Warning: Storyline and character spoilers ahead for the “Spend” episode of The Walking Dead.
We feel your pain, Walking Dead fans. A few days after “Spend,” and we’re still trying to wrap our minds around the loss, the so, so brutal, loss of Noah, and what it’s going to mean for Glenn, and the rest of Rick Grimes’s group.
On that specific front, Noah’s portrayer Tyler James Williams talks to Yahoo TV about his gruesome death scene and how it’s going to impact Glenn (who witnessed it way too up close), how the death was originally planned to be way more graphic, and his new role on CBS’s upcoming Criminal Minds spinoff.
Noah was a part of the storyline for nine episodes. You must be especially proud of the fact that your character and your performance really made such an impact in a relatively short time.
Yeah, it was interesting, because we knew it would have an impact, but we didn’t know it would be that big. I knew [he was going to die] two episodes out from the season ender, so I figured, “It’s not going to be that big of a deal.” But it really landed with people. It’s crazy it made that much of an impact that close to the finale.
And especially because two or three weeks earlier, everyone hated Noah, blamed him, for Tyreese’s death. But it was pleasantly surprising.
I love the crazy, tension-filled, surreal cocktail party in Alexandria, where Noah, Glenn, and Maggie bond. It was very sweet, with Noah, not having been part of the group very long, having just found out his whole family was gone, and then them telling him, “You’re a part of this family now.” But, as those things often do on The Walking Dead, that scene also made you start worrying about Noah. Did you feel that at that point?
I had known beforehand, before we had gotten that script, that [Noah was being killed off]. So that was actually a really difficult scene for me, Steven [Yeun], and Lauren [Cohan] to get through, not for the typical reasons, but because we kept laughing, because it was so clear I was going to die. The woman who has just found out her sister, her blood sister, is dead, is now saying, “You’re family”? We were like, it’s clear, [Noah] is dead. It’s such a quick scene, but I think we did it like sixteen times, because we couldn’t get through it without laughing.
People are still talking about how gruesome Noah’s death was, that it was the most gruesome in the show’s history, which is saying a lot. When you were filming it, were you guys saying to yourselves, “This is a stand out death, even among the deaths we’ve seen before?”
It’s weird, because, for me, that wasn’t my focus when we shot it. When we shot it, it was all about Glenn’s journey. I understood that this was just a major stepping stone in his greater journey, so when we shot it, it was all about that, which, for me, was servicing his storyline, giving him something that could kind of send him off in the way that the all-knowing [showrunner] Scott Gimple wants him to go to, and just really kind of propel him in that way and make sure it was justified. So that’s where my head was at the entire time. I wasn’t necessarily thinking about what the reaction would be to the death, outside of [Glenn’s]. But then when it aired and it started going crazy on social media, I was like, “Wow, this actually hit people.” It hit people the same way it appears to have hit Glenn, which is even better. I feel like people will connect to Glenn so much more, having seen that. Because we’ve seen a lot of characters die, but we haven’t necessarily seen a lot of the gruesome aspects of how they die. A lot of people, they get bitten and eventually, “Oh, that’s terrible.” But we saw something Sunday that was special in that sense of, “This is what happens when you see the blood splatter.” This is what was causing that, and you’re up close, you’re personal, you’re not getting away from it, you can’t look away, it’s right there. That affects people, and I think that’s going to just help as Glenn’s journey continues.
Had you watched Noah’s death scene before Sunday, or did you watch it along with everyone else?
I saw a little bit the day before, because I had to be able to discuss it on Talking Dead. It was a little rough. It was a lot to take in. I was curious to see what they had kept, because the reaction of the crew, which is, you know, a pretty desensitized crew, afterwards was, “They’re not going to be able to air that on television.” They walked away like, “You’re not going to be able to air that. You’re just not.” So it was like, “What are they talking about? What is the stuff that they’re not going to be able to air?” And then I saw it, and I was like, “Oh, OK. Yeah, no. I get why you say that.”
And did they cut out much, or was it pretty much as you had filmed?
They had CGI’d some of it. They had done some blood splatter on the door, I guess, to kind of cover some of it, so that couldn’t see it all. The original pitch that Greg Nicotero had given me — where Noah’s eye would be poked out —wasn’t executed, which would’ve made it so much worse. But they kept a lot of it, which was cool.
Did you have a chance to have the traditional death dinner with the cast afterwards?
I did, and I didn’t expect it all, because I’d only been there for nine episodes. So I was like, this is something that was reserved, and rightfully reserved, for those who had been there a while. When I got there, they had invited me to Chad [Coleman’s] and Emily [Kinney’s] dinner, and having seen that, I went, “Oh, yeah, they’ve been here forever.” So then they [threw] me one anyway. And it’s a beautiful way to handle that. The way they handle people and the cast and dealing with that emotional work, there’s really not a show that does it better, because they understand that the stuff we go through in front of the camera creates bonds behind it.
Aside from your castmates and those friendships, what will you miss most about the show?
That’s definitely number one, the people. But number two… I was talking to [director of photography] Mike Satrazemis, who directed my first episode, and he was talking about what everybody says when they end up leaving. And he was talking to me about the conversation he had had with Jon Bernthal after he left, and Bernthal was saying, “I miss you guys, man, I miss the way you were. You guys act hard.” That’s what I’m going to miss, and I have missed so far, is the way that they act hard. There’s no frills about it, there’s nothing cute, it’s nothing glamorous, it’s just hard acting. It’s hard to really explain, but… it’s one of those jobs where you leave, and you get in the shower at the end of the day, and you feel like you did something. This is one of the few shows where the status quo is that if you don’t step up to the hard acting, you can’t survive it. And I will really miss that.
You’re already off to your next gig on April 8. Tell me about your character, Monty, in CBS’s upcoming Criminal Minds spinoff.
I play the role of Monty, who is the tech analyst. He’s essentially their Garcia [played by Kirsten Vangsness on the original series], and he’s incredibly young and really smart. He graduates from college at 17, John Hopkins, and all that. And what’s great about him to me is that he is the heart of this group. He’s not as seasoned as everyone else, so everything still hits him really hard, which is kind of a beautiful thing that we don’t see a lot in procedurals, where there will be one episode when something hits someone really hard, but for him, every situation, he treats it like it’s his own family. It’s not just a job for him. It’s about taking care of people and finding people for him.
It sounds like there are a few parallels between Monty and Noah, in that Monty’s still kind of growing up in this situation, much like Noah was trying to do in the middle of the walker apocalypse on The Walking Dead.
Yeah, I think that’s true. I think the main difference between the two is that Noah was trying to find himself, and he was just kind of thrown into a bad situation that he has a hard time processing. Monty’s a tad bit older than Noah, and he’s already found his thing, his place, and that’s why everything means so much to him. I think he’s kind of in a place where, to relate it to a Walking Dead character, it would kind of be Glenn, in that way of, “I now know who I am, and now everything has so much gravity to it, and when something happens, I can’t really back down.”
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC; Criminal Minds airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on CBS.