When the new, final season of Boardwalk Empire starts Sunday, the Roaring Twenties will be over. The Depression will will have set in, and the end of Prohibition will be just a couple of years away. That, however, doesn’t mean that the aftermath of the series’ fourth season won’t linger, even as the show settles into 1931.
In its past four seasons, Boardwalk Empire has proved that it is interested in the entirety of the sprawling gangster culture of the 1920s, not just Nucky Thompson’s bootlegging business. By moving the action to 1931, the show will most certainly contend with the changing crime landscape. In the context of the show, this is the year in which Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza), one of the show’s principal characters, organizes the American mafia as The Commission. Luciano will most certainly make it out of the season alive—barring an even bigger time jump—as will Al Capone (Stephen Graham), Meyer Lansky (Anatol Yusef), and Bugsy Siegel (Michael Zegen). Another real-life character, Arnold Rothstein, was not so lucky—the real-life Rothstein died in 1928, meaning that audiences didn’t get to see his murder. (Michael Stuhlbarg’s performance will also be missed.) The fictional or fictionalized characters, however, may have a different lot given the show’s precedent—R.I.P. Richard Harrow—and eagerness to tease that “no one goes quietly.”
Before tuning in Sunday, reorient yourself in Boardwalk’s vast underworld, as EW tries to guess which (fictional) characters will survive the season.
Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi)
Where we last saw him: Nucky had plans to kill his traitorous brother Eli and go to Cuba with his new love interest, Sally (Patricia Arquette). He didn’t pull the trigger, however, when Eli’s son Willie walked in, and eventually helped Eli’s family after Eli killed the FBI agent who had been blackmailing him.
Likelihood of survival this season: Unlikely. Nucky’s real-life counterpart Enoch Johnson, lived a long life, but that might not be the case for the fictional Nucky. The show is attempting to build sentimental attachment to Nucky this season, thanks to flashbacks that show how he got his start in Atlantic City as a young boy in the 19th century working for the Commodore. The easier it is to like Nucky, the harder it will be to see him go—perfect fodder for TV writers. Even though Nucky has frequently risen above the violent fray, he could become collateral damage in the show’s desire to have a memorable finale.
Gillian Darmody (Gretchen Mol)
Where we last saw her: In a jail cell after she was coerced by Roy Phillips, a man she thought was her romantic partner who was actually a detective, to confessing to murdering a young man she passed off as her dead son Jimmy Darmody.
Likelihood of survival: Likely. The show has made the case that Gillian Darmody is a survivor. It’s a part of her origin story: Jimmy was conceived because she was raped as a child by the Commodore. Even the crime, which lands her in a sanitarium at the beginning of this season, was an act of self-preservation, since she needed Jimmy’s body for business purposes. Gillian, despite often appearing unstable, has also continually proved herself to be shrewd.
Eli Thompson (Shea Wigham)
Where we last saw him: After murdering the FBI agent who was having him set up Nucky, Eli met George Mueller, a.k.a former prohibition agent Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon), now working for Capone in Chicago. (Capone meanwhile took over Johnny Torrio’s organization.)
Likelihood of survival: Unlikely. Eli Thompson is the unlucky member of the Thompson family, the one without the stature, who has tried and failed to one-up Nucky. When the season opens, he’s in the fray of Capone’s organization—not necessarily a safe place.
Chalky White (Michael K. Williams)
Where we last saw him: In Maryland, mourning the death of his daughter, who was accidentally murdered by Richard Harrow in an assassination attempt on Jeffrey Wright’s villainous Valentin Narcisse.
Likelihood of survival: Even. With the death of Richard Harrow, Boardwalk made clear that it is not shy about killing its most beloved characters. Chalky certainly falls under that category, but it’s unclear what the threats to his life might be.
Valentin Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright)
Where we last saw him: Avoiding deportation by becoming an informant on Marcus Garvey for J. Edgar Hoover.
Likelihood of survival: Unlikely. Narcisse was last season’s main villain, and, frankly, after what happened to Bobby Cannavale’s Gyp Rosetti, it’s a surprise he made it through last season. Somehow it seems he might get his comeuppance this time around.
Margaret Thompson (Kelly MacDonald)
Where we last saw her: Walking into some nice digs arranged for her by Arnold Rothstein, who she had, in turn been helping out under the guise of her secretarial duties.
Likelihood of survival: Even. With Nucky and Margaret separated last season, the show didn’t pay much attention to her, so it’s very hard to know what kind of role she’ll have in the final season. Her alliance with the now-murdered Rothstein perhaps does not put her in perhaps the safest position.
Willie Thompson (Ben Rosenfield)
Where we last saw him: Willie wasn’t much of a factor in the show up until the last season when Rosenfield took over the role. Though much of the fourth season found Willie tempted by the lifestyle of his uncle Nucky, who helped him get out of trouble when he murdered a college classmate, he ended the season on a note of disillusionment with the man who, after all, pointed a gun at the head of his father.
Likelihood of survival: Likely. Willie’s the next generation, after all.
George Mueller/Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon)
Where we last saw him: Working for Capone and picking up Eli.
Likelihood of survival: Unlikely. Someone has to catch on to his shady history eventually, and that can’t end well.