We're only three episodes into the fifth season of FX's Sons of Anarchy, and already we've lost one of the most beloved members of SAMCRO. If you missed last night's episode "Laying Pipe," steer clear of the Internet in general (and especially this article) if you want to avoid spoilers.
With that out of the way, it was tough to say goodbye to someone who's been one of the most sympathetic characters over drama's entire run.
Opie (played by Ryan Hurst) has been murdered, beaten to death in prison to protect the life of his best friend and SAMCRO president Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam). Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter held a conference call with journalists this morning to discuss perhaps the most influential death in the history of his series, and what it means for the future of the show.
"The death of Opie will color the rest of the episodes for the rest of the series," he said. "It's not a death that will happen in vain, and I would hope that people still stay plugged in. Of course there will be a sense of vengeance and there will be something that drives our guys to retaliate, it's not so much that as it is the emotional impact his death will have on the rest of the series and the rest of the characters."
Sutter emphasized he wanted Opie's death to happen now so it will be "organic," versus building hyping it for the premiere or finale of a season. By losing Opie now in such a tragic way -- the character actively sacrificed himself to prevent Jax, Chibs or Tig from having to be killed off to satisfy Damon Pope's (Harold Perrineau) need for vengeance -- Sutter wanted to show there's going to be a whole new Jax Teller on Sons of Anarchy.
"Jax I think needed this emotional upheaval," Sutter said. "This is the season where Jax -- my sense of it is -- Jax really figures out what kind of man he's going to become and what kind of leader he's going to be, and I feel like wanting to lay these circumstances out early in the season really allows this death to color all the decisions Jax is going to make [for the rest of the series]."
If Jax had his way, he would have been the man who died in the fight. Sutter confirmed that Opie knew that, which was why he sacrificed himself instead.
"I think he put it together when they were in that prison cell together when Jax told him the truth about what Pope wanted," Sutter said of the moment Opie knew he would be the one to die. "Opie knows Jax well enough to know that he would rather take the bullet himself to say, 'Here, take this guy.' ... Rather than put Jax through that agony, he [sacrificed himself]."
Hurst has known for a while that his character was on his way out. Sutter said he realized in Season 3 that Opie would have to die so that his death would influence Jax to be a better -- or at least different -- leader. Although the death scene was one of the more brutal moments of the series, Sutter said he felt this scene allowed Opie to die a way that honored his character. In other words, his death wasn't a suicide and was instead what he considered the best service to his club and his family.
"I wanted Opie to go out a warrior. I wanted him to go out with a sense of nobility," Sutter said. "I felt like we were able to do all that with [his death]."
He added that he felt Jax and Opie had at last resolved their issues and were again brothers.
"I felt like there was a very organic process in the episode where we see these two guys -- it was a bumpy road, but there was a sense of Jax being honest with him and telling him everything and really bonding with him as a result of these circumstances," he said.
At least fans can breathe a little easier from here on out. Instead of Opie's early death being a sign that Season 5 is going to continue to spiral out of control, Sutter made it clear that Sons of Anarchy won't get any crazier in the finale than the show already is.
"I don’t know if things will get more insane. I think they will be influenced -- Jax will be greatly influenced -- by the death of Opie and that loss, that emptiness, will color him," Sutter said, adding, "This is really the first season where I've had to think about the end game."
Looking forward, we will see Pope take on a "weird" mentorship role (don't worry, it's not one in "the classic sense of the word"), there will be some ebbing and flowing -- Sutter's words -- in the relationship between Jax and Clay (Ron Perlman), and Juice's big secret from Season 4 will come back after seemingly being buried.
"I'm very aware of the level of violence and the bigness of our stories, and I think one of the things that keeps them real is they don't happen in a vacuum," Sutter said. "I don't play out a huge scene or a huge arc and then just let it exist and not tie it to the ground."
He teases, "Halfway through the season we really get into who Pope is and why he's made the decisions that he's made," adding that it's intriguing to find out how Pope became a welcome member of his community.
Sutter also added that, while Sons of Anarchy only has seven seasons planned, he believes FX will give him more time if he decides in the future that he needs it.
Sons of Anarchy airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FX.