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The Walking Dead Postmortem: Chad Coleman Breaks Down the Deadly Midseason Premiere

Why his character was always destined for this fate

Adam Bryant

[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from Sunday's episode of The Walking Dead. Read at your own risk.]

It was yet another bloody Sunday for fans of The Walking Dead.

The AMC zombie drama wasted little time getting right back into the action during its midseason premiere, which saw Rick (Andrew Lincoln) leading the group to Richmond, Va., to help Noah (Tyler James Williams) find his family. Unfortunately, Noah's former community had been destroyed and was infested with walkers. And even more unfortunately, one of those walkers -- a zombified version of one of Noah's younger twin brothers -- bit Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman).

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As Tyreese clung to life, he had hallucinations of old friends - Beth (Emily Kinney), Bob (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) and Season 4 casualties Mika (Kyla Kenedy) and Lizzie (Brighton Sharpino) -- and former foes -- The Governor (David Morrisey) and Martin (Chris Coy) - who played the proverbial angel and devil on Tyreese's shoulders. Although Tyreese defiantly told The Governor he wasn't giving up, Rick & Co.'s attempts to amputate and rescue Tyreese were for naught, and the episode ended with the gentle giant being buried.

TVGuide.com chatted with Coleman about Tyreese's moving swan song, those haunting hallucinations and why his character was destined to meet such a grim fate. Plus: Could he make a ghostly return himself?

At what point in the season did you know that Tyreese wouldn't make it out alive?
Chad L. Coleman: When Tyreese did not kill Martin and he was deceptive for what he considered the greater good, I knew it was problematic. I had the heat-seeking missile out there and [the writers] wiggled their way out of it. [But I found out] three episodes prior to my actual demise. They did a great job of throwing me off the track. I went in to see [showrunner] Scott [M. Gimple] because he said he was just seeing all the actors, checking with everybody. When he told me, I thought he was joking. In a way, I couldn't believe it. But... [I thought], "I've done a lot on the show. If I walk away having participated in 'The Grove,' I'm good because I know it will be remembered." Then [Gimple] began to tell me how this show would rank right up there with "The Grove." It was absolutely true.

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Did he tell you why he thought it was necessary for the story?
Coleman: [He said,] "You have done an amazing job. People [are] incredibly endeared by this man and the way you played it. The sensibility and the weight of it has moved people. That's a value to us when it's time to say goodbye." So, it was that time. I realized: What else was he going to do now? He's not going to be Rick's right-hand man. Not that we don't get along, but we just have philosophical and ideological differences. I'm not going to tolerate his way, he's not going to tolerate mine. So, either I go off on my own or it's time to go. Everything is centered around Rick, no matter what anybody tells you. So, I wasn't a congruent cog in the wheel. Once that happened, even though I'm a good guy, you're not that cog in the wheel. So, it was time to go.

Do you view what happened to Tyreese as an accident or do you believe in some way all the pain he's been carrying became a distraction to him?
Coleman: It was cruel irony. I think everything that you just said is a part of the equation. The dude is looking at the devastation of [Noah's] life and it's a reflection of destruction that we've all faced. It gets a little overwhelming, but you can never let your guard down. Who would have thought the other twin was still alive as a walker? Then, here comes Noah having to stick an airplane in the eye of his little twin brother. So, it doesn't stop. It's an unrelenting world. It's cruel and it's unrelenting. Something's always right around the corner. Keep your guard up, don't get too nice, all of that.

But even for a show so bleak, there was some beauty in Tyreese's final moments.
Coleman: He was just a beautiful man. I hope that his death resonates with people. I know that's what Scott was building for because now you can use it to say, "How has he piqued your conscience? Are you hearing him? Can you hear him? Sasha, do you hear your brother?" My sister passed away of pancreatic cancer. She was like my mother to me. I hear her and I feel her. I hope that's the case for them.

Let's talk about Tyreese's hallucinations. Do you think ultimately those brought him peace or was he being haunted?
It was an amalgamation. All of it was rushing back at him. In one particular moment, one vision takes a stronger place in what's left of his conscious state. It's like being in a fevered state and you're in and out of consciousness. I thought [Scott] did a great job of capturing that it wasn't just one particular state. Tyreese was kind of bouncing around in everything but yet still fighting to try to stay alive.

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When he imagines Lizzie and Mika saying "It's better now," are they forgiving him or urging him that it's OK to let go himself?
Coleman: I think it echoes what he wanted for them. They died horrifically, all of them. If someone in your family dies horrifically, what's the greatest thing they could do? Come back and tell you everything's good. So, I think that was him trying to reconcile that.

Did those scenes give you any hope that we might see Tyreese again somewhere down the line? Maybe Tyreese could appear to Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) since they didn't get to say goodbye.
Coleman: I think it would be a flashback. I think [Sasha] will be going through something and then we'll go back and see that thing played out with them. Something like that would be cool. You've got to be real careful with those conventions. You don't want to use it too much, but... it's an effective tool. I would be game for that, of course.

Beth and Tyreese were both life-affirming presences on the show. Do you think the show is suggesting those people aren't cut out to survive in this new world?
Coleman: I think in their own minds they felt just what you said. "This world is just too overwhelming for you. You are hellbent that you're not going to change." I don't really see it that way. If I was the writer, he wouldn't be dead. [Laughs] If I was the writer, he would have went off to his own thing and... you [would] see his ideology play out. ... I think he's a far more complex character. I [didn't] just want to play the big dude with a hammer smashing everybody. They gave me some really meaty, beautiful stuff.

I recently just re-watched The Wire, and your character, Cutty, is one of the few people on that show who didn't die. Perhaps you can only live on borrowed time for so long on these brutal shows.
That's funny that you say that because I came close to death on The Wire. What [that show] said was, "If you don't overreach and you stay in your lane, you would live because everybody's got enough respect for you in the hood and you are doing a good thing." Cutty changed. [He was] one of the few people to do that. In that world, it really was rewarded, whereas in this world it's not because the stakes are 10 times higher.

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In the world of The Walking Dead, you have to change in the opposite direction, and Tyreese wouldn't.
Absolutely. That's what they're calling for. If you didn't know who Tyreese was, you will know by the end of that episode. They really did a great job of just encapsulating the man.

The good news is you're working on a new show for Syfy called The Expanse, right? Coleman: Yeah. We don't have a spaceship drama out there right now so we're going to fill a serious void. It's assembled in the way that The Wire and The Walking Dead[were], with those beautiful sprawling casts with amazing actors. I'm really excited about this character, Frank Johnson, the commander. He's not led by any level of emotion. He's had to turn that off and he's got to operate in this way that you're not sure is he an ass---- or is he really a good guy? There's an icy, cool way of approaching certain things. He's totally different... but it's an amazing character.

The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC. What did you think of Tyreese's death?