No, Tony Soprano Doesn’t Die at the End
Seven years ago, The Sopranos ended with one of the most iconic cuts to black in television history. For nearly a decade, fans of the show have debated the fate of protagonist Tony Soprano, and for the same amount of time, series creator David Chase has had to field questions about whether James Gandolfini's character lived or died.
And now, Chase has offered the final word on what happened to Tony after that final scene: Tony Soprano does not die at the end. That's what he told Vox's Martha P. Nochimson in a recent interview. She asked if Tony is dead, and Chase "shook his head 'no.' And said simply, 'No he isn't.'"
So there you have it. Look at what you've done, everyone, are you happy? Because we silly Americans can't handle a little ambiguity, a little gray, we finally beat Chase down and he simply ran out of endurance, so he relented and now the mystery of the finale is gone, the debate is over.
This demand for clarity is why The Leftovers is destined to fail: it centers around a Rapture-like event, but the creators already announced they have no intention of explaining said event ("If that's why you're watching the show, don't watch the show"). It's why Lost ultimately disappointed. It's why the True Detective finale seemed so unsatisfying: Despite giving us a great dose of character development and bringing the protagonists full circle, all people could harp about were the loose ends about the Yellow King and Ginger and the Barbie doll rape circle.
But then, we also hate it when we get clarity! Breaking Bad neatly tied up every aspect of its story, ending with a very definitive fate for the main character, and yet, people were quick to theorize that it was all just a death hallucination and White was actually a ghost the whole time.
Give the people what they want, and they'll complain it wasn't enough. Leave the people with questions, and they'll eventually grind you down into dust in their demand for answers until you relent. Let David Chase's experiment be a warning to any showrunners looking to trade in the dark arts of ambiguity.
Update (8/28/14): Well, maybe we don't have an answer. A rep for the Sopranos creator issued the following statement in response to the story (via Vulture).
"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.”