For weeks, “This is Us” has been tugging at viewers heartstrings with heartbreaking twists and turns. None, however, were more dramatic than the revelation about the fate of both Jack and William in Season 1, episode 5 of the NBC series.
[WARNING: Spoilers ahead]
Creator Dan Fogelman sat down with Entertainment Weekly to discuss his decision to include the deaths of both Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and William (Ron Cephas Jones) in one episode. He told the publication that Jack’s death was originally slated to be revealed in the pilot, but he felt it was better to hold out for a few episodes. Fogelman knew early on that if he wanted to really elicit a response from fans he had to work both William and Jack into the lives of Randall (Sterling K. Brown), his wife Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) and their children.
“The biggest reason I pulled it out was at the end of the second episode, Miguel (Jon Huertas) is showing up at that door, and I wanted people to have the reaction that people had, which is: ‘What the hell?’” Fogelman said. “And I thought by announcing that Jack was no longer alive it would ease that in a way that was not good for the show.”
Instead, the news that not only will The Big Three lose their father, but Randall will lose his biological father as well, came to light in Season 1, episode 6. Fogelman joked that because “The Walking Dead” killed off two characters in the Season 7 premiere on Sunday, he felt that “This is Us” could take a whack at it. The creator explained that it wasn’t his intention to break viewers hearts by including both deaths at once. Instead he hoped that revealing the news about William’s cancer would provide a “metaphysical glimpse at a hypothetical future.”
William will continue to appear in episodes, but viewers now have the ominous news hanging over their heads while embracing his somewhat tragic storyline. Fogelman said that including both men’s deaths in the same episode was an attempt to drive home the overriding theme that when people die, they never really leave us.
Ventimiglia also discussed his character's death with EW, saying that it was as much as surprise to him as it was to viewers. He was in the dark about Jack’s death until after the pilot was picked up by NBC. Fogelman revealed to him that although he was going to be killed off early on, Jack would continue to appear in episodes throughout the season. Additionally, Ventimiglia was told that the death was intended to explore the idea of if/how kids stop learning from their parents after their death.
“Honestly I hadn’t any idea that Jack was gone until after the pilot had been picked up and Dan started explaining more to us actors the idea where he wanted to go in the series,” he revealed. “When Dan told me, he goes, ‘Yeah, Jack dies.’ He of course told me when — I know when it all happens — but he said, ‘But it doesn’t mean you’re not on the show, Milo. You’re still here, but what we want to do is explore that idea of when the lessons of the parent stop. When you have given all you can to those kids and they move forward in the life of their own making.’”
Curious how Jack and William will continue on in Season 1 of “This is Us?” Tune in to NBC on Tuesday, Nov. 1, at 9 p.m. EDT.