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'Sons of Anarchy' says goodbye to a true anarchist

Prashant Gupta / Today
"Sons of Anarchy" finally killed off its patriarch, Clay Morrow, played by Ron Perlman.

SPOILER ALERT! Do not read this story if you have not watched the Nov. 19 episode of "Sons of Anarchy."

The end for Clay Morrow was a long time coming, but when it finally happened on Tuesday night’s episode of “Sons of Anarchy,” you couldn’t help but agree with Gemma (Katey Sagal) and feel a little sad.

As played by Ron Perlman, Clay Morrow could be vicious and as bad as bad can get. He beat up his wife; he killed his best friend; he ordered the death of his daughter-in-law. But this season, as he sat in his jail cell and reflected on everything he’d traded for his bloody power, you got the sense that he was remorseful and that he was working hard at finding peace. Kudos to the writers for pulling off an impossible trick: after everyone wanted Clay dead, after viewers cheered when Opie (Ryan Hurst) put some bullets in the old man last season and later hoped Jax (Charlie Hunnam) would finish him off in the hospital, you actually felt for him on Tuesday night as he faced his stepson’s brutal hail of bullets.

“As a storyteller, it would have been too easy for me to put a bullet in his head when he’s just a scumbag,” executive producer Kurt Sutter told Entertainment Weekly. “The more interesting arc was have him earn that peace. I think it will be more satisfying for people. Because as much as people say they want Clay dead, they don’t want Clay dead. They want to still see that relationship play out. They want to see it be complicated…It would be very unsatisfying, I think, to have killed him already. Here’s a guy who’s lived by a certain code and done bad (expletive) but at least, you know, let him go out dying with some of the nobility.”

Perlman has a lot to do with our mixed feelings, too, thanks to his deft ability to transform from ruthless to tender in one scene. The ex-president of the motorcycle club was a force to be reckoned with on the street but loved Gemma so much that he killed her first husband for her. Minutes before he died, he kissed her cheek and told her he was glad she is not alone (Jimmy Smits’ Nero is keeping her company now), even though her betrayal set his demise in motion.

As the series evolved, even Perlman had concerns about many of Clay’s actions, the actor told Entertainment Weekly in an interview on his last day on set this year.

“I started to have trouble with the stuff that I was being asked to do because I couldn’t find a way that I can justify it to myself,” he said. "I had to resign myself to playing this guy in a detached way. Looking back in hindsight, I’ve come up with this treatise: Clay lost his way because he was in a position where the pressure got to him and he started blurring the lines on a daily basis between right and wrong until wrong and right almost looked the same. He was completely on his own. What can he do to put his house in order and return back to the guy who became the leader? He was a guy that knew how to think for everybody else and was ruthless enough to carry out whatever one needed to carry out in a violent outlaw world. That was his job.”

Perlman also told Entertainment Weekly that his fondest memories on the show involved the club’s meetings in their so-called chapel:

“When I’m sitting on my rocking chair in the old age home and all the other actors are sitting there thinking about great moments in their lives, I’ll be thinking about the chapel scenes with Tig on my right and Jax on my left, me at the head of the table where I’m smoking cigars and we’re making plans, kicking ass and taking names. That’s what I’m gonna remember about the show because that , to me, was quintessential ‘Sons of Anarchy.’