Tyler James Williams of "The Walking Dead" on Playing Noah | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Tyler James Williams of “The Walking Dead” on Playing Noah

Darkness at the End of the Tunnel

Mar 20, 2015 Tyler James Williams
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[Spoiler alert: If you haven’t watched last week’s episode, “Spend,” which aired March 15, then read no further.]

Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman has said that he works hard to give his characters a suitable end, leaving the most memorable (and most gruesome) deaths for the show’s most significant characters. If that’s the case, Kirkman must have been very impressed with Tyler James Williams’ portrayal of Noah, the 17-year-old who was introduced during the first half of season five as Beth’s fellow captive at Grady Hospital. Though he only appeared in approximately half a season of episodes, Noah was given arguably the most brutal death of any main character in the show’s history, with a pack of zombies tearing him apart while Glenn (Steven Yeun) watched in horror from the other side of a glass door. Even for The Walking Deada show which has featured cannibalism, multiple amputations, and a beheadingthis was a shocking end.

But since he had been the catalyst for many of the season’s most crucial turning points, Williams had earned such a memorable sendoff. It was Noah who led the group to Grady Hospital in an attempt to rescue Beth, inadvertently causing her death in the process. It was his doomed mission to find his family that resulted in Tyreese dying after being bitten by a zombie, leading the group to the front door of Alexandria in the process. And, to hear Williams explain it, the future of the storyline will now be shaped by how the characters respond to the fact that Noah’s death was caused by the negligence of Alexandria soldier Nicholas (Michael Traynor). Here, Williams explains why he appreciated his death scene, how he got into the mindset of someone with nothing left to lose, and what he learned from Andrew Lincoln about the craft of acting.

Matt Fink (Under the Radar): So what was it like watching Noah’s final episode?

Tyler James Williams: It was weird. It was gruesome. I didn’t necessarily watch it when we shot it, so that’s what made it a bit worse. But it all turned out beautifully and looked really good, and Steven [Yeun] did a great job. It really worked out.

Was it emotional for you to watch that?

It was! It was weird. Watching yourself essentially get torn apart is not something that is on the top of anyone’s list, I believe.

So when they were explaining to you how Noah was going to die was that exciting for you, since it’s probably one of the most gruesome deaths any character has ever gotten on the show?

Yeah, it was interesting. When they were breaking it down, I was excited about it because I wanted something that wasn’t his fault. So that’s how I was happy with it. It wasn’t like Noah ran and tripped and fell and that was it. [Laughs] That’s the cool part of it. I think anyone who gets killed off a show wants it to be somewhat iconic, and that’s what this was.

It’s interesting to contrast Noah’s death with the ones from earlier this season, where Tyreese and Bob received very poignant and almost poetic deaths. Noah’s final moments were really brutal by comparison.

I think it had to be. For a character who wasn’t the moral compass or anything like that, it had to be that gruesome to really affect the group negatively, especially how it did for Glenn after he goes back and explains what happened to everyone else. It had to have that kind of impact. Not only did he die because of someone else’s cowardice, he died brutally.

Do you think the writers were also trying to contrast the violence of Noah’s final moments with how innocent and decent he was as a character?

Yeah, I think it reminds everyone how messed up this world is that no one considers that. It kind of mirrors what happens in our real world, where some people are given a bad shake in life and there’s nothing you can do about it. That’s what was happening with him. He was introduced on the heels of a lot of bad things happening and a lot of negative connotations pointed toward him. But that’s just the way life is sometimes.

Right. That really seems like a theme this season, given how so many characters have been on the edge of giving up hope. Do you think Noah was ever at that point of giving up?

Yeah, I think so. There was a time when we were on the road, right before that tornado came through, that he was ready to end it. It wasn’t what he thought it would be, and he had no more hope, as far as going to see his family. He was sitting there eating dogthat will break you down a bit. If there ever was a point where he was ready to sit there and let the world take him, that was it. But that’s the beauty of this group, that when one or two of them are weak, the rest will pull them along until they can find that strength again.

So in this last episode, we see Noah trying to learn how the walls work and how to maintain them. Do you think that symbolized him finding hope and realizing he had a future in Alexandria?

I think it was a combination of hope and danger. I think he had developed a love for those people and wanted to protect them, especially after seeing what happened to his own family when they thought the walls were strong and they weren’t. So I think he was seeing those people had done a good job of protecting themselves, but they didn’t know what was really out there.

His last words to Glenn are “Don’t let go.” Do you think that meant, “Don’t let go of hope”?

Yeah, that’s essentially what we believed it to be, like “Don’t let go of what this new location could be. Don’t let this mess you up.” What’s so beautiful about Glenn’s character is that when he needs to turn it on, he can turn it on, but he is not an animal. So Noah is saying, “I know you’ve been through a lot over the past two years, but don’t let this turn you into an animal.”

How did the writers break it to you that Noah was going to be dying this episode?

There’s always a meeting they have, and [showrunner] Scott Gimple gave me a call saying, “Let’s go to dinner.” So, obviously, I was thinking, “Okay, we’re going to dinner. Obviously he’s not going to be telling me something great.” And we sat down, and he explained it to me and why it needed to happen and how it was going to happen. Obviously, it was sad for me, but once he explained the trajectory [the death] sends other people on, I was really excited about it, like, “Let’s do it!”

When you originally auditioned, did you have any expectations for how long Noah would be on the show?

No. It’s interesting, because my original contract was for three episodes, so that would have put me right around the time of Beth’s death. I was expecting to go then, but it didn’t really play out that way, and they extended me, and I was happy to be there as long as they were going to have me.

Do you think your understand of the Noah character changed over time?

Everybody evolves in a way, but to me his journey was pretty clear from the beginning. He was this 17-year-old kid who would have gone through this growing up period anyway, except now this was how he had to do it. Every stumble and misstep and bad decision he made, he would have made in college or in that time period. So that’s why I latched onto him so early, so that by the end of it he was finding himself. It just happened that way.

How difficult was it as an actor to play those scenes in Shirewilt Estates where you find your mother dead and your brothers are walkers? I imagine it was emotionally taxing.

It was rough. That was a really hard day, because we shot it all at one time. That’s the thing: this show does stuff that no one else does. No one else goes to that place of utter hopelessness so quickly and so easily, and they wield it like a child with a lollipop. So it was difficult, but you have to get it done. For this show, it feels like you’re actually doing something and telling stories that actually matter. That’s what’s crazy about it. When we shoot it, it’s emotionally taxing and all that, but it’s completely worth it at the end of the day.

As an actor, was there anything you could do to get into the headspace of someone whose whole family was dead and who was now with a group of strangers? Was there anything you could do to better see the world from his perspective?

That was all research at that point to really understand that. I don’t think many people have lost in that way, like, “Yeah, I can relate this to this.” So it was really more researching people who had gotten into that place with kidnap victims or people who had lost family members all at one time. I looked at mass tragedies and watched their interviews and listened to them talk. Unfortunately, here in the States what we have are inappropriate interviews that happen right after the tragic event. That stuff really helped, even though at the time it must have been incredibly impossible for these people, and they weren’t able to process things a few hours after something happened. Watching those really helped me.

So you were really portraying someone who was in a state of shock.

Yeah, that was it. I think his initial breakdown was really emotional, and you were able to see that. What became a little more difficult was him going to his house and not really having anything left in the tank, to just kind of attempt to bury his mother in the living room and have that moment. And then immediately after that someone else is in trouble. What happens so often in this show is that these characters have to compartmentalize such major grief that it ends up coming out much later. So that was something I talked to Scott about, like how they were going to be on the road and we were going to start to see him deal with these things that he didn’t have time to deal with. He essentially stabs his brother in the eye, and then has to go run and get help in a split second. That would be difficult for anyone.

Seeing that The Walking Dead has so many great actors at this point, was there anything you’ll take from this experience to inform your craft?

That’s what this job was for me, honestly. As much as it put me out there in a different way and all that, it really gave me more tools to be the actor I want to be, just by watching. I’ve said it over and over, and I’ll probably say it for the rest of my life: no one is a number one like Andrew Lincoln. I’m off this show, and they’re not bringing me back, so I’m not saying it to be nice. But no one does it like him. The tone he sets from day one for everyone is what makes this show what it is. Everyone is stepping up to the plate, but he’s so gracious and welcoming, and he’s such a fan of actors. You see so many number ones who are so concerned about their coverage and all that, but Andy will give you everything you need on your side, and before “cut” is said he’s so freaking giddy and wants to slap five because of what he saw from you. And that’s the type of actor he is, and that’s the type of actor I want to be. I want to be the type of actor who isn’t concerned with himself but who is concerned with great acting, and I don’t care where it’s coming from. I think that’s ultimately what sets up a great atmosphere for other actors, and that’s why there is so much great acting on this show. Everyone is so supportive of each other doing great work. For me, that’s what my death meant for me. I can’t wait to see how this spins off for everyone else. Steven crushed that scene where I was getting ripped apart and he was watching it. But having an idea of where it’s going next, I can’t wait. I cannot wait. [Laughs] I know what that guy can do, and I know what he’ll do with these scenes. I just can’t wait to see him be amazing and for the rest of the world to see that.

So now you’re going on to Criminal Minds. What can you tell me about that?

It’s a completely different show; I’ll say that. [Laughs] But I’m working with more legendsGary Sinise, Anna Gunn, Daniel Henney. It’s been great to not go to something that is so hyper real and grounded a bit. It’s going to be a real interesting show, because there are still high stakes, dealing with people who are getting in trouble. That’s the whole beyond borders concept: if you get in trouble anywhere other than the United States, this is the team that has to come get you. The channels you have to go through here to do thatyou have to go through the FBI and the NSA and all those things. What happens when it’s Fiji? How do you go find somebody when it’s not so easy to do that? That’s what I initially found so interesting about it.




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