[Warning: This story contains spoilers from episode 514, “Spend,” of AMC’s The Walking Dead as well as the comic series it is based on.]
AMC’s The Walking Dead featured one of its most gruesome human deaths to date during Sunday’s hour, which set up the final two episodes of its fifth season in an episode that escalated tensions between Rick’s group of survivors and the weak residents of Alexandria.
The zombie drama parted ways with recurring player Tyler James Williams‘ Noah, who was savagely ripped apart by walkers during a supply run gone bad. The worst part: Not only could it have been avoided, but Glenn — who had become close with young Noah — witnessed his friend’s brutal demise up close.
Here’s how it went down: Noah, who was poised to become Alexandria’s historian and architect, joined Glenn (Steven Yeun), Tara (Alanna Masterson) and Eugene (Josh McDermitt), as well as Deanna’s (Tovah Feldshuh) douchebag son Aiden (Daniel Bonjour) and his idiot crony Nicholas (Michael Traynor) on a run for parts to restore Alexandria’s power grid.
The group leaves in a van with techno music blaring lyrics like “you’re going to die,” and then arrives at a warehouse where they find the parts, Aiden fired a grenade at a walker clad in body armor, accidentally knocking everyone in his own group out. Aiden is pinned down with shrapnel from the blast and, despite Glenn’s best efforts to save him, ends up dying when Nicholas leaves Aiden to die without even attempting to rescue him. Walkers rip Aiden’s body apart while Glenn, Noah and Nicholas run for the door. The situation grows even more desperate as the three are pinned in the revolving glass door. But Eugene finally overcomes his cowardice, risking his life as to take a badly injured Tara back to the van. He distracts and then kills a group of walkers in the process. Meanwhile, Nicholas ignores Glenn’s instructions and runs to the van where he attempt to carjack Eugene and leave all of Rick’s group to die. When Nicholas jams the rotating door closed, walkers are able to reach Noah, whose body is literally ripped to pieces in front of a traumatized Glenn.
After Glenn finally manages to escape through the jammed door, Glenn punches Nicholas out and loads him into the van and made their way back to Alexandria.
Speaking of Alexandria, Carol (Melissa McBride) learned that Jessie (Alexandra Breckenridge) is in an abusive marriage to Pete (Corey Brill) and tells Rick (Andrew Lincoln) that there’s only one way out of that situation: Rick needs to kill Pete. Meanwhile, a guilt-ridden Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) tells Deanna that Rick’s group can’t be trusted — which Maggie (Lauren Cohan) overhears. Maggie defends her people — who continue to be appointed in key leadership roles at Alexandria, with Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) earning a key role on the construction team.
The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Williams about Noah’s fate, and how the character’s death will impact Glenn and the impending clash with Alexandria.
Were you surprised to learn of Noah’s fate?
No, actually, I called it beforehand! I had read a scene in season 5, episode 11, where we’d all gotten to Alexandria and were sleeping in the house for the first time. I don’t think this scene made it in, and this may be why: Rick laid a blanket over Carl (Chandler Riggs) and Noah and for some reason, that tipped me off. I went, “That’s it, I’m dying!” There’s no reason why he would do that; Noah is not his child. Noah means something to him, so they’re going to kill me and that’s it. I spread that rumor around set to pick people’s brains. Norman was saying, “There’s no way! You haven’t been here long enough to die. You have to have some time here first for people to fall in love with you, and then that’s when you go.” I felt it and a few days later, [showrunner] Scott Gimple called the rest of the cast to give them the news. He was prepared for a bunch of, “Aww, that’s sad!” But everyone knew, and I said I knew already. I was a fan of the show beforehand and, as much as I love Noah, and was his biggest champion, I had a feeling the kid had to go! There was too much damaged caused by his introduction. You don’t stay around long in this world when that happens. The moment when they made him part of the run crew and he can’t run? That was going to be how that happened.
Even though he couldn’t run, he did prove valuable in his last episode when he defended the group well and was already planning a way to contribute to Alexandria as an architect of sorts.
There was so much foreshadowing. We get to the van and the techno music is playing “Now you’re going to die”! (Laughs.) It’s so clear, if people only knew. Jennifer Lynch, the director, when we shot it said, “This kid has not gotten a fair shake, so we’re going to make you a badass right before you go and make you valuable and make sure that you’re now Glenn’s right-hand man so his death will affect him the way it needs to.”
When you signed on for the role, did you know it was a short-time gig?
It’s actually longer than I expected it to be. Initially, my contract was for three episodes — which would have put my death around Beth’s (Emily Kinney‘). Everyone is always paranoid in a way about not knowing when that hammer is going to drop. I didn’t think I’d make it out of the season. But as it went on, this is episode 14 of 16, I kept thinking maybe if I laid low for two episodes… but it doesn’t really play out that way. They gave me too much to do and eventually it had to backfire.
As such a fan of the show, would you be interested in returning for AMC’s spinoff — a prequel that eventually catches up to the flagship show — and getting into Noah’s backstory?
I’ve kicked that idea around. I’d love to do it. I made it clear to producers that if they ever need me back for anything, I’m ready. I have another job already [CBS’ Criminal Minds spinoff pilot] — which was also a hint and a half to Walking Dead fans [of Noah’s death]. But this is one of those types of shows where you’re on it for life and you’re willing to contribute in any way, shape or form. In a way, these are my brothers and sisters of acting. So for me, Noah’s death was beautiful because I know what it’s going to do for Steven. I know he’s going to crush what ever is coming next. I knew I’d get another gig, but I’d love to have worked on this show for the rest of my life; I love these people and what they do. I do know that Noah’s death is going to set up some great stuff for them, some great acting opportunities.
Do you think Noah died a hero? I mean, he got the group to Alexandria — which was part of Beth’s last dying wish to get Noah to Virginia.
I think in a way he did a hero. In his last words, he was not saying, “Don’t let go of me”; he was saying, “Don’t let go of your humanity.” Glenn has become the moral fiber for the group, and Noah had come to the conclusion that too many people in this family had died as a result of his introduction. This guy wasn’t yet in the family, and he made the decision that if anyone in this family was going to go, it’s going to be him. And that’s what happened. In that way, he did die somewhat of a hero, mainly because no one else was going to die for him.
Noah’s death scene is one of the most horrific we’ve seen thus far on the series. What was it like shooting that?
It was incredibly difficult. On the emotional side, very few times do actors have to get ripped apart and act that out. There’s also the camaraderie between the two characters, and Noah’s death gave Steven everything he needed to take Glenn to where he needs to go next. It was pitched to me that Noah’s death has to be a huge body blow to Glenn. He had to have actively tried to save this kid, and then see not the just the idea of him dying, but see it happen in front of him. He has to be able to hear it, too. Then my face gets transformed into something that’s not me, and that was creepy and eerie. I told loved ones not to watch this one because it looks a little bit too real.
Did you get a death dinner with the cast?
I did, which I didn’t expect because I didn’t feel like I’d been there long enough. It’s a beautiful thing; I don’t know any other show that does that. They take the mourning process for characters seriously and it really helps everything. Tears were shed, and the incredible words that were said will stay with me for the rest of my life. It was the first step into, “OK, let’s bury another one.” They honor the dead well.
How do you think Noah’s death is going to impact Glenn?
It’s going to be huge. When you look at Glenn’s trajectory and where he’s been, he’s one of the few characters to come into world without a family. We don’t know much about what he lost in the world beforehand, and he’s been quickly adapting to this world. There’s the suggestion that he’s been building relationships better than he did beforehand. He’s never before actively lost someone that he’s tried to save. The way Steven pulled it off when he knocks Nicholas out — you see what’s in his eyes; this is going to rock him. We’ll see Glenn in a place where Rick was a few episodes ago — being kind of ruthless and ready to go. Once we got to Alexandria, we knew something big was going to happen. I didn’t know it would be Noah’s death. I don’t know what’s coming next, but I feel like Glenn is going to lead the charge to take this place. I think this is going to be one of the few times where Glenn steps out of Rick’s shadow and goes for it. He’s done losing people — especially for stupid reasons.
And this was so stupid! Nicholas effectively killed Noah.
If Nicholas makes it through the rest of the season, I’d be really surprised. Basically, everyone who has died this season had some connection to Glenn where it wasn’t his fault that they didn’t leave. Beth is his sister-in-law and they just assumed she was gone but by the time they found out she was alive, she was gone. With Tyreese, he’d already been bitten when Glenn got there. Glenn tried to save him, but it wasn’t really his fault he died. With Noah, the difference is Glenn was right there, and he had to watch him be ripped apart. That’s going to really mess him up. I can’t wait to see in what way.
Considering Glenn and Nicholas are coming back without Noah and Deanna and Reg’s son, Aiden, how do you think that will affect Deanna’s decision as she weighs Father Gabriel’s warning that Rick’s group aren’t good people?
The way she reacts is what’s going to directly affect Glenn. Because of what Gabriel has said, her antennas are now up and she’s looking for signs that these are terrible people. The last thing Aiden says to his dad is, “Take care,” and he leaves. Their last note was nice — Deanna thanks Glenn for keeping her kid in check. If at any point in time that she suggests that the run went poorly because of Glenn, he’s going off and that’s it. He knows what happened and the fact that none of these people would have died had their people been well-trained. That run could have gone really well if Aiden hadn’t shot the walker with the grenade. They would have been in and out; everyone was firing on all cylinders. Aiden almost got the whole group killed, that’s what’s crazy. He almost killed four major characters. Deanna’s reaction is they key because Glenn can’t take one more person telling him that he didn’t do his job right when he knows he did.
What about Tara (Alanna Masterson)? Will she make it, and how will she respond to her friend’s death?
She’s going to be interesting. They were always together. It’s going to be really damaging to her considering everything that’s just happened. She’s Glenn’s left hand and this run crew was Noah, Glenn and Tara, so waking up and hearing that the other essential person to this triad is gone is going to make her have Glenns’ back even more — and she’s not one to back down.
What kind of legacy do you think Noah will have with Rick’s group? Is he part of the alarm bell that shifts the balance of power in Alexandria?
Noah was pitched to be as a catalyst. That’s it. He propels storylines. I didn’t totally understand that until I saw how it was being played out — he gets them to Washington and Alexandria because he’s going to his house in Virginia. But now I’m beginning to see that he’s propelling stories for everyone. Noah is going to be a turning point. Not only did he lead them to a beautiful place, he also led them to a dangerous place. He gave them two episodes of safety but then his death shows them that Alexandria is still dangerous; there’s nothing safe about anything anymore. As soon as I was cast on the show, I started obsessively reading the comic and seeing if there was anyone Noah mirrored. If they do follow Glenn’s death the way they do in the comic, it makes sense. If Glenn is so ruthless now because he’s lost someone in his hands, he’s going to approach Negan aggressively and that’s probably how he’s going to die. He’s not going to be one who takes shit from anyone anymore. That trickles down: Glenn’s death will affect Maggie, who has now lost all of her family. I humbly say this but Noah is a Shane (Jon Bernthal) in a way — he wasn’t around for as long as people would have liked but Shane dying directly affected things for season five: the way Rick reacts to Jessie because of Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) and Shane. I see Noah as being a catalyst for things three, four seasons from now.
We’re still waiting for the potential introduction of Negan on the series, too. As a fan of the comics yourself, do you think the writing has been on the wall that Negan isn’t too far off at this point?
At this point, I know nothing about what’s coming. When Noah has breakdown, behind him — spray-painted on the wall — it says “wolves nearby,” and I think that’s a huge piece of foreshadowing. In episode 9 in season 5, when Tyreese dies, Noah’s signature weapon is a bat. In Alexandria, the pantry is too substantial for that group of people. If they do follow the comic, they’re paying tribute some way. I don’t know how they would cast him because there are certain things you can’t say [regarding Negan’s foul mouth in the comic]. I think he is the ultimate nemesis to this group. He brings this reign of terror and kills some people we really love. Logistically, I don’t know how they could do it — the same way that I don’t know if they could also cast characters like know if Ezekiel; I don’t know how they’ll have a tiger on set at all times! I hope they do, but I don’t know how you pull it off!
You can’t do Ezekiel without the tiger.
You’d rather just not do it!
Will you miss Noah? Sound off in the comments section below. The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.