Sopranos Creator David Chase (Sort of) Answers the "Is Tony Dead?" Question, Ruining a Great Ending (UPDATED)

By Kaitlin Thomas

Aug 27, 2014

UPDATE: Since this story was first published, Chase's publicist has issued a statement in response to Chase's alleged "reveal," which you can read at the bottom of this page.

David Chase has finally grown tired of being grilled about what happened when The Sopranos literally cut to black in its 2007 series finale. After seven years, the creator of the seminal HBO drama has begrudgingly put to bed the once-eternal question of whether or not James Gandolfini's Tony Soprano died when the screen went dark in the middle of Journey's "Don't Stop Believing."

It was an ending that earned both praise and condemnation for its ambiguity, and the popular mobster's fate has been debated for years by fans and critics alike. Indeed, at times it's seemed like death, taxes, and Chase's refusal to definitively weigh in on the situation were the only constants in this world. However, in a new interview with Martha P. Nochimson of Vox, Chase has finally revealed whether Tony Soprano met his maker in that New Jersey diner. 

So, is he dead? According to Chase, "No he isn't." 

Nochimson's story doesn't explain how she phrased the question (or whether she had to press Chase to answer it), and Chase's answer is writ large in a graphic rather than simply transcribed in the text.

Afterwards, Nochimson writes, "Fine. Tony's not dead," and then goes on to discuss Chase's process as a storyteller and his post-Sopranos work. The entire article is worth a read, especially if you're curious about how Chase operates and where he draws inspiration from, but I doubt most people will continue beyond that point. 

Either way, WTF, David Chase?! After staying mum for so long, why concede now? Did we REALLY need to know? (No, we didn't.)

The beauty of The Sopranos' series finale is that it let viewers make up their own minds. Did Tony live? Or was he murdered in front of his family and a restaurant full of people while chowing on some onion rings? The ending of the episode was a Choose Your Own Adventure book for adults, despite the many cryptic explanations Chase has given for it over the years. Nochimson notes in her story that the now-infamous cut to black was inspired by Edgar Allen Poe's "Dream Within a Dream," a poem in which Poe laments being unable to grasp something as it slips through his fingers: "O god can I not save / One from the pitiless wave? / Is all we see or seem but a dream within a dream?" But now that Chase has caved, that cut to black is something firm and corporeal, which kind of defeats the purpose. 

Despite the human mind being programmed to constantly search for answers, not knowing Tony's fate was a gift from Chase to us, though many people don't realize as much. The ambiguity of The Sopranos' final scene asked us to open our minds and interpret the outcome ourselves. For every fan who believes that he lived another day—possibly an even worse punishment than if he'd been gunned down—another will provide a detailed reason for why they believe Tony died. The mystery has brought people together and pushed them apart, but it's always fueled discourse, which is important. 

Television is constantly spelling things out for us, telling us what happened or didn't happen. Writers often go out of their way to highlight the meaning of a scene instead of letting viewers figure it out for themselves. That's not always a bad thing—and in fact, it's sometimes exactly what the story calls for. Consider Breaking Bad's series finale, for example: Walter White's journey was meant to be finite, and while there will always be fans who choose to believe that Walt died in that car in New Hampshire, or that he was saved before he bled out, the finale made it pretty clear that Walt died on the floor of Jack's meth lab, and series creator Vince Gilligan has gone on record several times to verify as much. Was that wrong? Not at all, because the ending fit the series. Certainly, not every TV show should end in ambiguity—but ambiguity worked for The Sopranos because it nicely capped off the intricate dual-personality story that the series had been telling about Tony for six seasons. 

Many Sopranos fans will take comfort in finally knowing what happened the character, but I don't. In fact, I was angry when I woke up this morning to discover Chase had broken his silence after all these years. The ending of The Sopranos is, in my opinion, one of the greatest finales of all time, and it even came up yesterday in our discussion of TV's most disappointing series finales. Some people disliked not knowing, but I'm not one of them. Chase's decision to give in and definitively reveal Tony's fate—regardless of whether it confirms my personal interpretation of the ending—feels like just one more instance in which we're being told what to think. It bothers me that Chase was so tired of being asked what happened that he finally buckled. Though I suppose we have no one to blame but ourselves.

UPDATE: Chase's publicist has released the following statement in response to the original Vox story:

A journalist for Vox misconstrued what David Chase said in their interview. To simply quote David as saying,“ Tony Soprano is not dead,” is inaccurate. There is a much larger context for that statement and as such, it is not true.

As David Chase has said numerous times on the record, “Whether Tony Soprano is alive or dead is not the point.” To continue to search for this answer is fruitless. The final scene of The Sopranos raises a spiritual question that has no right or wrong answer.

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  • charlescarmic Aug 28, 2014

    To be honest, I really didn't give a shit. I took the scene for what it was which was Tony chilling with his fam at the end of a bunch of crazy shit going down. Sometimes I think people over think stuff when there really isn't a need to. It was an abrupt ending but, so what? It was a great show but all good things come to an end. There were some threads left dangling but for the most part I felt mostly satisfied with it.

    The more important question is/was What happened to the Russian Paulie and Christopher tried to kill in the Pine Barrens?

  • ale00928 Aug 28, 2014

    I have not seen one single episode of The Sopranos, I admit that. Still, had I invested several years of my life watching this show (I believe 6 seasons), I had been pretty pissed off with this end, regardless of now somebody coming of the closet saying "Yes, Tony lives" or "No, Tony died".
    I reminds me of the ending of X-Files after 9 long season: terrible!

  • safibwana Aug 31, 2014

    Six seasons yes, but 8.5 years even.

  • ale00928 Sep 01, 2014

    OK, it makes it even worse. Eight and a half years?
    My condolences to all of you.

  • MintberryCrunch Aug 28, 2014

    It's funny I have had a debate with someone else on another website about whether he died or not, this person was vehemently of the belief that he died. I always argued that it was left ambiguous, that Chase simply wanted people to debate that very fact and had no real decision either way.

    And to be honest I still believe that, I don't think a decision was made on whether he died. I think it is a story of a man (not his family as the title suggests) and at some point we stop following his story. The ambiguity was there for people to ponder but I never believed there to be a definitive answer.

    I don't take this "answer" is any indication otherwise and think it is likely he just got fed up with being asked it and as another commented mentioned below is a great way to bring the whole show back into media's attention before the Blu-Ray bundle releases.

  • Maryjane420 Aug 28, 2014

    I never assumed Tony was dead, there was nothing in the final scene to make that assumption. I just wanted the law to catch up to him and haul him off to jail to be made accountable for all the atrocities him and his crew committed. It would of been great to see him go to jail and let Carmela fend for herself and see what it's like to live an average life. Your kids were grown get a job lady.

  • MintberryCrunch Aug 28, 2014

    The theory about him being dead is partly due to the instant fade to black, considering the show was not really about The Sopranos it was about Tony, he is in every episode and is in almost every scene. The theory in part is that it fades to black because he has been shot from the side by the man coming out of the bathroom and that is where we leave the story of Tony because he can't show us anymore of the story.

    Personally I never believe one way or the other, I think it was left ambiguous for that very reason. So that the story goes on and we just stop following it.

    There are other parts to the theory, such as the 3 O'Clock recurring time representing the direction he is shot from and much more but as someone who never subscribed to that theory I am not best placed to explain.

  • Maryjane420 Aug 28, 2014

    You know I've never analyzed the final episode cuz it was crappy and left me pretty deflated. I never cared enough to wonder. I don't like ambiguous make up your own ending type thing. The writer is telling us a story so finish it. But no we see the family eating onion rings then fade to black. LAME!!

  • MintberryCrunch Aug 28, 2014

    Each to their own. I liked it, as I say to me it seemed like we just left Tony and all with the story ongoing. What with the impending rico case about to drop and although I can understand that annoys some I quite liked it. Especially the ballsy-ness of the chosen way to end it. Although I did have some idea that an ending of that sort was coming which perhaps softened the blow.

    At least you don't presume to judge other's intelligence based on your dislike of open-ended ambiguous endings as another has done below.

  • BillyRay3384 Aug 28, 2014

    OMG, the show is long since over MOVE ON ALREADY!

  • PhoenixTremayne Aug 28, 2014

    James is dead which means Tony is dead, the talk of a possible Sopranos movie would have meant the character lived, but with the real life death of James I think they will let the franchise die in peace, (Until about ten years from now when someone gets the bright idea to do a reboot featuring the children) Tony Soprano died when James Gandolfini died; point blank period.

  • marcusj1973 Aug 28, 2014

    I really want to read this...but I'm afraid. I'm one of the few who quite enjoyed The Sopranos finale

  • kevbuffylost108 Aug 28, 2014

    There Are A LOT of people (including myself) who loved the finale, read the critical reception for it. The 'fans' are the idiots that didn't like it, the critics raved about it, and it's popularity has grown over the years.

  • thekaitling Aug 28, 2014

    Read from the video on down if you want to remain unspoiled by what the interview claims he said.

  • wudntulik2know Aug 28, 2014

    Nice try, publicist. You won't sell more Sopranos shit if you try to keep it ambiguous.

    He's alive. Period. I knew it all along.

  • vtroks Aug 28, 2014

    I never thought he was shot at the end like a lot of people. But still.. I would always rather have a definitive ending over cutting to black and letting me wonder. If it's your story, end it, don't leave it up in the air.

  • mrme2u Aug 28, 2014

    It was a stupid ending to a great show....

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