[Warning: This story contains spoilers from episode 509, “What Happened and What’s Going On,” of AMC’s The Walking Dead and the comic series it’s based on.]
The Walking Dead bid farewell to one of the comic book series’ most beloved characters during season five’s midseason premiere on Sunday.
During the hour, Chad L. Coleman‘s Tyreese — one of the group’s most conflicted characters — succumbed to a bite from one of Noah’s (Tyler James Williams) twin younger brothers while trying to console the group’s newest member after he discovered his entire family was gone.
The loss is yet another devastating blow to Rick’s beleaguered group of survivors and comes immediately after Beth’s (Emily Kinney) brutal death. And for Tyreese’s sister, Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), it’s the latest blow after the loss of her boyfriend, Bob (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.).
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Coleman to discuss Tyreese’s death, sharing one of the show’s famous “Death Dinners” with Kinney and the comic storylines he really wanted to do (hint: love scenes with Michonne and Carol). (Click here to see what Martin-Green had to say about losing Tyreese and here for more with showrunner Scott M. Gimple.)
When did you find out Tyreese was going to be killed off?
Three episodes prior to it. Scott called me in and I thought he was joking; and then he started to tear up. I realized this was real. I proceeded to say, “Wow!” about 50,000 times and I immediately started to come to terms with it.
Tyreese sticks around in the comics for a very long time. What was Scott’s reasoning?
He said it was a necessary evil. When people are endeared to a character to a degree that they are with Tyreese and have been with others, The Walking Dead needs an impactful death to remind us of the value of human life. So a man of Tyreese’s character and integrity — we needed to get absolute maximum value out of his death. The way I live my life is why it’s so impactful and necessary to remind people of what the value of human life is — and also to give other characters the opportunity to bounce off that death.
Did you have a death dinner with the cast? What was that like?
Of course! We combined it and Emily and I did it together. It was so overwhelming. We couldn’t bear to do it twice so we combined it and it was amazing. We had a beautiful campfire and everyone sitting around with their eyes glistening and extolling beautiful sentiments with lots of hugs and tears. It was beautiful and something I’ll never forget.
Are you happy with Tyreese’s journey ended?
Absolutely! He nailed it for me! It was a sad, crushing ballad. It was almost like spoken word. It was lyrically crushing.
Since he was introduced, Tyreese was almost like a moral compass — like Dale and Hershel before him. Do you think Tyreese ever fit in with this new world? He was unable to kill for a brief period and never seemed to really adjust.
I think it’s always necessary to make sure this show stays grounded. We need that level of reality — not superhero but superhuman. It’s very necessary to balance the graphic violence. You need someone who is pragmatic, who is still clinging to those values that we all had growing up and recognize that killing is not easy; we cannot lose that mentality; it’s really important to the gravity of the show.
Do you feel Tyreese died an honorable man? He seemed to get lost in the loss of one of Noah’s twin brothers and wound up getting bitten by the other.
Of course! That’s the cruel irony of that world we live in: Tyreese is extending himself to try to help Noah and it bites him in the arm! (Laughs.)
What do you think Tyreese’s death says about the world reflected on the show? Is there no place in it for people like Tyreese?
No, not at all. It’s a tough call. Someone else will pick up this baton [of being the stand-up guy], I can guarantee that. Somebody said, “If you don’t find anything worth dying for, you’re not really living.” That’s how I feel about it. If Tyreese has to go, at least he went out on his terms and in a valiant way — clinging to his core beliefs and character and integrity uncompromised, regardless of the wreckage around me. That’s a very noble thing.
Tyreese reunited with Beth, Lizzie, Mika as well as the Governor. What was shooting that scene like?
That was a really intense scene for me. Having those familiar faces and wonderful actors — whom I have great relationships with offcamera — it was a quiet reassurance. It made it easier for me to go to those intense places that I had to go.
Tyreese leaves his sister, Sasha, behind — and she’s still reeling from Bob’s death as well as Beth’s demise. How do you think Sasha will respond?
I don’t know but Tyreese was trying to equip her with what she needs to be able to deal with death and grief and trying to tell her to not go down the rage road. But I don’t know if she heard Tyreese. Stay tuned!
Do you think there was more of Tyreese’s story to tell?
There was no Daryl [played by Norman Reedus on the show] in the comics, so now Daryl is Tyreese in one respect. So they had to do something different with the TV Tyreese and I’m glad they did. I think TV Tyreese was a bit more complex than what the comic had to offer. Nothing disparaging. This dude had many different levels to him, and you weren’t sure which way he’d go: Sometimes you saw the power, and sometimes you saw the pain. I couldn’t ask to serve up a better character.
The character wound up being a love interest for Carol and Michonne in the comics. Was there anything from the books that you wanted to do that didn’t make it to the show?
The love scenes with Michonne and Carol! I said, “Why aren’t we going there?!” But the man was in a lot of grief and wasn’t completely emotionally healed from Karen, so we had to leave that alone. I don’t know where they’re going with any of that stuff or who is going to be introduced as a love interest for them or anything of that nature. I was quite resolved. If there was an argument I could make to stay on the show, I would have made it, but I felt it was right. What else can you do unless you spin him off and give him his own storyline and [have him] find a like-minded group of his own. Unless you’re going to do that, it was time to go.
Speaking of spinoffs, AMC is prepping a Walking Dead prequel. Did you have any discussions about boarding that?
They don’t want any cross-referencing; it’s going to be its own independent entity. They don’t want any of the old faces on there, that’s what I was told. I had fun on the playground and it’s time to move to a different neighborhood.
What’s next for you? Pilot season?
I’m in L.A. now going out for things and I’m also a recurring guest star on Syfy’s The Expanse, playing Cmdr. Fred Johnson and I’m excited about that.
Will you miss Tyreese? Sound off in the comments section below. The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.