"At the end of the day it's a love story."
That's how series creator Kurt Sutter described the upcoming seventh and final season of his hit FX drama Sons of Anarchy. Speaking to press at Comic-Con International in San Diego, the cast and crew of the bloody show revealed what fans can expect as the tale of Charming, California's resident biker gang come to grips with the shocking events of season six and ride off into the sunset one last time in the seventh and final season, slated to begin in September.
In attendance were Sutter, primary cast members Katey Sagal (Gemma Teller Morrow), Kim Coates (Alex "Tig" Trager), Tommy Flanagan (Filip "Chibs" Telford), Mark Boone, Jr. (Robert "Bobby" Munson), Dayton Callie (Wayne Unser), Theo Rossi (Juan Carlos "Juice" Ortiz), David Labrava (Happy Lowman), Niko Nicotera (George "Ratboy" Skogstrom) and Drea de Matteo (Wendy Case), alongside executive producer Paris Barclay.
Last season closed as Jax, played by the absent Charlie Hunnam, discovered the body of his wife Tara (Maggie Siff), after she was stabbed to death by Gemma (Sagal) following a misunderstanding.
Sagal explained where the show would find the manipulative matriarch of SAMCRO at the beginning of season seven. "We start two weeks after the fact," said Sagal. "She has, in true Gemma fashion, decided what she needs to do to protect her family, which includes those two little boys. She's going to make some decisions based on how much people need to know. She has enormous empathy. This is what I'll say. What happened at the end of season six was not premeditated and she really believed she was being betrayed in the ultimate way. Along with the perfect storm of Nero dumping her. It was just a bad day. I think how she reacted was as shocking to her as anybody else. I think now what she does, which is truly like Gemma, is she gets on to what [the current problem] is. So what is [going on when the season begins], is do I come clean with the secret? What's best to protect my family? That's what you'll see."
Sagal's husband and series creator Kurt Sutter says Gemma won't be the only changed character this season, her son Jax becomes a man with a mission now that his wife is dead. "I think it'll be the most proactive our hero has ever been," said Sutter. "Jax, in previous seasons by the nature of the character, wasn't too deep a thinker; sort of impulsive. He spent a great deal of time reacting to the chaos around him and cleaning up the mess of previous leadership. But this season he comes out with blinders on and singular purpose. It's been so much fun to write that Jax because it's new."
Sutter said the show is ultimately about family, even though last season alone featured Gemma killing her daughter-in-law Tara and Jax killing his stepfather, Clay, played by Ron Perlman. He said, "At its core, and I don't say this flippantly, this is a family drama. It's just that our circumstances are heightened. The show is pulp fiction so there's a sort of epic, almost absurd quality to the show and then it also takes place in a very dangerous world. So, to me, it's the same family dynamics that perhaps play out in other families but under these conditions, in that world, you see the results that happened. What might end up being an argument or a plate being smashed in another family becomes a fork in the back of the head in our family."
Asked if any of those family bonds are unbreakable, Sutter answered, "I don't think of it in terms of categorizing like that. And I don't mean to dodge the question, I really feel like as we break these stories and as we try to stay as organic and realistic as we can to those relationships that if it feels right, if under the circumstances or in that particular situation X happens, then it'll happen. I don't think in terms of that's an unbreakable relationship or I can't do that. I just really try to follow the logic and organic nature of it rather than I'll do that or won't do that."
After working on the show together for six years, Sagal she and husband Sutter have realized it's best to try and separate their personal and professional lives as much as possible. "We [spoke about it at home a lot] at first with the newness of it all but we also have three children. They really pull focus and we like it that way," said Sagal. "He is certainly way more involved in so many more aspects. Runs the show, writes the show, blocks the show. I'm a player in the show. It's easier for me to just leave it. And we also went through a couple of years where we talked about it too much and we said we were talking about it too much and we needed to have more clearer boundaries. And so we do."
Drea de Matteo's Wendy is another character in the midst of a major character arc on Sons, going from strung-out junkie to concerned mother. "I just got a bad rap in the beginning. Everyone hated her when she was really the innocent one," de Matteo said. "She was a junkie and all, but she wasn't a mean spirited person. She was a broken person. She's on a journey to make her self better. She's redeeming herself -- she'd like to be as strong as Gemma, but she's not anything like Gemma. She doesn't come from a place of deceit. She doesn't manipulate people."
De Matteo insisted that, unlike Gemma, Wendy's days of scheming are done and has no designs on taking her son Abel away from his father, Jax. "She knows she screwed up," said de Matteo. "She has no agenda to swipe him away, she'd just like to be involved with his life in any capacity and that's where she is sort of innocent. She is not there to rock the boat or cause trouble. Being a mother she's not going to leave him as long as she stays sober."
Former sheriff Wayne Unser (Callie), is another character who will feel the after-effects of Gemma's murderous actions -- but at least not at first. Callie said that while Unser is admittedly in love with Gemma, it's "probably gonna be a hard one" for him to forgive her for killing Tara. Unser's plate will be full for the first few episodes, however, as a new sheriff rolls into town -- and comes knocking on Unser's trailer door. "She basically challenges me," said Callie. "She calls me out, [tells me] I'm still a cop. 'Are you a cop or not?' Once a cop always a cop, that kind of shit. 'You gonna let Tara's murder just fade away?' It gives my story a plot."
Speaking of plot, executive producer Paris Barclay was on hand with hints about what might happen in season seven, saying fans won't want to miss the season's fourth episode.
Barclay then discussed why the producers keep the show's stars in the dark about their characters' fates "very deliberately. They are almost completely in the dark and the reason why is that it's been my experience, and I learned this from my NYPD Blue days, that the less actors know about the future of the character the more they play it in the moment and the more they react to situations as they are. If you knew what would happen in your future you would do things differently."
Asked whether any of the actors present would be meeting their end in the seventh season, Barclay responded in the affirmative. "Yes. There are two."
Fans of the show often wonder how so many characters can die such violent deaths with little to no repercussions from law enforcement. Barclay didn't have a good reason, but didn't think he needed one either. "It's one of the things you have to buy in the show, that we can kill 12 Chinese people in a warehouse and no police officer comes and asks us any questions," said Barclay. "We do a lot of murder that I think would probably be in the papers. I think by this point now Charming would be the murder capitol of California! Sometime when you're not watching TV a police officer or some FBI agent is going around and asking some questions."
Many fans believe two of the likeliest SAMCRO members to get killed off this season are Juice and Tig, played by Rossi and Coates, respectively. With each having brushes with death over the past six seasons, many fans expect they're long overdue for a meeting with the Grim Reaper, but the actors disagree. "My fans are all saying, 'What's the point now?' He shoulda been dead first season. Probably second season when he was fighting with Opie over Donna," Coates said. "Then the whole thing with Hope and my daughter and then Jax throwing me under the bus and pulling me back out and Clay and me not talking. I mean, honest to goodness, how have I survived? What's the point now? -- I still have my tats on so I guess I'm still going to work Monday. But I know nothing.
"Am I a bad guy? I don't give a fuck. There must be a reason for it," Coates continued. "This is Kurt's world. A successful television show, one of the biggest hits on the planet -- we are blessed to be in this position because we will never be forgotten as these characters. When this is all done, whether we live or die, personally I don't care. I've been blessed to play this guy and be with all these great actors and I'll never forget it."
While he isn't concerned with whether or not Tig is a bad guy, he admitted to personally taking issue with certain scenes over the years. Coates said specifically that in season two he "didn't wanna throw Gemma against the wall and stick my tongue down her throat. I said I would never do it. I thought it was completely wrong. Sutter sat me down and said, 'Listen to me, have you read the scene after?' I said no. He said, 'Listen to me. First of all you're in a club full of sex, drugs and rock n' roll. It's lies. It's not just the brotherhood. Number two she comes on to you, you don't come on to her. She's in a place of darkness. She's been raped by those KKK motherfuckers and Tig's lost from Donna.' They needed each other." Coates ended up filming the scene as written.
Rossi, who says the season will be "absolute chaos" for his character, added that he thinks, like Tig, there's no point to killing Juice now. "I think since Roosevelt in season four, since he gave the info about [Juice's] dad [being black], it's been a complete and utter running downhill and hitting every tree, branch and child along the way and tripping over everything," said Rossi. "To be in this final season is the culmination of all that. Like [Coates] said, I would love to say what's the point?"
Rossi went on to say he believes Juice has been given a bad rap by both his fellow club members and fans -- and should never have joined the Sons in the first place. "Juice has never been the one pulling the strings. He's never maliciously done anything whether it be stealing of the coke to protect the club, the killing of Miles, the pillow over the face, the setting up of Clay, anybody I've killed, even the running over of the cop in that same episode. It's always been trying to protect the club," said Rossi. "It hasn't been his decisions -- Juice should never have been in the club. He should have been working at Blockbuster. He should have been fixing computers or loading vending machines. He should not have been in a motorcycle club. He should have been at Comic-Con checking out graphic novels."
On the other side of the coin, Ratboy and Happy, played by Niko Nicotera and David Labrava, respectively, were Ok with their character's potentially dying. Nicotera said, "You want to stay alive as long as you can but if you do go out you want to go out in a blaze of glory."
Labrava said he'd love Happy to go down shooting like in the infamous final scene of The Wild Bunch. "They come out and just smile. They go to get their horses and you think they're going to leave, but they walk out into certain death."
Both Labrava and Nicotera play characters who began in the backgrounds of earlier seasons before graduating to the main cast. Nicotera said, "For me, starting from the periphery and working your way in, when I first came in to it, you're picking up on the atmosphere of the production and characters and it's been a real organic journey to sort of find your way in to it. It felt like a real natural process."
Labrava said he never "nudged" Sutter to making him a more central cast member. "Ain't no nudging Kurt, homeboy," said Labrava. "And you don't have to nudge him, the scripts are amazing. This is absolutely positively his creation -- it's also the writers and Kurt as they get know us more and more and more. I've had writers tell me, 'Dude, we get so much dialogue just from listening to you speak.'"
While fans now know Labrava for his work as Happy, he was actually with the show before the character appeared -- as a cameraman. Upon winning the part, Sutter told him, "'You never worry about the money. For you it's important to stay on the show. To stay alive on the show and do as many episodes as you can.' It's changed my life completely," Labrava said. "Kurt gave me the break of a lifetime. Let me co-write an episode [season 4's 'Hands'] and Time magazine called it best of the season."
The final season also adds several characters to the show's lineup, including Marilyn Manson as Tully, the head of the Aryan Brotherhood in prison. "He was fantastic," Barclay said of working with Manson. "I was really impressed with him. I don't have any Manson records so I'm not really familiar with his oeuvre prior to coming to Sons. I had a preconception of what he looked like but when he arrived on the set he didn't look anything like that at all. The make-up was gone, the lipstick was gone. And he performs in such a simple, frightening way that we're using him again and again. He's recurred several times in the first seven episodes as the character Tully, the head of the Aryan Brotherhood and a key contact for Jax in terms of getting done what he has to do in prison. Because some of this story, as you might gather, is going to have to take place in prison because sooner or later somebody's going to have to get arrested."
"I see Manson a lot," Callie added. "He's a fucking laugh but he's also nuts. A good nuts."
Labrava was particularly excited for Manson to join the cast, even though they won't share any scenes together. "Marilyn Manson's a good friend of mine," said Labrava. He's a buddy. He's a genius and that's it. I'm not actually in any scenes with him but that doesn't matter."
Another new cast member is Courtney love, who plays the teacher of Jax's son Abel. Barclay described working with Love as "completely fantastic."
Finally, Tommy Flanagan and Mark Boone, Jr. spoke about where their characters are heading in the final season. "I got a lot more to do this season. That's all I'm saying," Flanagan said cryptically.
Boone said his character's path isn't very clear. "Bobby is kinda lost this season. Smokes a lot of pot and wanders around."
Flanagan then revealed where the cast is headed as soon as Sutter calls cut for the final time. "Vegas. We'll be in Vegas, baby. All us and the crew will be in Vegas blowing the place up."
The seventh and final season of 'Sons of Anarchy' begins Sept. 9 on FX.