'Justified' exec producer Graham Yost talks [spoiler], family feud, and building toward 'Bloody Harlan'


Image Credit: Prashant Gupta/FX

After watching this week’s episode of FX’s Justified, fans know two things: First, Boyd can clog. We promised Walton Goggins we would make sure everyone knows that really was him. “I didn’t get winded for nothin’,” he joked with us recently, adding that he probably did about five takes of his jig at Mags’ whoop-dee-doo. (That shindig, by the way, featured a working moonshine still courtesy of the show’s prop department, though we hear they only managed to produce a few drops.) And secondly, things are going to get real interesting in Harlan now that the threat level in the Bennett-Givens feud has once again risen to red. If you haven’t seen the episode, stop reading now. Exec producer Graham Yost fielded our questions about the show’s latest casualty in episode 9, what happens next, and where we’re headed as we approach the May 4 season 2 finale, titled “Bloody Harlan.” 

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did you always know Coover [Brad William Henke] would be the Bennett to die? That was a fun character.
GRAHAM YOST: He was a great character. It was hard to kill any of them. I’d say we probably knew a month before [we shot the episode]. We needed something to set off the final act of the season. We felt that it couldn’t be Dickie, because the Raylan-Dickie thing is a huge story. Raylan crippled this guy. That’s the heart of the feud. It couldn’t be Mags. We needed Doyle around because Doyle is ambivalent. He’s a lawman — and he’s probably not a terrible sheriff, he probably gets some bad guys and keeps a lid on things. So it’s like, well, I guess then it’s Coover. Once we figured that out, then we went back. There’s a little scene in episode 5, where Coover goes into his mama’s store and Loretta’s behind the counter. We put that scene in weeks after we’d finished shooting [episode] 5, but it was a couple minutes short. We said, “We got room for something: Oh, let’s do a Coover-Loretta scene. Wherever we’re shooting, we’ll figure out a scene for that.” And so we put that in to start to lay some of the groundwork. When we start shooting in October and don’t go on the air until February, we can do those kinds of things. Don’t tell Sony that. [Laughs] It’s not free….

Did you tell Brad beforehand?
I did call Brad before the script came out and thanked him for his service. He understood. And I said, “But we give you a good death.” And more than that, we gave him a great episode. But more than that, he gave us a spectacular episode. “I’m a goddamn professional!” That’s one of my favorite lines. We screened episode 9 at our wrap party. The crew hadn’t seen it. Hearing the laughs that were going on in the midst of really tense stuff, that’s the goal. That’s Elmore [Leonard]. You’re laughing and you’re scared. Kaitlyn Dever [who plays Loretta], when she finds her father’s watch, oh my god. But when she comes through and turns on a light and sees Dickie passed out there, the audience laughed.

Last week, I wondered why Raylan would have chosen to duke it out with Coover when he was hungover.
We wanted to show that he was a formidable adversary. Raylan’s our hero, of course he can beat up someone. But when it’s a mountain man like Coover, that makes it dicier at the end of episode 9. The other thing is that Raylan has a certain self-flagellating aspect to his character. He likes to beat himself up. He doesn’t go easy on himself. If you remember last year, the episode “Hatless” when he is suspended for a week and he helps Winona and Gary out of that jam, and the guy steals his hat after they get into a fight at the bar. He gets the crap beaten out of him then, too. Of course it’s two guys, one wielding a 2 x 4. But still, there is that thing where Raylan almost wants to get beaten up sometimes. He wants to hurt [now] because listen, he is devastated by disappointing Art [by helping Winona return the money she’d stolen from the evidence locker]. That’s really hard for him. He’s not gonna show it. That’s one of the fun things with Raylan and Tim playing him. There’s stuff you’ll see in episode 12 that just blew me away that Tim was doing, ’cause he’s responding to something horrific that happens at the end of 11. I’ll say no more. He’s got to control himself to get this job done, but he is just ready to explode.

Margo Martindale is so good as Mags. When the look on her face changed from begging Raylan to let her see Loretta to that cold stare — chills.
Honestly, that’s not scripted. That’s just Margo tryin’ something. And we go, “Yes, that’s good.” We knew that one of the big themes of the season is feud. The Givens vs. The Bennetts, and how will that play out? Will it be the same as it’s always been, which is you kill one of ours, we kill one of yours? Or will there be some change?

Will she be investigated for Loretta’s dad’s death, or will they assume Coover did it?
No one buys that it’s Coover, but they also know that it would be pretty hard to prove at this point with the condition of the corpse. Or at least that’s what we’re saying. We try to stay away from forensic stuff as much as possible. Rarely do we mention DNA or fingerprints. I’m sure on another show, they could pin it on her.

Mags and Raylan have always had a certain respect for each other. Where does that come from if there’s so much bad blood?
There’s something that you will find out, and this is a bit of a spoiler alert: Mags didn’t want to me a criminal matriarch. She wanted to be a housewife, and then her husband was killed by highway robbers and she was forced into this position and she’s done it. She’s done it well. She’s ruled with an iron fist, and occasionally a hammer. But it was not her choice. So Raylan represents someone who got out and made a life for himself outside of the hollers. But I also think the larger thing is simply, and it’s too trite a phrase, southern hospitality. There’s a politeness, and there’s a sense that things aren’t personal even if they are personal. When we went down to Harlan, I remember a couple of people saying that they loved the fact that when Raylan first saw Johnny Crowder, and Johnny’s running this bar and hitting on underaged girls and stuff like that and there’s this history between the families, they still embrace. They’re still happy to see each other — and then it gets down to business. There’s some harsh stuff between them, but you start with friendly and offering food, and a kind word, and “How’s your family?” You see that progression between Raylan and Mags over the course of the season. It’ll get dark at times, but there is always a certain respect for each other.

So where does that leave Mags now that Raylan has been forced to kill one of her sons?
Mags will have to struggle with this. We thought her goal was one thing in episode 8 [to save the holler], and then we found out it was a whole different thing in episode 9, which is to secure a different future for her family. What would she not do because she doesn’t want to risk that future? How much is the future worth to her? That becomes a big question. As I said before, this is not the life she chose for herself, but then there’s that certain acceptance of fate — this is who I am, this is where I live, this is what I must do. That’s the thrust of Mags in the last few episodes.

Have we seen the last of Loretta?
You will see more of Loretta. We consider the poisoning of McCready to be the original sin of the season. If Mags had not done that, we wouldn’t have had a season, and there are aftershocks. What we saw in episode 9 was huge, but that will continue. And that’s only for one reason: Kaitlyn Dever is amazing. We actually discussed in the writers’ room that if we didn’t cast well, then we would never see Loretta after the first episode. And as soon as we saw the first episode, we said we will be seeing a lot of Loretta. As much as we can get with the child work laws.

Have we seen the last of Carol [Hung‘s Rebecca Creskoff]?
We’ve seen the last of Carol for now. HBO was very nice to let us have Rebecca. We originally asked for four episodes. We got on the phone. “I can give her to you for three.” I said, “I can do that!”

It must be scary to cast those recurring roles.
The Bennetts were the biggest roll of the dice of the season, but if Rebecca hadn’t been fantastic, we were stuck with her for three episodes. Well, the chemistry between her and Tim was just wonderful. Raylan is such a charming, sexy guy, one of the classic guys that men want to be and women want to be with, so it’s fun to see him flirting and getting one kiss, and yet it doesn’t feel like he’s cheating on his ex-wife who is cheating on her husband.

Boyd thinks Raylan could be leaving Harlan. When we will find out what Raylan’s thinking?
That has something to do with Raylan and Winona in episode 10 [read more about that hour in the Spoiler Room], and it’s a follow on to what happened with the money and them figuring that maybe Art knows. That was one of the goals of the season, too. We really wanted to strip Raylan down and make him face things about himself — what would he do in this difficult situation? — and strip away his marshal family. Art is the good father that Raylan never had. What happens if that relationship goes sour? You’ll see what we do with that toward the end of the season.

Moving onto Raylan’s bad father, Arlo and Helen really did sign their land over to Boyd?
We had a scene where Boyd went to Arlo’s, and the script was just too long, so we said, “We’ll just have Boyd say it.” We get a little bit more of it later on, but basically, Boyd figured out the deal was about the road and that Arlo’s property was key. He said to Arlo, “If you give me control of this property, I’ll get you a lot of money,” and Arlo said, “Okay.” But there’s also a sort of tacit agreement about where they were gonna go from there.

What’s next for Boyd?
Last season, I said, “I want to see Raylan and Boyd on the same side of a gunfight.” We felt that one of the themes of this season would be second chances. Raylan gets a second chance at Winona, Boyd gets a second chance at living a non-criminal life. But one of the big theme’s in Elmore’s work is the character’s destiny. People may want to change, but it’s very hard for them to change. And our feeling is Raylan, as our hero, can change incrementally, but Boyd, try as he might…. It’s a bit of a spoiler alert, but our goal from the beginning of the season was Boyd becomes an outlaw again. You can see us build to that. He drags the guy in episode 3, he gets the offer of the mine job in episode 4, episode 5 is the mine job. Now he’s revealed that he’s played the mine lady. Then we’ll see where he’s headed. (For more on Boyd and Ava, head to the Spoiler Room.)

We heard Raylan say he couldn’t get a hold of Winona. She’s not going to turn herself in, is she?
No. She’s not gonna try to turn herself in. Sometimes, we just want to keep the story alive and know that he’s thinking about her, but we don’t want to just have her on the other end of the phone. That sets up some stuff that happens in episode 10, and then there’s more stuff that relates to that in 12.

Does the Winona storyline merge with the family feud storyline in the end?
In a way, they do. In the finale, you’ll see that Winona plays a critical role.

That was what was so great about the season 1 finale, how everything converged. It was one of my favorite hours of TV last year.
That was actually, frankly, a pain in the ass, too, because we were so proud of that hour. And it’s like, What are we gonna do this year? And you’ll see we’ve gone… there’s not 15 bodies, put it that way.

There’s still a shootout though, right?
People get shot. There’s shootouts. S— happens.

Good. When Raylan was laying on the floor and shot the guy getting ready to climb through the window.
The window. I know. We’ve got some cool stuff. But it sort of ends up with a showdown that’s unexpected, I think.

Follow Mandi on Twitter: @EWMandiBierly

Read more:
RIP, Charlie. What was in Coover’s bag? We’ve got the answer.
‘Justified’ renewed for third season

Comments (57 total) Add your comment
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  • Nicotine

    Hate to see Coover go. Aside from Damon Herriman, Brad William Henke is, or rather, was my favorite guest star on Justified.

    But great episode overall. Another reminder of why I love this show and I;m so glad FX has already renewed it for a third season!

    • Carlos

      Justified is a great show and the redneck characters are fantastic. Timothy Olyphant aka Raylan is one sexy, hot, masculine, in shape man over 40. I want to see him and his ex-wife get back together. Why would Winona give up Raylan for a nerd and chubby guy like Gary?

  • hk-

    Winona is the worst part of a fantastic show. In the episode where she’s “crying”, all I could think was they either needed to make the character dumber so she didn’t realize the extent of what she was doing, or more sympathetic so we cared about her getting away with it, and she was neither.

    It’s interesting because she’s not a villain, yet she’s the most selfish person on the show. Mags does what she has to for her family. Boyd thinks about Ava’s well-being as much as his own. Raylan obviously cares about what Art thinks, as well as doing the right thing in general. But Winona has never been shown to put anyone else’s feelings in front of her own wants.

    It’s interesting for Raylan to have an Achilles heel. A lot of people do have that one romantic interest that gets to them in a way no one else does. But the character doesn’t sell that that devotion is “justified” to me, so something that could be interesting instead feels painful and unbelievable (as well as incredibly shoehorned in when the robbers and case of the week coincidentally pick that bank at that time and, as Gutterson said, “hijinks” ensue).

    • Pink Lemonade

      Thank you! I have not liked her character since the beginning. There is no give; its all take with her. You can pine for someone but at least make something about them worthwhile for which to pine. I hope she goes away for good.

      • Dani

        I was really trying to like Winona for Raylan’s sake. But it is difficult to get past her being so self-absorbed. And the taking of the money was just completely selfish and stupid on her part. This interview to me is hinting at something happening to her which I do not think is a bad thing for the show.

      • Annette

        Winona needs to go for getting Raylan involved in her stupidity. Besises, she doesn’t deserve him for choosing that lug Gary over him.

      • denine

        I TOTALLY agree! Her character is boring, and the chemistry between Ava and Raylan is NOT there between Winona and Raylan. If this keeps going in this direction, I might actually stop watching.

    • ker

      so on the mark, gotta get rid of Winnona. Maybe him and Boyd can fight over Ava, she’s spunky – love her

      • Lynn

        I agree with the comment above – what woman in her right man would ditch sexy Raylan for that stupid Gary. Unbelievable.

    • Paddy

      Yeah! Get rid of Winnona. Ugh! She’s annoying as heck… I liked Coover but I can see how they gave him the boot and he was fantastic in this episode.

    • ks

      I so agree!!!! Winnona is awful, Like the actress hate the charector. I do love Boyd and Mags though GREAT acting

  • B

    What an episode. This show just keeps getting better and better, and *all* the performances are amazing. Margo Martindale really needs an Emmy. That scene where she goes from begging to cold rage is unbelievable. She portrays so many emotions over the course of even a single scene and switches at the drop of a hat. I’m almost afraid to see how the story can ramp up any more than it already has. This show is so, so good.

    • wiseguy

      Margo Martindale is one of the most underrated character actors currently working on cable TV. She always gives a memorable performance. I liked her in “Dexter” and “Hung”. Hoped she gets an Emmy nomination for playing Mags and as icing on the cake, she wins it too.

      • Dani

        She was also great in The Riches.

      • ks


      • Lynn

        She was wonderful. I too thought that scene where she went from beggin to cold was amazing. I thought to myself – sheshould get an emmy. This show is fantastic. Too bad more people aren’t tuning in to watch. Tim and Walton are also terrific.

    • Pink Lemonade

      Margo Martindale’s “Mags” is fantastic. She actually sent a chill up my spine. Not with the killing of Loretta’s father, although that was cold blooded. But when she sat with Loretta on that bench and said she always wanted a daughter. The implications, the longing and the dichotomy of the fact that she just killed the girl’s father was chilling.

      • Flyer

        Yes, but remember when Mags subtlely grilled Loretta about what the pedophile might have said to her? I really got the feeling that if Loretta had known too much about the Bennetts’ plans, Mags would’ve killed her too, regardless of her wishes for a daughter.

  • Trenton

    I don’t get what he sees in Winona at all. She cheats, steals money, and is kinda bit-chy.

    • Katy

      I agree, I just do not care fore Winona.

      • Lynn

        Men like women that are a little difficult and kind of mean to them. Plus, she has the sex appeal.

    • Nicotine

      I get what he sees in Winona. She’s hot, she’s hot and she’s kinda hot!

      Let’s not act like there’s any other reason why men like women…

      • Flanders

        Yep, yep, and…YEP!

      • Mike

        Agreed. She’s gorgeous, and I think she’s kind of cool personality wise. Probably the character I’m most ambivalent too, but I love the old fashioned type romance going on. Where the cool guy does crazy things for the hard to get girl.

  • Willy

    I actually like that they had Winona and Raylan get back together. There’s something interesting about their relationship in that they know this is a terrible idea (they already tried it once) and yet they are still together. I highly doubt this fling will last beyond this season but it has been interesting.

    As for Coover: thank GOD. His character was loud, dumb and nasty and it was very hard to find any sympathy for him (and I just now realized he is Tony Tucci from Dexter. That guy is a damn good actor). I hope the “lawman” brother gets it next, I’m getting kind of tired of his smug attitude.

    And I want Boyd to become a badass again. I’m sorry but “Ima tryna change ma Lyfe, Ava” Boyd is just not as interesting as rocket launcher Boyd. But we’ll see. So far it’s been a pretty good season.

  • iKnow

    This Is The Best Show On Television Today. If you haven’t seen it PLEASE catch up, you will not be disappointed at all.

  • Annette

    I will echo the thoughts of those who think Margo Martindale deserves an Emmy for her work as Mags. She is brilliant in this role. You can’t take your eyes off of any scene she is in. Justified is awesome and I can’t wait to see where it all leads in the finale.

  • Petra

    Graham Yost – If any of these comments get back to your staff, hope you ask for more coverage at EW, TWOP! Show is great and has real fans – I typically watch the show twice on Wed night to catch any missed dialogue, great scenes.

    I liked oafish Coover. You guys lost a little balance in that he was often inadvertently (as a character) hilarious.
    Best comedy scene so far this season was Marshall boss Art with bad knees chasing after the bank robber with emphysema lugging the oxygen tank.

    The character of Loretta and the actress that plays her are major draws for me. More than any other character save Raylan, I care what happens to her.

    For writers and Tim Olyphant – great dialogue..crisp, intelligent, authentic to the setting, and when appropriate wickedly funny in a dark humor or straight-on funny way.

    I join others in awe of Mags the Machiavellian. What a scary piece of work she is! Somewhat like Boyd, a mix of some good and some very bad – intelligent and charming but also sociopathic. The character delevopment is wonderful with her, time with Loretta talking brooches and things is time well-invested by production and script. I honestly think, as a visual person, that the most memorable image from movies, TV in the last year or two may well be Margo Martindale taking Mags ignoring talk of her dead son Coover, to only wanting Loretta, then from begging right into that perfectly short cold stare before she turned away – in tonight’s episode. What a scene!

  • shamonfrom the bx

    best hour of tv in along time
    I’m a goddamn professional!”

  • Elizabeth

    Anyone get the idea that Winona is a goner based on the end of this article?

    Love this show!

    • Dani

      I posted that up above. I got the same feeling, I am thinking the Bennetts go after her for retaliation for Coover.

    • Carla in Houston

      Sorry to say I won’t miss her if that does happen. She doesn’t deserve Raylan, and all she does is whine. If that character remains, they need to do an overhaul on her. She’s way to annoying and not necessary. I say less Winona, more Mags and Boyd.

  • lia

    brilliant episode, Margo is perfect as Mags that role was made for her. Her look at the end when asking about Loretta, sublime.
    I’m not sorry to see Coover go, but he did have a great episode.
    Truly one of the top 3 best shows on TV.

  • Dani

    This slow build to Boyd and Ava is great. They are now one of my favorite primetime couples. I actually hope she joins him in his criminal ways.

  • w

    The scene with Mags where she “punished” Coover with the hammer….wow! I love this show, and I’m telling everyone about it. Oh, and I don’t like the character of Winona, either.

    • Just Us Professionals

      I’d be way more worried about what might happen to Ava yall. Its no accident that anyone who means anything to Boyd winds up in a pine box. Its the reason he’s been so eager to try to change — the life he knows so well is also the most costly on every level. He’s a magnet for violent death. And Ava has now hitched her wagon to him. She had a chance to do the right thing by not keeping the stolen payroll money. That was a turning point. In a lot of ways she’s just as flawed as Winona, but somehow she seems more sympathetic. The great thing about this show is all the shades of gray for all the characters. Looking forward to a another awesome seaon finale.

    • Carla in Houston

      @Just Us Professionals – I think you mean Winona, not Ava. Winona is Raylan’s ex, who stole the money. Ava is with Boyd.

      • Flyer

        @Carla – I don’t see anything inaccurate in what Just Us Professionals wrote. When Boyd blew up the guys who were trying to rob the mine, he still managed to steal about $20K from the mine, which everyone assumed was destroyed in the blast. Boyd gave the money to Ava to pay her mortgage.

  • Emoney

    Best hour of TV I have watched all year. Fantastic episode, amazing acting. I don’t like Rebecca Creskoff on Hung, but I thought she was very good on Justified, and add me to the list wanting an Emmy for Margo Martindale. F’ing amazing.

  • Alex


    If there is any justice in the tv universe, Justified will get loads of Emmy nominations this year! Timothy Oliphant, Margo Martindale, best drama, best writing, best direction, etc. etc. etc.

    Of all the relationships in the show, my very favorite is the one between Rylan and Winona. Like someone said before, they both know it’s a bad idea but still, the love is there tearing at them. Their scenes together are so amazing I don’t want to blink for fear of missing a facial expression, a pause, a side look, a crooked smile. Their chemistry is like nothing I’ve ever seen on tv.

    • Lynn

      I agree. While I think Winona is pretty selfish – the great chemistry with Raylan is undeniable and Hot!

    • Rissa

      I’m with you–i love the Raylan & Winona ‘ship. She may be flawed, but hey, he loves her–what’s a guy to do! And Natalie Zea was the critics’ darling of Dirty, Sexy Money. Glad she’s back on series tv.

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