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The Ending Of Justified: City Primeval Explained

Contains spoilers for "Justified: City Primeval"

They say you'll never leave Harlan alive, but U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens did — and even got a revival TV show for his trouble. "Justified: City Primeval" aired in 2023, eight years after the original "Justified" ended in 2015, but the show takes place 15 years after the original's glorious — and possibly perfect — finale. The original left some pretty big cowboy boots to fill, and the ending of "Justified: City Primeval" puts those boots on and does a little dance with the devil in Detroit.

"Justified: City Primeval" is the cowboy-hatted brainchild of Dave Andron and Michael Dinner, who both worked on the original "Justified." The revival series takes Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) on a new adventure in ultra-corrupt Detroit. The story centers around his quest to find and stop the killer of a judge notorious for keeping a little blackmail book on half the Motor City.

Like the original, "Justified: City Primeval" addresses social issues, the ties that bind, and the possibility (or impossibility) of growth and change. Also like the original, it does so with dramatic flair, understated humor, and meaty character roles. Still, the finale seems to undo some of what the original "Justified" did, while also laying the groundwork for more adventures for Raylan — whether he likes that idea or not. Pull your Stetston low as we pour a stiff glass of "Justified" spoilers, and read on for the ending of "Justified: City Primeval" explained.

What you need to remember about the plot of Justified: City Primeval

"Justified: City Primeval" kicks off with Raylan Givens, a long-time U.S. Marshal, living in Miami. He drives his teenage daughter, Willa (Vivian Olyphant), to a special summer camp after she punched a girl who "deserved it" — but is interrupted when carjackers attack dad and daughter Givens. Raylan shoots out the carjackers' tires and gives the thugs a ride — in his trunk.

Later, in Detroit, one of the attacker's cases is overseen by Judge Guy (Keith David) — a man who has already survived one attack on his life. Raylan and Willa ruffle plenty of feathers in court, drawing the irritation of Judge Guy and criticism of criminal defense attorney, Carolyn Wilder (Aunjanue Ellis). Still, Raylan sticks around Detroit to help the Detroit Police Department (DPD) crack the case of Judge Guy's attack — which turns into a full-blown manhunt when the "Oklahoma Wildman," Clement Mansell (Boyd Holbrook), kills the judge and his assistant, Rose (Rae Gray), in what looks like an impulsive road-rage incident.

Mansell finds Judge Guy's little black book, a mysterious notebook the judge uses as a paper log of Detroit officials' various misdeeds. Mansell recruits his sometime-criminal partner, Sweety (Vondie Curtis-Hall), to use the book for big-money blackmail. Soon enough, the main players of "Justified: City Primeval" are after it — while Raylan is after Mansell.

What you need to remember about Raylan Givens

Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens is a chaos agent of justice. Raylan used to shoot bad guys on sight week after week — so his initial reluctance to do so in "Justified: City Primeval" is a bit of a welcome shock. Especially considering the series name "Justified" comes from Raylan's literal line of defense after shooting a guy dead in the belly (in public) because he got the guy hot enough to draw on him first.

"It was justified" launched the dramatic career of a trigger-happy, hair-trigger-tempered, justice-minded lawman absolutely obsessed with his job — and the phrase that launched a hundred FX ad campaigns. The phrase and its accompanying ethos is a bruise — one that "Justified: City Primeval" can't stop poking. Getting a bad guy angry enough to draw on him so he could fire off his Glock underlies basically every interaction he's ever had with a bad guy. Excluding, of course, Raylan's ultimate dance partner, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins).

Many characters in the revival comment on Raylan's legendary anger, and some even expect to rely on his hot head and overall sense of vigilante justice in a marshal costume to work in their favor. However, Raylan wasn't a present husband, father, friend, or lover back in his "Justified" days, and "Justified: City Primeval" posits that this time, he is — and that makes different responses to injustice justified, even if the ending also shows old habits are hard to break.

What happens at the end of Justified: City Primeval?

Raylan's attempt to bait Mansell into a shooting match is cut short by the arrival of Toma (Terry Kinney) and the Albanians. The gang takes them to Skender's (Alexander Pobutsky) warehouse, where Carolyn is waiting. She's made a deal — the Albanians can kill Mansell, as long as Raylan walks free. They plan to lock Mansell in Skender's secret room and seal him off. When Mansell taunts Raylan about following him to Florida, Raylan pushes the button that will essentially bury Mansell alive. Toma rationalizes that Raylan's choice to trap Mansell is justified and hands over Judge Guy's book. Still, Raylan looks uneasy with this "win."

Later, at an all-night diner, Carolyn asks Raylan to discuss the book, while Mansell discovers another (locked) garage door in the warehouse. The next day, Raylan uses the book to bring dirty cop Maureen (Marin Ireland) in but doesn't have enough evidence to keep her. Raylan heads home to Carolyn, where she admits she hates the house she built to suit her status-hungry ex, not herself. That night, Raylan gets out of bed. Raylan suits up with his henley of justice to free Mansell — but finds the dead body of Skender at the busted-open secret warehouse room instead.

Mansell has escaped and killed Skender as well as every Albanian gang member at the nursing home Toma runs. Raylan calls Carolyn and demands she flee the house. He goes there to lay in wait for Mansell and to finish their shooting match at last.

What happens to Raylan at the end of Justified: City Primeval?

Mansell tries to buddy up with Raylan in the final scenes of "Justified: City Primeval." He talks about music and how his "daddy was a real barnburner" — and how, though he didn't know his father, he shares his DNA. The discussion of how apples never fall far from the tree opens Raylan's old wounds about his own criminal father, and Mansell cuts his speech short.

He tells Raylan he's going to give him something to remember him by. Mansell reaches in his pocket — and Raylan shoots him. But as Mansell slumps to the ground, amazed that Raylan has shot him, the audience and Raylan see the thing he was actually reaching for: his demo tape. Carolyn shows up and calls the morgue to retrieve Mansell as Raylan reckons with what he's done. Time jumps to six weeks later. Raylan is back in Miami at a retirement party for his chief, Dan (Matt Craven).

He approaches Dan, who drunkenly offers to recommend him as chief. Raylan quits instead. He heads home to spend some retirement time with Willa out on a boat. Meanwhile, seemingly reformed prison preacher Boyd Crowder breaks out of prison with the help of a female guard and heads for Mexico. Raylan doesn't look so happy to retire when he gets a notification about the escape on his phone. When the Kentucky Marshals' office immediately calls him, Willa watches him let the phone ring.

What does the end of Justified: City Primeval mean?

The ending of "Justified: City Primeval" explores how it might be impossible to grow and change, but you've got to try anyway. Though Raylan has always had a deep sense of justice, he's also had an obsessive need to be the one who metes it out. Much of the conflict in "Justified" came from Raylan doing things his way rather than the "legal" or "right" way. While everyone in "Justified: City Primeval" reckons with the difference between what is legal and what is just, all of that catches up with Raylan in the finale.

For much of "Justified: City Primeval," Raylan seems to have grown beyond using his position of power as a way to vent his anger at his own criminal father. He regards hotheaded, rule-bending cop Norbert (Norbert Leo Butz) with barely veiled disgust — though he used to operate much the same. He brings Maureen in for her corrupt practices — but can't defend himself when she criticizes him for doing worse than her to keep the city "safe."

The ending of "Justified: City Primeval" shows the benefits and challenges of change as well as the benefits and drawbacks of living by a code. "Go and get your honor," Skender hears from his guard. He does, and he dies for it. Carolyn bends her own honor to get her coveted judgeship. Raylan, so shaken by his old ways taking over at the end, goes for his remaining honor with family so hard that he quits the marshals.

Why does Mansell have so much power?

Raylan's big bad in "Justified: City Primeval" is ruthless, selfish, deadly — and, as girlfriend Sandy (Adelaide Clemens) once puts it, "fun." But why does Clement Mansell escape any form of justice until the ending? Why does he hold so many of the main players of the series in his thrall? And why does he make Raylan so damn angry? One reason: He has the nebulous "little black book" and tons of dirt on everyone in town. But the real reason? Every "Justified" needs a bad Boyd.

Boyd Holbrook plays Clement Mansell with a near-psychotic swagger and confidence. He is the sole soul in "Justified: City Primeval" who feels zero need to change. In fact, the one change he does indulge is based on Sweety's recommendation to get a tape deck so he doesn't always "have" to steal old cars to play his preferred mode of music. As someone so indulgent of his every wicked whim, this "Jack White wannabe" is the perfectly self-assured, smooth-sailing counterpoint to Raylan's struggle bus on the change trail.

Mansell's powers of self-obsession give him superpowers. Sandy had good reason to be nervous about squealing on him, as seemingly every Albanian gang member in the Detroit metro area seemed to learn the night they decided to "seal" him in a secret room, while leaving its back door unguarded. Mansell never doubts himself — he is the ghost of Raylan-past and Raylan-future. Of course he gives Raylan-present the spooks.

Why does Raylan go back for Mansell?

"Sometimes it takes an angry guy to catch an angry white guy," Detective Wendell Robinson (Victor Williams) tells Raylan. Raylan does, in fact, catch (and trap) Mansell — so why does he go back to the warehouse to release him?

Raylan goes back for Mansell because burying a man alive doesn't sit right with him. He seemingly has the intention to do things the "right" way this time, but later, Mansell seemingly draws on him after invoking the thought that he can't escape his bad dad's DNA. The "right" way becomes Raylan's way once again, and Raylan shoots Mansell dead. Justice is technically served for a stone-cold killer like Mansell — so what's with that strange look on Raylan's face when he sees that Mansell was offering him a cassette tape?

Does Raylan see a version of himself in Mansell that's a lot like his own bad dad? Or worse — does Raylan see Arlo in himself, and himself in Mansell? We say yes to everything. Plus, this moment is a parallel to Raymond Cruz's story from Episode 5, where he describes his own personal Boyd coming to his house, shooting it up, and seemingly drawing on him. Of course, the man was just reaching for a bottle opener so, like with Mansell and Raylan, the two enemies could break metaphorical bread together. While Raylan was quietly horrified at Raymond's story then, he's quietly horrified with himself at the end of "Justified: City Primeval."

Why doesn't Raylan expose Carolyn?

Carolyn Wilder is a just woman who has done some unjust things to sit on her judge's bench at the end of "Justified: City Primeval." So if Raylan is so bothered by not doing things "right" — why doesn't he turn Carolyn in?

Maybe Raylan sees himself in Carolyn, just as much as he sees himself in Mansell. To expose the dirty work Carolyn did to get into a position to provide a brand of justice more in line with Raylan's than, say, her frenemy Diane (Regina Taylor) or some other judge "dirtier than the Playboy mansion jacuzzi" seems more than a little hypocritical of Raylan. It's unsportsmanlike, to say the least.

But while Raylan's choice to keep mum about Carolyn's misdeeds could be chalked up to a complicated moment of game recognizing game, his silence goes beyond that — and into romantic territory never before charted in the world of "Justified." Raylan has shared a deep love and fraught relationship before, with Winona (Natalie Zea) — Willa's mom. But not until Carolyn has he had such an intimate partnership on equal footing. As Carolyn says in her letter to Raylan, they have a unique understanding of each other. And a very powerful one.

Why did Raylan quit?

There's nothing quite like listening to your boss talk about how "the days are long but the years are short" six weeks after you secretly buried a supervillain alive, only to unbury him so you could rebury him in a different, bloodier way. Raylan might not touch too many of the margaritas at Chief Dan's retirement party, but he is more than a little drunk on the consequences of his own actions.

Though Dan recognizes there's "something different" about Raylan these days, it isn't that he's haunted by his past. Dan sees the steadier Raylan the marshal has presumably worked to become over his 15 off-screen years. Dan sees a Raylan ready for "the big chair" — but Raylan sees himself staring down the barrel of becoming (or re-becoming) a monster.

Raylan seems to have a choice: continue being a marshal and return to a life of needing to be judge, jury, and executioner. Or be present with his family, especially for his daughter, Willa. He's already lost a lot of short years following his way of the gun, and his obsession with justice has already cost him more than one relationship he holds dear. As his truly shocked ex, Winona, bittersweetly says upon learning of his retirement, "Well, if you couldn't do it for me, I'm glad you could do it for her."

Are Raylan and Boyd truly capable of change?

"We are all of us capable of great change," Boyd Crowder tells his prison flock at the end of "Justified: City Primeval." But is that really true? Boyd bares his acid-burned shoulder, showing proof that he removed his neo-Nazi tattoos as well as the hatred from his heart. Boyd tells his congregation they are capable of "replacing the hate that led us here with something infinitely more useful and powerful. Love."

Then, of course, his girlfriend helps him escape. From Luis Guzman, no less! It's Boyd to the bone — but contains the promise of some actual change. Just like Raylan's decision to quit the marshals and live a more connected family life, maybe Boyd really is choosing love over hate. Maybe both men are ready to move on to new and better lives. But maybe both are compelled to stick to their guns — quite literally.

Can the two boys who dug coal together really change their stripes? The ending of "City Primeval" is proof that Boyd rejoices in not totally changing. Meanwhile, the final image of Raylan letting his phone ring while out on the boat with Willa is loaded with tension. Is Raylan going to ignore this call to lawman action and accept his call to fatherhood? Does he truly need to choose — or is the look on his face proof that he has no choice? The answers lie only in the viewers' minds — and fan fiction about a "Justified: City Primeval" Season 2.

What has Timothy Olyphant said about the ending?

Timothy Olyphant has spoken at length about what it means to revive "Justified" for a modern world, especially in regard to Raylan's fatherhood and formerly (?) itchy trigger finger.

"We didn't want to not be thoughtful about the world we're in. And we were also cognizant that Raylan's in that same world," Olyphant told Men's Health about the development process for Raylan's character in "Justified: City Primeval." Olyphant admitted in the interview that Raylan, though a little older and wiser, is still most comfortable on the job, saying: "I still think the job is the easiest part of his life. Everything else is a little bit tougher for him to navigate."

In an interview with The Daily Beast, Olyphant discussed the shocking finale of the miniseries, tiptoeing around spoilers. "I admit, though — the first time I watched it, I was really shocked," the actor said. "It was so strange and wild to see that ending. I honestly told them, because it kept bugging me for days, I kept thinking, wow! You can't do that ending if you don't deliver everything prior, you know? That ending doesn't work. ... As far as I'm concerned, they pulled it off. And everything that precedes the ending holds up." While there's no word on whether this is the last we'll see of Raylan and the lawman's iconic cowboy hat, you'd be justified in thinking he might have more adventures left in him.