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Major spoilers below, so be sure to watch the Empire Season 5 premiere in its entirety before reading on.
Of all the premieres kicking off on TV this week, few could possibly pack as much into their runtimes as Fox's Empire, which answered lingering finale questions, set up wild new storylines, introduced a mysterious flash-forward and also killed off a major character that was set to be a Season 5 co-antagonist. By the episode's end, though, Forest Whitaker's Eddie Barker was dead, and his ashes were disposed of in a rather unkind manner. Showrunner Brett Mahoney explained why Whitaker's devious villain left the game so early.
Some of it was availability. Like, if Forest Whitaker says he's going to be available, I definitely would have made it work. But when it appeared that he wouldn't be as free as we would need in terms of being someone who could be our villain for this season and be there for several episodes and when we needed him, this idea of allowing the character to die in the premiere kind of freed me up creatively to think differently about what we could do. And I'm happy with the way it turned out.
Because this is Empire, almost every character outside the Lyon family is technically in danger of dying at any moment. But still, we've all come to expect that those giving Lucious and Cookie hell will survive a little longer than the average no-gooder. And after the imprisoned Andre dug up all that financial dirt on Eddie, I'd have expected the latter to raise the stakes even higher by pulling some new skeleton out of Lucious' closet to hang over the mogul's head. But no, he was instead going to legitimately retire from Empire in order to keep himself out of prison, at least until he and the offended Giselle got into a shoving match. One that only one of them walked away from.
It does make sense, then, that Eddie's death was partially influenced by events outside the show's narrative. Forest Whitaker is obviously a very busy actor, cranking out both small dramas and big blockbusters, and wasn't able to devote a large enough chunk of time to fleshing Eddie out further during Season 5. And so, rather than setting up a mid-length arc that presumably would have focused more on his imploding relationship with Giselle, showrunner Brett Mahoney and the writers decided it would be best to drop a giant shock on viewers' laps right from the outset. And it's not like this show hasn't employed healthy doses of flashbacks when needed, so Eddie could very well return in some fashion later on, if the timing worked out.
Speaking with EW, Brett Mahoney talked about what fans can expect to see now from Giselle, and how her story might go in an unexpected direction.
I really like the Giselle character and I think Nicole Ari Parker's doing great things with it, and she's fun to write for. In true Empire fashion, we're going to have a lot of twists and turns, and while it may appear to be the trajectory that she's going to be the Lyons' obstacle this season, I think you may see a change and a turn in which Giselle may actually be more aligned with the Lyons as opposed to their enemy.
One thing is for sure, though. Giselle better hope she's not the one inside that coffin that Lucious was standing at for the beginning of the episode. After dismissively tossing Eddie's ashes down a sewer drain, she hasn't exactly worked up much good karma in her favor.
With that flash-forward mystery set to be teased out across the entire season, Empire airs Wednesday nights on Fox at 8:00 p.m. ET. To see what other new and returning shows are on the way, head to our fall TV premiere schedule.