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Many spoilers ahead for the Season 8 premiere of Chicago Fire on NBC, called "Sacred Ground."
Chicago Fire is known for its blazing cliffhangers, and the Season 7 finale wasn't the first to end with the lives of several of the Firehouse 51 heroes in very real jeopardy. Arguably the most famous cliffhanger (before the mattress factory fire, anyway) left Casey, Herrmann, and Mouch facing almost certain death, but they all miraculously survived. Sadly, not all of the firefighters of 51 were so lucky in the Season 8 premiere, and one hero lost his life: Otis. Showrunner Derek Haas explained why.
But first, the heartbreaking twist made for arguably the biggest death since Shae all the way back in Season 3. Chicago Fire showrunner Derek Haas spoke with CinemaBlend about the Season 8 premiere. If you've recovered from the end of "Sacred Ground" with the emotional tribute to Otis from his friends and found family at Firehouse 51, read on for Haas' explanation for why Fire decided to kill a character after this particular cliffhanger:
I think the reason was born out of the idea that we do epic cliffhangers and then a lot of times, miraculously, get out of whatever dangerous situation we're in. And if you do that enough times, the audience stops respecting the danger of the situation. And we hadn't decided at the end of the year. It wasn't until we started talking in the hiatus we decided we needed to put some teeth into the show and to remind our audiences that when our characters are out in these situations, as is true of any first responders who go out, [they don't] know what they're walking into. Not everyone walks away. That's where it started and I think the life blood of any show like ours is surprise. You have to surprise the audience. You have to surprise even within scenes what the audience is expecting and then really pull the rug out from under them. That was it.
As skilled and hard-working as the firefighters and EMTs of Firehouse 51 may be, even they can't all escape from the most dire of situations. Honestly, 51 may be lucky that Otis' death and Brett's broken arm are the only major losses sustained in the mattress factory fire, although it's difficult to call anything involving poor Otis' demise "lucky."
Interestingly, Otis' death wasn't planned back when the Season 7 finale aired, which is at least part of why fans had so many guesses about which firefighter might be killed in the beginning of Season 8. There weren't any clues in that episode because a big death hadn't been decided yet! I think it's safe to say that the death of Otis -- who has been part of Chicago Fire from the very beginning -- guarantees fans will be on edge when it comes to cliffhangers in the future.
So, why did Derek Haas and the Chicago Fire team decide that poor Otis would be the one to go? He explained:
I was talking to Andrea Newman and Michael Gilvary, my two head writers, about three weeks into the hiatus. A couple weeks after the show aired. And we just said, 'What if? What if we did this?' We kind of settled on Otis quickly because we just knew how much it would affect all of our cast since they've all been the show. Most of them have been on the show from the beginning and have known him for years. The characters have all known each other, he lives with two of the characters. That's just where we started.
Otis was such a beloved and lovable character that his death would impact the show in huge ways, and the Season 8 premiere definitely proved this to be true. Of course Cruz took the death the hardest, and he was still struggling very much with the loss of his best friend after the time jump. They had been close for so long, and roommates, and Cruz was the last person with Otis before he died. Who else started crying when Cruz suggested they could have a place to live together in heaven?
Brett had moved away from Chicago with Chaplain Kyle by the time jump, so we didn't get to see too much of the reaction from Otis' other roommate, but her fear when she saw him being tended to by the other EMTs was striking. Throw in Casey dragging his feet in making the big move of replacing Otis on Truck, Boden struggling with the same questions as Cruz, and everybody's reactions at the reveal of the memorial, and it's clear Otis was an emotional pick for the big death.
Derek Haas elaborated on what it meant to say goodbye to actor Yuri Sardarov after so many years:
I think even beyond that I've known Yuri since he was in college. I worked on a movie with him that I wrote and produced back in 2010, 2011. He was one of the first people on Chicago Fire, and I just knew from an actor standpoint and from a human being standpoint, he's so sharp and talented and a writer himself that he would see the creative choice here in a way that wasn't misunderstood. And I was right. He's so gracious and professional. Calling him to tell him that this was our choice, I also had to ask, 'Will you come back and do the first episode?' His response was, 'I'll do whatever you ask of me, Derek.'
The good news is that Yuri Sardarov understood why Otis' death fit the resolution to the cliffhanger for the Season 8 premiere, and I think Fire fans can all agree that his performance in his final episode was remarkable, even if he was in a relatively short span of the episode.
Yuri Sardarov's willingness to return despite knowing that Otis was being killed off gave fans the chance to say goodbye, although it might be a while before everybody can get used to not having Otis around Firehouse 51. No matter how much fun the new firefighter is going to be -- and he undoubtedly will be fun, as he's described as Casey and Severide "rolled into one" -- he won't be Otis.
Derek Haas explained that executive producer Dick Wolf, who stated a willingness to cross the NBC shows (which includes Chicago Fire) over with CBS' FBI, helped with the decision to kill off Otis in Season 8:
I had to call Dick Wolf, of course, ahead of time, and ended up talking to him on the phone for an hour, and him reminding me of all the moves that Law & Order has made over the years. As long as the audience feels like what you did was honest, then they'll stay with you, and no one knows that better than Dick. So that was that.
So, what will Chicago Fire and Firehouse 51 look like without Otis? Well, his death wasn't the only big change. Brett's absence is particularly felt by Foster, who definitely did not take to her new EMT partner. For his part, Casey seems to have a lot more on his mind that the potential relationship with Brett that was teased back in Season 7. Stella and Severide are going strong, Cruz is mourning, a huge Chicago crossover with Med and P.D. is on the way, and much more!
Find out what happens next with new episodes of Chicago Fire at 9 p.m. ET on NBC Wednesdays, preceded by episodes of Chicago Med at 8 p.m. ET and followed by episodes of Chicago P.D. at 10 p.m. ET.