By Samantha Highfill
December 12, 2018 at 10:00 PM EST
Eddy Chen/The CW
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Spoiler alert: This post contains plot details from the Dec. 12 episode of All American, “Homecoming.”

In its midseason finale, All American pulled out all the stops with a shocking death, a big game, and another layer of mystery surrounding Spencer’s father. EW spoke with showrunner Nkechi Okoro Carroll about the hour and what to expect when the show returns in 2019.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start with the decision to kill Shawn and why that felt right for the story.
NKECHI OKORO CARROLL: We loved Shawn, which made it such a hard decision. We went back and forth about it for so long and then realized that’s exactly why we have to do it, because it’s the truth of what happens there sometimes. We felt like if we had Spencer’s story, we needed to have the other side of the story too, and it was really the only way to sort of fully tell that. Shawn’s legacy lives on through the back half of the season. It has a huge impact on our characters and was something that we needed to have happen. But we love [actor] Jay Reeves, and we miss him. He’s so good.

For me, his death really added stakes to the situation and made it that much more real.
That’s what we’re going for. We’re trying to be as authentic as possible in telling these stories and not glorifying anything, but at the same time not sugarcoating anything. The truth of the matter is that does happen in the hood, and it’s one of those things where you have to figure out how you pick up and move on with your life. So we felt like we needed to tell that story and really see how our characters pick up and are changed by it. And actually it really will propel Spencer, I think, in a way that our audience isn’t expecting.

What does losing Shawn mean for Coop specifically? What’s next for her?
I think Shawn’s death is one of the biggest things that happens to Coop this season and completely changes the trajectory of where she’s going in the back half of the season. I don’t think anyone is going to be able to guess the road that she goes down. But we’re definitely taking her on a ride. It’s part of her process of discovering who she is and who she wants to be, and that’s something that people along the way are going to challenge her about.

Sometimes I forget how young these kids are.
That’s the thing: You take the average teenager who’s just struggling with identity, and figuring out who they are and acceptance and friendships and all of that stuff. Then you add the extra layer. You realize that these kids are in a pressure cooker and under an unusual amount of pressure. Our athletes, who are struggling with their identity, are also struggling with their home life. We often forget that these are young kids that have these pressures put on them, and that’s why we wanted to tell these stories through Coop, and Spencer, and Olivia, and Layla, and Jordan. I think sometimes because of the maturity they show in the other aspects of their life, we forget that they’re kids as well. That’s really what we’re going to see with Coop and Spencer especially.

Speaking of pressure, Asher’s made some mistakes recently. What’s next for him?
You want to talk about someone who’s trying to figure himself out? His identity was so wrapped up in his money and being this rich Beverly Hills kid, and this star football player. His world got so rocked in the last year. So he’s still figuring out who this other Asher is, and it’s a slippery slope. Asher’s a complicated guy, and Asher can be his own worst enemy. Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom in all aspects of your life before you really get that wake-up call, and that’s kind of what’s happening to Asher right now. But I will say that he does come out on the other side of it. I think the way he comes out on the other side of it will surprise people. And Asher is going to keep surprising people, including himself. But he is a character who is a little unpredictable because you never know when he’s going to get in his own way again.

So are Spencer and Layla giving this relationship thing a real try?
They are going to give it a try. They are going to give it a shot, and I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised at what their relationship looks like, because while these are two teenagers, they are two teenagers who’ve had to step into very adult roles in their lives, in terms of their families and raising themselves. That lends itself to a really interesting dynamic in the relationship that you don’t normally see when you have teens that are just so used to just being teens and not having the weight of the world on their shoulders.

The mystery of Spencer’s father and why he left has been a bit of a slow burn thus far. Will that continue as we move forward, or are we revving that up?
I’ll say this: We’re not going to keep you guys hanging forever, I promise that. There will still be a little bit of a slow burn. We have a few episodes to get through, and I think if people have been paying very close attention, they might start to piece it together. We’ve been very intentional in the way we built the story. I don’t necessarily think it’s what people think it is, but if they’re paying close attention they might start to figure what’s happening. But I do promise answers in the back half of the season.

This show has done a beautiful job of tackling serious issues. Are there any issues you all take on in the back half of the season?
Absolutely. In part triggered by Shawn’s death, there were a lot of issues that we wanted to tackle, that we wanted Spencer to have to deal with, specifically back home in Crenshaw. We’re going to meet some, what we call OG gangsters, who are the ones who’ve been around for a decades and have a different approach to gang life than the newer, more reckless ones, and really sort of have the conversation about what that looked like. We’re really going to be exploring the dynamic between the old school and new school, who are more like the Tyrones of the world, who are a little less predictable and a little more drunk on power, and the violence. And we’re having the discussion about painting everyone with the same brush and how that’s a dangerous thing to do because they are actually very different.

All American will return Wednesday, Jan. 16, at 9 p.m. ET on the CW.

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