Spoiler alert: This post contains details from the June 15 episode of Kingdom, “Woke Up Lonely.”
In the 13th episode of Kingdom‘s second season, Ryan and Jay finally faced off in the cage. It was a battle that put brother against brother, and it was Jay who came out the victor. EW spoke with showrunner Byron Balasco about creating the long-awaited fight, the end result, and what it will mean for all involved.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You have been building to this Jay-Ryan fight for a while now. When it came to picking a winner, was it a difficult decision? How did you piece together the story you wanted to tell?
BYRON BALASCO: It was not a difficult decision in the sense of who do I want to win. It was more of a decision about what result would have the most impact on both of these characters. And I think the expectation would be that for Jay, if he were to lose, that that would send him down some dark spiral only proving what everybody said about him. And Ryan winning would simply continue his ascent. But it just was more interesting to me this idea of Jay winning because, as we see as the season goes on, these wins don’t quite ever change a fighter’s life as much as it may feel like it’s going to. You’re building and building and building to this moment and then it passes and you get the good result and that feels good for a second but it really doesn’t change the circumstances of your life because it’s not a permanent change. You can almost see it from the moment he wins the fight that there’s this sort of air let out of him. In some ways, Jay winning is the worst thing that could happen to him.
It’s the question of: Is it better to be the guy who loses or the guy who wins and finds it’s not everything he wanted?
Exactly. Ryan loses and it’s painful, but now he also has a goal to focus on, which is coming back 100 percent. He was also injured going into the fight a little bit, so in his mind — and I think in the minds of a lot of people — maybe that win comes with a little bit of an asterisk for Jay that maybe he didn’t beat Ryan at 100 percent. So in a lot of ways, Ryan comes out the other end of that fight a little bit better. But also, all that said, it is very emotional for these two guys to fight. I think when you see Jay finally choking Ryan out and Ryan slipping unconscious, it’s not something that Jay likes to do. He’s strangling a brother at that point, but it just has to be done.
You mentioned the injury. I’m curious about the decision to have Ryan be hurt: Did you feel it was unrealistic for Jay to beat Ryan at his best? Was it more about adding another psychological component?
I don’t think it’s unrealistic for Jay to beat Ryan at his best because Jay at his best is also very talented. Getting Jay at his best is more of a dicey proposition, but having that injury — number one, it’s true to the world. Fighters go into fights injured all the time. Rarely does anybody go in 100 percent. But I also wanted to plant that little seed in both of their minds that this might not have settled anything. I think it cuts into Jay’s win a little bit.
At this point, we’re building to a rematch, because Ryan was the defending champ. That means there’s potentially going to be more tension between these two. Were you at all hesitant to put this divide between two characters that have been so close in the past?
No, not really because it felt inevitable. It felt like it had to happen, so the challenge was figuring out how to deal with that. Ryan grew up wrestling, he grew up competing athletically so he’s used to having to fight a friend. It’s not that emotional of a thing for him. For Jay, he didn’t. He just got into fighting so he’s not used to the constant competition against friends and he takes it to heart a lot more, it’s a lot more emotionally taxing on him to fight somebody he cares about the way he cares about Ryan. In that sense, I wanted to explore that and then the echoes of that after the fight.
Jay and Alvey have such a complicated relationship. I want to talk about that moment when Jay listens to Alvey’s voicemail and hears his father say he’s proud of him. Is Jay getting anything out of that?
Yeah, I think Jay is getting something out of it. But there’s a lifetime of conflict and resentment and pain between those two so Alvey saying “I’m proud” is not going to open the floodgates for Jay and everything’s okay. I think he gets a little shot of dopamine but he doesn’t know if he can trust it, he doesn’t know if he believes it. He’s been let down a lot and quite honestly, he won the fight, it’s his night, and I don’t think he’s going to let himself feel that his father’s proud of him.
Was Alvey secretly rooting for Jay?
That’s a very good question. That’s a hard question to answer. I think probably part of his heart was rooting for Jay and also fearing what would happen if Jay lost to Ryan, but there’s another part of him that cares deeply about Ryan as well. Also, Ryan is a little bit more of a reliable business proposition for him. It’s complicated. I don’t think that Alvey could pinpoint exactly how he feels in a black-and-white way.
Alvey’s reaction of smiling and then throwing his head in his hands — was that scripted or Frank [Grillo]?
That’s what Frank brings to the character. That’s some damn good acting. The idea is scripted but it’s just a talented actor being in the moment that gives you those kind of things.
We also have to touch on what’s just happened to Christina and how that’s going to affect her moving forward…
She is a survivor and she is an addict, and a lot of times, even when addicts are clean, there is a pathological need to manipulate a situation. They may not even realize they’re doing it, they’re just constantly in a state of manipulation. And a lot of times that can get you into trouble. So she manipulated her situation at the rehab with an obviously fragile, unstable person, and he came back at her. Now Christina’s gone through a hell of a lot worse in her life, so I don’t think that guy quite knew what he was getting into, but I think it’s the addict in Christina that makes it so hard to break the pattern of manipulation and survival.
Kingdom airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on AT&T’s Audience Network.