Jeff Jensen
March 14, 2014 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The tense, terrifying first season of True Detective came to a satisfying and surprisingly soulful end on March 9. (It drew 3.5 million TV viewers, and so many people tried to watch online, they basically broke HBO Go.) We talked to creator Nic Pizzolatto about what we should take from the finale. Last warning: Spoilers (and a Spaghetti Monster) ahead!

The ”Monster” Was Human After All
For the first seven episodes, the show faithfully stuck to the points of view of two detectives, Martin Hart and Rust Cohle (played by Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey). But the finale opened with an unexpected glimpse at the disturbing daily life of serial killer Errol Childress (Glenn Fleshler). “Since this was the finale, I thought we could make room for one more point of view,” says Pizzolatto. “We had kept the monster behind the curtain and we needed to get to know him. I thought the audience deserved…to recognize him the way you recognize the heroes of True Detective.”

Errol Wanted To Be Caught
In fact, the erstwhile Yellow King was willing to be killed in order to expose his abusive ancestors. (In the penultimate episode, viewers learned that the “giant” baddie hailed from a long line of rapists and murderers — and that his own father was responsible for his horrific scars.) “He was inviting [death],” says Pizzolatto. “Childress was signaling to the authorities both his presence and the presence of the men who made him.”

You Don’t Have To Kill A Main Character To Get Closure
Given the show’s bleak tone, many expected that one or both of the detectives would leave Carcosa in body bags. But it ended on a strangely uplifting note. “Killing characters on television has become an easy shortcut,” says the creator. “The challenge was to create an emotionally resonant ending that made the journey worthwhile…. They are not healed, but now, for the first time, you can imagine a future where they are.”

Rust Finally Believed In… Something
Did nihilist Cohle’s near-death experience make him believe in God? Heaven? Christianity? “[The ending] doesn’t describe a conversion to me as much as it describes a broadening of perspective,” Pizzolatto says. “The man who once said there is no light at the end of the tunnel is now saying there might be order to this.”

This Is Not (Necessarily) The End
Pizzolatto, who penned the 2010 novel Galveston, has retained the literary rights to the characters. “So maybe you will see Cohle and Hart novels down the road after Hollywood kicks me out. Always a possibility.”

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