Criminal Minds kicked off Season 13 with two major deaths, including one of the team's own.
The first heartbreak came early on when it was revealed that Agent Stephen Walker (Damon Gupton) didn't survive the SUV crash that ended last season in a jaw-dropping cliffhanger. Unfortunately, this was probably expected after news of the Criminal Minds cast shake-up came out this summer.
"Most cliffhangers, as you know, that we've done don't result in a fatality or certainly a fatality of anyone we know on the team, so this was a first for us, to start Season 13 with that," showrunner Erica Messer told TV Guide.
The decision to kill Walker was not an easy one for the executive producers, though. They struggled with exactly how to write Gupton out of the show and balance that with the fact that their Season 12 baddie Scratch (Bodhi Elfman) was behind the crash in the first place.
"We knew there was somewhere we wanted to go with this because it is a Scratch-related finale and premiere, so we had some sort of idea of where we wanted to go, but I would say up until, gosh, the last minute," she continued. "We weren't sure if we were going to play that Damon's character got seriously injured in the accident but he was going to guest-star anyway or how we were going to do it. Then it was all made clear to us what the marching orders were, so then we rolled with it from there."
Walker's death is the capstone on Scratch's torture of the BAU team after he forced Hotch (Thomas Gibson) into Witness Protection, nearly killed Tara's (Aisha Tyler) brother and appeared to have had a hand in Reid's (Matthew Gray Gubler) prison stint last season. He ended the season premiere by trying to torture Prentiss (Paget Brewster) into revealing Hotch's witness protection location — but Prentiss was one step ahead. Her ability to reason out of Scratch's induced delusion led him to being cornered by the team and inevitably dying as he tried to escape off a loose fire escape.
"Any supervillain needs to really affect a hero, so we had to go there with him and we chose to end our Scratch story in our premiere instead of dragging him out to Episode 300, which we talked about last year," Messer said. "It really came about because of where we took the premiere. The path we sort of ended up going down felt like it was unforgivable if the team didn't catch him. Now Scratch has been out there a long time, he's made a lot of friends with bad people, so you never know if his handiwork come back to bite us, but he's off the streets. If he's in prison, I wouldn't trust that he wouldn't get out."
Now where does the team go from here? First: vacation. After the traumatic events of the season premiere, which was an immediate pick up from the finale, Prentiss is sending the team on vacation for six weeks to catch their breath, including new team member Simmons (Daniel Henney). That should give everyone enough time to process what they've been through over the last year and come back in Episode 2 ready to return to the grind.
"We do a discussion at the end of the premiere saying, 'We've been asked to take some time off to heal,' and that's emotionally and physically for those that were in the car accident," Messer told us. "So when we come back in the second episode, which will be the following week...weeks have passed so that people's stitches have healed and their bruises are healed and nobody's walking with a limp or anything like that."
As for Season 13 super villains, Messer isn't too anxious to find a big bad just yet. The team is going to go back to solving regular cases before they have another terrifying Big Bad to deal with.
"We feel like Scratch was that for so long that we need to refocus. We don't want to tell the same story again," she said. "Sometimes it gets tricky to come up with another villain. We're sort of taking our time with that and not rushing into it right now."
Criminal Minds continues Wednesday at 10/9c on CBS.
(Full disclosure: TV Guide is owned by CBS)
Additional reporting by Joyce Eng.