Nashville EP, Stars Take Us Inside That Unexpected Series Finale Ending

Nashville Series Finale Ending Connie Britton

Well yeehaw, the gang’s all here!

On Thursday, Nashville ended its series finale with a fourth-wall-breaking bit that brought back most of the actors who’d appeared on the show over the past six seasons — including Connie Britton, who left the drama when Rayna died in Season 5.

After Deacon brought out Gideon to join him onstage at Ryman Auditorium, they began to play “A Life That’s Good.” Slowly, they were joined by Daphne, Maddie and Scarlett, then Avery, Will and Juliette. The scene moved from fiction to reality as Britton stepped out to stand next to Charles Esten, and the shot pulled back to show the TV cameras filming it all.

Then more people — including current and former cast members, as well as series creator Callie Khouri — then came out to sing along, while “Celebrating 6 wonderful years” popped up on the bottom of the screen, turning the fictional moment into a real one. (Find a full recap of the episode here.)

Marshall Herskovitz tells TVLine that he and fellow co-showrunner Ed Zwick got the idea for the atypical ending from the way they closed their early 2000s ABC drama Once & Again. “What we felt at that time, and what we felt at this time, was that it’s a way to really thank the audience. It’s a way to connect with the audience more directly,” he says.

Read on for more scoop from Herskovitz and series stars Charles Esten and Jonathan Jackson about how the unexpected ending came together. (And make sure to read Britton’s thoughts on her big return here.)

Nashville Series Finale Ending Season 6 Episode 16LOOSE LIPS SINK ‘SHIPS | The sequence took a day to shoot, and it was filmed in front of a live audience that was sworn to secrecy. “We just expected it to leak” to the public, Herskovitz says, laughing as he notes that it didn’t.

WHO WAS THERE… | Sharp-eyed, longtime viewers likely noticed some familiar faces onstage with Britton, Esten & Co. Former cast members Eric Close, Will Chase, Judith Hoag, Nick Jandl, Sylvia Jeffries, Kyle Dean Massey, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson and Melvin Ray Kearney II returned for the farewell, as did country star/occasional guest star Pam Tillis and former executive music producer Buddy Miller. “It went pretty deep. We were really thrilled. Obviously, we didn’t have money to pay everybody what they should have been paid to do that,” Herskovitz notes. “The fact that they were all willing and excited to come back was just really gratifying.”

… AND WHO WASN’T | Among the missing: Aubrey Peeples and Oliver Hudson, both of whom couldn’t make the filming because of scheduling conflicts, per a rep for the show.

A FINALE THAT’S GOOD | “So many people were there,” says Jonathan Jackson, marveling as he recalls singing “A Life That’s Good” with the cast and crew. “It was just beautiful.” Esten echos his co-star. “It was an emotional day,” says the actor, who shot the flashback with Britton around the same time. “I thought the length of this long show and all that we’ve been through with these cast members does have a parallel to this long concert performance. So when it’s done, let’s bring everybody out,” he added. “To end there with everybody coming out on that stage is so deeply meaningful, especially when we started on the Opry, we lived in The Bluebird, and we ended at the Ryman.” He chuckles. “There’s some mathematical perfection there that I really get attached to.”

GET MORE: Finales