Major spoilers below for the most recent episode of ABC's The Rookie.
The Rookie shocked and saddened fans with a tragic twist earlier in its freshman season by killing off Mercedes Mason's Captain Zoe Andersen. The shocking death drew a strong reaction from fans, as it marked the first major tragedy of the series. If you were taken aback by the plot, you were not alone, as star Afton Williamson was also hit hard.
When asked if she was surprised by the deadly twist, Afton Williamson shared her reaction and some behind-the-scenes details about filming the ensuing funeral scene for the fallen character. Williamson, who plays Officer Talia Bishop, claimed that it was “eerie” to shoot the sequence, and for a good reason. Williamson told TVLine:
Yes, absolutely shocked. I get chills [watching the funeral scene] because it was not supposed to rain, and we had a ginormous storm. It was eerie because we are standing in rain, watching the processional, thinking about how Mercedes, a part of our cast, isn’t with us. That dynamic of her not being on set every week is weird.
An unexpected rainstorm while filming a funeral sounds as ominous as it gets. Rain and funerals tend to be commonplace in dramatized funerals for just that reason. It turns out the storm at Captain Zoe Andersen’s was not one planned for dramatic purposes on the police drama. Nor was it the work of a rain machine, which is commonly used to conjure on-screen storms. This was the real deal.
Afton Williamson’s response is a reminder that when a series regular character is killed off, the TV cast loses a co-star and friend. The Rookie lost the guidance of Captain Zoe Andersen, and the ensemble lost the warmth of Mercedes Mason. The impact of Mason no longer being an on-set presence continued to be felt by her former co-stars.
Opening up about the aftershocks that ensued, despite not sharing many scenes with Mercedes Mason, Afton Williamson continued:
But yeah, we’re a family, man, so it was hard. She let us know several weeks before, when she knew. But even though I knew it was coming up in a few episodes, when it hit, and we all had to read it, it was hard.
The cast did get a few weeks to let the knowledge of Mercedes Mason’s exit settle in. Despite the lead-time, though, the realization of her departure still hit Afton Williamson pretty hard. There is a notable difference between knowing something is coming and then having it actually happen, after all.
In the previous episode, Captain Andersen got killed during a shootout when a bullet from an assailant struck her neck. Afton Williamson opened up about that scene coming to life and watching it play out, giving high praise to Mercedes Mason's work both on and off-screen.
A lot of that stuff we were not privy to, because it was her and Nathan [Fillion shooting the scene]. But watching it, I was texting her, 'Oh my god!' and she’s like, 'It was intense.' And I’m like, 'No, you don’t understand, the neck…' Can we just pour one out for the homies for the shot to the neck and the eyes rolling up in her head and the slipping into the water? That was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I was like, 'You killed it.' She said, 'If I’m going to do it, take me out hardcore,' so the fact that she went out like she wants to made me so happy. Mercedes, if you know her, is just one of the coolest human beings I have ever been honored to meet.
Obviously, a heartbreaking plot like this will get fans talking, and it did. In the aftermath of the twist that killed off Mason’s character, The Rookie’s showrunner Alexi Hawley also offered up a response, taking to Twitter to defend the shocking death.
The show’s fan base had questions, and among the answers that Hawley provided was a surprising revelation. Hawley revealed that Captain Zoe Andersen’s death wasn't even always a part of the plan. He said that the writers’ room of The Rookie “went back and forth” on what to do. As seen by the episode, they ultimately settled on killing off the character, but why?
The Rookie’s showrunner described the story-driven decision as the one that would cause an impact in the “most dramatic and powerful way.” During the episode, Nolan arrested Captain Andersen’s murderer, so a giant manhunt won't be the issue. But will Captain Andersen’s death be the last of its kind before Season 1 ends, or will someone else take a fall as well?
Find out what happens next when new episodes of The Rookie air Tuesday nights on ABC at 10 p.m. ET.