Criminal Boyd Crowder didn’t survive the Elmore Leonard novella Justified was based on, but the show took a different turn.
Walton Goggins’ turn as master criminal Boyd Crowder is inarguably one of the strongest parts of FX’s Southern crime drama Justified. It brought Goggins into the spotlight as an actor and often influenced the show’s most interesting plotlines. However, some fans might be surprised to learn that Boyd was almost killed off at the end of the pilot, which would have changed the course of the entire show.
Justified was initially based on a novella by Elmore Leonard called “Fire in the Hole,” in which his recurring character US Marshal Raylan Givens (played by Timothy Olyphant) goes up against white supremacist criminal Boyd Crowder and his plot to destroy an IRS building. The pilot episode didn’t follow the novella exactly – the IRS building, for example, wasn’t involved at all – but it did originally end the same way, with Raylan shooting Boyd.
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The relationship between Raylan and Boyd was fraught and complicated. They grew up in the same small Kentucky town of Harlan and even worked in the same coal mine as teenagers. The title “Fire in the Hole” actually comes from the catchphrase Boyd likes to shout before causing explosions, which in turn comes from common coal mining jargon. They both grew up in criminal families but reacted in drastically different ways. Raylan left to go to college and ultimately became a marshal because he strongly disliked the corruption that fueled his hometown, while Boyd fled to join the Army but ultimately returned to Harlan to live and, after a stint in prison for tax evasion, he became a neo-Nazi and bank robber.
But the men, who’d once been friends of a sort, continued to have a wary respect for each other. The relationship and repartee between the intelligent lawman and criminal is a common theme in Leonard’s work, and the dynamic between Raylan and Boyd followed that pattern wonderfully. This didn’t prevent Raylan from fatally shooting Boyd in the novella, though, and the pilot episode ended with presumably the same event.
The showrunners hadn’t accounted for how much they would enjoy Goggins’ performance, though, or how attached they quickly became to Olyphant and Goggins’ on-screen dynamic. In a 2015 interview with NPR, series creator Graham Yost explained, “[By the end of the pilot episode] we had all just fallen in love with Walton [Goggins] and the chemistry between Walton and Tim [Olyphant], so we decided to keep him alive.” Goggins had initially agreed to be on the show as a favor to Olyphant, as the two were already friends.
A the beginning of the next episode, it was revealed that Boyd survived. When Raylan visited him in the hospital, Boyd claimed that he’d found religion and renounced his former wicked ways. Instead of continuing to run with a neo-Nazi militia as he’d done in the pilot, Boyd spends the majority of the first season trying to take down the meth trade in Harlan (despite it being run by his father). It was never clear if he was entirely sincere about his born-again ways, but he was never proven to be lying about it, either.
At the end of the first season, Boyd declared that he’s the “only friend [Raylan has] left in this world,” meaning that he believed Raylan would never actually take him down, and through the course of the series, this proves to be true in a strange way. They constantly come into conflict. Boyd takes up some measure of criminality again, while Raylan’s job means he’s in constant pursuit of criminals, but they also save each other’s lives. The series ends with the two of them — Boyd in prison, Raylan visiting — having a conversation that in many ways echoes past conversations and cements the fact that their relationship was at the heart of Justified. Without it, the show wouldn’t have been the same.
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