Mandi Bierly
April 11, 2012 AT 06:38 AM EDT

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t watched Justified‘s bloody, emotional season 3 finale “Slaughterhouse” (story by showrunner Graham Yost, teleplay by exec producer Fred Golan), stop reading now. As we’ve done each week throughout the season, we asked Yost to take us inside the writers room. Bonus: He also looks ahead to season 4. (Jump straight to that scoop here.)

Among the twists in the final hour: It was Arlo (Raymond J. Barry) who’d shot and killed Trooper Tom Bergen (Peter Murnik) last week, and for all Arlo knew, the “man in a hat” who’d been pointing a gun at Boyd (Walton Goggins) could have been Raylan (Timothy Olyphant). Ouch. It was Quarles (Neal McDonough) who told Raylan the shooter was Arlo — right after Quarles had his rail-gun arm chopped off by Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson). Awesome. Limehouse had told Raylan about Boyd killing and burying Devil (Kevin Rankin), and Boyd was arrested. But Arlo later confessed to Devil’s murder as well as Tom’s, and Boyd walked. Yay. Johnny (David Meunier) was the one who’d snitched to Limehouse about Devil, but Johnny made Ava (Joelle Carter) think Arlo had talked to Ellen May (Abby Miller). Ava got violent trying to get her to talk. Let’s dig in.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So Arlo really didn’t know who he was shooting at?

Graham Yost: He did not know. That “man in a hat” thing was something that came up while we were working on the break, the writing, and the outlining of the last episode. In the credits, I wrote the story and Fred wrote the script. But Fred being Fred, if he was jammed, he would say, “Why don’t you take a run at this scene?” And I just threw in the “man in a hat” thing. That was something that he loved and Tim picked up on, and it just became the anchor for the final beat of the season.

So Arlo came back to the bar after he left Ava last week?

Our rationale on that is he was headed back there to kill Dickie. That’s what Helen was talking about in his hallucination. “You gotta take care of business, you gotta do this.” That’s what he went back to do. The track that we had in our minds was that Arlo sees a guy in a hat, thinks maybe it’s Raylan and shoots him anyway — not trying to kill Raylan but trying to save Boyd. So then in the bar when he sees Raylan, he is, to a degree, relieved that he didn’t kill his son. It all comes back to Helen, in that Helen was the conscience for Arlo. In our imagination, she could be both a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. The devil saying, “Go kill Dickie” and the angel saying, “You’ve got to apologize to Raylan.” Arlo isn’t a mustache-twirling bad guy. At some level, because Helen told him so, he understands that he was not a great father though he would never admit it. What we were looking for [with that apology] — for the audience, not knowing where the story was gonna end up — was just a tiny moment of rapprochement between father and son. Raylan is surprised by it. Maybe he’s slightly pleased to hear it, but it’s so odd that it doesn’t make him think where this could be coming from — and it’s coming from the fact that Arlo shot a man in a hat thinking it might be Raylan.

Did Arlo come up with the idea to take the fall for Devil’s murder himself, or was that Ava and Johnny?

In our minds, it was just Arlo coming up with it himself. We had thought about having some kind of shot of Arlo seeing Boyd in the holding cell and a look passing between them — not necessarily that Boyd was giving instructions, but more that Arlo was just seeing Boyd and making a decision. We knew we wanted Boyd not in jail at the end of the season. There was another idea we were toying with that I’m not gonna tell you because we might use it later. But that idea of Arlo taking the fall was something Fred came up with fairly early on, because we just felt it would be a really big screw you from Arlo to Raylan, as well as a sort of declaration of his affection for Boyd and his loyalty to Boyd.

Speaking of affection, that scene where Boyd told Ava why he wouldn’t run from the law, because they’d always know he’d come back to her, and she said she wanted more time — so good.

They’re just great together. We didn’t spend a lot of time on the romance over the year, but there are a couple little scenes here and there. They both know how to play it very real, so you really root for them. Lest we forget, they’re both murderers. They’re not just criminals. THEY’RE MURDERERS. And yet, we somehow like them.

When I talked to Joelle Carter a few weeks ago, she said there was something Ava did in the season finale that took her some time to wrap her mind around the first time she heard about it. I assume that was beating up Ellen May to find out what she could have told Dickie about Devil that allegedly got back to Limehouse?

That would be it. I told you earlier in the season about our idea of exploring the theme of crossing a line and what happens when you cross the line. Joelle is such a gamer. I think the way Fred first wrote it, she maybe pushed Ellen May and slapped her twice, or something. And it was Joelle who said, “How about this progression: I’ll push her first, then I’ll slap her, and then I’ll punch her.” [Laughs] We had not thought of her punching her. Joelle being Joelle, it wasn’t just some half-ass punch. It looked real. The way she got there relates to the scene where she’s begging Boyd, “Let’s go on the run.” You realize that it’s coming out of her own frustration and anger. The way she plays it at the end, “You don’t talk to anybody about anything” and walks out, you can see a little glimpse of horror in her eyes. Like, what the hell have I just done? That’s Joelle. I mean, when she hit me the other day… No.

So when Limehouse met Boyd on the bridge and gave him back his “deposit,” he already knew he would eventually turn Boyd in for Devil’s murder?

He had that in his pocket, which is why he said to Errol [Demetrius Grosse], “Not yet.” He was holding that in reserve, to call Raylan or the authorities. We had a version where you saw Errol calling the Kentucky state police and saying, “I saw a body being buried.” But when Raylan comes to Limehouse, okay, now it’s time.

Raylan balancing the salt shaker at Limehouse’s. Is there a story behind that?

I think it was Tim with Dean Parisot, our wonderful director of the episode. They just came up with this idea of the salt shaker, and in editing, it was just a decision as to when it would fall over. At one point, it fell over when Raylan pulls his guns and Limehouse gets the cleaver and there’s all this motion. It looked fine falling over then, but then it was either [editor] Bill Johnson’s or Dean’s idea to delay it and just have it fall over almost randomly but at a nice little punctuation moment farther into the scene.

We’ve talked before about how Tim doesn’t want Raylan to use his gun — like you, he prefers more creative violence — so that double gun scene with Limehouse, and the earlier “Harlan Roulette” scene with Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns), are the best of both worlds: We get to see him wield a weapon but not actually shoot anyone. I loved the return of Harlan Roulette.

That was a late change. We knew there was gonna be a big Raylan-Wynn Duffy scene, and we knew that it was gonna get weird and violent. I can’t remember the various iterations of it, but when we hit on that, I think maybe Fred had asked [co-executive producer] Dave Andron to take a run at the scene and Dave had written [the episode] “Harlan Roulette.” We just thought that would be a cool way to go. It’s that little dance we try to do, which is to set up a certain expectation in the audience’s mind and then hopefully deliver it in a way that’s unexpected. Like we felt that from the beginning of the season, people would expect Raylan to have a showdown with Quarles where Raylan would shoot him. And then we thought, well maybe there’s a different way to go. Can we accomplish the same end, which is neutralizing Quarles, in a way that’s a little more arresting and interesting and…gruesome, frankly. I’ve told you in weeks past, the first time we saw the slaughterhouse set and the knives and cleavers, we just had a feeling that at some point, those tools had to be used in anger. And it was also a feeling that maybe the final big confrontation needed to happen there. It’s such a scary weird place.

I loved how Quarles reached up for his severed arm, and Raylan pulled it away.

When Fred first wrote that, the arm just got chopped off and fell to the floor. Quarles was on the floor, reaches for it, and Raylan just puts his foot on it. Which is also cool. We went back and forth: Is Raylan gonna chop off the arm? Is Limehouse gonna get shot? Various things were working into the mix, and they just figured it out on set. The biggest bone of contention was when Quarles would tell Raylan that it was his father who shot Bergen. We went back and forth on that, too. Some people were pushing for him to say it before the arm chop, as we called it. My feeling was that it’s such important information, it would get so overshadowed by the arm chop that it would undercut it. I felt that the character moment was more important, so it needed to come late. Finally, when Fred was talking to Neal about it, Neal was like, “You know, I’m gonna be bleeding out on the floor,” and Fred said, “It’s like Messala in Ben-Hur when he’s been trampled to death essentially by horse after horse and chariot after chariot, and Ben-Hur has won the big race and Messala has been vanquished and as he’s dying. He screws with Ben-Hur one last time and says, ‘Your mother and sister are still alive. They’re in a leper colony.'” When Neal heard that, he said, “I got it.” He’s just screwing with Raylan one last time.

I assume from the blood pool, Quarles is dead.

Steven Heth, our post-producer, really rode that one right to the end: What’s the pool of blood gonna look like? How dark? Well, he may not be dead. Our feeling was that you could slap a tourniquet on that and probably stop him from bleeding out. But certainly as a presence in the show [he’s gone]. Although, if he were to kill Winona but frame Raylan, and Raylan had to clear his name and he was after a one-armed man… no, wait a second. That’s season 11, when we get desperate.

NEXT: Raylan returns Quarles’ gun.

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