Emmys: 'It's Not Fun to See a Character You Love Die,' 'The Good Wife' Co-Creator Says
Robert and Michelle King reveal the angst and artistry that went into pulling off the shocking death of Josh Charles' character.
A version of this story first appeared in the June standalone Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
It has been a season of bold moves on The Good Wife. First, there was the sudden breakup of the law firm Lockhart Gardner, then the shocking death of Josh Charles' beloved character, Will Gardner. For a show that rests on office politics, verbal showdowns and courtroom power plays, the demise catapulted CBS' critical darling to the top of this year's drama series contenders. "As tragic as it was, it was surprising," says Robert King, the series' showrunner with his wife, Michelle. "And it's hard to be surprised by TV these days."
How did you keep Will's death a secret for the better part of a year?
ROBERT KING I know how I kept it a secret. I just didn't tell my mother. I don't know what CBS did. They seemed to have some magic potion they threw over things.
MICHELLE KING Until the moment the show aired, I kept waiting for it to come out.
Josh wanted to leave the show, so you knew his character had to go. How much pressure did you feel to pull it off, whether it was self-imposed or not?
ROBERT It was self-imposed. We sat down in May of last year with [CBS Entertainment president] Nina Tassler and pitched the 15-episode arc. She was excited; I think it took some of the pressure off. The only tension came when we started writing the episode. It wasn't fun.
How did you decide to make Will's ending so final?
MICHELLE At the end of the day, everything is about Alicia [played by Julianna Margulies]. It felt more real that she'd lose someone to death. Yes, he could have gone to a different city for a new job, but it wouldn't have ended the relationship and allowed the story to move forward. It also felt it was more interesting to see what happens to Alicia after she loses someone she loves.
ROBERT We never thought the love triangle between her, Will and Peter [Chris Noth] would be the heart of the show. It can be a monkey on your back because it's hard to stray away from it. Our first instinct was to dive as far away from that as possible, which was why the firm breakup confirmed that one of the limbs of the triangle would become hate between Will and Alicia. The writers asked, "Are we doing the right thing?" It took a week to say, "We're making the right decision."
What was that day like on set?
MICHELLE When I woke up that morning in New York, I had this irrational thought of, "OK, well, if I don't go to set, maybe it won't happen?" Then it happened. It's not fun to see a character you love die. I anticipated there being a great deal of emotion. There wasn't. Because it was people dragging Josh Charles across the floor in small bursts, it didn't have the emotional impact.
ROBERT There was a lot of emotion associated with Josh's last scene -- which is the last time you see him in the show -- in the next episode, where Alicia imagines what Will would have said on the phone.
How much did you debate the degree to which Will's shooting would be shown?
MICHELLE Up to the moment it aired. There was a different version where you saw far more of what happened, but we showed some of it in the next episode.
ROBERT We struggled in the editing room because we filmed Will's death. But it didn't feel like the language of our show. It a felt a little slow-motion death-y.
Have you thought about how you could incorporate Josh in the show should that opportunity arise?
ROBERT I don’t think he’d have any problem coming back, but that is not the intent. We’d rather work with him on something else. He’s coming back to direct another episode in season six.
As you enter season six, what are your biggest fears now that Will is gone?
ROBERT My only fear has been alleviated partly by actor Matthew Goode coming across so well. Not that we wanted Matthew to replace Josh, but there was a certain testosterone level you want in the show. Finn, Matthew's character, has such a different energy from Will. He is definitely back in season six. What we'd love to do is for it not to feel like an old sixth-season show but one that's finding itself spry and ready to run as fast as it can.
Was it a conscious decision to create a character like Finn, who is such a departure from Will?
ROBERT Yes, partially. The original intent was that we cast Jason O’Mara [as Damian Boyle] to kind of be that. We knew what was coming but Jason didn’t know what was coming, that Will was going to die, so we brought him to play a character that was supposed to be a bad boy and then with Will’s death, you got to see more of a human side. But, Jason was cast in another [series, USA's Complications,] so we lost that opportunity. When that happened, we decided to go in a completely different direction with Matthew Goode.
It was Damian who was initially supposed to be Will 2.0, if you will?
ROBERT Also, we thought the audience didn’t react well to Damian because he was originally supposed to be abrasive.
MICHELLE We didn’t get to write the arc we plotted out for him.
What's been your biggest takeaway as writers from this past season?
ROBERT Take chances. What you'll see with season six is more serialization and getting more complex in the storytelling. Bold moves are always what you want to do, but our show is not a hand grenade-a-minute going off. The bigger explosions have to happen on the personal level.
Will we ever know the intent behind Will's final call to Alicia? Do you know?
MICHELLE Yes, we know -- and we don't want to say.