SEAL Team Boss Explains How CBS’ Fire Country Played Into Tragic Shocker

Clay in backwards hat on SEAL Team
(Image credit: Paramount+)

Spoilers below for anyone who hasn’t yet watched SEAL Team’s latest installment, “Aces and Eights,” so be warned!

With the eighth episode of its sixth season, SEAL Team delivered what was easily one of its biggest gut-punches — or chest-shots, as it were — by delivering a fatal final scene for star Max Thieriot. His beloved character Clay was killed off in a selfless and shocking moment that was probably a lot more shocking for anyone who hasn’t been paying attention to the instant standout success of the actor’s CBS co-creation, Fire Country, as well as those who weren’t hyper-suspicious of Clay’s talk about the future. Any way it goes, SEAL Team and its fans were dealt a major blow as Season 6 enters its final stretch, and the showrunner has opened up about how much Thieriot’s other gig dictated things.

How SEAL Team Killed Clay Off

As witnessed in the latter half of “Aces and Eights,” whose title itself is a reference to poker’s “dead man’s hand,” Clay’s evening with wife Stella (Alona Tal) was interrupted by a call from the easily rattled vet that he’d talked to at Ray and Naima’s in Episode 7, Ben. Clay soon found the guy set to bash the windows of a military recruitment center with a hammer, and the situation quickly escalated when Ben pulled a gun out and threatened his own life, not seeing a way to happiness for himself. 

Calmly and confidently, Clay talked Ben down from his suicidal ledge and managed to get the gun away from him. Unfortunately, that was the point when a security guard happened upon them. Immediately after seeing the gun in Clay’s hand, the guard reacted with lethal force, putting Clay down before anyone could explain anything, with Ben left hightailing it in the night. The episode ended on that tragic note, forcing everyone with a Paramount+ subscription to wait until the next episode to see how others find out about the news. 

How Fire Country Affected Max Thieriot’s SEAL Team Fate

When Fire Country was ordered to pilot early in 2022, it further expanded the general curiosity for how SEAL Team would handle Max Thieriot’s Clay storyline, considering the actor had a creative stake in the CBS project. And while all parties involved made it seem like the situation would be workable without him having to give up either project, that was apparently proven to be unrealistic as the development process went on. Showrunner Spencer Hudnut talked with TVLine about having Clay make the ultimate sacrifice, after keeping a watchful eye on Fire Country’s progress. In his words:

As Fire Country kept passing each development checkmark, it got clearer and clearer that there was a real possibility that we’d be losing Max at some point. So for the storyline we came up with for Clay this season, we knew we’d have to keep him separate from the team to maximize how much we could get out of Max before he left. In terms of the decision [to kill off Clay]…. I really was kicking the can down the road as far as possible, hoping that Max wouldn’t be leaving the show, and that we would keep him. It wasn’t until maybe even a month after Fire Country got picked up [to series] that it became clear that Max was leaving. Everyone had talked about how he could do both shows, but it was very clear that that wasn’t the case.

Though SEAL Team has filmed in various locations around the globe, most of the production is centered in California, far from the Vancouver filming locations utilized by CBS’ Fire Country. And because the broadcast drama takes precedence, Hudnut and his creative team would have basically been waiting around to hear if and when Thieriot had availability to know when they could use him, which wasn’t a very ideal scenario when breaking down upcoming episodes and seasons, especially with SEAL Team’s seasons being culled to ten episodes for its move to Paramount+.

When the showrunner was presented with the idea that Max Thieriot might not have had any jobs left had Fire Country not been the success it has been, Hudnut gave all the credit possible to Thieriot for building faith in the project's potential after the actor first talked to him about it. Here's how he put it:

It’s a great show. If I had thought it had a chance of tanking, I may have made a different decision about Clay’s fate, but I’m fully confident that that show is going to air for years on CBS. I’m really proud of Max and excited for him, but at the end of the day I have to do what’s best for SEAL Team, and it felt like if he was going to leave, having his departure have the biggest impact on the show and on the team was my responsibility. But [killing off Clay] was the hardest decision I’ve had to make on this series, by a long shot.

Seems pretty clear that Max Thieriot won’t be part of the SEAL Team movie that is set to hit Paramount+ in 2023, although it’s certainly possible that he filmed something for it ahead of time, knowing his run on the series itself was limited. We’ll have to wait until closer to the release date to learn more, though.

SEAL Team drops new episodes on Paramount+ on Sunday mornings, and there are only a couple of episodes left to go. Head to our 2022 TV premiere schedule to see what else will be arriving ahead of the 2023 primetime lineup.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native and an Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on TV and features. His humble origin story with CinemaBlend began all the way back in the pre-streaming era, circa 2009, as a freelancing DVD reviewer and TV recapper.  Nick leapfrogged over to the small screen to cover more and more television news and interviews, eventually taking over the section for the current era and covering topics like Yellowstone, The Walking Dead and horror. Born in Louisiana and currently living in Texas — Who Dat Nation over America’s Team all day, all night — Nick spent several years in the hospitality industry, and also worked as a 911 operator. If you ever happened to hear his music or read his comics/short stories, you have his sympathy.