EW talked with creator/executive Kurt Sutter about the latest episode’s shocking death — and who may be next. But first, SPOILER ALERT! Don’t go to the jump if you haven’t seen the episode.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did you know at the beginning of the season that you’d kill off Clay?
KURT SUTTER: I had a pretty good sense.
The violence has been crazy. Do you ever ask yourself whether you’ve gone too far?
I guess I don’t necessarily look at it in terms of that. That’s a completely justified question. I guess I don’t necessarily look at an episode and go oh, I’ve done that. I’ve done that. Maybe I shouldn’t do that. For me it’s like I tell the story and as these opportunities come up and if these things feel real and organic and will keep us a little pulpy and epic … I take the opportunity to do them. So, I never necessarily think in terms of is that too much.
Why was it time for Clay to die?
Ultimately he made choices that hurt a lot of other people, that came back to hurt him. And for me, the betrayal of Gemma at the end of last season was the thing that broke him. Once she broke that connection, once she said okay, you’re too despicable for me and to the point where she betrayed him, then it really became the beginning of the end for him. What I tried to do this season was to let him have some sort of self‑awareness and remorse about the choices he’s made. That’s not unrealistic with the way these guys live. Clay begins this season where he’s looking at the end. He doesn’t think he has much time. And so there’s a part of him that’s really trying to clean up the wreckage and make things right before he goes out. It’s interesting to see a guy like that. I didn’t suddenly expect people to turn around and have compassion for this guy, though I think a lot of people were wondering, oh, yes, it’s all a plan. It’s all a play. He’s got something else up his sleeve because that’s who Clay is. I like the idea of a guy who is trying to make it right. He really does want to do the right thing by the club. He really does want to do the right thing by Gemma. And so, that by [the 10th episode] when you think okay, they’ve done everything they could to keep this guy alive and they’re going to keep him alive … when you have some sense that maybe you don’t hate Clay as much as you used to … that’s when we kill Clay. As a storyteller, it would have been too easy for me to put a bullet in his head when he’s just a scumbag. The more interesting arc was have him earn that peace. I think it will be more satisfying for people. Because as much as people say that want Clay dead, they don’t want Clay dead. They want to still see that relationship play out. They want to see it be complicated. They want to see how Gemma feels about betraying Clay. They want to see how Juice feels about betraying Clay. They want to see that play out even though in their gut, they know the guy should be dead. It would be very unsatisfying I think to have killed him already. Here’s a guy who’s lived by a certain code and done bad sh– but at least, you know, let him go out dying with some of the nobility.
Has Jax become Clay?
The sort of irony of the crown is that you can’t necessarily sit at the head of that table and not become Clay. In Jax’s mind, he is the anti‑Clay. Like he’s doing everything for completely different reasons. But the truth is, the behavior is still the same. Ultimately that’s what Chibs is trying to get through to him. But in Jax’s mind, he knows he’s not Clay. He’s not doing things out of greed. He’s not doing things out of self‑motivation. In his mind, he’s doing things for his family and the club, but he’s still doing things like Clay would do them. How do you rectify that? It’ll be up and down for Jax, as it should be. I think he’ll have those moments where he has awareness and does the right thing and then he’ll have those moments in episodes where, you know, he is who he is and he’s going to respond the way he knows how to respond.
So who else is going to meet Mr. Mayhem?
I don’t kill off characters, you know, at least the main characters easily. It would be difficult if I got rid of characters like Tig and Juice and Chibs, especially with Opie gone. They feel like family to people. You have to be very careful not to be arbitrary in terms of who lives and who dies.