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How The Sopranos Kept The Cast And Viewers Guessing

HBO's "The Sopranos" may have ended in cliffhanger fashion in 2007, but it's still being hailed as one of the best things to ever air on television. In a 2016 Rolling Stone poll, which tasked actors, showrunners, and other industry professionals with creating the "100 Greatest TV Shows of All Time" list, the story of Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) came out victorious as No. 1.

There are a number of reasons why the series remains so highly regarded. One is the top-notch cast of actors that brought these beloved characters to life every Sunday. Gandolfini earned three Emmys for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, while Edie Falco, who portrayed Tony's wife, Carmela, earned three for Outstanding Lead Actress. Michael Imperioli, Drea de Matteo, and Joe Pantoliano, who played Christopher Moltisanti, Adriana La Cerva, and Ralph Cifaretto, respectively, also won awards for Outstanding Supporting Actor/Actress.

While the talent of these stars is undeniable, the Emmy-winning writing of the show brings "The Sopranos" to the next level. Despite the series being about the mob and featuring the usual crime and killing, creator David Chase and his team of writers managed to inject heart, humor, and a riveting sense of suspense into each episode. In fact, some cast members were just as surprised as the audience over certain fates thanks to Chase's flair for secrecy. 

David Chase kept major character details hidden from actors and directors

When it came to creating the most riveting moments on "The Sopranos," creator David Chase enjoyed the idea of shocking audiences and actors alike. A prime example is when Adriana reveals to Christopher that the FBI is blackmailing her, but he stays loyal to the DiMeo crime family. Tony calls to tell her that Christopher tried to kill himself and that Silvio Dante (Steven Van Zandt) can drive her to the hospital. Sadly, this is all eventually revealed as an elaborate ruse, and Adriana soon finds herself in the woods, desperately trying to flee Silvio and his gun.

According to de Matteo, no one knew quite how Adriana's final moments would unfold because Chase filmed two options. "We shot one where I get away, where I don't believe Tony on the phone," the actress told Vanity Fair in 2012. "You see me in my car, and I'm driving away, and I'm crying, and my suitcase is next to me."

Apparently, there were similar preparations made for another high-profile departure on the series. Another FBI informant on the show is Salvatore "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero (Vincent Pastore). For two seasons, Tony questions whether or not one of his best friends is secretly spilling information on their criminal enterprise. Through it all, Pastore and Henry Bronchtein, the director of Season 1, Episode 11 ("Nobody Knows Anything"), were also left in the dark.

On the Talking Sopranos podcast, Bronchtein said Chase refused to reveal the truth about the character's true loyalties during production. Still, this lack of knowledge worked in Bronchtein's favor, allowing him to direct from the same suspicious perspective as Tony. "He [Pastore] just played it straight, so Tony could never see anything into it for sure," said Bronchtein. "And it just worked unbelievably..."