Did SPOILER Really Get Jon Snow’d On ‘The Walking Dead?’ His ‘Killer’ Speaks Up
Michael Traynor discusses his tenure on "Walking Dead" -- and whether or not You-Know-Who will be back.
Major spoilers from episode three of “The Walking Dead,” “Thank You,” lie ahead.
Do you think you’re having a bad Monday, guy? Because even if your boss just asked you to work late or your professor threw a last-minute exam on the endocrine system in your sleep-deprived face, at least you didn’t just kill Glenn (Steven Yeun) on “The Walking Dead,” which is the reality that Michael Traynor, who played Nicholas on the series, is currently living with.
True, Traynor has experienced a fan-backlash heavy Monday like this one before — specifically last spring, when his character also inadvertently killed Tyler James Williams’ Noah — but nothing can compare with (seemingly) slaughtering a fan-favorite character whose been around since Season 1, right?
Wrong. Actually, it’s much more complicated than that for Traynor, who hopped on the phone with MTV News after Sunday’s (October 25) episode to discuss his last day on set, death threats, and Glenn’s possible resurrection.
MTV: When you first signed on to “Walking Dead,” did you have any idea that this would be Nicholas’ arc?
Michael Traynor: I knew actually nothing. I knew it was just a role in “The Walking Dead.” I was guaranteed a few episodes. Anyone who they guaranteed a few episodes knows they could kill you off in two or in one — just, you know, give you a little cash for your time. So I was beyond ecstatic to discover episode by episode, script by script, that they had a bigger and more nefarious-slash-cowardly plan for Nicholas.
MTV: Is it anxiety-provoking, coming in so late to a series with such a passionate fanbase?
Traynor: The excitement was through and through — like, every cell was vibrating with joy. Because I was a fan of the show before I got cast, so it was a bit of a dream gig. And then you get there and you realize that everybody is generally lovely and still excited about telling these stories and showing up for work every day ready to give 110%, ready to give 1000%, it was just sort of like the gift that kept on giving.
And as far as fear goes — yeah, you don’t want to be the guy who f–ks up on “The Walking Dead,” you know; to use a colloquialism. So there was a sense of personal artistic integrity and pressure, the idea of wanting to carry this story and explore somebody who is handling this walker plague in not the most heroic fashion, and giving some dimensionality to it which was easier to do because the writing was so strong. But there was a lot of, you know, you got thrown the ball, don’t fumble.
MTV: Your first big act on the show led to Noah’s death. What was that like for you, in terms of fan response?
Traynor: Uh, it was pretty much immediate hatred. Like, a deluge of hatred and death threats; which is a real testament to Tyler who played Noah — like how quickly and how deeply everyone loved his character, and got attached to him. My family and I made a game of following the death threats on Twitter, and seeing who had the best ones, like ranking the death threats for originality. So we did kind of make a game of it, but it was very interesting to be on the receiving end of that much of an emotionally charged reaction to a story.
MTV: Do you ever have to take that sort of thing seriously?
Traynor: I don’t get frightened by it. I don’t think anyone is going to go through with it. I haven’t hired body guards that are surrounding me all of the time. Yeah, so that’s been the reaction. Outside of that I just think that I did it. It’s a compliment. It means I’m doing my job. I wasn’t hired to be a post-apocalyptic teddy bear. I was hired to be somebody who might kind of stir the ire of the fans.
MTV: Do you agree with them, or did you find things to love about Nicholas?
Traynor: There’s a big part of me that wants to say absolutely no, no not at all, what are you talking about, I had to use my imagination at every turn. And then there’s the real human part of me that’s like “yeah, sure.” There are so many things throughout the day that we can be intimidated by, or there’s moments every audition an actor goes into there’s a sense of like “can I do this, is this going to be the one, can I pop, can I rise to the challenge?” So it was just finding those moments in my own life that gives you the juice of anxiety and expanding from that point.
MTV: So then going into Season 6 — were you hoping for a redemptive arc? How much did you know about what would happen to him?
Traynor: I knew going into Season 6 that Nicholas’s story would be on the shorter end. Scott Gimple, the showrunner, was gracious and kind enough to call before we started filming to kind of say “Here’s our plan, you do such beautiful work in Season 5 that we are now going to kill your character.” He wanted to make very sure that it was framed as a compliment, and that’s how I took it. So we had a few discussions on how we were going to handle the redemption, to not jump fully into it, to have a sense of how difficult and tenuous this sort of redemption story would be and the burgeoning alliance with Glenn and Nicholas. So I was kind of aware, but even still, every script was a bit of a mystery as to how they were going to do things, and full of surprises every page. And when I finally read 603 I was floored, you know. It was exciting.
Traynor: The whole dumpster scenario of Nicholas, you know, shooting himself and then there being some collateral damage was discovered as I was reading it. And that was like, “Oof, how are we going to do this? How are we going to shoot this?” And then you know Steven Yeun, to his amazing credit and dedication to the show and to the integrity of the story, we just sat down right away and started working on it. Like getting to work and doing the good work to make sure it was a rich and full moment.
MTV: Was it a weird mood on set that day? I know other cast members have shared how emotional and special it is to say goodbye, but for your goodbye, you were also saying goodbye to a fan-favorite character since Season 1.
Traynor: My memory of the day is a bit chaotic. It all seemed to happen, so fast and yet there are these moments of excruciating slowness. Of like, being on top of the dumpster and looking around at all of the walkers that were done up in makeup, and Greg Nicotero was right there in full walker regalia, chomping at us and trying to get us. It was so wonderfully surreal and emotional.
There were a few times where I lost my stuff, you know, just having to walk away from set and the emotions of the idea of being where this man is where he has no solution to his predicament but ending his own life. I don’t care what kind of actor you are or what your style or methodology is, living in that place for a day, even a few hours, is going to affect you. And it was funny, I was walking down the street just kind of getting my stuff together and collect myself to not be a blubbering idiot in front of the cast and crew, and then there’s Andy Lincoln sitting down waving at me. I’m like, “I don’t want to cry in front of Andy Lincoln. I don’t want to really cry in front of Andy Lincoln. Keep it together Michael!” It’s such a beautiful job and a beautiful bunch of people that as excited as I was to be a part of this story and to explore, you know the less noble sides of humanity and the apocalypse, I was definitely sad to go.
MTV: I know you have Twitter — were you on social media while the episode aired?
Traynor: Uh, a little bit. I took the moment to kind of be with some friends and my girlfriend… I wanted them to experience it. I just wanted to stay in that little cocoon. I did eventually take a peek at some of the newfangled death threats and fits of rage, but also, it was nice that there was peppered in there some compliments of doing a good job. That’s what we all want to do, you know. As a fan of the show, and certainly as an actor in general, you want to tell a good story. And it seems like that while the fans are outraged with the scenario and with the events, they certainly were drawn in to the story of it all.
MTV: You have to be aware of what the conversation has turned to at this point… Were those your guts being eaten? Was that your body on top of Glenn’s?
Traynor: I think to say anything about that would be to mar the experience of what the writers have in store for the fans, you know. They’ve never not honored the life of a character or the death of a character without a really complete story, and I think that the fans will get to experience what Scott Gimple and Gale Anne Hurd and Robert Kirkman have in store for Glenn. And I wouldn’t want to do anything to ruin what story is in store.
MTV: They’re saying you “Jon Snow’d” us…
Traynor: Well, I didn’t see any dire wolves on set when we were filming, so I can confirm that. There were no dire wolves on set.