[SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s “Twice as Far” episode of The Walking Dead.]
It is the cruel fate of The Walking Dead. As soon as Denise found the courage to confront both her fears and the zombies that inhabited the world outside the walls of Alexandria, she ended upon the receiving end of an arrow to the brain (and through the eye) courtesy of Dwight and the Saviors. And right as she was in the middle of a speech to Daryl and Rosita about overcoming obstacles in one’s life. Bummer.
That meant not only the end for Denise on the show, but also the Emmy-winning actress that portrayed her, Merritt Wever. We spoke with Wever to get her thoughts on playing the character, her big death scene and last day on set, and what she’ll miss most about being part of the family.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How and when did you find out about Denise’s demise, as it were? How did showrunner Scott Gimple relay the information that this was going down?
MERRITT WEVER: I always knew that it would be a one-season thing — that this was going to be a finite experience on the show — so I didn’t have to go through finding out that I had died. I assumed that it would happen. That’s how people tend to make it off the show. A couple of weeks before we shot the episode, Scott called and let me know the specifics of it. He’ll call and give you an idea of the emotional nuts and bolts of things, and he told me how it was actually going to happen as well.
Were you aware that in The Walking Dead comic that this is actually how Abraham actually dies, with an arrow through the brain?
No! I wasn’t, because I don’t know anything about the comics. I had heard during production that stories were being fudged and that they weren’t following the books to a tee, but I didn’t know the specifics.
I think Michael Cudlitz owes you a bottle of wine or something.
I don’t think he was going anywhere.
You mentioned that you didn’t follow the comic book at all. Did you ever take a look to see what the comic book version of Denise was like, or did you just want to come at it purely in terms of the TV character?
I didn’t even know when I showed up for the first day in the hair and makeup trailer that she was a character that existed already. I didn’t know about the show. I had watched it to prepare, but I didn’t know that I was coming in playing somebody who already existed. And because Scott hadn’t mentioned that, and because I had already heard that it wasn’t going to be following the comics to a tee, I figured it might not really be worth it to invest in shaping her in any way after the character in the comics. I had a feeling that the story wasn’t necessarily going to match up anyway, so I might as well just see what happens on set.
In terms of your big death scene, normally I imagine one would be pretty focused on the death and how to play that big moment, but you also have this huge speech leading right up to it. So what was on your mind as you were getting ready to shoot that?
I don’t think anything in particular. Just do the work and be in the right spot and hold still or whatever they had asked me to do to make the effects happen. It wasn’t all that complicated on my end. They had put a prosthesis on my eye, so it was weird to be walking around with one eye permanently closed, but it was really easy. They really know what they’re doing down there and they’re really, really good at it. Even if it was a big deal for me, it wasn’t a big deal for everybody else to make it happen.
We see several instances in this episode where Denise is really trying to toughen up. She goes to investigate the zombie sound in the apothecary, and goes to get the cooler and insists on fighting off the zombie by herself. Why now for her to want to step up and test her mettle?
I think a lot of it had to do with Tara and wanting to be as strong or as brave as she saw Tara being, and probably being a little embarrassed that she didn’t go out on the run with Tara. And that she was still feeling too insecure or hesitant and fearful to tell her that she loved her. I think a lot of Denise’s story has been combating and battling fear — like panic attacks, and the fear of having to be the doctor, and the fear of being in a relationship. And I think she wanted to get a little bit of camaraderie with the other people from Rick’s group too. She wanted to feel connected to people and that she could be brave and she could be strong and she could survive too. She wanted to test herself, and it just did not work out.
You shared the most scenes with Alanna Masterson. What was it like working with her to create that relationship between Denise and Tara?
It was great. She’s great. She’s so much fun and so sweet and so good to me. So I was very lucky to work with her. And things move fast on this show. Things develop really quickly and you just find yourself in a heightened new relationship with people and you just have to go with it, and everybody is very game for that on set.
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What was your goodbye from the cast and crew like on your last day? I don’t know if it was your death scene or a different day of shooting, but what was that goodbye like?
The death day wasn’t the last day, but everyone talks about how great it is and it’s true. It’s a really nice place to work. The cast, the crew, they are very, very welcoming to new people. It was embarrassing, I didn’t realize that they all show up on your last day. We’re like an hour outside of Atlanta proper and all these people who weren’t working came in. And they come in at night and wait for your last shot. It’s a really, really inclusive, generous bunch of folks down there. And I tried not to cry. That’s all I did.
And how did you succeed in that venture?
I’d like to say I succeeded.
What will you miss most about playing Denise and working on this show?
The friendliness of the people. How welcoming they were, and inclusive. That’s nice. It’s not always like that on all sets. And I really appreciated the effort that people put in to making it a nice place to work. It’s just not always the case and I think it’s really a nice thing when it’s done like that.