'The Walking Dead' postmortem: Jordan Woods-Robinson on Eric's fate

·Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Jordan Woods-Robinson as Eric Raleigh on <em>The Walking Dead</em>. (Photo: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC)
Jordan Woods-Robinson as Eric Raleigh on The Walking Dead. (Photo: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC)

Warning: This interview for the “Monsters” episode of The Walking Dead contains spoilers.

Not Eric! Sure, we knew when we saw that shotgun wound to his stomach in last week’s episode that it wasn’t looking so great for Mr. Raleigh, but we held on to hope that it would be more superficial than fatal. Instead, Aaron helped Eric make his way to a tree, where they said what turned out to be a sweet goodbye, and then, at Eric’s urging, Aaron returned to finish the fight at a Saviors outpost.

With the battle won (by #TeamRick), Aaron returned to the tree and found a bloody trunk and Eric’s gun, but no Eric. Until he looked up and saw his love shambling across the road and into a field full of walkers. Eric was shot without viewers, or Aaron, seeing it happen, and he died the same way, turning into a walker before Aaron had a chance to talk to him again, or even put him out of his walker misery. (Read our full recap of the hour.)

Jordan Woods-Robinson, whose portrayal of Eric made the character one of our favorite Alexandrians, talked to Yahoo Entertainment about the lovely nuances of Eric and Aaron’s goodbye, his inspiration for Eric’s bravery in the war against the Saviors, and the backstory he and Aaron portrayer Ross Marquand created for their characters’ relationship.

I’m sorry to make you play fan therapist for a minute, but I love Eric. It is an incredibly moving, heartbreaking death. The scene where Aaron looks up and sees Eric shambling off to be with the other walkers — we haven’t seen that before, being left with that particular lack of closure with such a beloved character.
I know. [Showrunner] Scott [Gimple] called me and told me the whole story. From the very beginning, I was 100 percent on board with it, because I was like, “It’s so beautiful.” It’s heartbreaking, but it’s also beautiful. You can actually see the heartstrings being pulled taut while these two people in this relationship have been pulled further and further apart. You can see the tension there. You can feel it. Even while Scott just explained it to me, I thought it was gorgeous, and yeah, I’m really humbled and honored that the relationship still lives on in that way. It’s still going.

When did you find out that Eric was not going to make it past this episode?
We were filming the season premiere, and Scott gave me a call, and he spent about 45 minutes of his very busy day with me, and he was just very open. He was having a hard time talking about it, too — this is a man who passionately cares about these stories that he’s telling, that they’re putting together. He said, “This is how we’d like to do it, and this is what we’re thinking, and [I] just wanted to let you know there’s going to be the battle coming up in the next episode, and this is why, and this is what you’re fighting for, and this is what it’s going to mean in the larger picture, but unfortunately, Eric is going to be leaving us.” And then he went through to tell me exactly how it’s going to play out, from the very beginning. I showed up on set not long after that, and Matt Negrete, who wrote this episode, saw me and just instantly started apologizing, because I’m sure it probably doesn’t feel good when you have to kill somebody off.

But I was instantly grateful. There’s no part of this that I would want to change. I think the story’s beautiful. I love that Eric got up and went out of his comfort zone and went out on a limb and started fighting for what he believed in, because he knew that there are no other options, and there is no time to be passive any more — there’s nothing to protect. There’s nothing to stay home and fight for, so you have to go outside of the walls, and you have to be the person who’s fighting. And seeing, hearing all of that come together, I thought it was just a beautiful story, and I’m so happy that that’s how it all got wrapped up for my character.

You just touched on why Eric has been one of the most relatable and endearing characters. I think he most represented how real people would feel in this scenario. He wasn’t a superhero, he wasn’t without fear; he was afraid of exactly the things a person should be afraid of. But when it came time to accept that there are things that you have to fight against, he accepted it and bravely stepped forward to be one of the people fighting.
Yeah, thank you. And I want to say that so much happened at the end of Season 7 with Sasha’s death and Sasha proving through her death that there was more to fight for, that there were sacrifices to be made for the greater good, you know? And she exemplified that. And I think that was the big turning point for my interpretation of Eric, that that’s where he kind of stepped back and said, “OK, it’s not time to protect anymore. It’s time to do exactly what Sasha did and to make any sacrifice we have to for the greater good to come through.

And just fighting alongside Aaron, and being there, and knowing that Aaron has been out there on the frontline for so long, and I could support him, that we are a team and we are watching each other’s backs — that was a big thing for Ross and me, and Rosemary [Rodriguez], who directed the second episode. That was huge for us, to tell that story, that we weren’t just a part of this battle, but that Aaron and Eric were there, fighting for each other, and watching each other, and being a team, even if we were spread out across the battlefield. We knew where the other was, and that we always had each other’s backs. And I think that story was told really well in the times when Eric runs through and saves the line from being broken, and then Aaron comes to save him by having to back up the car and to take out some other Saviors. We see that constant awareness of each other, and having to make choices at that point because of adrenaline and the pure instinct of, “I need to do this because I need to protect my partner.”

Woods-Robinson with Ross Marquand as Aaron in <em>The Walking Dead</em>. (Photo: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC)
Woods-Robinson with Ross Marquand as Aaron in The Walking Dead. (Photo: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC)

What was so shocking about last week’s episode was that we didn’t even see Eric get hit, and by the time we realize that he had been hit, that he’s just been braving his way through that, we also realize that it’s probably a pretty serious injury.
Yeah, the thought there was that once Eric went into this battle mode, it was full of adrenaline, and that logic went out the window, and he went into mama bear mode, just complete adrenaline and complete instinct, and a primal need to protect those around him. I don’t know when he got shot, if it was when he was running through, if it was when he was behind the truck and some other people were coming up — there were a number of stories that could tell that, but he’s so far outside of himself at that point, thinking of others around him, that he’s not even aware himself that he has been injured. But yeah, once we see it, the prognosis doesn’t look good.

That amazing scene with Eric and Aaron at the tree: we see the great affection between them, a great kiss. They tell each other, “I love you.” There were some humorous moments too, all the things that have always been part of their relationship. But when Aaron tells Eric that he loves him, Eric says, “I always had a hunch.” Does that mean it was the first time Aaron had actually said it?
That we’ve seen on camera, it was. But actually, it’s funny that you highlight it, because that exact exchange was a really, really important moment for Ross and me while we were filming it. And just watching the scene back, seeing it in the finished product, it instantly got me, and I teared up, I started crying, because we came up with the story… So, Aaron and Eric have been together since before all of this went down, right? In our minds, they’re the longest couple that we know of in this world. And so they’ve weathered all of these hard times together, and way back when the world was perfect and when there was no apocalypse, our story that [Ross and I] came up with was that Aaron had told me, “I love you,” and my response was, “I had a hunch.” So me responding that way now by saying, “I always had a hunch,” is deeper for us than saying, “I love you too.” It’s deeper for us than just acknowledging our love. It acknowledges the entirety of our relationship. It took us all the way back to date four or five or whatever that was. That moment encompassed the years that we had been together, and all of those memories and all of that fighting together, and all the things that we had gone through, and that was all summed up in that one response. And it was a beautiful response written by Matt Negrete.

We told the idea [of the backstory] to Greg Nicotero, who was directing, and he loved it, and so we went with that. The audience isn’t going to know that’s the [backstory we made up] watching it, but everyone who was telling the story had that in mind, and I feel like watching that back … obviously it made an impact, because you brought it up, and I feel like that story was told that this relationship, us together, is stronger than either of us [separately]. Which makes it even harder when we see Eric walking across to the field where the walkers are.

But that relationship is not gone. Aaron didn’t get any closure. They had a beautiful goodbye, and both of them ended that conversation with a smile and some solace, but Aaron has not gotten that closure. I would imagine, at some point in the future, [Aaron’s] going to see Eric again, and there’s going to be that knowledge that your partner is still out there in some form, and how hard that is to face. I would imagine it would just be crippling, and maybe we’ll see how that story is told over the next couple of episodes.

It makes me think of Season 1, [what] we saw with Morgan, when we were first introduced to him. His wife is out there. We see that constant battle in him of, does he have that closure, or does he continue to live, knowing that she’s out there, even if it’s not her anymore?

What did you all talk about, you and Greg and Ross, when you were filming that final scene of Eric walking across into the field toward the other walkers?
That didn’t come up so much, the walking away. But the whole time that Ross was filming all of his reactions to not seeing Eric under the tree, to going looking for him and seeing him as a walker, Greg and the FX team were very supportive, in that they actually put me in full zombie makeup, so that I could be off camera for Ross, I could be there for him as a scene partner, as a visual reference for him to be able to take in. And that kind of tells all the story we need to, I think, that it’s that simple. It’s knowing that someone that you love is right there and is almost within arm’s reach, but it’s not them. It’s that mirage. It’s the memory clinging to your clothes. It’s the smell of the person, without being able to see them again, without being able to ever talk to them again. And so that was really meaningful for me and Ross, that they took the time to do that.

And then going back to under the tree, Ross and I really wanted to portray this relationship with strength and with humor and with dignity and with trust and with friendship, because these guys have been together for so many years, but that is what’s left. At a certain point, when you’re in love with someone so fully, and you have so much trust in them, [it’s more that] you’re perfect friends, you’re perfect partners, you’re each other’s teammates. There’s that level of trust that you get that allows you to do anything with the other person knowing that they’ll accept you. That’s a beautifully written scene by Matt.

I also love the moment where Eric says to Aaron, “Now get your ass up and go back and finish what we’re doing.” And as Aaron runs back to the fight, we see Eric exhale a little bit, because he obviously has been trying to downplay how much pain he’s in. I think it speaks to what you were just saying; at that point, until Aaron actually runs away and his back is to Eric, Eric is thinking about trying to make this as easy as possible for him. It also suggested to me, when I was thinking about it later, that Eric knew he probably wasn’t going to make it.
I think so. I mean neither Ross nor I talked about that, but I’ve thought about it since then, and I think they both know, to a degree. Again, that’s a part of being in that relationship where you trust the other person, and you say, “OK, I trust you to do what you have to do, and if that means go off and fight, that means go off and fight. If it means that you need to move on then you need to move on. But I trust you, and I love you.”

Another great, heartbreaking part of that scene was that you two held each other’s faces. Because they both are brave and capable men, even though fighting is not something that either one of them wants to be doing. But they also both are gentle men, and that way of expressing their affection toward each other was incredibly powerful.
Ross and I are very good friends, and we do love each other, and that is a very easy story to tell for us, but we also wanted to have a nod back to the comics, back when we first meet Aaron and Eric [in Issue 68]. One day when they say hello, one of the first times, they grab each other’s heads and they put their foreheads together, and we wanted to have that moment in the final scene, as a way of paying homage to the entire world of The Walking Dead — how strong that is, and how much has come before us, and also to hold a mirror up to the beginning of the relationship and the ending of the relationship. The [whole scene] was also a mirror to the first scene that we saw in the show, where Eric is hurt and they are talking to each other.

Was Ross the first person you told after Scott told you what was going to happen for Eric?
Yes, I called up Ross. I talked to Scott, and he said, I think his wording was, “We’d prefer that you don’t tell other people.” But for the sake of the relationship, for the sake of both of us being armed with the knowledge of going into this and being able to tell the same story over the same number of episodes and have that strong arc, of course I went to Ross first, and I said, “This is what’s gonna happen.” And also letting him know that I feel great about this. I feel so warmed by this, knowing how the story’s going to play out, and letting him know that I’m OK, and that I’m ready to tell the story to its fullest.

We always hear about the cast dinners when someone leaves the show. Did you have time to have a cast dinner?
It was an extremely busy week. I think at one point, Greg was working on three episodes at the same time. He was still getting pickup shots for the first episode, plus he was directing the third one, plus he was doing something for another one. It was just crazy. So everyone was overworked, but yes, we did get a small gathering together, you know, some food and a few drinks, and some photos, and just hanging out afterwards. It was after my last day. Actually, both of my scenes for the third episode were filmed on the same day, so that was my last day of filming. It’s a long day, but everyone still made the effort to go out. I don’t think it ever gets any easier, losing people on the show, but they certainly have found a great way of allowing a person to feel loved and supported as they make their journey on.

What are some of your other favorite Eric moments from throughout the seasons? You had two great pasta-related moments, with Eric wanting to get Mrs. Neudermeyer her pasta machine, and the reaction of Eric and Aaron to watching Daryl just demolish that plate of spaghetti at their house.
That was pretty amazing, and looking back on it, I was so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on the show, and those first couple of episodes were just a dream, getting to just be there and having that great scene with food. That was just wonderful. And then I really learned a lot — I’ve never been in any movie or project where there were such big moments of ensemble and action, and finding a way to help tell those stories.

One of my other favorite Eric moments was with Ross — it’s times when I could be there with Ross and support him — so in [“Hearts Still Beating”], when Spencer was playing pool with Negan, and Aaron has just been beaten up by a couple of Saviors. It wasn’t a major moment, a major scene for Eric, but I’ve always kind of viewed Eric as, I tend to Aaron’s wounds. I’m the guy in the side of the ring who gives him some water and puts a butterfly bandage over that cut on his cheek, and I say, “OK, you’re doing great. It’s gonna suck, but you gotta get back out there!” I’ve always seen that I’m kind of the first lady to the president, where he’s out there making all the big decisions, and comes home, he is beaten and feeling like he hasn’t succeeded, and I say, “I hear you. But you’re doing great, and you have to keep going. There’s no turning back.” I’ve always kind of viewed it that way, so any time when we had the opportunity to really tell that story, I just really enjoyed being a part of it. And now we’re gonna see how Aaron can do without having that support system at his back, and without having someone there to give him a hug at the end of the day, and hopefully he comes out on the other side OK.

What will we see you in next?
I’ve got one project that I’ve been working on that, unfortunately, I cannot talk about, but I will be able to in January — I’m very excited for that. And then I am down in Orlando doing Blue Man Group. I’ve been doing Blue Man for about 10 years now, and that was where I lived, and I steal away to film whenever a project needs me, but I did the Blue Man Group at Universal Studios, and I’m there full time. People can swing by and see this amazing show, and then I’m usually in the lobby afterwards, and we take photos. I have people reach out to me on social media, saying, “Hey, when are you there in the next couple of weeks? I’m gonna get some tickets.” It’s kind of cool. It’s a cool way to meet people and connect, and have that little moment of, “Hey, I’ve seen you.” We get to be in the same room together. So yeah, Blue Man Group, I love it.

Do people recognize you?
Not when I’m in makeup. I’ve only had one person ever not know that I was a Blue Man and say, “Wait, are you Eric in The Walking Dead?” Which I was just blown away by, because the character is anonymous. You’re not really supposed to know who the person is. And so this person just really tapped into that very quickly. But I have other people come and see the show, and if they know to look for me, they can pick me out. And some people will come to the show and not know that I’m in it, but maybe they’ll see my headshot on the wall. But for the most part, the show is three guys that look very similar, just having a great time with the experience.

As we just saw with Morales, people can come back to TWD in surprising ways. It’s possible that we could see Eric in a flashback, or walker Eric in some future episode…
Absolutely. I mean, as a fan, I really want Aaron to have that closure. I think he’s going to be a broken man until he can have that closure, and whether that means a flashback or getting to have an encounter with walker Eric and ending it that way. I think I would be really bummed out if I didn’t see that happen for Aaron.

The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.

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