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[Warning: This story contains spoilers from episode 609, “No Way Out,” the midseason premiere of AMC’s The Walking Dead and the comic book series the show is based on.]
AMC’s The Walking Dead returned with a vengeance Sunday with a heart-racing midseason premiere in which the zombie drama added another few names to its growing roster of dearly departed.
The series brought multiple panels from Robert Kirkman’s comic series to life in what many had anticipated would be a bloody, graphic, deadly and extremely shocking episode that saw Rick’s love interest Jessie (Alexandra Breckenridge) as well as her two young sons Sam and Ron all killed off. Their deaths were capped with Carl’s eye being shot out by a stray bullet as the survivors attempted to make their way through a zombie-invested Alexandria.
The whole sequence of events start when Jessie’s youngest son Sam (Major Dodson) — the same one who wouldn’t leave his second-floor room out of fear — spots a boy his age among the walkers and freaks. He panics as he’s haunted by Carol’s words and the walkers feast upon him, with Jessie looking on — and screaming — in horror. As she’s bitten and attacked, she refuses to let go of Carl’s hand amid the commotion — during which Rick is completely freaking out — and Carl screams for help. Rick realizes what’s happening and chops Jessie’s hand off, freeing Carl. That’s when Jessie’s older son, Ron (Austin Abrams) raises Carl’s lost gun on Rick and Carl. Michonne spots what’s happening and plows her katana through the boy’s chest. However, Ron’s stray bullet catches Carl in the eye, bringing one of the most stunning moments from the comic series to life. (More on that here, in our interview with Chandler Riggs, and here in our dissection of how the show brought that moment to life.)
The intense hour comes to a close when Carl, bandaged in the infirmary, squeezes Rick’s hand. It propels Rick — which in turn does the same for the Alexandrians — to go on a fierce rampage to clear the community of the undead.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Breckenridge to discuss Jessie’s fate.
Did you always know this was a year and a half gig?
No. When I first got the part, they didn’t tell me that they were planning to kill off Jessie. They always knew it was, they just didn’t know if it would be in the middle or end of the season. They told me in March 2015. I had a bit of a heads up that it was coming. But I also didn’t know how it was going to happen until we were shooting the episode. Sometimes they don’t follow the comic. When I auditioned to play the part, I read a fake role that didn’t exist. When we were putting together my contract, they didn’t tell me who I was playing. I didn’t know I was playing someone from the comic until I got to Atlanta and they told me. Greg Nicotero was like, “You don’t want to read that though!” I couldn’t help myself and found a copy in one of my friends in the cast’s apartments and looked at it.
What was your reaction when you found out about Jessie’s storyline?
We were at a cast dinner in L.A. and I was chatting about where I was looking to find an apartment and showrunner Scott Gimple said, “Oh, I should talk to you about that.” We had a meeting a few weeks later and he told me it was happening and which episode. I was super bummed because it’s the best set I’ve ever worked on with the most fun creative, supportive team of people. I didn’t want to get killed off.
Did you make a plea or a pitch to have Jessie stick around?
I sent Scott an email and had a pitch for how he didn’t have to kill Jessie. It wasn’t totally serious and said, “Her children get killed, Sam is eaten and Ron is killed trying to kill Rick — and Jessie leaves the group and you don’t find her for another year and a half when you see her in season seven or eight and she’s a crazy feral woman.” (Laughing) I thought it was fun. It was a more interesting direction than standing there in shock and getting eaten herself.
What was filming your death scene like? I heard production had to make a mold of your arm.
Yes! I had to hold on to Chandler’s wrist as they poured this slimy stuff over us and we had to stay with our arms up with this heavy material on it. Filming the scene was really hard because I was playing this woman watching her young son being eaten. It was one of the most devastating things. When we started filming it, and one of the first few takes was Sam’s coverage and I was off-camera. It affected me so much that I had to walk away because I started feeling overwhelmed with emotion about what the reality of that must be like. I got too connected to the character. The amazing thing was all the cast came to that day-of filming just to be supportive. We shot until 6 a.m. and most of them stayed until 2 or 3 a.m. Lauren Cohan (Maggie), Christian Serratos (Rosita) and Alanna Masterson (Tara) stayed the whole time and had a bottle of champagne to open at the end. It was amazing.
What was your death dinner like? Were the boys there, too?
(Laughing) It was so depressing! We had it at somebody’s house and everybody was there. We had a fire outside and it was for Tovah Feldshuh (whose Deanna was killed off in the midseason finale) and I both. Everyone went around and said lovely things about us. It’s bittersweet; I wouldn’t want to do it again. It’s sad, you’re saying goodbye to friends. It’s very sweet and respectful that they do that, but it’s super depressing. I didn’t want to leave the show.
What’s so compelling is that Jessie doesn’t die in vain — it was her speech that helped to motivate all of Alexandria to fight together to defend their community.
Her legacy will live on because she did inspire people around her to find their strength. In that respect, she’ll live on through their ability to survive.
How do you think this experience changed Rick?
I saw the scene in ADR and it was so brutal. I feel really sorry for Rick. He’s constantly being beaten up. The poor guy can’t catch a break! I’m hoping that Jessie opened a side of him that had been closed off for a while. Hopefully that remains open. I think she inspired something in him, too.
Will you keep watching?
I’m going to try! I think I will, I’m curious to see what happens! It’s like a sad breakup where you don’t really want to do but you have to.
Have we seen the last of you on the show or is there a potential for zombie Jessie to pop up as she does in the comics?
I don’t think so! I think that was just too sad for them!
What are you doing next?
It’s pilot season so people know I’m available. All the casting directors are big fans of The Walking Dead and I come in and they say, “You die, don’t you!” But I can’t say anything! So now they know. But I’m still looking for something that moves me.
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