"To have not one but three characters living with HIV, and to have them all just do well and never seen them struggle with their health, it didn't completely feel real," Pose co-creator Steven Canals said

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This post contains spoilers from Sunday's Pose series finale.

The ending of Pose's third and final season was likely a heartbreaking shock for fans who have tuned in since the series' beginning.

On Sunday, Billy Porter's character, Pray Tell, lost his battle to HIV/AIDS. The tragic end was something that had been conceptualized for a while, Pose co-creator and executive producer Steven Canals tells PEOPLE exclusively.

"The loss of Pray Tell was something that I landed on in the second season. It was while we were in the midst of writing our second season that I realized our show has always been grounded in truth and authenticity," Canals, 40, says. "I just felt like we would be lying [and] we would be doing a disservice to the reality of these characters and the truth of what happened in New York in the '80s and '90s to queer and trans Black and brown people if we didn't see loss because of a lack of access to quality care and if we didn't see some form of sacrifice."

"The truth is that HIV/AIDS, prior to the cocktail and even after the cocktail because you had to have access to it, was really eviscerating the entire queer and trans community. So to have not one but three [main] characters [in season 3] living with HIV and to have them all just do well and never see them struggle with their health, it didn't completely feel real," he adds.

Pose - Billy Porter
Billy Porter as Pray Tell on Pose
| Credit: Michael Parmelee/FX

Canals says that "by the time we got to the middle of the second season, we always knew that we were writing toward the loss of Pray Tell."

Pray Tell's AIDS-related death comes amid Porter's own real-life battle with HIV. Last month, the Emmy winner opened up for the first time about being diagnosed with the disease 14 years ago.

Canals tells PEOPLE that Porter had previously disclosed his status with him before Pose was even picked up to series. "I never brought it up ever in the writers' room either, so we didn't talk about it again until it was halfway through the third season," he says.

Steven Canals
Credit: Steve Granitz/WireImage

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"[Billy] pulled me aside and we had another conversation about how moved he was by the story that we were telling and how it was really helping him to work through his own hurts and his traumas," Canals recalls. "That was really important for him and for his own healing. Obviously, it was all the more important and really special for me to direct him in the finale to hold space for him and to support him emotionally because I was hyper aware that, both on the page and then on-screen, we were asking Billy to go to these really scary places. I just wanted to make sure that he knew that I was going to be there for him."

Aside from determining Pray Tell's conclusion in the second season, Canals reveals that the only character's fate he had in mind from the beginning was Blanca Rodriguez-Evangelista, who was played by Mj Rodriguez. Like Pray Tell, Blanca also battled HIV.

"I always knew right from the onset that Blanca was going to live. I think there was always questions especially on social media from fans of the show, like, 'I hope Blanca is okay,'" he says. "She's our lead, she's our protagonist. I know there are plenty of shows that the protagonists dies, often in the finale, but ... there was never a question for me that Blanca was going to live. It's her show. The story revolves around her and her friends and her family."

pose
Credit: FX

Pose premiered on FX in 2018. The acclaimed series, which is set in the 1980s and later the 1990s, follows a group of LGBTQ+ people within New York City's ballroom scene amid the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Dominique Jackson (Elektra), Indya Moore (Angel), Hailie Sahar (Lulu), Dyllón Burnside (Ricky), Angel Bismark Curiel (Lil Papi), Ryan Jamaal Swain (Damon), and Angelica Ross (Candy) were also part of the main cast.

While it may feel bittersweet for the show to come to an end after only three seasons, Canals believes that Pose is just the beginning of what's to come next.

"Pose is not a moment, it's a movement," he says. "What we've accomplished with our show is so much bigger than just the show, so I hope that our audience knows that. I know that they're disappointed and they feel like we only got three seasons and we wanted more story, but the thing I'm excited about is on the heels of what we've accomplished that we'll see more Poses down the line."

Pose's first two seasons can be streamed on Netflix.