Better Call Saul's Set Decorator On Knowing About That Midseason Finale Death Before The Actor Did

Patrick Fabian on Better Call Saul
(Image credit: AMC)

Major spoilers for Better Call Saul’s latest episode, “Plan and Execution,” lie ahead, so read at your own risk.

If you’re a Better Call Saul fan like myself, then chances are you’re probably still reeling from the heartbreaking events of the midseason finale. The episode that closed out the first half of Season 6 was full of massive moments, and fans were subsequently left with a number of questions. Something that was incredibly clear coming out of the episode was the fate of Howard Hamlin, who sadly died at the hands of Lalo Salamanca. One would surely be quick to wonder how a performer approaches their character’s demise, though you also have to consider how much the crew is aware of beforehand. Well, interestingly enough, the show’s set decorator knew about the development even before series star Patrick Fabian did. 

Ashley Marsh has worked as a set decorator/buyer on Better Call Saul since the show’s debut in 2015, so she’s been around for all of the show’s major moments – including character deaths. Howard Hamlin’s may be the most tragic of them all and is honestly enough to make one want to stop watching the Breaking Bad prequel. Marsh was also sad to see Howard go in such brutal fashion, a sentiment that she expressed when we recently chatted. While revealing that she knew about the character’s fate before Patrick Fabian, she also explained whether that affected her and her team’s approach to crafting the sets that the late attorney inhabited:

I mean, yes. I probably knew before Patrick knew. Production called and said, ‘Hey, if you run into him, please don't say anything.’ Of course, I won't because we signed an NDA. But I am not sure how long they waited to let him know, because it changes you in your head. And that changes for me because I feel like things have to be a little bit more thought out. Because you don't want to put anything in there that seems hopeful… but you don't want to lead it on, either.

That’s a tricky tightrope to walk, to say the least. On the one hand, you don’t want the character’s surroundings to be too cheery, as to suggest that things are going to be fine. However, you also don’t want to lean too much into a sense of dread as to make the lawyer’s fate obvious to viewers. But ultimately, Ashley Marsh and her collaborators succeeded, because I’m not sure how many people could’ve foreseen what was in store for Howard from the jump.

Before Howard’s death, fans were able to see him in some locations that were pretty personal to him. One of those places was the Hamlin estate, which viewers only got a glimpse at from the outside in Season 5. While he was in his swanky pad, it was revealed that he’d been living in the guest house due to marital problems. Throughout the season, audiences also got to see him in his office, where he mainly met with his private investigator. There was a lack of warmth in both locations, and that was especially true for the cold-feeling Hamlin residence. Nevertheless, there were never any dead giveaways that suggested that the bane of Jimmy McGill and Kim Wexler’s existence was headed out the door.

So far, the final season of Better Call Saul has featured two massive casualties. Aside from Howard Hamlin, Michael Mando’s Ignacio "Nacho" Varga also bit the bullet. Well, more specifically (and tragically), he took a self-inflicted bullet to the head after revealing to Hector Salamanca that he caused his stroke. Like Howard’s death, it was a sad moment, though one that Mando acted out in such a masterful way.

There’s a firm chance that the critically acclaimed drama isn’t done picking off characters. Given the Breaking Bad timeline, we know that a few won't be dying (yet), but a few others could still meet gruesome ends. I’m most worried about Kim Wexler, as was series co-creator Peter Gould. At this point, fans may want to take Ashley Marsh’s comments on Howard into consideration and look for set clues to gauge whether their favorite characters will make it out alive. 

Better Call Saul Season 6’s second half will begin airing on AMC on July 11th at 9 p.m. ET on AMC as part of the 2022 TV schedule. Those who need to catch up before seeing the final season can stream the others with a Netflix subscription.

Erik Swann
Senior Content Producer

Covering superheroes, sci-fi, comedy, and almost anything else in film and TV. I eat more pizza than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.