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Charlie Harper was still alive, yet Charlie Sheen was nowhere to be seen on CBS’ Two and a Half Men series finale. The comedy closed its record-setting 12-season run with an ultra-meta one-hour episode Thursday night, which brought back many familiar faces from the show’s past, a few celebrity guests, a rather unexpected dose of animation, and a shock cameo by the show’s co-creator. But Men’s former star, who was fired from the series after a spectacular falling out with producers and CBS four years ago, was entirely absent despite being the focus of much of the episode’s humor.

Below executive producer Chuck Lorre, who appeared at the end of the episode to utter a single word—”winning”—before being smushed by a falling piano, took our questions about the finale, which was full of self-referential one-liners—including Walden Schmidt (Ashton Kutcher) telling another character, “It’s amazing you’ve made so much money with such stupid jokes” (followed by a knowing look at the audience), and Breta (Conchata Ferrell) declaring that if Charlie moves back into the beach house, “I believe we can keep this going for another five years.” But there may have been no greater target than Charlie—both the fictional Harper and real person—with characters poking fun of the actor’s history of womanizing, drug use, and recent career (“Has [Charlie] tried anger management?” Alan: “Yeah, but it didn’t work out”).

The set-up: Alan discovered his brother has been alive these past four years, having been held captive in a basement by his obsessed ex Rose (Melanie Lynskey). The revelation and the promise of $2.5 million in Charlie’s mysteriously claimed songwriting royalties triggers a slew of figures surfacing from the show’s past (mostly the Harper brothers’ ex-girlfriends) as well as appearances by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Christian Slater, and John Stamos.

First, Lorre explained Sheen’s absence to viewers in his final post-credits Men vanity card: “I know a lot of you might be disappointed that you didn’t get to see Charlie Sheen in tonight’s finale. For the record he was offered a role. Our idea was to have him walk up to the front door in the last scene, ring the doorbell, then turn, look directly into the camera and go off on a maniacal rant about the dangers of drug abuse. He would then explain that these dangers only apply to average people. That he was far from average. He was a ninja warrior from Mars. He was invincible. And then we would drop a piano on him. We thought it was funny. He didn’t. Instead, he wanted us to write a heart-warming scene that would set up his return to primetime TV in a new sitcom called The Harpers starring him and Jon Cryer. We thought that was funny, too.”

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Can you talk about having the last word of the series, being said by you, and it’s the word that Sheen made famous after his departure from the show. What was the meaning of that inclusion to you?

CHUCK LORRE: Oh, it felt funny. It felt like the funniest and must succinct way to end the damn thing. And dropping the second piano also felt like an appropriate response—perhaps nobody wins, but hopefully we laughed along the way.

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Read next: Review: Two and a Half Men Stays True to Its Wicked Heart

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