The Walking Dead’s fifth midseason premiere, “What Happened and What’s Going On,” was weird, beautiful, terrifying, and hands down the best episode we’ve seen since “The Grove.”
Tyreese, the beanie-clad protector of Rick’s adopted family who refused to compromise his humanity for survival, met a grisly end when he got bit in the arm by a stray zombie. Blood gushed everywhere and hallucinations took hold: Dead characters including Bob, the Governor, and Beth came back to voice conflicting thoughts in Tyreese’s mind as he wavered between blaming himself and accepting what was always meant to be. In the end, he stayed true to who he is—a survivor, but not a killer—defeated his demons once and for all, and passed away in relative peace (minus an amputated arm). The last thing we see before the screen fades to black is Tyreese’s iconic beanie, resting limp on a wooden cross.
The episode was a spectacular reunion of long-passed characters, a crowning moment for actor Chad Coleman, and the best entry so far in what’s been the show’s strongest season in years. Coleman talked to The Daily Beast about Tyreese’s final episode, his favorite moments on the show, and what projects he’s going after next.
Hey Chad! So that episode was a big, bad dream and you’ll be back next week, right?
[Laughs] That’s very sweet. Thank you.
When and how did you get the news?
Three episodes prior to [that episode], Scott called me. He kind of teared up and when he teared up, I was like, “Oh shit, this is real.” I just kept saying, “Wow, wow, wow, wow.” And then I just sat for a moment like, “You know, I’ve done amazing work. You guys have given me amazing stuff to do. If it’s time to go, it’s time to go.” And then he proceeded to tell me how I was gonna go and I was like, “Can we just shoot tomorrow? Let’s go.”
So it was a total surprise?
Oh yeah. Yeah, I mean—well, I say “total surprise” because Scott did a good job of taking me off the path. I had a suspicion that maybe it didn’t line up completely. Like when my character lied, I knew something was wrong. When I lied and said I’d killed the guy [Martin, from Terminus] and I hadn’t…I knew something’s going on here. I wouldn’t have done it that way, but they did. They had to be speaking to a level of vulnerability, like, “You can only last so long.”
What was your reaction to the script? I thought Tyreese got the most beautiful, elaborate sendoff of any character so far.
That’s right, and that’s why I had nothing to say but “Bullseye, dude. This is amazing. This is an homage to the man.” If you don’t know who Tyreese is, or you didn’t know, you know now. I would say, “This is brilliant, man, this is poetic.” This is the way I wanted to go out. Everything was in there. I fought courageously to live and I went out in a somewhat tranquil and peaceful state. It was absolutely perfect, and with everybody coming back… This is definitely in the top five [Walking Dead episodes]. Along with “The Grove,” I think we got no. 1 and no. 2, but that would probably be too egotistical. [laughs] You can make a play for the episode where Scott [Wilson] gets his head cut off and you could make a play for Beth’s death being in top five.
It’s so weird to think that Beth’s death came just one episode before this. It was so abrupt compared to Tyreese’s death.
[Scott]’s a genius. He knows that [Beth’s death] was gonna jog the psyche to the point where [viewers] think ain’t nothing gonna happen. “Nothing can happen now, they gotta take a breather.” Yeah, right! “I know they gonna take a breather, they gotta slow it down now.” Nope! Got ‘em!
What was it like seeing all your old co-workers again? David Morrissey, Emily Kinney, Lawrence Gilliard Jr., Chris Coy, and the girls, Brighton Sharpino and Kyla Kennedy?
I think it was my last day of shooting. It was big, big, tremendous hugs and tremendous gratitude that these folks were coming back to be a part of this monumental deal. If there was another character for me to play, it would have been the Governor.
Really? Why the Governor?
I love dudes that are just so charismatic and then take a sick turn. I find them fascinating. Even in real life, like Jim Jones, or Hitler—they’re a half-step away from brilliance, but there’s that fatal flaw.
What are some of your favorite memories over the course of your run on the show?
It started with the introduction, an eight-page entrance into the show. That was the first one; the second was just the way Sonequa [Martin-Green], myself, and Daniel [Thomas May, who played Woodbury resident Allen] worked together. Not to leave out Tyler [Chase, who played Allen’s son, Ben], but the way the initial core group worked together. The other is the incredibly warm reception I received from Andy Lincoln and David Morrissey. They loved The Wire, so they came up to me like, “Thank God you’re here, we know what you do.” And then there was the picnic before Season 3 and seeing what kind of family guys they were. I had my daughter there and was able to meet them on a personal level. That was really nice, I’ll never forget that.
What’s your take on Tyreese’s final moments?
He understood that death could be close, but he was gonna fight to the nail. But that couldn’t stave off the hallucinations; they were so strong, he thought they were real. He’s really fighting for his ideology, his core beliefs, the way he sees the world. Other people came back, just his consciousness, guilt, rage against those that would try to make him live any other way. There was this moment where Death was saying “come on” through Bob and the girls. In another sick way, it was like, “We got killed off too. It’s okay.”
Ha! “Welcome to the club!”
“Come on over, Chad! It’s cool, man.” I’m joking on that part, but just when they were gonna invite me like, “Come on home, buddy,” Rick and them were there, like, “Come on! We’re gonna fight for you!” That’s the way I saw that.
So you wouldn’t say that it was Tyreese’s softness or humanity that ultimately did him in, like Martin kept saying.
I never go with that. I tell people all the time, it’s nothing to do with softness. Humanity is the hardest thing in the world. Ask the president of the United States if it’s easy to try and bring humanity to politics. People will always wanna screw with your psyche because they can’t do it and they’ve settled, so they want you to settle too. That happens in real life. Don’t live out my character in some comic book way. That’s not what I represent. I represent real gravity and honesty that lends credence to the show and allows other characters to do the stuff they’re doing. I’m that balance that’s like, “Oh, no, this shit’s real, man.” It is a genre deal and some people have to come off like comic book heroes but Tyreese was not that. Not in that superhuman way.
Your final monologue against the Governor was so intense. What was it like shooting that scene?
I was getting the lines and everything, I was just going. It was overwhelming. Then I saw some takes ended up on the cutting room floor, like, “Oh shit, that didn’t make it in?” [laughs] But I lost my mind doing those scenes. Andy watched it and he called me and said, “Man, that’s why I’m an actor. That’s why I’m here in America because I want to do the work you do.” It was amazing. I was like, “Dude, I don’t know where you come from, but you’re an amazing human being. Thank you.” He’s always been that way. David was just like, “You got it, brother, just stay in.” I was like, “I am dude, but some crazy stuff is happening!” [laughs] Everything just hit me at one time.
Tyreese was more of a lover than a fighter; do you think you might have been the same way in a zombie apocalypse?
I’m a lover and a fighter, but not a killer. In this case, the role that I play, in my core, that’s how I feel. He did go off the rails, but I would’ve reined it in, just like he did. I don’t think there would have been that much difference between us. I can say this is one of those roles that fits me like a glove and doesn’t require that I do exhaustive homework or use some technique in order to make it as real as it has to be. No, this one is really close to the vest.
And you plan on continuing to watch the show?
Absolutely, I’m a huge fan of the show.
What else do you have on your plate now?
Well, I’m working on a new sci-fi show called The Expanse. Thomas Jane is the lead, he’s amazing. And it’s full of supporting actors who are leads in their own right. I think we got a recipe for something that’s gonna be very impactful.
There’s a couple other things that I’m doing. I’m producing my first film and I’m also working on a mega-event to take place in Ferguson, Missouri. It’s called Laughter Is the Best Medicine. On the first night, we’re gonna have a night of comedy for the people of Ferguson. Usually when you laugh, you can bring down some defenses. I’m going after Ellen Degeneres, Seinfeld, Kevin Hart—I want them to come to Ferguson and do that. The second day will be healing and reconciliation workshops. I’m putting a think tank together of psychologists, sociologists, and community activists.
Then the final day will be a block party. When people dance together, they tend to release. We’re going after Katy Perry, Will.i.am, It will happen on August 7, 8, and 9, around the first anniversary of Mike Brown’s unfortunate death. I wanna get the guy who shot Mike Brown and if he honestly and sincerely says, “I never meant to kill this kid” and, “Here’s what’s going on with me” and, “I would really love to speak with his parents”—to have them come together at that event, do you know how amazing that would be? So this is what we’re working toward.
What message do you want to deliver with this?
Nobody is about finger-pointing or blame; it’s all about unconditional love and coming together and being supportive of one another and being supportive of one another and giving people a safe place to be honest and open. Let’s lead with humanity and recognize that this country is at its best when we are together. Somehow, that narrative has kind of been lost in this weird state of divisiveness.