‘Empire’ EP Breaks Down [Spoiler]’s Death & The Possibility Of Jussie Smollett’s Return In Season 6

The 'Empire' season 5 finale featured a shocking death, a major departure, and so much more. HL spoke EXCLUSIVELY to EP Brett Mahoney about season 6, as well as the possibility of Jussie Smollett returning.

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The season 5 finale of Empire was a roller coaster from start to finish. The person in the coffin was finally revealed and it was Kingsley, Lucious’s first-born he only recently found out about. Kingsley hit rock bottom and shot himself in front of Lucious. Meanwhile, Andre was in desperate need of a new heart. The chemotherapy he underwent for cancer caused heart failure. Andre intended on killing himself because he felt there was no hope for a new heart before it was too late, but Cookie stopped him from doing so in the penultimate episode.

The Lyons rallied around Andre in his time of need as they waited for a heart. Kingsley’s death gave Andre a second chance. Tracy blamed Lucious and Cookie for her son’s death, but Cookie’s pleas as a mother convinced Tracy to allow the heart transplant surgery. Lucious also learned that Damon Cross was working with Conway to take him down, so Lucious decided to leave town. Cookie refused to go with him and told him that she’d slept with Damon Cross. She said “ride or die” is over, leaving their future in jeopardy. Lucious fled town in a helicopter while Cookie drove away. HollywoodLife talked EXCLUSIVELY with executive producer Brett Mahoney about how the show will move forward in season 6.

When did you decide that you were going to kill Kingsley? 
Brett Mahoney: The whole idea behind the casket was that the Lyons lead such high stakes, high-risk lives. We wanted mortality to reach close and really touch them viscerally. We wanted it to be a Lyon or someone close to the Lyons. So we had different candidates towards the beginning of the season and then we sort of just narrowed it down. I think it was as we were breaking for the back 9 when the decision was made that it was going to be Kingsley. He was always a possibility but then we turned it definitively towards him as we wrote the back 9 episodes.

Did you consider killing off Andre or did you always envision the person in the coffin saving Andre? 
Brett Mahoney: No, we had different candidates. Andre was definitely someone we considered, but as it turned out, we really loved a lot of the stuff we did with him this season. He became a character that we thought could be a story engine in season 6, so I didn’t think he should be in the coffin.

Will the aspect of Andre getting his brother’s heart be a huge storyline for Andre in season 6?
Brett Mahoney: I think Andre’s actually in a good place to some extent in that he has this heart, he’s got a wife, he has the possibility of a new baby. He’s sort of going to be on a new trajectory, but I do think that the fact that he’s been given life through Kingsley’s heart is going to impact him moving forward.

Jussie Smollett’s contract has been extended through season 6 but a statement said there are “no plans” for him to return right now. Have you discussed how you will address his absence going forward? 
Brett Mahoney: The writers’ room will reconvene next week and I’m sure we’ll start tackling then, but no.

Are you keeping possibilities for his return open?
Brett Mahoney: Oh, absolutely. Yes. I think none of that has been firmly worked out yet, but it’s a possibility, sure.

Even if you don’t bring Jussie back at least in the first 9 episodes, would you still keep bringing up the character like you did in the finale? 
Brett Mahoney: With Jamal not there, we’ll have to find some organic reason for why he’s not there when the family is in crisis because he’s an important part of the family. I don’t think you can just ignore his absence. There’s got to be some organic reason.

How will Lucious witnessing Kingsley’s death change Lucious’s trajectory going forward? 
Brett Mahoney: Again, we haven’t fully tackled where we’re going to go in season 6. I think that, too, will have an impact on him. I think, in his mind, he’ll bear some responsibility for what happened. And so how he deals with that will be his issue.

Is this the end of Cookie and Lucious? She literally says “ride or die is over” in the finale and she threw that Damon Cross wrench in there. 
Brett Mahoney: I think that Cookie and Lucious love each other, so I think their relationship will always be core and center to the show. I do think they’re going to have to look at it like — is love enough? They love each other but does that mean they should be together? Could they be happier apart even though they love each other? I think those are some challenges that they’ll have to look at in season 6. For Cookie, I think she just wants some time apart from that Lucious dynamic to see who she is outside of that relationship.

At the end of it all, do you see Cookie and Lucious together? Or is that something you’re still playing with? 
Brett Mahoney: I think that that’s interesting. Again, I think that these two clearly love each other. Does that mean that they have to be together? Is it a love that brings them together? Is it a love that builds? Or is a love that destroys them?

Do you foresee Lucious being out of the picture for a chunk of time after leaving town? 
Brett Mahoney: There’s an interesting dynamic where many of the Lyon family members have sort of moved away from Empire as we end the season. So it’s sort of right for a reset as we move into season 6. What does it mean to not have the Lyons circling around Empire? Or will Empire bring them all back together? I think something else that could happen in season 6 is that the family is so core and so important, but we may also learn that it takes more than blood to be a Lyon.

There was a dabbling of romance between Tiana and Devon. Do you plan on bringing Mario back next season? 
Brett Mahoney: I would definitely like to. I definitely saw a chemistry between the two. It felt like more than just a dabble. I felt the heat. I like their dynamic.

With Damon Cross now working with Conway, do you plan on featuring him in season 6? 
Brett Mahoney: Yes, I see that he’s definitely a part of it. I think Damon Cross and Conway are formidable opponents to the Lyons. I think that could be interesting.

Hakeem was on the backburner a bit in the second half of the season. Have you thought about what direction Hakeem might go in season 6? 
Brett Mahoney: Well, I think the whole season for all the boys was that these boys were growing and becoming men. With Hakeem, we saw him step up and realize that he may not be romantically involved with Tiana and maybe that’s OK because they’ve got to put their kids first and prioritize them. That was a step in terms of him growing up and I think we would just see where that would take him in season 6.

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