Sons of Anarchy

[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from Tuesday's episode of Sons of Anarchy.]

Tuesday's episode of Sons of Anarchy was, in a word, brutal.

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Not only did the episode feature a graphically violent death-by-beating, but it also killed off one of the show's most beloved characters. The newly incarcerated Jax (Charlie Hunnam) was told by Damon Pope (Harold Perrineau) that in order to end the beef between their respective gangs, Jax would have to give Pope half of the money SAMCRO earns muling cocaine for the cartel. The second demand was much trickier: Pope also told Jax to choose which one of the brothers he had walked into prison with — Tig (Kim Coates), Chibs (Tommy Flanagan), and Opie (Ryan Hurst) — would not be walking out.

While mulling over the decision, Jax came clean with Opie about why Clay (Ron Perlman) really killed Opie's father as well as all the reasons why, despite that, Jax couldn't let Opie kill Clay. He also told Opie about Pope's demand, but, when it seemed Jax was going to sacrifice himself, Opie stepped in instead.

Creator Kurt Sutter told reporters Wednesday that he first began thinking about this arc at the end of Season 3, but he ultimately pulled the trigger to keep the show from becoming repetitive. "[I] realized there is this circular dynamic happening with Jax and Opie that I felt was very difficult to get out of," Sutter said. "This is the first [season] I've had to think about the end game, where I want to take my hero and knowing how I wanted to get there. ... Jax needed that emotional upheaval, that one event that happens in a man's life that can change the course of his destiny — the death of his best friend was that event."

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That said, the choice was not made lightly, and Sutter said the impact of Opie's death will be felt for the remainder of the show's run. "I knew this would be a gut-wrenching episode and difficult for people to wrap their brains around," he said. "Yes, it's incredibly sad, but the death of Opie will color the rest of the episodes for the rest of the series. It's not a death that will happen in vain. Of course there'll be a sense of vengeance, something that drives our guys to retaliate, but it's not even so much that as it is the emotional impact that his death will have on the rest of the series and the rest of the characters."

Sutter also said Hurst understood why now was the time for his character to meet his end. "It's a difficult thing," Sutter said. "He is very plugged into the show and loves the character, and Ryan is a super-sensitive dude, so it was difficult for both of us to figure out how to do this. In the end, when he read the script and saw the episodes that follow, he understood the nature of it and the importance of it in the mythology of the show."

But Sutter said he promised Hurst that Opie, who has lost both his wife and his father over the course of the show, would go out in heroic fashion. "I wanted Opie to go out a warrior," he said. " I really wanted him to go out with nobility and a sense of feeling like, 'I may not have a lot to live for, but at the very least, I'm going to go out doing something noble and protecting the people I still love.'

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"I do believe that some of it was a sense of, 'Here's an opportunity for me to go out doing the right thing  and perhaps this is how I can best be of service to my club' — and also to his family," Sutter continued. "Opie knows Jax well enough to know that he'd rather take the bullet himself than say, 'Here, take this guy." If push comes to shove, Jax was going to be the guy who was going to get dragged into that other room. Rather than put Jax through that agony, [Opie] gave himself up."

Sons of Anarchy airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on FX. What did you think of Opie's death?