Here's Why Justified: City Primeval Aged Up Willa For The Revival Series

According to the folks working behind the scenes, FX's "Justified: City Primeval" isn't your average spinoff — which makes sense, because "Justified" wasn't exactly a typical adaptation. Though the series initially based its plot on Elmore Leonard's story "Fire in the Hole," it later evolved into a pulpy neo-Western that marched to the beat of its own drum. So where does the upcoming limited series fit into that equation? In the words of actor Adelaide Clemens, "It's an extension of the universe."

Based on Leonard's novel of the same name, the series marks the return of Timothy Olyphant's smoldering gunslinger, U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens. Where the original series left off, Raylan chose to embrace fatherhood, leaving Kentucky behind for a calmer life of co-parenting in Miami. Eight years later, he's balancing life as a marshal and a part-time father of his 14-year-old daughter, Willa (who is played by Olyphant's real-life daughter, Vivian). But calm has never been an easy prospect for Raylan. This time, disruption comes in the form of a chance encounter on a Florida highway — sending him to Detroit where he crosses paths with Clement Mansell (Boyd Holbrook), aka The Oklahoma Wildman. The violent sociopath has made a hobby of slipping through the fingers of law enforcement ad he plans to do so again ... or so he thinks until Raylan Givens gets involved.

From the plot description alone, "City Primeval" has all the trappings of a sequel series: picking up on the legacy of its protagonist by prodding at the prospect of his happily ever after. There's just one detail that might throw hardcore fans for a loop. When Raylan and Winona's daughter Willa was last glimpsed in the "Justified" finale, she was a toddling tyke. So how is it that she's now a full-on teenager?

The power of an artistic license

On one hand, it's a (very small) comfort to know that Raylan isn't bringing his elementary school-age child on this dangerous road trip. But bringing a young teenager to hunt down a violent criminal isn't much better, so there's gotta be a decent explanation, right? Luckily, /Film's Vanessa Armstrong attended the "Justified: City Primeval" TCA (Television Critics Association) panel, where Timothy Olyphant and co-showrunners Dave Andron and Michael Dinner discussed the reason behind this change. It's pretty simple, actually: "If we went younger, my kid wouldn't get paid," Olyphant explained.

No, but seriously. Aging Willa up was not a ploy to get Vivian Olyphant her debut role. The real explanation actually goes back to Adelaide Clemens' comment from earlier in the panel — the creatives chose to think of this as an extension of the universe, rather than a sequel. And doing so gave them much more of a creative license when it came to picking up the narrative of Raylan Givens.

"We just knew that when we left off, Raylan had a kid," Olyphant said, adding that there was "a little bit of a back-and-forth in terms of age," and ultimately, a specific window of time that piqued their interest. So when it came to the math of it all, Olyphant said, "We figured we could take an artistic license."

Raylan faces a ticking clock

"Part of it was really a dramatic consideration," explained showrunner Michael Dinner. "At the age that she plays for the show, Raylan has a short window in his life. That's really what this limited series is about — he's at a point in his life where that window in front of him is very short."

Dinner went on to explain that making Willa 14 creates two significant tensions in Raylan's life, amplifying his urgency to cling tight to everything he has. At the same time that he's facing mandatory retirement from the marshal services, his daughter is nearing 16 years old — an age that would allow her to emancipate from her divorced parents and become entirely independent. Timothy Olyphant summed it up:

"We were attracted to the idea that this is a ticking clock and that [Raylan is] about to lose her no matter what."

In other words, just when Raylan finally found the balance of dedicating his life to work and parenthood, both are slipping between his fingers. Anyway, it's certainly not the most egregious error that a series has ever made about the age of its characters. Really, it's not even a mistake but a very intentional choice that will likely add significant tension to the series.

"Justified: City Primeval" has yet to set an official release date, but is expected to arrive in summer 2023.