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Major spoilers below for anyone who hasn't yet watched Empire's tricked out Season 5 finale. You have been warned.
Empire's fifth season got almost completely railroaded by the real-life controversy surrounding actor Jussie Smollett – who may or may not be around in Season 6 – but the Fox drama connected all the dots with a hyphy finale that finally answered the big coffin mystery that was set up back in the season premiere. Fans were shocked to discover that Lucious' love child Kingsley was the one being mourned during the flash-forward funeral. As it turns out, though, Kingsley wasn't always the character destined to get killed off.
It was revealed by showrunner Brett Mahoney that when Season 5 started, the creative team hadn't landed on a concrete answer yet. Several characters were apparently up for contention, with the idea to settle on Kingsley only happening as the back nine episodes were getting finalized. Perhaps the biggest alternate idea, though, was to have Andre Lyon in that coffin. When asked if the eldest Lyon offspring was a legitimate consideration, here's what Mahoney said:
Absolutely. That’s why we went so deeply into this journey with him this season. Because if it was going to be Andre [that died] we really wanted to give him a good sendoff and really honor that character.
That makes all the sense in the world, considering Empire capped off its midseason finale with a flash-forward showing Andre flatlining in an OR. Moments like that made it seem inevitable that Andre would be revealed as the mystery corpse. Of course, fans know exactly how Empire works, so it's likely that such overt clues only helped to push Andre to the bottom of the list. (Not that Empire wouldn't double-down on upending any and all perceived audience expectations.)
So even though Andre's stress-filled story may only look like a big red herring in hindsight, taking the character out of a literal prison and giving him the metaphorical prison of a cancer diagnosis was conceived as legitimate stepping stones for killing the character off if the time came. Fortunately for star Trai Byers and everyone who loves his character, Andre, he appears to be moving beyond the suicidal thoughts and could likely rebound in full for Season 6.
Yes. The journey for him this season was that he really didn’t think he had anything good in his life to look forward to. He was basically just going to serve the family, serve Empire, and continue his redemption tour for what he tried to do to Lucious, and then make up for what happened to Anika. But then he met Teri and her son Quincy and [now he’s going to] be a father… he realized he may have something good to live for.
Everyone deserves something in life that's better than what Andre had with Anika, so it's good that he'll possibly have nothing but good days ahead. Oh, wait. That's right. Cookie decided to once again leave Lucious, potentially for good this time, because he hid the fact that Andre was considering suicide. So things won't be so wonderful for anyone in the Lyon family when Season 6 comes around this fall.
For what it's worth, Brett Mahoney wasn't being very open-lipped about what will happen between Cookie and Lucious next season. A time jump may or may not be involved.
Empire is now done with Season 5. During the summer wait for more, all five seasons can currently be rewatched on Hulu.