Dalton Ross
November 05, 2017 AT 10:00 PM EST

SPOILER ALERT: Read on only after watching Sunday night’s “Monsters” episode of The Walking Dead.

War has casualties, and the Alexandria-Hilltop-Kingdom alliance on The Walking Dead experienced its first big one of the season on Sunday night when Eric succumbed to last week’s gunshot wound. Things were looking better for the former Alexandria scout as he had an exit wound, enough humor to joke with Aaron, and strength to send his boyfriend back into battle. But after leaving an injured Eric slumped against a tree, Aaron returned later to find him shuffling off in the distance as a walker.

We spoke to the actor who played Eric, Jordan Woods-Robinson, about his heartbreaking final episode. He shares many behind-the-scenes tidbits, including the meaning behind his final line, and the fact that his final scene was actually originally filmed without him. Read through both pages for the entire interview.

Gene Page/AMC

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So how and when did you first learn about Eric’s untimely demise?
JORDAN WOODS-ROBINSON: I was fortunate enough to receive a very heartfelt and intimate call from [showrunner Scott M. Gimple], and we talked for about 45 minutes. He’s like, “Unfortunately, we have come to the part of the story where Eric is going to be leaving us. And we put a lot of thought into it and this is how we want to do it.” He talked to me for a long time and you get the sense when you talk to Scott or anyone else that is a creative on the show that every decision they have is a tough one, and every decision they make is to tell a great story.

And so Scott told me about the whole battle sequence. I was filming the first episode of the season when we talked, and he told me what was going to come up in the next episode and how we were going to be fighting at the satellite location and then he told me how it wasn’t going to be like it was in the comics, which I was so grateful for. In the comics, if anyone hasn’t seen it, Ezekiel is actually telling the story about how this battle began and then you turn the page and it’s a full-page image of Eric getting shot in the head and his head is flying through the air and Aaron is behind him shouting, and then Rick is basically there, saying “We don’t have time,” and they just keep running, and that is it for Eric.

So I was really happy that they were really focusing on the relationship for this, and from the moment that he started explaining it, I thought it was just beautiful. I was just really happy that their relationship was so important and in many ways the relationship is still there.

Let’s talk about the evolution of Eric, because he originally wanted no part in going to war with Negan. What do you think ultimately caused him to change his mind? Was it watching his boyfriend getting beaten up one too many times?
I think there are a couple different things. I think there was a big flip over when I saw poor Sasha. She took that initiative and she sacrificed herself for the greater good and she knew that it would not only potentially take out Negan in the end of last season, but if nothing else it would rally the troops and it would get everyone else in a position where they could say yes, we can fight back and we will fight back.

So Sasha’s death for Eric was a big turning point, and then also just saying yes, I’m going to fight alongside Aaron and I am going to be there and it’s going to be hard and it’s going to be tough. But this is fighting for the greater good and there is no opportunity to stay back and protect — and really at this point, there is very little to stay back and protect. The story is outside the Alexandrian walls, and we have to go out there and forge new ground.

Let’s talk about that big scene between Eric and Aaron by the tree. Aaron is kind of losing it, and Eric is the one with the sense of humor and giving him a pep talk and ultimately ordering him to get back to the fight. Tell me how you and Ross Marquand approached that scene, because that’s a huge one for both of you.
Yeah, and I think it just played out beautifully. Matt Negrete wrote a wonderful scene for us and [director] Greg Nicotero was there to put it all together. Talk about a team that you want behind your back every time. With as far as Eric supporting Aaron, I’ve always seen that in Eric, and this is a rough analogy, but I’ve always viewed him as the first wife of the White House.

Aaron is out there on the battlefront making all these tough decisions — you know, the president in this analogy — and then I’m there when he comes home, when he feels beaten and when he’s completely overwhelmed. I’m the one who’s there to give the love and be like, “You can do this. You will do this. You have to do this. People are relying on you.” And I’ve felt like that throughout the entire scope of my character. And I’m so happy to see that come through so clearly in this final scene.

There was one line in that scene that Ross and I had a particular strong thought about at the very end when he says “I love you,” and Eric says, “I always had a hunch.” It’s a beautifully written line, and we came up with this story line that it was also our first exchange when when he did say “I love you” for the first time years ago, before the apocalypse. We came up with the story that when he said “I love you,” I said “I had a hunch.” And so by me saying, “I always had a hunch” now, that is stronger than saying I love you too. That is deeper rooted.

It goes all the way to the bottom of our relationship, which has surpassed all of the muck that we’ve gone through. The world has gone to hell, but our relationship has been there and it has been stronger than either of us or anything else around us, and that line for us really brought everything back home and said, “This is what it’s all about.”

Pretty much all your scenes on the show were with Ross. What was working with him like?
Oh, it was awful. [Laughs] No, Ross is the sweetest. He’s so down to earth and that’s a trait that’s thrown around quite a bit, but he is just genuinely the most thoughtful, caring, listening, supportive person, possibly one of the most that I’ve ever met. It was humbling and it was very easy to love him and that’s something that we focused on since our very first scene.

And our last scene was a mirror of the first scene of us — of meeting and one of us being injured, and me having the slightly comedic passive thing of “everything’s okay.” Ever since we had that first scene, we got together we said, “Look, this is such a strong relationship and it’s so well written. We don’t necessarily have to focus on the love of this. We can focus on the friendship. If we are truly friends, if we are truly partners and supporters of each other and have each other’s back, that is where this couple is.” So it was very easy to be Ross’ friend, and I still consider him obviously a great, great, great friend.

NEXT PAGE: Woods-Robinson reveals that Eric’s final scene was originally filmed without him

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