[SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s midseason premiere of The Walking Dead.]
Tyreese was just not made for this world. He struggled often with the violence necessary to survive in the zombie apocalypse, and we saw that struggle play out in his final moments on Sunday’s midseason premiere of The Walking Dead. After being bitten by a zombie while looking at a photo in Noah’s old house, Tyreese began to have hallucinatory conversations with people that had already died—the Governor, Beth, Bob, Martin, Lizzie, and Mika—as he hovered between life and death. In the end, he gently accepted his fate and passed on.
“What Happened and What’s Going On” was an intense and poetic installment, especially for the man who played Tyreese, Chad Coleman. We spoke with Coleman to get his thoughts on Tyreese’s final chapter and what his last days were like filming on The Walking Dead. (Also make sure to read our interviews with showrunner Scott M. Gimple and episode director Greg Nicotero. And to have all ‘The Walking Dead’ scoop sent right to you, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.)
EW: How did you first get the word from Scott Gimple that Tyreese’s time had come?
CHAD COLEMAN: Scott called me up and was like, “Chad, I’m meeting with all the cast,” and I’m like, “You know, Scott, I’m busy, man. I don’t mean harm, bro, but no big deal right? Everything’s cool.” He’s like, “Yeah, no, everything’s cool. I just want to talk to you.” So I went in, and he said, “Tyreese’s time has come.” And I said, “Stop joking, Scott. Come on, man. Stop playing.” And then he teared up, and then I knew it was real, and then I just kept saying, “Wow,” for, like, five minutes. I just kept going, “Wow. Wow.” And then I breathed in and breathed out, and realized that hey, man, I’ve done everything I could do on the show, so let’s go do this one, and make it the best we’ve ever done.
How was the episode explained to you, because it’s certainly unique. You have all these flash-forwards, you have these flashback images, and of course, then, the hallucinations that Tyreese is having. So how was it explained to you how this was going to go down?
Scott pretty much laid it out exactly like, this is what’s going down, and then I was, “Wow” again, because I was like, “That is amazing.” It was handled with such care. That’s the best way I can put it. I think that the way I went out is the way Tyreese was supposed to go out. It was poetic, it was like beautiful justice, you know? I think he had done all he could do in the world too, and so he left them with his humanity. And I hope that humanity continues to fuel the rest of the characters on—my sister, and Rick, and Daryl, and everybody else. They know what I meant to the team, and so I hope they just continue to carry that level of humanity that he had.
The moment where Tyreese first gets bit, it’s so sudden that it totally startled me. It reminds you that all it takes is a single second to relax or get comfortable or screw up, and then it’s over.
What was happening in that moment, he was taking in the pain of Noah’s life. He saw the wreckage that occurred in this kid’s life, and it slayed him. He was hurting for that kid, and here comes the kid’s twin brother to take me out. I know this is a crazy reference, but if you think about The Wire, you think about how that little kid just came out and popped Omar.
Yep, in the convenience store.
Yeah, it’s that kind of thing. It’s like, “Wow.” It’s the irony of it all. Look at this man extending his heart and trying desperately to help this young kid. And no pun intended, but it bites him in the arm.
Lets talk about the hallucinations. We see Tyreese’s internal struggle play out through all these other characters that have already died. Tell us about that.
Well, his relationship to them is that final fight with himself, really. I mean, that’s what it is, and inside him going back through what I should have done, and what I didn’t do. You know, he had obviously internalized it all. That’s what I loved most about it—he’s fighting desperately to live. He doesn’t want to die, but death is coming. So when death is coming, it’s almost like you’re standing before God and answering for your sins, and what did you do? What didn’t you do? And I think that tape was playing in his head real heavy, you know?
So of course the Governor comes back, and of course Martin comes back. I mean, Martin was pivotal. Chris Coy—amazing actor that he is—I didn’t take him out. So I was being revisited by all those that said, “You should have done it that way, I told you that you needed to be more violent. I told you. I told you.” And so it’s just weird how that was coming back at him on his way out, because I believe there’s a certain level of guilt there, you know? A certain level of, “Damn it, maybe I should have done it that way,” But no, I knew my way was the right way. It’s just a very unforgiving world.
What about at the very end, where he says to turn the radio off, which was also a hallucination? Is that basically him finally saying, “All right, I’m ready to go”?
Yep, that’s it. He was ready to go, and that’s tied to his past with his father, you know? And he told the kid about it. He said, “Listen, man, my dad used to tell us, as citizens of the world, listen to what’s going on in the world, and do something about it.” And that’s basically him saying, “I’ve done all I could do now.” And you know, like, peace be still, you know? That’s it. “I’ve done all I can do.” And it’s wonderful, the way some of the others were inviting him, “Come on home, man. It’s okay. It’s done. You did all you could do. Come on.” So I just think it’s an incredibly powerful episode. Just thinking about it right now, like, unbelievable.
What makes it even more tragic is that before this all goes down, Tyreese gives this big pep talk to Noah talking about, “Hey, I wanted to die after I lost Karen,” and he connects the dots to say, “Because I was still around, I brought Judith back to her dad.” So he explains the importance of all this and staying alive and to keep on going—and then of course, a few minutes later he gets bitten.
Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. It’s a cruel world, you know? It’s an unapologetic world. Just because you have virtue and morals and integrity doesn’t mean that you’re exempt from the graphic and violent nature that’s around you. So I think Tyreese is a primary example of how, unfortunately, good can get swallowed up, and it’s a tough, tough pill to swallow, but that’s the reality of an unforgiving world.
What was the last day on set like with the whole gang there?
God—bloody, bloody, bloody. I had blood all over me. I couldn’t hug people. And people were so sweet. They would just say, “I don’t care, hug me.” And I spoke from my heart. Greg Nicotero spoke from his heart, and it was tears and laughter and tears, man. I mean, that’s my family, and they know how much I love rolling with them. So it was a very, very emotional day.
I know when the cast loses someone they have these Death Dinners where you guys all grab some food and drink. How was yours?
It was amazing. We went to a producer’s home and had the fire in the back yard and we all went and kind of circled around the fire, and everybody just had beautiful, heartfelt sentiments. It was myself and Emily, because Emily had died too. And then, in a certain manner of speaking, it was also for Gilliard, because he bit the bullet too. So it was all of us there, and to hear Gale Anne Hurd just speak—just a beautiful sentiment. And Michael Cudlitz and Danai and Reedus— It was just amazing, man. It’s hard, okay. You know, I’ve kind of been removed from it a little bit, so it’s coming back on me right now. It’s like, wow. It was an amazing time.
What are you going to miss most about working on the show?
The cast, man. The production staff, the crew, up and down. Just the experience, the environment, being with those people and being able to work at such a high level together, and be harmonious. It’s rare, man. It’s a rare deal. I’ll miss getting that script, peeling it back, and then going in and looking at Andy’s eyes and Reedus’s eyes and Sonequa’s. You know, that’s what I’ll miss most, because those people are all in, man. They’re some of the most passionate, intelligent, fun people that you could ever want to be around.