[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from Tuesday's season premiere of Chicago Fire. Read at your own risk!]
When Chicago Fire showrunner Matt Olmstead told Lauren German that her character was going to be killed off the hit NBC drama, there was one silver lining. "She's not going to miss the Chicago winters, and she even joked about that," he tells TVGuide.com. However, it remains to be seen if the show's fiercely loyal fan base will be able to take the news as easily.
Tuesday's third season premiere picked up right where the big Season 2 cliff-hanger left off — when the roof collapsed inside a burning building while everyone except Chief Boden (Eamonn Walker) was inside. Once the dust settled, Severide (Taylor Kinney) and Casey (Jesse Spencer) found Dawson tearfully (Monica Raymund) attempting to resuscitate Shay, but to no avail. "The immediate reaction I'm sure for many people is going to be impassioned, perhaps angry," Olmstead says of the beloved character's demise. "Once the emotions wane, and people look back on it and see what episodes we have coming on the heels of it, it's giving us some really great storytelling."
So why was Shay the one to die? How will Severide and Dawson recover from their loss? And should fans be worried about another death? TVGuide.com spoke to Olmstead about all that and more.
Why Shay? How did you come to this decision?
Matt Olmstead: It's a tough decision to make and it's tough personally because you like and admire the actor or actress. Storytelling-wise you have to be unsentimental sometimes. So we just started tossing ideas around and [the idea of killing a character] gained momentum and we saw what it gave us not only in the opening episode but thereafter. ... Then it became looking at which characters and it started coming back to Shay a lot because of how it would affect the most people the most deeply, in particular Severide and Dawson. Once we started talking about that, again, that gained momentum. We looked back occasionally to say, "Are we doing the right thing?" But it felt like the right thing.
You said you looked back occasionally about killing the Shay character specifically. What made you hesitate?
Olmstead: Any kind of reluctance we had was because she brought so much to the show and gave us so many great story lines. ... The thing I've learned and I was forewarned by people who've done it before me was: If you kill off a character that isn't that important to the audience, it's not going to be that important storytelling-wise going forward. It's just not going to have the impact. If you're going to do it, you got to do it with someone who is going to have an impact and we knew, certainly, it was going to have to be one of the main characters. So as it related to Severide because they're best friends, as it related to Dawson because they work together and they're also best friends, we just knew that was going to have the biggest reverberations.
Shay brought a lot of diversity to the show. She was one of only two women and she's the most prominent LGBT character on the show. Did that particularly give you any hesitation?
Olmstead: Its funny because she was just Shay the paramedic and obviously the character being a lesbian informed her identity and her behavior as a character, but she was always on equal footing with all the other characters. We didnt fall over ourselves trying to accommodate or make room for, Oh, here comes the lesbian character. She was one of the guys.
How did Lauren take it when she heard this was going to happen?
Olmstead: She was very professional about it. She's had a lot of gigs before this, she'll have many after this. I think the one thing that we're all feeling of the after effects is, in Chicago, they're kind of a family out there because actors and actresses are in a lot of ways gypsies and they all had to pack up and move out to Chicago. It's their home now and they're tight. They hang out. They're close. So it definitely was impactful to them personally because you're losing a family member in a way.
The premiere featured a lot of great flashbacks centered on Shay. What were you hoping to accomplish with those scenes?
Olmstead: A couple things. It enabled us to, after the collapse, to not have to play the day after because to take it continuously, the episode would have been funeral services and the wake and grief counseling — very real-world stuff for people who go through losing someone they work with or a loved one. Not to trivialize that, but we've played versions of that and we wanted to jump past that and see where people were six weeks later. We took it one step further as you can see that, when the character dies, we flash back to her first day on the job. ... Then we were able to jump forward past that to get past the initial shock and trauma of what happens when you lose someone like that and see where people have landed and fill in the gaps.
How will Shay's death impact Severide? What will be the long-term ways this loss is going to hit him?
Olmstead: We're playing a guy who free-falls willingly. It doesn't manifest itself in the form of a classic depression. It's "I'm going to have a good time. I'm going to drink. If I fall down drunk, I fall down drunk. I'm going to do my job, but I don't really care. I'm not sure that there's a tomorrow for anybody."... He's hellbent on having a good time and not taking life too seriously but what he's really doing is avoiding dealing with the death of Shay and inevitably that becomes unavoidable.
Going forward, it definitely complicates the relationship with the Lindsay character on P.D. He just doesn't want to make attachments anymore because [he thinks], I've done that before and I've lost those people. So let's just keep it nice and easy and light, and hopefully he'll find somebody to go to bed with that weekend night and then do it all over again the next week. That's his approach going into it. What's interesting for us is Casey sees it before it even happens. He knows that Severide has lost his best friend and Casey brings him into his home that he's now sharing with Dawson to keep an eye on him. So you have, for the first time really on the show, these two characters as friends again. ... Here it's Casey looking after him and Severide accepting that friendship because he knows he needs to be around people who care about him. Even if he comes crawling in at 4 o'clock in the morning, he knows he shouldn't be alone.
What will the dynamic be like between Severide and Dawson since they're living together and they're both mourning this loss?
Olmstead: She's aware more than anybody is that he has a tendency to go to bad habits when he's dealt with a loss. So she, more than anybody, starts to get a little bit worried about him. Casey just wants to keep it nice and easy and simple. ... She becomes a little protective of him a little too soon, certainly sooner than Severide would like. He wants to be left alone. It's tough because you also have Dawson and Casey trying to build up some momentum for their engagement and hopeful wedding, and now they're also dealing with a friend who's heartbroken. Dawson's got a lot going on.
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How will the loss impact Dawson going forward?
Olmstead: She's experiencing some of the happiest moments of her life but she's unable to fully embrace them because of the memory of Shay. She's trying to hopefully plan a wedding. She's hopefully trying to become a firefighter and fulfill a dream she didn't really know existed. ... Yet she feels massive guilt because Shay's not there. In her mind, Shay should be here, I shouldn't because we switched places right before the collapse. So, like a lot of people when they go through this, you're trying to constantly pull yourself out of this quicksand of grief and guilt so you can just engage with everyday life.
Is this going to impact her path to becoming a firefighter and transferring to another house?
Olmstead: It does impact it because she had a ticket to get out, to be a firefighter, but she held off on that because once the collapse happened, she in her mind couldn't desert her friends, her family. She knew she had to be around them and she knew she had to be there for them as well. So she tabled any kind of career aspirations. But when we find her after that six-week gap, she's realizing, "I've got to move on personally, but also I know professionally, I'm going to catch a rep as being thin-skinned if I don't go and take the next firefighting slot that comes up."
You've had several deaths on the show so far, but this is the biggest. How long will it be before the Grim Reaper visits Firehouse 51 again?
Olmstead: We have no plans to have anybody else get killed off. Before it was characters that came in for smaller arcs that we knew all along weren't going to last. This is the first time that we've had like an OG, series regular get killed off and it's difficult to do. It's still giving us a lot to play. It's essentially giving us a season to play with. ... I think it will be awhile before it happens again.
Chicago Fire airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on NBC. Did you see this death coming? Will you miss Shay? Feel the feelings and share your thoughts in the comments below.
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