That 'Boardwalk Empire' finale -- were you shocked?

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Steve Buscemi plays Enoch "Nucky" Thompson on HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" Credit: Macall B. Polay

If you haven't yet seen Sunday's season finale of "Boardwalk Empire" on HBO, you might want to stop reading now and go check it out On Demand.

If you have -- and are questioning the decision-making that led to that at least mildly shocking conclusion (not that we weren't warned at nearly every turn) -- you might enjoy reading James Hibberd's interview with "Boardwalk" showrunner Terence Winter on What He Was Thinking in dispatching one of the series' major characters.

Not that I had a lot of questions myself. Any time a series devotes that much time to fleshing out a long-running character's back story, there's a reason. Usually an ominous one. And if you're unlucky enough to be playing a fictional character in a historically based show, your odds of making it through to the end are more than slightly reduced.

Winter may have changed the last name of the real Enoch "Nucky" Johnson to Thompson to give himself some latitude with the character, but Steve Buscemi seems likely to go the distance in the role, given that the real Nucky lived to the ripe old age of 85, dying in 1968.

But then again the real-life counterpart of Dabney Coleman's character, "Commodore" Louis Kuehnle, didn't die until 1934, living years beyond his fictional counterpart, whose death at the hands of his own son was effectively covered up. (Official cause of death of the real Commodore, according to Wikipedia, was "complications of appendicitis." ) So maybe not.

Anyway, if you're anteing for HBO every month, it's this very uncertainty you're paying for. Because it's hard to imagine an advertiser-supported network killing off the attractive young characters and keeping the ones with crooked teeth around to snarl another day.

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