'House of Cards' Bosses Address Biggest Burning Questions After Season 5

5:45 AM 6/8/2017

by Jackie Strause and Brian Porreca

Co-showrunners Frank Pugliese and Melissa James Gibson break down 13 lingering questions from season five.

'House of Cards'
'House of Cards'
David Giesbrecht/Netflix

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from seasons one through five of House of Cards.]

"My turn."

The last line of House of Cards season five means so much more than just those two words. 

Not only did it leave Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) breaking the fourth wall yet again while kicking off her presidency, that line also fueled a fire of burning questions from viewers: What will a Claire presidency really look like? What new power will Frank seek? Is LeAnn dead? When will there be a season six? 

To help answer those questions and more, The Hollywood Reporter spoke to showrunners Melissa James Gibson and Frank Pugliese — along with castmembers Michael Kelly, Neve Campbell, Paul Sparks, Joel Kinnaman and Boris McGiver — in hopes of getting some answers.

While some remain tight-lipped or, in fact, don't know yet what the future of the series is, one thing rang true to the show: Nothing can stay a secret for long. 

  • Claire’s Presidency Will Define Her Legacy

    David Giesbrecht/Netflix

    What will America look like under a different Underwood? If Claire's epic five-season rise is any indication, House of Cards is going to take its time answering that question in season six.

    After committing her first murder — that the audience is aware of — and killing her lover Tom Yates (Paul Sparks), the Claire viewers once knew was set on a new trajectory in season five. Though Frank claims it was all part of his plan, Claire is the one who now sits behind the Resolute Desk as president, while Frank has moved out and can't even get his wife to answer his calls. After first breaking the fourth wall in the 11th episode ("Just to be clear, it's not that I haven't always known you were there," she said, finally addressing the audience), she closed this season with her second message to viewers: "My turn." She cemented herself as the next murderous POTUS, poised to deliver her inner musings to viewers one corrupt day at a time. "Now that she’s become more ambitious, or actually just more pronounced with her ambitions openly about what she wants, her complicity is going to be different than Francis’ complicity," explained co-showrunner Frank Pugliese when speaking to THR about her direct address motivations. "How does she manifest her ambitions in that complicity that she’s looking for in the audience and eventually the voter?" His other half, Melissa James Gibson, simply added, "Fasten your seatbelts."

    Wright, who also directed the final two episodes of season five, envisions Claire being the "greatest president" that House of Cards has ever had: "How she gets there and achieves that is a whole other thing regarding the opera of the show." With Claire's legacy on the line, expect a big chunk of the final arc to be about House of Cards' first female president.

  • How Will Frank Reclaim His Power?

    David Giesbrecht/Netflix

    Thanks to the assistance of the curious Jane Davis (Patricia Clarkson), Frank is out but he's not down. After enacting his plan to resign as president so he could avoid going down for the murder of Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara), Frank's new plan is to find the power from outside the White House. "The show has always been about the pursuit of power and usually was towards the White House or the presidency," says Pugliese. "We wanted to expand that a little bit and try to explore other ways of power and powers outside the White House. That seems to be an organic place for the show to go and start dealing with." The "power behind the power," says James Gibson.

  • What Will Happen to Their Marriage?

    David Giesbrecht/Netflix

    At the core of House of Cards — amid the swirling Beltway deception, corruption and Machiavellian pursuit of power — is the marriage between Frank and Claire. Though Claire left Frank at the end of season three, she ultimately came back when it suited her ambitions. Now that she's taken the Oval, does Claire need Frank anymore? "At the end of season four, the Underwoods seem to have come to an agreement that both of their ambitions were valid and that they would be able to navigate them together and support each other and serve each other’s," says James Gibson. "Season five really explored: Is that possible? And I think those last few lines [of the season] indicate: Maybe not." Claire doesn't know that Frank, while addressing the audience, threatened to kill her if she doesn't follow through on her promise to pardon him. "He's done some terrible things — he is capable," warns Pugliese.

  • Is LeAnn Dead?

    David Giesbrecht/Netflix

    The rule of TV deaths is that no one is dead until you see a body, and as Michael Kelly pointed out, "You even saw my body, and Doug still came back." When LeAnn Harvey (Neve Campbell) was run off the road while Frank watched the livestream of the accident with delight, viewers were left with the view of a horrific crash site, but one that was missing a body. So, is it safe to not count LeAnn out just yet? "I think you can assume that. Any assumption after that I think is ok," says Pugliese. With the next season yet to be officially greenlit — meaning contracts will still have to be signed — LeAnn's fate could truly go either way. If she doesn't return, Campbell says she's ready to accept it. "It’s a mixed bag," she told THR. "I love the show and I’m loving being a part of it, but I also love those moments for the show and the fact that the unexpected happens. It’s going to be what it’s going to be."

  • Will Jane Play a Bigger Role?

    Courtesy of Netflix

    Patricia Clarkson swooped into the House of Cards cast with one of the series' most mysterious roles yet as Jane Davis. After doing dirty work all season long — from staging a terror attack with Doug, to bribing and then screwing over LeAnn, to revealing herself to be a peddler of Frank's new agenda — the jury is still out on the true motivations of the Deputy Under Secretary Of Commerce For International Trade. "Patricia was a fabulous addition to the show, as was Campbell Scott [who played Mark Usher], and we’re very excited about those guys. We think there’s a lot of potential there," said James Gibson about exploring the two season newcomers in the future. Pugliese says that Jane's role is key in Frank's new power play. "Jane is definitely an entry point into the power behind the power," he says. "There are other layers to look at in terms of what that means and how that works."

  • What Does Doug’s Future Look Like?

    David Giesbrecht/Netflix

    Have no fear, "Doug Stamper will never be sidelined!" says James Gibson of Frank's right-hand man, played by Kelly. After taking the fall for Frank over the season-two death of Zoe, Doug is now on house arrest, his political future looking bleak. "We’ll see what his recovery looks like and what he ends up like after recovery," says Pugliese of the journey ahead for Frank's most loyal staffer. "That’s not a character that’s going to go away easily and how he reinvents himself, even in a political way, I think is going to be a blast to see." For his part, Kelly said being the best he can be at his job is "what makes him tick." He added, "He has a serious addiction to work and people so for him, it’s his job and Frank." Which is why he isn't convinced just yet that his future would require a separation from Frank: "We’ve talked about some scenarios that could play out. They might not be apart. It would be weird for me if they were. I’ve been side-by-side with that dude for the better part of five years."

  • Will Yates Get the Zoe Barnes Treatment?

    Courtesy of Netflix

    At what point did the pair decide Tom Yates (Sparks) was going to become an Underwood casualty? "We knew pretty early," says James Gibson. "We knew we had to create the worst possible price for her to pay and that was clearly it." In one of the season's biggest twists, Claire killed her lover by poisoning him and watching him die while the two were having sex. The murder is a turning point for the character, something James Gibson's credits to Wright's portrayal in the scene: "You really feel the cost of that action." Pugliese adds, "The show has always wrestled with this idea of: How much humanity do you sacrifice in the pursuit of power? There’s the almost extreme version of it with Tom Yates, who is demanding humanity of Claire." Despite Yates' other paramour asking about his whereabouts in the finale, Sparks doesn't believe that Yates' disappearance will be investigated like Zoe's was. Telling THR, "I feel like Tom Yates had become so insular to just Claire that I don't think anybody would give a shit if he's there. In fact, maybe people would celebrate that finally they don't have to see that side of Claire. Zoe Barnes was after something. She was an animal in D.C., and I feel like Tom was always an outsider. I don't think there will be any grand inquisition as to where the writer of these semi-popular novels has disappeared to." As for whether or not he thinks Yates will be Claire's only casualty, the actor surmises, "It might get easier for her. I guess she could kill Frank, right?"

  • Is Cathy Alive?

    Courtesy of Netflix

    Despite the curious timing of her "fall," no one seemed to be jonesing for a status update on Cathy Durant (Jayne Atkinson). Ahead of what was planned to be a damning testimony against Frank, he shoved her down the stairs, putting her in the hospital. "We’ll have to deal with the ramifications of the fall," says Pugliese. "Cathy is a real survivor. She has the ability to find a place and succeed within that place, and I think that would be interesting to see where she lands — figuratively — after that fall." Watch out, Frank.
     

  • Is Will Gone for Good?

    Courtesy of Netflix

    Will Conway became another Underwood casualty, though he exited the series with his heart still beating. Joel Kinnamen told THR he doesn't know anything about any plans to bring his character back, and the showrunners agreed that it would have to be for a new story. "The election’s over, so we’ll see. There are a lot of ways to go," says James Gibson. Pugliese adds, "His story from four into five was told. He might have another story, I don’t know. But that story has been told." Kinnaman agreed that losing the election — and unraveling in the process — broke his character's spirit. "On the one hand, Will could just be a broken guy," he said. "It ruins his marriage and he's out of the scene, but he's still a young guy so maybe this is what he needs to come back strong and more vicious."

     

  • Will Hammerschmidt Give Up?

    Courtesy of Netflix

    Tom Hammerschmidt (Boris McGiver) finally found some justice for Zoe with Doug pleading guilty to her murder, and that's because finding justice for Zoe was something the co-showrunners set out to do. "It was interesting to us that he was going to look at his own role in not taking this young woman seriously at the time, when she was really onto something and telling the truth," says James Gibson of the eager journalist, who was pushed to her death in a subway meetup with Frank. Pugliese added of Rachel's subsequent murder, "At some point, we thought there was a price to pay for these women that disappear on this show. Somehow, we have to come to terms with that. Even if it’s through Stamper, but through someone and somehow, we had to deal with it." But the journalist seemed far from satisfied at the end of the season — will he not stop until he gets Frank? On when the Underwoods will actually face the music for their crimes McGiver says, "That's a really good question. I guess that relates to reality. I think we would all love them to pay a just do for their crime. But there's presidential pardons and a bunch of ways to get around that. He adds, "The hope is certainly in Tom's mind that I take them down and [Frank] pays for it and he goes to jail."  

  • How Did They Wrangle All of Those Media Personalities?

    Courtesy of MSNBC/Charles Ommanney/ Reportage by Getty Images

    The prolific news anchors who cover the real-life political climate turned up in a new, but all too familiar setting this season, which upped the ante of the show's usual anchor appearances. The series was able to write in cameos for the likes of Charlie Rose, Rachel Maddow, Van Jones, Bret Baier and even a return to television for Ann Curry. James Gibson said they wanted a broad spectrum, but they also made specific choices based on the episode. "The specificity of who the anchors were was indicated by the episodes and if it was right-leaning or left-leaning. We made choices about which way we wanted to go that served the story or the episode that we were telling," adds Pugliese. So how were all these news talkers able to balance covering President Donald Trump while making a cameo in the political thriller? "We [shot] in their studios," says McGiver. "They are actually real journalists. They have real jobs! Instead of the fake ones like me." Adding, "We had to fit within their schedule. When we filmed the scene with Rachel, we had 46 minutes shooting every single angle. That scene normally would have taken four or five hours." And while McGiver was definitely a Maddow fan, the anchor flipped the script on the actor when he went to pay her a compliment. "She turned it around and said, 'We need to thank you all for presenting a character like Tom to remind us that, yes, even though it's fake, it does give us that sense of bolstering.'" 

  • How Will Trump Influence the Next Season?

    Courtesy of Netflix

    Despite the many, many real-life parallels this season, Pugliese said they didn't change anything after Trump's election. With the season four finale setting up this season's governing-with-fear theme, the pair explained how this season was in the works long before Trump became the GOP nominee, let alone the leader of the free world. "The show has always been about power and the currency of power and the pursuit of power," says Pugliese of the finale setting Claire as a "renegade" president and Frank pursuing power in the private sector. "Because of Trump, it actually seems to be relevant at the moment. But it was stuff we were talking about before the season began." James Gibson adds, "At the core of everything is the marriage and continuing to explore that relationship and what it can sustain with Claire and Francis’ ever-escalating ambition and dependence on each other."
     

  • What is the Status of a Sixth Season?

    Courtesy of Netflix

    Pugliese and James Gibson have to leave this answer in the mouths of Netflix — as the streamer has yet to hand down a renewal — but they've certainly set up more story to tell with President Claire Underwood stepping into the show's spotlight. Ahead of the season premiere, Kelly said the cast wasn't yet contracted for a new season, but that that was typical of the series. "They technically don’t have to tell us yet," he explained. Going into the season without a season-six guarantee, the co-showrunners said they wrote the ender to function both as a season and series finale, though they added that there have been several ideas about where the show could ultimately end. "Working on television, you have a sense that if it had to end there’s a way to end it, but there is almost always a plan for what it would mean to keep going forward," said Pugliese. James Gibson added, "That’s the trick. It has to feel like an organic ending and an organic payoff to the arc of the season and in this case, I think you could argue that it really could go either way. We were happy to hopefully leave the viewers wanting more."

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