where we started. He was looking for human connection and open to it, but by the end, he’s explored that and knows that that is not an option for him anymore. Solitude is the only way forward.

Cara Howe/Netflix

What do you think was the turning point that led him to that realization?
I think it’s an evolution. I mean, the first time he opens up, he strikes up this relationship with a bartender, but the next day she gets shot, and he takes personal responsibility for that. He goes right back to the kernel of truth that definitely exists in the comics that says, “Who is the real Frank Castle?”

Even when he was a father and a husband, was he really that guy or did he feel more at home being neck-deep in blood and guts? All that stuff is reawakened with him, but now he’s on this mission with this young woman [Amy] and he comes to really care about her, but he realizes that he’s brought her into a world that’s so dangerous. The best thing he can do is to distance himself from her, and same with Curtis, same with Madani. He needs to be completely on his own. It’s the only way he’ll ever find any sort of peace.

He does the same to Karen, pushing her away just when she re-enters his life. Reflecting on that, do you think Frank loves Karen, that he genuinely feels that way?
I think he does, and I wish that we could have had a little bit more time together. It’s a relationship worth exploring. I think if anybody could handle Frank, it’s Karen. He says to her, “You’ve got to stay away from me. I know for a fact now that I’m the one that brings all this darkness,” and it’s funny because I think Karen truly understands that and accepts that. She can handle it. But it’s part of the evolution of Frank realizing that solitude is the only way forward.

If there is a third season, what would you like to see Frank do? I know you’ve studied the comics thoroughly and own this character, so I’m just wondering what’s on your wish list.
Oh, I don’t know. [Pauses] More Karen, for sure. See where that would go. But I really don’t know. I try to not think about things like that. There’s so much uncertainty in this profession and that’s something that I’ve come to not only accept, but to embrace and really dig, in a way. Not knowing what comes next can seem daunting and worrisome at times, but it’s also tremendously exciting, and it makes life a bit of an adventure. I like to be surprised, and I like to just let what’s coming next come. But [more Karen] is one thing, for sure — I just know that it’s a real joy to work with Deborah Ann, and I hope she and I can find something to work on together one way or the other.

The Punisher season 2 is now streaming on Netflix.

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