The Robin Wright political drama returns for its final season on Nov. 2 without former star Kevin Spacey, who was fired during production over sexual assault allegations.
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from seasons one through five of House of Cards.]
The end is near for House of Cards — but what will it look like?
When Netflix announced that the sixth season of the political drama starring Robin Wright would be its last, the countdown clock began on the series finale for the streaming giant's first original series. Then, everything changed when Kevin Spacey, the show's former star and executive producer, was fired behind-the-scenes over sexual assault allegations. House of Cards halted production to re-work the season and the result is an elevation of Wright's character, the new President Underwood, as the star of the series.
Season five ended with Spacey's anti-hero, Frank Underwood, ceding the power he has fought so ruthlessly — and killed — for since the start of the Beau Willimon-created series and leaving it in the hands of his wife. The finale saw Claire Underwood (Wright) fully emerge from her husband's shadow as the new and first female president on the series, marking her turn at the Oval Office for the show's final run.
When speaking with Wright after her game-changing finale, the producer, director and star told The Hollywood Reporter, "I would personally like [Claire] to be the greatest president we've ever had."
With all eyes readying to see how the show will handle the loss of its former star when season six launches on Nov. 2, THR predicts how the soapy thriller will play out its last term below.
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 dive into 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 path in season five. Though Frank claimed it was all part of his plan, Claire is the one who now sits behind the Resolute Desk, while Frank moved out and couldn't even get his wife to answer his calls. The former president claimed to be content playing puppet master in the private sector when viewers last saw him in the season's final moments.
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," Claire said, finally addressing the audience as Frank has so consistently done), she closed season five with her second message to viewers: "My turn." Claire cemented herself as the next murderous POTUS, poised to deliver her inner musings to viewers one corrupt day at a time. As the first trailer for the final season shows, Claire will be speaking to the audience much more once she officially takes over in season six. "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 after the finale (and before Spacey's firing). "How does she manifest her ambitions in that complicity that she’s looking for in the audience and eventually the voter?" His partner, Melissa James Gibson, simply added, "Fasten your seatbelts."
With Claire's legacy on the line and Frank finally out of her way, Wright — who also directed the final two episodes of season five — told THR after the finale that she 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." As shown in the trailers, her first 100 days don't exactly turn out as planned.
After Spacey's firing, there was much speculation about how the show would write out its main character. Months ahead of the premiere, Netflix answered that question.
An early clip released from the upcoming season revealed Frank's fate. In the scene, Claire is standing over her husband's grave. And instead of receiving a burial fit for a former president, it is revealed that Frank — disgraced and his legacy clearly tarnished — has been buried in his family plot next to the father he hated. "I'll tell you this though, Francis," says Claire. "When they bury me, it won't be in my backyard. And when they pay their respects, they'll have to wait in line." She breaks the fourth wall to look directly at the camera for the delivery of the final line. The camera then pans to a headstone for Francis J. Underwood, which places his death in 2017.
The first trailer sheds more light on life after Frank, with Claire telling new political foes (more on them below) that she doesn't plan to honor her dead husband's promises. She also plays the role of the grieving wife for the public, but behind-the-scenes and to the audience, Claire is very clearly not upset about Frank's death.
One of the biggest gripes from viewers after last season was how long Frank and Claire could continue to get away with murder. In the final moments, Frank threatened to kill Claire if she didn't come through with her promise to pardon him. With the duo set up to go toe-to-toe in the final round, all signs pointed to only one Underwood surviving — a twisted fate for the sinful duo. After Spacey's firing, it especially wasn't a stretch to eliminate Frank.
House of Cards was adapted from the BBC series and Michael Dobbs novel of the same name and the book's central character, Francis Urquhart, ultimately becomes a martyr and is assassinated in a bid to save his wife and keep her secrets from being exposed. The U.S. series has taken many liberties from the book — which only featured its version of Claire, named Miranda, in a limited role. And since House of Cards loves a good twist, perhaps Claire will be the one who pulls the trigger on her husband. For Paul Sparks, who played Claire's murdered lover Tom Yates, that outcome seems more than plausible. "[Killing people] might get easier for her! I guess she could kill Frank, right?" he had mused to THR after his character's exit in season five. The showrunners also didn't rule out the possibility: "I think they are both capable of everything," said Gibson after the finale, "that’s the point they’re at."
Bulking up the cast for the final season, Oscar nominees Diane Lane and Greg Kinnear, along with American Crime Story: Versace and American Horror Story: Apocalypse breakout Cody Fern, have been added to the House of Cards ranks as a family of D.C. power-players who have a complicated past with the Underwoods. Lane and Kinnear play Annette and Bill Shepherd, a sister and brother who inherited Shepherd Unlimited. Their leading industrial conglomerate and family foundations exert a powerful behind-the-scenes force in the American political landscape. The duo share a vision for the future of America, and their ambitious and devoted son Duncan Shepherd (Fern), represents the next generation of D.C. politicians.
The first season trailer showed the Shepherd family arriving to D.C. to try to collect on some old Underwood debts. "Your husband and I had an agreement," Bill (Kinnear) tells Claire. To which she responds, "My husband is dead." The second trailer, however, fully established Bill and Annette as the "American oligarchs" who are coming for Claire, and the new foes she will have to out-maneuver now that Frank is officially out of her way. "They are trying to strip me of my constitutional power as your Commander in Chief," Claire says in a public speech as Bill gives a televised interview questioning her ability to lead. "You are daring them. You've turned it into a spectacle and now they will not stop," Claire is warned by her returning confidant, Mark Usher (Scott Campbell).
The last viewers saw of LeAnn Harvey was not an image of the recently fired chief-of-staff, but was instead one of her mangled car. Though the vehicle, run off the road by a Frank accomplice, was totaled, the rule of TV is that there is no death until viewers see a body. And, as Michael Kelly has pointed out of his Doug Stamper, "You even saw my body, and Doug still came back." When asked by THR what she knew about her character's fate, and her own on the series, Neve Campbell couldn't say much at the time. "It’s a mixed bag," she said of the up-in-the-air conclusion. "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."
When the season six cast was announced by Netflix months later, it was revealed that Campbell would not be returning. Though she could pop up to wrap up her character, the more likely outcome is that LeAnn has become another one of Frank's many victims.
Viewers saw Yates' disappearance being questioned in the finale, but no attention was paid to the conspicuously timed "fall" of Cathy Durant (Jayne Atkinson). Ahead of what was planned to be a damning testimony to the special committee investigating Frank, the secretary of state was shoved down the stairs by the president in question. The season ended with a status update that Cathy was in the hospital, her fate still unclear.
Pugliese had assured THR that Cathy is a "survivor" and that she would continue to function as an unforgiving thorn in Frank's side. "We’ll have to deal with the ramifications of the fall," he said at the time. "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." Though Frank is no more, Atkinson has since been confirmed to return by Netflix, and she was briefly spotted in the season trailer.
Also set to return along with Atkins is Patricia Clarkson, who played the mysterious Jane Davis, the Deputy Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade who was revealed to be an accomplice of Frank's at the end of season five.
Doug Stamper also ended with his professional fate unclear after taking the fall for Frank for the murder of Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara). After the season wrapped, the showrunners assured THR that Frank's right-hand man would be back. "We’ll see what his recovery looks like, what he ends up like after recovery," said Pugliese of Michael Kelly's character. "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." With Frank set to enter the private sector and Doug under house arrest, all signs pointed to the duo being split up for the first time on the series. Doug operated under a blind loyalty to Frank, which often resulted in him butting heads, or at least keeping his distance, when it came to Claire. But Gibson had said, emphatically, at the time that "Doug Stamper will never be sidelined!"
Now that Claire has the power, it seems likely that Doug will find his way back to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, even though he will have a new boss to obey. The second trailer sets up a war of sorts between Claire and Doug — since each know one another's secrets. "I'm not going to be told what to do anymore, Doug. Not by you or any man, ever again," Claire tells him. Though Doug is shown warning dogged journalist Tom Hammerschmidt (Boris McGiver) that Claire may be more guilty than Frank was, he still admits that she is the one he fears most.
Zoe Barnes has remained a prominent figure throughout all five seasons, even from beyond the grave. Frank's early season-two tossing of her in front of a train wasn't the last viewers heard of Zoe, as Tom Hammerschmidt (Boris McGiver) continued to seek justice for her death in season five. Will Tom Yates get the Zoe Barnes treatment? The answer, according to Paul Sparks, is probably not. The actor told 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."
The White House staffer he was having an affair with did question his whereabouts in the finale, but Sparks explained that Tom's function, at least as he envisioned it, was to be an outsider. "Zoe Barnes was after something," he had said after his character exited the show. "She was an animal in D.C., and Tom was never part of that world. As an actor on the show playing that part, there was an outsider quality to the approach I took with the character, to the way he interacted with everybody." With Claire's presidency front-and-center in season six, backtracking to focus on her killing Sparks feels unlikely on the show's trajectory of documenting her phoenix-like rise. Yates still has his book potentially floating around, however, and while Claire might get away with murder, the writer's truth on the page could ultimately result in her paying for some of her sins.
Justice might be served. For Frank's slew of crimes, there has yet to be an appropriate punishment. But unlucky for both Frank and Doug — and perhaps Claire, as well — Tom Hammerschmidt isn't buying it. The last living, and still working, original journalist on the series still wasn't ready to give up at the end of season five, according to the actor who plays him, Boris McGiver. "The hope is certainly, in Tom's mind, that I take them down and [Frank] pays for it and he goes to jail," McGiver had told THR of how he would ultimately like to see Frank's story end before Spacey was fired. Flash-forward to Spacey's demise on the show, and perhaps House of Cards will finally deliver justice for Frank's victims when he is written out on season six. The showrunners had also explained why it was so important to continue to hold someone accountable for both Zoe and Rachel's deaths — their words coming ahead of the #MeToo movement that would launch later that fall. "We thought there was a price to pay for these women that disappear on this show," said Pugliese of these women who were "indispensable" to both Frank and Doug.
The Underwood casualty list is a long one. While some victims of the pair's wrath have wound up six feet under — Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara), Peter Russo (Corey Stroll), Rachel Posner (Rachel Brosnahan), Tom Yates (Paul Sparks), Gavin Orsay (Jimmi Simpson) and Luca Goodwin (Sebastian Arcelus) — others are still alive and kicking. Although Hammerschmidt seemed to be alone in his fight against the family at the end of season five, the final season seems to be an apt time for the return of some favorite former foes. One former journalist who is confirmed to return is Janine Skorksy (played by Constance Zimmer), perhaps to give Hammerschmidt a helping hand.
Jackie Sharp (Molly Parker) and Renny Denton (Mahershala Ali) managed to help Hammerschmidt at the end of season four and, although they were absent in the show's fifth season, their insider knowledge would provide needed damage. Will Conway (Joel Kinnaman) was written off after losing the election to Frank in season five, but the actor told THR at the time, "Maybe this is what he needs to come back strong and more vicious." There's also Heather Dunbar (Elizabeth Marvel), Christina Gallagher (Kristen Connolly), Raymond Tusk (Gerald McRaney), Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen) and more who all have a score to settle and may just get the opportunity to do so in some capacity.