JoJo Whilden/Netflix
June 20, 2016 at 03:45 PM EDT

Massive Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t watched Orange Is the New Black yet, do not continue reading!

Amidst a season of ever growing tension, unease, and disturbing behavior on Orange Is the New Black, the fourth season’s penultimate episode delivered a stunning tragedy. During a peace protest staged by the inmates of Litchfield Penitentiary, things escalated out of control and left one of the show’s most beloved characters dead: Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley), who rushed to the aid of Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” (Uzo Aduba) during the unrest, was killed by a guard who mistakenly suffocated her while kneeling on her back. EW caught up with Wiley just as the season, her last, was about to premiere.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When did you find out about Poussey fate?

SAMIRA WILEY: They came and talked to me before we started the season. So I actually knew for months before the rest of the cast did which means I had to keep it a secret from people that I work with every single day. That was hard.

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Were you surprised when they told you?

I was completely shocked. But at the end of the day I feel so honored to be able to be the one who is trusted to tell this story. Honestly? It’s been an honor. Jenji Kohan and [co-executive producer] Tara Herrmann came to my dressing room and told me. They talked about how beloved my character is and—the way I think about Poussey — is that she, out of anyone, has so much potential for a life outside of prison. So to so see something like this happen to her? They wanted it to hurt. To have this issue permeate our culture…some people turn a blind eye to things that go on in our prisons and in our world and Black Lives Matter and all of that. I think they’ve done a wonderful job of putting it in a TV show.

The way Poussey dies felt reminiscent of Eric Garner, who died in 2014 after being put in a police chokehold during his arrest. Was that intentional?

Yes, I think it really was. It’s the most similar — it’s an homage, in a way, of Eric Garner’s death.

What would you tell fans who are probably feeling incredibly sad right now?

I want to let them know I’m still here! [Laughs] I’m still alive, I’m still good. I’m looking forward to working in movies and I’m going to be here. I’m okay.

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