Robert and Michelle King witnessed Will’s death firsthand. The Good Wife‘s L.A.-based co-creators flew to New York in mid-January to be present for the taping of Josh Charles’ swan song as the ill-fated attorney. They had to — everything had to be just right.
On the closed set (except for yours truly), the couple worked closely with in-house director Brooke Kennedy on the sequence of events leading up to Hunter Parrish’s Jeffrey Grant opening fire in the courtroom. And, in a way, it was probably a blessing that they were kept busy. The staging of the complicated shots left them little time to mourn the fact that an original character was about to draw his last breath.
“My expectations were that it was going to be more emotionally fraught than it was, because it was such a technical scene to film,” concedes Michelle. “At some point, it’s just Josh being dragged around the floor and people painting blood next to him. It didn’t have that weird, cathartic energy that it could have.” (Ironically, much of the splatter ended up on the cutting room floor, as the Kings opted to cut to outside the courtroom when the shots rang out.)
It probably also helped the duo’s state of mind to know that the episode wasn’t Charles’ goodbye. He would return the following week to shoot additional scenes (flashbacks from grieving Alicia’s POV) to air in next week’s episode, and he was due back again in early March to direct another episode. “And that’s a distinction worth making,” Michelle says. “Josh remains part of the Good Wife family, even if Will Gardner is dead.”
And make no mistake — Will is dead.
Below, in an exclusive Q&A, the Kings reveal why the character had to be killed off (it involves Alicia, natch), they explain why they couldn’t give Will and Alicia a happier ending, and they preview next week’s heartbreaking aftermath episode — and beyond.
TVLINE | What was your reaction when Josh informed you that he was leaving the show?
MICHELLE: It was a combination of sadness at not having Will Gardner in the law firm anymore, and then some excitement at the opportunity of telling a really exciting story for our characters.
ROBERT: The good news about our show is that we try not to retain the status quo. It’s about showing how the world changes, but, more particularly, how Alicia changes based on what happens to her. And this felt like a perfect way to charge her into both a new world but also challenge her by a world she’s leaving.
TVLINE | Was Alicia and Cary’s exit from Lockhart Gardner earlier this season the first piece of Will’s exit story?
ROBERT: It wasn’t. Coming out of “Red Team/Blue Team” last season, we knew we wanted Alicia to head in the direction of being more and more independent. But it did make it easier. The idea of two firms came first, and [Josh's departure] was a good way to aggravate that situation. It allowed us to go to some really interesting places with Will and Alicia that we might not have gone if we didn’t know there was an end date [for Will].
TVLINE | Will and Alicia have been bitter rivals most of the season – was there any trepidation about ending their story on such an antagonistic note?
MICHELLE: There was a lot of time spent in the writers room talking about exactly this issue. And what we were always trying to lean into was the reality of life. You don’t get to choose the moment when something ends.
TVLINE | Did you ever think, “We only have Josh for six more months, let’s see what a real Alicia-Will relationship looks like while we still can… ?”
ROBERT: We didn’t, mostly because the beginning of Season 3 [depicted] the happier version of them, and it sort of ran out of steam. The only question was how much happiness we would bring to that relationship in their last episode before [Will died]. On what terms would they leave it? The worry is you don’t want to bore the audience with some direction they already took. I know [fans] treat them like real people, and we’re thrilled with that. We sometimes find ourselves treating them like real people. And on Josh’s last days, we were like, “This really is like a death.” On the other hand, it really needs to follow the logic of drama. And drama, especially with Alicia, is about challenges. There is happiness and there is joy in her. But on the Will front, this was always a relationship that was about bad timing. So this seemed like the dramatically correct way to take it.
TVLINE | Speaking of last week’s episode, was it important for you to have Will and Alicia start to move past the animosity before he died?
ROBERT: Oh, yes. Completely. When you’re a writer, you’re always looking for the honest moment that allows you to find a new prism to look at the relationship through. And it was very important for us to do that, even if it wasn’t, like, they slept with each other. We wanted the relationship [to have] some closure. Also, we didn’t want Alicia to be devastated by the loss of someone she didn’t have any kind words for. We really wanted to find a place, without giving away where we were going, where there was a comfort level about the new terms of their relationship. It wasn’t forgiveness, but there was a total shift in their relationship.
MICHELLE: There was no way to bring them back to the kind of warmth they once shared without it being false; that was the last thing we wanted to do. We wanted to bring them to a place that felt true.
TVLINE | Will had some nice moments with many characters in this episode, particularly Kalinda, but his final scene with Alicia wasn’t nearly as weighty. Was that intentional?
ROBERT: Yes, and there is a point to that which is played out [in next week's episode]. We wanted something that was not as emotionally heartfelt or even on the passionate side or the loving side, because a lot of [next week's episode] is about Alicia dealing with the irredeemability of death. Can you find closure in your memory if life doesn’t give you closure?
TVLINE | Does next week’s episode pick up right where this week’s left off?
ROBERT: We rewind just a little bit, like a minute. And then the next eight hours are compressed into one episode.
TVLINE | What else can you say about the episode?
ROBERT: I will only say that some of it involves flashbacks. We asked Josh to work in that episode, too. The episode really puts us quite a bit in Alicia’s mind. There has been the accusation – and even we felt it – that sometimes Alicia feels like a character who closes herself down emotionally. And we always think of her as a passionate character, so this year we’ve been moving more and more into her thoughts – and Will‘s thoughts too, as with “The Decision Tree.”
TVLINE | What does Alicia’s life look like beyond next week’s episode?
MICHELLE: Our efforts are to play this like life. If someone you care about dies suddenly and violently, it isn’t just going to impact you for a week. It will probably reverberate the rest of your life. And certainly the next few months.
ROBERT: One of the reasons we wanted to have this incident [to take place] two-thirds into the season and not at the end of the season is so that you really could see the outcome of all of this on all levels in Alicia’s life. What impact does this have on Peter and Alicia? What impact does this have on Alicia and her kids, especially with her daughter who believes in God? And what about Cary, who has never had the best relationship with Will? And, obviously Diane, where it’s been almost like a marriage. And Michael J. Fox, who comes back into this [as attorney Louis Canning]. There are two earthquakes in this season — one was the split up of the two firms, and the other is [Will's death], and you will see how it plays out over the next seven episodes.
TVLINE | How does this affect Alicia and Peter?
ROBERT: Having something end like this in her life doesn’t just make her question her love life, it makes her question all of her choices in her life. Did she make the right choices in her life and career? And it’s complicated by the fact that Will was not the [most] ethical guy, either. It’s a little bit of a mix of whether she’s doing the right thing with her life on five or six levels.
TVLINE | What was the experience like writing this episode?
ROBERT: It wasn’t pleasurable. It wasn’t a pleasurable tragedy. I’m sure when some great playwrights write tragedies they feel good afterwards — like, “Wow, that cleansed my spirit.” That wasn’t this. It really was the loss of an actor who we so much enjoyed writing for. And it’s also a character who won’t come back, and that didn’t make it happy. There was no joy in this at all, unfortunately. There was this tension in the air over what we were doing.
TVLINE | Was there a Plan B that had Will go to jail or leave town?
ROBERT: We didn’t have a Plan B because we knew in some way that Will-Alicia love wasn’t the George Clooney-Julianna Margulies love like on ER. It was a relationship that would always be there in the background for Alicia, even if Will went to Amsterdam or something to work. You’d always have this sense that, “That’s the real relationship.” So it didn’t seem like the best way to keep making Alicia an underdog — an underdog emotionally, an underdog in her career. The better way was to pull the Band-Aid off and make Alicia face, “OK what is my life about? Is it about Peter? Work? Power?” It felt like that jolted Alicia into the better place.
TVLINE | It would seem like this event would give you the perfect opportunity to bring the two firms back together.
ROBERT: Within the next two episodes a lot of those questions get raised and are answered, either affirmatively or negatively.
TVLINE | How does Matthew Goode’s Finn figure into all of this?
ROBERT: He’s Alicia’s connection to Will’s last moments, because he was there [in the courtroom]. He was with Will. And it turns out he was fairly heroic in covering Will. And Finn was hit a few times with gunfire because of that. So Alicia feels a connection there. The problem is, the State’s Attorney’s office needs someone to scapegoat for the events because it becomes evident that Jeffrey Grant [played by Hunter Parrish] did not commit the crime he was accused of. So it becomes a little bit of a black eye for the S.A. office, and Finn is kind of caught in the political crossfire, for lack of better words, over the events that were a real crossfire.
TVLINE | Was Matthew brought in specifically to fill the Will void?
ROBERT: Yes. Josh created a great jolt of male energy in the show. We wanted an equivalent jolt once we knew Josh was leaving. So no matter what way Josh was leaving the show, we knew we needed to get more male energy.
TVLINE | Is there anything you wanted to do with Will that you didn’t get a chance to do?
ROBERT: I wanted to see him with his dad. There was a really good setup there, but [we worry about the personal stories] pulling us too far off the main track. And yet I love the story about a son who became a little more pragmatic financially because the dad was so profligate. That actually felt really ripe for Will and for a relationship.