Actors and producers have a way of not seeing eye to eye on scripts. Happens all the time and some shows falter because of it. Not all showrunners take the word of an actor seriously and it falls on deaf ears. But often it is the actors who know their character better than anybody else. They know their limitations. They live and breathe their characters. At the end of the day, it's still the boss's call but for Chris Eyre and the Dark Winds team, they respected Zahn McClarnon’s take on Joe Leaphorn and came within an inch away of making a gigantic mistake with the finale.
In an interview TV Line, Eyre admitted that Zahn McClarnon had saved them from themselves.
It was written that Joe Leaphorn would take B.J. Vines out in the desert and shoot him instead of what really happened in the season finale of Dark Winds, which was to leave him out there to take his long walk to death. McClarnon didn't feel like that was something that was in Joe Leaphorn to do. No matter how bad of a man B.J. Vines was, Joe is the moral compass of the story and there is no way he could pull that trigger and live with himself afterward.
In the end, it was fabulous input by Zahn and a great understanding for Chris Eyre to follow the lead of the star of the show. The series finale ended in such a beautiful way that I think a scene like that would have tainted the happiness. It's also incredible to see an EP and actor have debates about storylines and make decisions that are best for the show. Some series live or die by those kinds of mistakes. The way that Vines ended up was poetic justice for the Native American lives he took. Far greater punishment than any judge would have given the man.
Joe Leaphorn has always had more willpower than the average man. He had his son's murderer out in the desert. I am sure there was a part of him that loved roping him up and guiding him like the animal he was. There was a moment there where Joe nearly pulled the trigger. He was injured and I’m sure starving and dehydrated. His body was nearly going into shock and Colton kept playing mind games. He had no sympathy for what he did to his son. And as all serial killers do, they get enjoyment from taking lives and shed no empathy at all for the souls they took.
That scene alone showed even when Leaphorn has the want to kill his conscious cannot pull the trigger. I think that is a testament to the Leaphorn name. Even when it comes to his family whom he’ll do anything to protect there is a code of honor. Not weakness. Men of honor have to be able to have those around them look at them with pride, not regret.
When it was all said it done Joe’s action allowed him to be able to put his son to rest in a new way. The belt of his son was melted down into a feather and given to Bernadette, who has become like a daughter to him. It allowed Bernie to be able to leave in peace and have something great to come back to when she’s ready. That bike of his was finally ready to ride and he and Emma ended the season marking another chapter in one of the most intimate love stories I’ve seen on television.