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.
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
ENTERTAINMENT WEKELY: When Eric sends Aaron back to the fight, do you think he knows it’s the end for him there?
JORDAN WOODS-ROBINSON: You know, that question never really came up. I think there is that feeling of wanting to grasp onto saying: It’s going to be okay. I’m going to hold out and we are going to make it back to the Hilltop and we’re going to make it to a doctor and there are people who are trained to do this. And the exit wound through the back, that’s a good sign. As long as I can make it without bleeding out and without being attacked while I’m here, then we have a shot.
But at the same time, I think he probably knows that it is going to be the end. But either way, it’s just such a beautiful final moment. And they don’t have closure. When Aaron comes over to the tree to try to find Eric later and he’s not there and we see Eric walking across the field — you can still see that relationship there being stretched out. I think that is equally beautiful and horrifying that Aaron didn’t get that sense of closure. We did get a nice goodbye and I think at the end of that we were both prepared to have that be our final goodbye. But then it all comes back around and we see him not getting to get that final act of closure, and I have such mixed feelings about that. I think it’s so beautiful and I think it’s awful.
I feel so bad for Aaron because that’s just something that can break a person. And we might see that in the next couple episodes with the character wrestling with that knowledge — kind of like we saw with Lennie James’ character back in the beginning of the series, that he’s out there and he’s looking for his wife and he’s a broken man and he doesn’t know where to turn next because he knows that his partner is out there, even if it’s not the real version. Even if it’s just imitation, that person is still out there and still roaming the world.
It leads to some really interesting questions in terms of what is worse? I remember watching Daryl have to put down a zombie version of his brother, or you see Spencer having to do it with his mother Deanna, and you think: What could be worse than that? And it’s like, well, maybe what’s worse than that is not being able to do it.
Absolutely. Just knowing that it’s out there and you could encounter that person.
So did Greg Nicotero and his team put any zombie makeup on you for that shuffle off in the field or not?
I was in full zombie makeup for that, believe or not. They had actually filmed that scene with another person in my place because I was filming some other stuff and so they said, “Okay, well, we’re going to get an extra. We’re going to get a body double. We’re going to match him to you and he’s going to walk through the fields.” And then after that happened, I was a little disappointed and I just mentioned it once or twice and they believed so strongly and they wanted me to feel so strongly so they shot it again with me.
Like, no one else is going to know except for now me saying this. No one else would know that that wasn’t me walking across the field, but I would know and they listened to that and they said, “Yeah, you’re right. It should be you.” And so we went back on another day and re-filmed it and it just warms my heart. That’s not something that anyone would have had to do, but they agreed to it because I felt strongly about it and so yeah, that is me walking through the field. And just in case, the front of my face is in full zombie make-up. And for all of Ross’s reactions though the rest of the episode, I was there off-camera walking away from him in order to give him a visual reference. Because, you know, we’re there to support each other.
What are you going to miss most about working on The Walking Dead?
The people, really. Every day on set there were lots of jokes. There was a couple times in season 7 when it got a little tense and there weren’t many jokes. But other than that, people are just having great conversations. There’s an added challenge and excitement to working on film and TV projects where you show up and you work on one scene for a couple hours and then you move on to the next scene. I’ve missed having that long arc of getting to know a family of people over four years and really getting to create something great with them.
For more Walking Dead intel, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.