'Justified': Graham Yost Previews Final Season, Talks Pressure of Ending a Serialized Show

Justified Timothy Olyphant - H 2015
Courtesy of FX

Justified Timothy Olyphant - H 2015

For Justified's final season, the battle hits close to home as Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) goes up against, perhaps, his most dangerous foe possible: Boyd (Walton Goggins).

The occasional friends/frequent enemies co-existed for years, but with Raylan pulling strings to get Ava (Joelle Carter) out of jail so she can spy on Boyd's criminal activity, the stakes are exceptionally high for all three of them.

Justified showrunner Graham Yost spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about what's in store for the FX drama's final season, the pressures of ending a serialized series and more.

As the writers approached the final season, what was the main priority for the team?

(Joking.) It's the final season?! I think it's always the same thing we've been shooting for from the beginning: a show that feels like it's an Elmore Leonard show. We've been on long enough that you can start to forget where we come from, and what our bloodlines are. That's the most important thing. That's always been with us. For the final season, the focus is Raylan, Boyd and Ava. And [we] never lose track of their stories.

What kind of pressure is there in knowing, for sure, this is the end of the show?

You don't want to screw it up. You want to make sure it feels like it's part of the whole series — to not do anything in the final season that's not right for what you've been doing [all along]. I would say in the current television environment, there is a lot of focus on shows, especially in their final year. And especially when you're doing something that's a bit more serialized than shows were 10, 15 years ago. You have to wrap up not only the season, but also the series. So how are you going to do that? There's a lot of focus on that. So, it's a concern. But at the same time, we have to ignore that, and get down to the job at hand: What's the most fun story we could tell this week?

Justified has never been a show that plays it safe. How are the stakes changing in the final season?

Something that [FX Networks CEO] John Landgraf said, right at the beginning: He wanted a showdown in every episode. It didn't have to literally be Raylan drawing his gun, but there had to be some big conflict. We're still trying to do that. We are a semi-serialized show — I say semi, only in that we still strive to have each episode be something in itself: That's the episode about this, or that's the episode about that — and we haven't stopped doing that. Each episode has its own character and story. But it's all part of the bigger story, which is Raylan, Boyd and Ava, for this final run.

Raylan is going into this battle with Boyd and viewing it as his final job before he leaves Harlan. What can you tease about his journey this season?

I think it's the danger when any character, especially in fiction, says, "I'm going to do one last thing, and then go." You shouldn't say that! You should just go. And so there's a risk, inherent, in doing that one last thing. We'll string it out right till the end. And I'll say this: We haven't [landed on the ending] — we had ideas how the last episode will be playing out, but we have nothing written. So we're still sort of figuring it out.

See more On the Set of 'Justified's' Final Season

How much screen time will Raylan and Boyd be sharing this year? It would seem like if their relationship is a big part of the central conflict, putting them together too much would defuse some of the dramatic tension.

Honestly, since about the fourth season we've tried to keep Raylan and Boyd apart as much as possible so their scenes would be special and really pop. We continue to do that. They do spend time together, but not in every episode. And so there's just these odd moments where you're like, "Wow, this might be the last big Raylan and Boyd scene where we're going to do [any given thing] along the way." It's this bittersweet realization of, "This is it." And listen, it's always our job within those scenes to find something new or go deeper, perhaps, than we have in the past, and not just be repeating ourselves.

How is Boyd handling the various threats this season?

Boyd is always someone who it's fun to put in chains and throw rocks at him — which is a term Tim Olyphant loves — just make thing difficult for these characters. That's always fun with Boyd, because he can scramble, he can get in trouble, but he has a certain will and a confidence that allows him to continue to survive, and that's what we're dealing with in this final run. How's that going to play out in this last story? And like I said, we still haven't decided.

Ava had a rough time in jail last season. How has that experience changed her, and what new sides will we be seeing to her now that she's free?

You've rarely seen Ava under such pressure. It's interesting, because the pressure is not coming from a threat from outside, it's all within her life: It's Boyd and Raylan. And that is really fun stuff for Joelle to be playing, and she's just doing a tremendous job.

How will the marshals handle Art (Nick Searcy) being out post-injury?

Just rest assured Art will have a significant role to play this season. That's really all I can tease about that.

What can you share about what Katherine Hale (Mary Steenburgen) and Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns) will be up to?

You'll see. It's an interesting ride for both of them. Katherine starts the season with a certain goal in mind. That will be tested by events — by her relationship with the target of her malice, which is Avery Markham. And Duffy is just trying to survive. We do make things as difficult as we can for him in our final stretch.

Speaking of Markham, what can you tease about the new faces who will be joining the show this year?

The big new characters would be Avery Markham, played by Sam Elliott, and Ty Walker, played by Garret Dillahunt. There's a host of other [new] characters, too. When you get someone like Sam Elliott or Garret Dillahunt or Mary Steenburgen or Jonathan Tucker [Boon] — and they understand Elmore's world; they get it really quickly. It's fun to have that sort of shot in the arm, that new blood. And Markham is a strong character, and Sam is doing great work. Same with what Garret has done with Walker. There's this feeling from our cast of, "Give me another scene with that guy, because that was fun!"

Are there any characters from the past who are returning for the final season?

We'll just let that play out. We wanted to be sure we didn't just do Justified's greatest hits. So there are some characters we loved that we're not going to see again; we just couldn't make the story work, or the story didn't suggest itself. And yet, there were others, where it was like, "Boy, it would be great to see so-and-so," and then we realized, "Wow, this is a place where we can; it makes sense, and it doesn't just feel like we're trotting someone out because we fell in love with them."

What is the time frame for the final season? Will you be utilizing any flash-forwards?

We talked about that. We do, on Justified, tend to work in a compressed time frame. No one has gone through the series and said, "OK, if this is day one, where are we now?" But it's not a lot of days. We've taken a few jumps between seasons, but not a lot. And we just sort of find that our stories end on a Wednesday, let's say, and the next story starts the next day, or sometimes minutes later. And that's been the nature of the story. [The final season] is pretty compressed. I would say the story actually takes place over less time than it takes to air the episodes.

FX has been extraordinarily supportive of letting other shows run episodes at whatever length works best. Have you taken advantage of that this season?

We end up coming in under an hour. It's funny, the paradigm has changed, because you don't have to hit that 42 minute and 30 second mark on the nose anymore, because the second life for the show is Amazon Prime, Netflix or whatever platform. If we go long, that's fine, they made it clear to us. The problem is if you're going long, it better be because that's just how it plays, versus adding additional pages, because it's expensive to shoot. Our scripts are still about the same length, sometimes the episodes will play a little longer.

Justified airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX. Come back to THR's The Live Feed after the premiere for more on Justified's final season. What are you looking forward to seeing? Sound off in the comments section below.

Twitter: @MarisaRoffman