Boardwalk Empire Season Finale Post Mortem: EP Terence Winter Reveals Why [Spoiler] Had to Die and Who Will (and Won't) Be Back for Season 5

Harrow under the boardwalkIf you have yet to watch Sunday’s Season 4 finale of Boardwalk Empire, hit the nearest exit. Everyone else, read on…

Well, that was a total bummer.

Boardwalk Empire whacked arguably its most beloved character — Jack Huston’s Richard Harrow — in Sunday’s Season 4 climax, and series creator Terence Winter is here to explain why the legendary sharpshooter’s time was up.

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It’s one of several burning finale questions Winter tackles in the following post mortem, which, as luck would have it, also includes a healthy preview of the drama’s forthcoming fifth season (with specific attention paid to who will be back).

TVLINE | First off, Richard did die, correct?
He is dead, yes. I’m sorry to say.

TVLINE | Why, creatively, was it his time to go?
We felt like we took his storyline as far as we could. By the end of the last season, he essentially felt unworthy, having picked up the guns again after getting away from that life and then going into a downward spiral; he basically felt that that was all he was good for. After he went home [this season] and had his moment with his sister where he says he doesn’t want any more of it and buries the guns, we just felt that if we ever do bring him back out of that — to the point where he’s gonna pick up a gun again — we can’t keep going back to that well. There had to be some conclusion to his story. The events of this year really brought him full circle as a man. He ultimately got what he always dreamed of, a family and a life and somebody who loved him, but [it ended in] a very tragic, unexpected way.

TVLINE | The sequence where we see him walking home without his mask on and his face is no longer disfigured was very powerful. And heartbreaking.
There was a lot of discussion about how to portray that, and how much to let on that, “Are you watching reality? Are you watching his dream? Are you watching the moment of his death?” Certainly, the idea of seeing him without the mask in that one shot is him Richardimagining what his perfect life is… and it’s clear at that point that this is not actually happening.

TVLINE | You’ve killed off a lot of characters over the past four seasons. Where does this one rank in terms of personal difficulty?
Creatively, it wasn’t difficult at all. It was difficult in the sense that we love Jack Huston, and we love that character. So that was really hard. But I really felt like this was the right ending for this character at the right time.

POLL | Boardwalk Empire: Grade the Season 4 Finale

TVLINE | Did you ever consider giving him, God forbid, a happy ending?
[Laughs] We did. We even laughed about it ourselves, “Come on, does anyone get out of here alive and happy?” But Richard had a lot of sins — not that we were trying to punish him. I lost count of how many people he’s killed. People forgive him for anything, because he’s so inherently likable and lovable. I used to laugh about that with Jack, “You really can get away with murder.” People just want to take him home like he’s a puppy. You’ve seen him do some unbelievably horrific things. And, again, not that we were saying Richard can’t have a happy ending because he’s done these bad things. It just felt, from a dramatic standpoint, it just felt much more weighty and, for me, satisfying.

TVLINE | Speaking of unhappy endings, as I was watching Gillian’s redemptive arc unfold this season I had a bad feeling it wasn’t going to end well.
[Laughs] Right.

TVLINE | This was the first season I actually felt sympathy for her. Talk to me about the decision to pull back those layers at this point in her story.
[We wanted to] get to the core of why she became who she was. And when the hammer did fall you wanted people to feel something for her. Or at least understand that character. If anybody has bad things coming to them, certainly Gillian has done some horrible things. I wanted to paint a more complete picture of who she was, and remind people that this is not somebody who was just born evil. She’s had a horrible life herself and is an extremely complicated, sad person. It also made things more complicated for Roy Phillips [Ron Livingston] doing his job. I think he really did truly care for her, whether or not it was love I don’t know. Certainly, when he says, “You’re a very strong woman,” [it’s clear] he really does respect her. And has grown to at least understand her. But he’s extremely principled and had a job to do; and he did the job.

TVLINE | You put a lot of emphasis this season on Gillian’s year-old murder of one-night-stand Roger, while so gillian boardwalk empiremany other murders — the majority committed by male characters — rarely get as much attention. What was different about this particular crime?
This guy was completely innocent. A lot of the people who get killed on this show are criminals themselves — not that that’s a justification for murder. Roger [was killed] merely so Gillian could move the chess pieces around. The worst you could accuse this kid of is greed… maybe he was thinking he was getting a good deal with this woman. He certainly didn’t deserve to be killed for it.

TVLINE | Is this the end of Gillian’s story?
No. She’s a terrific character and Gretchen is a joy to work with. We will certainly see more of her in Season 5.

TVLINE | Will all the progress she’s made be undone now that she’s been hurt and betrayed like this?
Remains to be seen. It will be a new chapter in Gillian’s story. We’ll learn more about who Gillian is and what makes her tick as Season 5 progresses.

TVLINE | Let’s say Will doesn’t walk into that room, does Nucky pull the trigger and kill Eli?
Absolutely. Will showing up saved Eli’s life.

TVLINE | This isn’t the end of Eli’s story either, is it?

TVLINE | Where does the Eli-Nucky dynamic go from here?
They will continue to have a relationship and they have things in common in their extended family. And they certainly have business interests in common. They will continue to be in each other’s worlds. How [what transpired in the finale] affects them emotionally and what the real feelings are remains to be seen.

TVLINE | Kelly Macdonald is essentially the female lead on the show, but Margaret wasn’t seen until roughly the midway point of this season. Why delay her reintroduction?
Boardwalk Empire MargaretFirst and foremost for this show, it’s got to make sense for the characters. I don’t want to wedge people into stories that don’t necessarily feel like they belong there, and [Margaret] was a great example. By the end of last season when she and Nucky were estranged, it made perfect sense for us not to see her for a while. She rejected him and she rejected his money. I knew her reintroduction would happen at a time when it organically made sense for the show. And in the wake of Eddie’s suicide, I said, OK, this is when Nucky would probably reach out to Margaret. I also wanted there to be an air of mystery [to her absence] – for the audience and for Nucky as well. He had no idea what she was doing. The idea that she had a job, and had her hair cut, we all got to find that out at the same time. And I thought that was the stronger way to tell that story.

TVLINE | Will she get more airtime in Season 5 than she did in Season 4?
Probably, yes.

TVLINE | She got a bit of a happy ending.
She did, yes. She got the apartment she was promised from Arnold Rothstein, although I understand it’s rather drafty in there and the neighbors are very noisy. [Laughs] Margaret is one of the people who came out of the season with a fairly happy ending, or at least the best version of that that we do on Boardwalk Empire.

TVLINE | The fight scene between Eli and Agent Knox was epic even by Boardwalk standards. Was anyone hurt while it was being shot?
Luckily, we had the master of all fight scenes directing that, Tim Van Patten. He’s just done some incredible action and fight scenes over the course of his career, and certainly on our show. Shea Whigham and Brian Geraghty just really went for it. They both said to each other, “Look, I love you. But we’re going to really hurt rach other here.” And they went as far as they could without actually physically assaulting each other. And, even then, Shea showed me some bruises on his leg afterwards that he didn’t even know had. He was so pumped with adrenaline that [he got] hurt without even knowing, which is why you need a really well-qualified stunt coordinator, you need some actors who are comfortable with the physicality, and you need a director at the helm who’s not letting it go beyond anything that needs to be put on film.

TVLINE | How long did it take to shoot?
That was shot over two days. It was a long, brutal scene.

Chalky and NarcisseTVLINE | The rivalry between Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright) and Chalky (Michael Kenneth Williams) was one for the ages. That must have been a thrill for you to watch.
Working with Jeffrey Wright has been a dream of mine for so many years. He’s an amazing actor and a terrific guy. And then adding Michael to the equation… putting those guys opposite each other was like putting two electric wires together and watching the sparks fly. It was just magic.

TVLINE | Will Jeffrey be back next season?
Yes. We will see Narcisse back next season. That storyline has not concluded.

Harrow under the boardwalk

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  1. Usynn says:

    Why did people like half face so much? I thought he was a boring character except the time he killed rosettis men. Lol people saying they’re to not watch the show because he died? The other characters are great. Nucky lucky capone van alden narcisse white and loads more

  2. George Cooley says:

    I couldn’t wait to see whats in waiting for Will, that handsome devil in waiting.

  3. Jules says:

    Jack Huston acting as Richard Harrow is incredible. Deserves an Emmy. I would like to see music credits at the end of each episode.

  4. sid says:

    Joy… you’ve manage to retain three of your most annoying characters and got rid of the entertaining one. I don’t think I’ll bother with series 5.

  5. Tariq Mosia says:

    boardwalk empire is by far one the best series of all times, the detail and emphasis in recreating the 1920’s was awesome it made me feel like I could relate and even relive the Prohibition era. The characters whether fictional or factual makes it even a better series than many others out there no matter how dramatic they try to make them, to sum it up boardwalk is like an exquisite meal with a glass of age old fine wine after some mind blowing s*x…

  6. Andy87 says:

    Bit more Al Capone would be good!

  7. Truongquy says:

    if Richard still alive in this movie that the best things the viewer expect most and this film will be very famous,people should watch before they die.Please do not let us(viewer)down.Hero can not die with some bullet.Please let Richard alive in season 5.Everythings the film maker make to day…….history will belong tomorrow .Thank you!

  8. samUK says:

    Whats everyone’s view on al capone? Will he be a main character jn season 5. I like lucky lucuano aswell. Im praying chalky finishes the doctor tho!!!

  9. LT says:

    Most may not agree with this, but the writers/producers kinda have a right to kill off who they want. I was bummed that Richard died and I really wanted to see Narcissee get his, but that’s not how the story went. I suppose the fact they’ll be at least one more season makes it a good finale for season 4.

    I judge a story based on the overall scope of the story arc, not just the individual characters.

    • Billyv says:

      LT- You’re point is spot-on.
      Stories should be dictated by the creators, not by some of the audience or to appease their wishes. If you don’t like or care to see the artist’s work and choices, look elsewhere for your entertainment – there are plenty of other sources.

  10. G-Man says:

    There will be a season 5,6,& 7. Why? Very simple. When Capone’s brother is killed we see ‘The Untouchables’. This is where the story has to go. The ultimate destruction of Nuky & Capone. We have yet to see ‘Murder Incorporated’, & ‘The St. Valentines Day Massacre’. As you see – we aint done.

  11. Shirley says:

    I too was sorry to see that my favorite character could not have a happy ending! Just one wouldn’t ruin the show! I want to remind Mr. Winter and the writers that a lot of women watch the show- lay off of some of the violence- focus on the relationships and history. I love to drink in details of the costumes and sets!

  12. Laura says:

    Ugh, more Narcisse? Really? The actor is fantastic, it’s true, but he’s just such an unpleasant character. I don’t mean that oooh, he’s so villainous, and what do you expect in a gangster show.

    I mean that he’s just…he’s just an awful person with no redeeming qualities as a character.

    Our past three seasonal villain all had something to make them likeable, even while being awful people. A.R. was genuinely polite and (big deal here for the 20’s)never used racial epithets. Jimmy loved his son, his mother, and Richard, and we’d followed his struggle for long enough to see him as a complicated, vulnerable human being–who also surrounded himself with really interesting characters. Gyp Rosetti was just chaos in a can, someone who might take action in ANY scene, which made every scene he was tense and exciting.

    Narcise hardly EVER takes action. He just sits, and waits, and says something pompous, and waits and waits and waits. And when he does do something brutal, it’s with that same pompous attitude. In some ways, he’s one of the worst racists in the show, and for all his talk about “Libyan Brotherhood” that only applies to black people who act the way he wants them to–he kind of reminds me of Pierce’s father in Community, the way he breaks down everyone’s racial characteristics to the region.

    But fine, make him terrible. Just make him INTERESTING. And he’s not. We got his measure within the first scene. He’s never revealed to be any more than he appears. He never shows us any hidden depths, any humor, any true vulnerability (even Gyp Rosetti had vulnerable moments). He’s just pompous and manipulative and patient and sort of dangerous, and that’s all there is to him.

    Seriously. If Narcisse must be around in season 5, then please give us a more engaging villain, at the very least.

    And come ON, let’s go hang out with the New York crowd more. Vincent Piazza’s got title credit billing and he’s in, what, three, maybe four episodes? And don’t even start me on Meyer sobbing on his knees and begging after he spent an episode establishing himself as someone who responds to a threat with contempt. (Nevermind what the real Meyer Lansky would’ve said about that.)

    More New York, more action, less long, drag-out set ups with minimal, disappointing payoff.

    • Norbet says:

      I agree totally with you Laura. The Narcisse character is just a pain in the you know what, he is the same in every scene with no real development. The ideal situation in the first episode of season 5 would be for Chalky to go on a rampage and finally get rid of him.

  13. itsforcrackingwallnuts says:

    Jimmy Darmody and Richard Harrows were the best ,

    To the lost !!

  14. Gord says:

    when does season 5 start?

  15. peebee says:

    For heaven’s sake, I’ve never seen so many whingers, it is a story, to keep interest it must evolve, if all the main characters always lived happily ever after all shows would be the same and boring. This is superbly written and acted, loved every moment so far, these twists and turns are what makes it compulsory viewing. Just appreciate the fine performances by the actors and let them move on with their career with a feather in their cap. I just wish it was on every week. The only sadness I’ll feel is after the grand finale.

  16. David Gomm says:

    Richard’s death was sad, moving and beautifully handled at the last. It was also inevitable, and satisfying from a dramatic point of view (if not from the personal – he was my favourite too!). Wire spoiler alert: I haven’t been this upset about the death of a character since the shooting of Omar (MKW!) but wasn’t that just as appropriate? The two characters gave rise to similar conflicted emotions.

  17. rochelle says:

    I currently live 3 traffic lights from the White Horse Pike in New Jersey. I have enjoyed the entire series. Especially season 4. My grandfather was an african american boot legged in New Jersey during my childhood and number runner. He drove a truck as a legitimate job. I grow up 45 minutes north of Atlantic City. The series history was interesting to me. Especially the african american experience. A the perils of politics in New Jersey during that time. Finally I have greatly enjoyed the music through out the series. But especially the new artists introduced in season 4. You know what I mean?

  18. pebbles says:

    i loved it all

  19. peebee says:

    c’mon people, whinging about racism etc, it’s entertainment ( loosely based) on fact. Enjoy the show for what it is and don’t take it so seriously. Great TV.

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  21. Zach says:

    I want to thank the writers, directors, actors and producers of this show. To call it a gem would be the understatement of the century. I love this show more than perhaps any other. I do think this show qualifies for the overused word: “brilliant”. I loved Richard. He may be one of my favorite characters of fiction. His final scenes were amazing. Narcisse was such a fascinating character this year, as was Chalky. I have to say that I loved Eli in Season 4, and was maybe too satisfied with the brutal destruction that he delivered on Tolliver at the end of this season. It has been interesting to watch Nucky’s descent into a more evil and more imposing character. I hope “Mrs. Rowan” makes it back more in Season 5. She’s great. I loved Owen’s character prior to his death. The scene in the bathroom was devestatingly stressful and incredible. The scenes in Ireland were amazing. I miss Jimmy. I almost didn’t recover from his loss on the show. Suffice to say that this is a work of art that I have treasured from the get go, and only hope that we get a few more seasons at least. Bravo.

  22. Al Capone says:

    Not much of laughter from my favourite bootlegger Mickey this season…?! Heheheeee..!! Heheeheee..!!! Lol

  23. Helen Forster says:

    Ugh. Sorry to hear that Jeffrey Wright will be back. His character (and portrayal) is tedious, one dimensional and annoying to watch. I think that’s what made season 4 the weakest. You shouldn’t get rid of great characters like Eddie and Richard and not have someone interesting in their place guys. If you’re gonna have a bad guy, have one that is at least engaging (Gyp? Knox?). Narcisse is a bore. Steve Buscemi however continues to be brilliant. I could watch him sit and read the phone book. Michael Kenneth Williams continues to rock as well.

  24. Lisa Marie says:

    Bring Richard Harrow back; kill Gillian, instead. Her character is old already; Richard won the audience’s heart – even IF he were to turn back to a pseudo life of crime and still take care of his darling boy and loving wife; writers – what happened????? Your viewers are dismayed AND disappointed.

  25. Karen says:

    I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this series!! There was never a lull, never a yawn moment, always edge of your seat!! I wish I knew who else was considered for Nucky. Ultimately Steve was the best choice and I’m so happy for him that he got to show what he can really do long term. What a great career and what a great way to add to a long career!!
    Ok I have to say I’m soooo glad Rosetti is gone!! He was like watching cancer in human form, he really gave me the creeps!! Barney Google etc.

    • Juliet says:

      For those of you who wrote that you like Steve Buschemi, check out the movie Trees Lounge if you haven’t already seen it – Buschemi became one of my favorite actors after watching that movie many years ago.

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  27. Juliet says:

    I only order HBO for the Boardwalk Empire season, and am looking forward to the 5th (and final) season coming this fall. I’d like to see Margaret, Gillian, and the new female character from Florida (cannot currently recall her name) win, although for dramatic reasons, at least one will most likely be done in. I personally think that’s unnecessary, since most other female characters broadly fill the roles of female powerlessness and are routinely killed off by the bad guys, so it seems almost trite to kill off or make life any more horrid for any of the main three female characters I’ve noted. My focus has since been happily abducted by that great prequel Bates Motel! What a show! It’s a brilliant idea to imagine Norman’s earlier life in this drama that “led up to” Psycho. I thank whoever dreamt up this concept and the brilliant writers and actors who have brought it to me!

  28. Marlene says:

    I am going to miss Boardwalk very much. I loved everything about this show, every character was a great actor, the sets and the clothing depicted that era to a T. I am so sad to think that this will be the last season, I can’t imagine what can replace it? I have always loved period pieces, and I hope HBO can come up with another one as good as this.

    • Zach says:

      I couldn’t agree with you more. I LOVED Deadwood, and they stopped it dead in the middle of a compelling storyline. At least with Boardwalk Empire, we’ll get a well-written closing season. I am going to miss this show a ton too. It was a travesty what happened with Deadwood.

    • Juliet says:

      Marlene, I hope you’ve seen Bates Motel, which is a more modern period series, but one I find to be a true and wonderful psychological thriller!

      • Marlene says:

        I love Bates Motel, that is another one to look forward to this fall. Great actors on that show also. I wonder if this will be the last season for Revenge? I have watched it from the beginning, it seems to be wearing thin.

        • Juliet says:

          I’ve watched Revenge, too, and it’s just OK, as far as I’m concerned. If you like good shows, check out PBS, where you’ll find “Vera,” “Death in Paradise,” any of the “Masterpiece Theater” and “Masterpiece Mystery” shows, “Father Brown,” “Inspector George Gently,” “Rosemary and Thyme,” and one or two others whose names escape me at present. They’ll get you through quite nicely until “Bates Motel” and “Boardwalk Empire” return. :o)

  29. Sbrnakiss says:

    I thought it was bull$h!t that they killed off Richard. Especially how they made him accidentally kill Chalkie’s daughter. ¡¡WTF!!
    I was done with this show and then I remembered I still have Chalkie!

    • Marlene says:

      Don’t give up on Boardwalk yet we all have to watch the final season, we have been loyal fans all of these years, I too was disappointed when they killed off Richard he was one of my favorite characters, but there are plenty of good ones left, it will be interesting to see how the show will progress seven years from where it leaves off. I know that on Sept 7th, my phones will be off the hook so I don’t get disturbed by anyone or anything during the first show of the season, in my humble opinion, one of the best shows that has ever been on TV I can’t imagine Sunday evenings with out it

  30. Charlene says:

    I am SICK over this show ending…it is the best of the best. The casting is amazingly on point. I am not even a TV person, but my whole week happily points to watching Boardwalk on Sunday night. Can anything be done to keep the show going? Steve Buscemi is the sexiest human on the planet. Period.