The end is near. Seriously.
But after Sunday, is there a possibility for a stay of execution?
The season finale of HBO's "The Sopranos" will conclude the drama's penultimate season and HBO spokespeople say creator David Chase is sticking to his creative guns that next year's shortened season of eight "bonus" episodes will close the curtain on the acclaimed series. Though Chase has changed his mind before about when to end the series, those in the know insist another reversal is out of the question.
"It's over, it's done, put a fork in it," said one executive this week.
Chase and the network this week are typically tight-lipped about cliffhangers or other situations in this year's finale, which will cap off a season filled with dramatic and emotional upheavals, including the shooting of mob boss Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) by his dementia-stricken uncle and the brutal murder of closeted gay gangster Vito Spatafore (Joe Gannascoli).
Production for the final season is expected to start this month, and the show is scheduled to return in January.
The current sixth season of 12 episodes was supposed to be the last for "The Sopranos," which returned in March after a two-year hiatus. But Chase announced as he was writing the episodes that he felt he had more stories to tell, which delighted network executives.
Despite a slight dip in ratings this season, "The Sopranos" has been perhaps HBO's most valuable property and firmly established the pay cable network as a TV powerhouse as it attracted top talent. HBO's current dramas, including "Big Love," "Rome" and "The Wire," are critically acclaimed but have not had the popularity or the cultural impact of the mob drama.
The show also made stars out of Gandolfini, Edie Falco and Michael Imperioli, who were all relatively unknown when the series began.
Chase last January hinted that he had an idea how the series would end, joking that the characters would not all explode "in a nuclear cloud." But he said he hoped that fans would feel that the entire story of "The Sopranos" would be told while leaving the feeling that the lives of the characters were moving on.
Gandolfini has said he felt a bit somber as the show nears its conclusion, and Falco said she had a "sort of gravity" about the end, adding, "But it's inevitable."