'Bastard Executioner' Creator Kurt Sutter Talks Violence, 'Sons of Anarchy' Comparisons

The Bastard Executioner Still - H 2015
Ollie Upton/FX

The Bastard Executioner Still - H 2015

There are high expectations for Kurt Sutter's The Bastard Executioner. Part Game of Thrones, part The Tudors, it's the colorful showrunner's FX follow-up to Sons of Anarchy — the second-most-watched series in the network's history.

Sutter, gathered with his cast Friday at the Television Critics Association press tour ahead of its Sept. 15 premiere, talked about turning out another series so quickly after his recently-retired hit. "There was a part of me that hoped they would say 'No,'" he said of the pitch. "I started working on this two months before Sons ended, and I knew it was going to be something of a marathon."

Though FX quickly bit -- few could blame the net; Sons went out on a high note, averaging more than 7.5 million weekly viewers -- FX chief John Landgraf did have one concern with the period piece about a man who carries out sentencings with a sword.

"His original response, and rightly so, was that he didn't want to do a show that's just a head in a basket every week, and I agree," he said, comparing Bastard to his former show: "The outlaw motorcycle culture became the backdrop to a show about a very conflicted hero and the relationships around him. I think he got a sense that that is what will happen for [Bastard Executioner]. The period, the job, I hope that will become a backdrop to the character struggles."

With a quick teaser and two clips screened, reporters seemed particularly fixated on Katey Sagal's character, Annora. One scene showed her cautioning the titular executioner, played by newcomer Lee Jones, about a prophesy — leading several to ask if the historical fiction might lead more heavily into fiction. "We're not far removed from a pagan-oriented time," said Sutter, who didn't seem particularly inclined to give a definite answer. "Roman Catholicism is being imposed, but paganism is still very much part of that culture. There's that mysticism that people still believe in, so it's easier to write to that when characters embrace or full-on believe that."

Given the time period and the series' title, the conversation also turned to violence — something that will likely be as much a part of Executioner as it was Sons of Anarchy.

"There's nothing wrong with colorful brutality," offered Sutter, with a wide grin. "My mandate, as it was on Sons, is that the violence — as absurd as it could be sometimes — always come from an organic place. To every violent act, there are ramifications. Yes, it's a medieval setting, and the laws, in terms of punishment, were brutal and heinous. That's a reality of the world. There are ways to portray that violence that don't make it openly gratuitous. Anything that happens, battle sequences or torture... always has some ramification — be it emotional on a character or somehow impacts the narrative."