Credit: ABC

Warning: This article contains spoilers about Thursday's episode of Station 19 titled "Eulogy."

ABC's Station 19 said goodbye to a beloved character on Thursday, and even though fans won't be happy about his departure, series executive producer and showrunner Krista Vernoff explains why it was necessary. Andy's (Jaina Lee Ortiz) life is about to be turned upside down after the loss of her best friend Ryan Tanner (Alberto Frezza), but the question is: How will this change her?

"Watching the first two seasons of the show, I had a strong impulse to put Andy through some darkness and see how she came out the other side," Vernoff tells EW. " I felt like I had seen the bright and shiny side of her and I was interested in exploring her dark and twisty side. This accelerated that."

She adds, "Yes, this has been intensely traumatic. That's the design. Life is full of trauma and loss and heartbreak and watching characters we like and love rise from the ashes and figure out who they are in the wake of that kind of loss is, for me, powerful. You don't just come back from a loss like that—you come back changed."

Credit: ABC

Frezza knew for a while what was ahead for his character—Ryan dies after being accidentally shot by a young child who got his hands on a gun inside his house—and hopes the way he dies helps bring attention to gun safety.

"I found out after season 2 ended, there was some changes [to production]," Frezza says. "Krista Vernoff took over as showrunner, and she called me when she decided what she wanted to do with the show. She told me her vision for season 3 and told me why this was what the show needed, mainly that it's what Andy needed. She told me since the beginning that this was the way Ryan was going to go out, that he was going to be shot. She wanted to create awareness on the topic and help start a conversation. We really need people to take this gun situation seriously, especially when it concerns families with kids."

As a police officer, Ryan would jump into dangerous situations as part of his job on a daily basis, and Frezza thinks Ryan would have no regrets about going out the way he did.

"We all know how Ryan feels about Andy," he says. "There's no doubt that he would've done anything for her, that he would've died for her. I think this says a lot about his character and how much love he has for her."

He adds, "I think this episode does a great job of showing how far he, Andy, and her dad [Miguel Sandoval] have come in their relationship. When Pruitt [Sandoval] asks Ryan to promise him that he would always take care of Andy, it didn't really hit me until this morning while thinking about this that Ryan didn't keep his promise because he dies and won't be there for her in the long run. But really, I think now that he really was there for her because he ultimately saves her life. This puts Andy in a unique situation. She'll be dealing with survivor's guilt after seeing her closest friend die. She's also dealing with her rocky relationship with her father. I really hope that Ryan's death brings them back together and that they end up even closer."

Just because Frezza is saying goodbye, doesn't necessarily mean it's the last time fans will see him on the show.

"We have a flashback motif in nearly every episode this season and I could definitely see Ryan appearing again," Vernoff explains. "We love Alberto. And he is a painful loss for the show, but he got how powerful his death would be at the hands of a 3-year-old who thinks he's playing. He was so game for all of it."

She adds, "4.6 million U.S. children live in houses with guns that are unlocked and loaded. Three-thousand U.S. children and teens die each year in accidental shootings in homes. It's common enough that it has a name: 'Family fire.' But it's rare to see it depicted on television because it's so brutal. We really wanted to make sure we protected the actor throughout this experience—the boy held a green block in his hands and we replaced it with visual effects. I hope Ryan's death inspires someone to save their own family by locking up their guns."

Station 19 airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

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