Raylan Givens is the hero of Justified, the good-lookin', Lexington-based U.S. Marshal who's usually one step ahead of the bad guys on the FX television series.
But with four seasons almost done, fans will tell you Harlan County crime boss Boyd Crowder is every bit as essential with his mix of literary reverence and ruthless discipline of his henchmen.
The man who plays Boyd, Alabama-born, Georgia-raised actor Walton Goggins, has another essential character in mind with the show.
"Harlan County has a real mythical, mystical quality in the context of the show," Goggins says during a phone interview Tuesday. "It's the seventh character in the show."
He compares it to the way the city of Los Angeles worked into The Shield, the FX series on which he played Detective Shane Vendrell for seven seasons.
"Lexington and Harlan County are what the show revolves around, what the nature of the show revolves around, so it looms very, very large," Goggins, 41, says. Referring to the author whose short stories about Raylan Givens inspired the series, he says, "What we try to do is be true to the characters that Elmore Leonard created, and the ways in which they are unique to that part of the country.
"Always, in the back of our ears, are people from Kentucky whispering, 'You'd better get it right.'"
Goggins has gotten it right and grown his role as much as any character in the show, starting as a white supremacist explosives fiend, becoming a backwoods preacher and eventually evolving into the crime boss of Harlan, though he always seems to be fighting off Northern aggressors who think they can do crime better.
"Harlan County is in the mountains, and surrounded by this beautiful topography. It evokes the folkloric tales of people and actions and deeds," says Goggins, who was nominated for an Emmy for best supporting actor in 2011. "So many characters in the South, in literature, are larger than life, and I have tried to let Boyd be an extension of that. It's like 10 generations from now, people might ask, 'Did Boyd Crowder really exist? Was that really a person?
"That's derived from my own imagination about Harlan, and I try to have Boyd walk in those shoes."
To Goggins, Boyd is on a journey and he can see down the road. He notes that for a while in Justified's first season, Boyd lived in the woods. While he is currently angling to live in a nice house on top of a hill, he sees Boyd's journey ultimately going full circle.
For quite a while, that journey was alone. But the past two seasons have solidified his relationship with Ava (Joelle Carter), who once shared Raylan's bed but is now Boyd's fiancée. And she clearly has a power over Boyd, as we saw in last Tuesday's penultimate episode of this season when she did something most of Boyd's goons would have been shot for. But Boyd seemed to give her grace and understanding, setting one of the trajectories for this week's season finale.
"In the past, what Boyd needed was an audience, and his conversations were often one way," Goggins says. "As he's grown, he no longer needs the audience. He needs a confidant, a friend, a partner, someone he can truly be vulnerable with. And that's what Boyd has found in Ava, and what Ava has found in him.
"For him, Ava is the sun and the moon, and the apex of why he's on this earth. Unfortunately for Boyd in this season, he might lose sight of that in his own selfish goals for the two of them, and he may wind up losing the very thing that means the most to him."
That will tickle the imaginations of Justified fans as this season closes Tuesday, and they start thinking ahead to season five.
One thing Kentucky fans of Justified would love to see is the show actually shoot in the Bluegrass State. It is primarily shot in California, due to budget limitations, though writers and producers visit the state from time to time. Goggins says it is time for at least him to come to Kentucky.
"There are ways that we are talking about giving back to the community, in Harlan, that has given us so much," Goggins says. "I have been talking to one of the writers, Ingrid Escajeda, specifically about how we can give back, and we're in the process of figuring that out now.
"We don't just owe a debt to Harlan and the state of Kentucky, we owe a debt to the stories that have amassed and to the history of your great state.
"So stay tuned: Boyd Crowder will be back home before you know it."
Season finale at 10 p.m. April 2 on FX
Rich Copley: (859) 231-3217. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @copiousnotes.