Tony Soprano lives on even if the actor who played him, the late-great James Gandolfini, did not.

Tony Soprano lives on even if the actor who played him, the late-great James Gandolfini, did not. Photo: AP

After staying quiet through years of debate, Sopranos creator David Chase has finally answered the biggest question of the critically-acclaimed crime series: Did Tony die?

Speaking with writer and literature professor Martha P. Nochimson, Chase apparently decided to put to rest the question that has plagued Sopranos fans since the final episode aired in 2007.

It was the scene when Tony Soprano (played by the late James Gandolfini) sat in a restaurant with his family, eating a meal as the world went about its business around him. People passed by, conversation was had, and nothing was amiss… and then the screen went black.

Long seconds later the credits rolled and viewers realised they would never know what had happened. Had the mobster just gone on with his life as usual? Or had, as was ominously predicted by his (on screen) brother-in-law Bobby, a bullet arrived that he would never see coming?

Despite repeated questions, Chase never gave a definitive answer. It was up to the viewer to decide what happened, he said. And besides, he hinted, some mysteries are best left unsolved.

That was until this week. So, is Tony dead?

"Chase startled me by turning toward me and saying with sudden, explosive anger, 'Why are we talking about this?'," Nochimson wrote on Vox.com this week.

"I answered, 'I'm just curious'.And then, for whatever reason, he told me..."

So is Tony dead? 

"No," Chase told her. "No he isn't".

But wait! That doesn't necessarily mean he's is alive either, a representative of Chase later said.

Chase's publicist, Leslee Dart, said Nochimson's had "misconstrued what David Chase said in their interview."

"To simply quote David as saying, 'Tony Soprano is not dead,' is inaccurate," a statement from Dart said. "There is a much larger context for that statement and as such, it is not true."

The statement added that Mr. Chase said "numerous times on the record" that answering the question of whether "Tony Soprano is alive or dead is not the point."

"To continue to search for this answer is fruitless," the statement said. "The final scene of 'The Sopranos' raises a spiritual question that has no right or wrong answer.".

Which brings us back to the original question. Was Tony whacked as he ate with his family? Who knows.

Even Nochimson said Chase gave her his answer with no explanation.

"Just the fact and no interpretation," she wrote before moving of to a long dissection of a short conversation that would have made Tony's psychiatrist, Dr Jennifer Melfi, proud.

Chase, she says, is "an auteur" who draws on multiple influences, from the lists of Benjamin Franklin to the surreal fancy of Edgar Allen Poe and the magic of Orson Welles to create his art.

He creates not to fill in the gaps of what an audience expects, she explains, but to create.

And if we don't get it, well he's not too fussed.

Need proof? She points to another time Chase was asked about Tony's fate and he replied with, "What happened to the Russian in Pine Barrens?", a reference to an early Sopranos episode where two of Tony's mobsters take a Russian soldier in the Pine Barrens area of New Jersey to kill him.

Once there, however, the Russian escapes and the mobsters, Christopher Moltisanti and Paulie Gaultieri, shoot wildly into the woods in a desperate bid to bring him down. But they're unsuccessful, except for a small patch of blood in the snow, and he is never seen again.

Did he survive? "I don't give a f--- about the Russian," Chase replied.

The moment, Nochimson concludes, was just meant to be "one of life's loose threads".