Animal Kingdom just pulled off its most tragic and suprising death yet. Season 4's penultimate episode saw the Cody family go on a new job with a personal link to Smurf, ultimately leading to a death so tragic the show will never be the same again.
Spoilers ahead for Animal Kingdom Season 4, Episode 12: "Ghosts"
The latest episode of the TNT action drama series said goodbye to the series' main character, Janine "Smurf" Cody (Ellen Barkin), who wanted to go down on one last hurrah amid her deadly cancer diagnosis. But it wasn't her disease that led to her demise, but a fatal gunshot wound from her grandson J (Finn Cole).
The surprising move comes as Smurf spent all season coming to terms with her mortality after being diagnosed with cancer and ultimately deciding to go down fighting. But when Pope (Shawn Hatosy) saved her from being killed by his late father's family, the tough matriarch broke down and ordered her son to kill her.
The harrowing scene shows Smurf break down and beg her son to kill her, even sending a warning shot in an attempt to force him to do it. Her desperation and Pope's insistence on not being the one to kill her leads J to pull the trigger in a game changing twist.
The aftermath of the killing finds the Cody brothers following J's lead, as the future of their partnership as a family, and the future of the how in general up in the air.
With the show already set to return in 2020 for Season 5 and the season finale next week, show runner John Wells opened up to Entertainment Tonight about the decision to kill off the show's main character, and one of the few female characters on the series.
Wells told the outlet the writers wanted to explore what would happen to the boys if Smurf was gone. The flashback storylines showing how young Smurf became who she was, and the birth of her first two children, was born out of that curiosity.
"...we didn't want to end up at the end of the series and not have seen how the boys would actually survive without Smurf," Wells said. "It's the animal kingdom, so every couple of years someone is going to leave the show -- either one the characters is going to get killed or arrested permanently to keep it realistic."
"We kept coming back to the fact that if Smurf died, who would the boys be? How would they survive? What would happen next? Would they survive? Would they fall apart? Would they come at each other's throats? Would the family hold together?" he added. "The more we talked about it, the more excited we were about being able to have Ellen work through the year with this. Smurf is not somebody who can easily accept her own death and isn't about to go out in a hospital room with an IV having wasted to nothing."
When it comes to breaking the news to Barkin, Wells said the conversation happened before the season started production.
"She's a movie star, so she's used to doing three months on a show or on a film and then going off and doing something else. So she was amazed that there was four years worth of work, so it wasn't that. She was like, 'Yeah, these people have to die,'" Wells said.
With the Season 4 finale on the horizon, Wells teased a big blowout between J and Pope and much of the aftermath of the shocking death.
"We kind of described it when we were shooting it as if there had been a bomb blast and everybody had been hit by the concussive shock wave, their ears are bleeding, they are dazed and are trying to find their equilibrium again," Wells told the publication. "It's the absence of an extraordinary power and who am I now? Who are we now? So that's what we were trying to do. You'll tell me if we did it successfully or not."
Animal Kingdom Season 3 airs Tuesday, Aug. 20 at 9 p.m. ET on TNT.