The Walking Dead's Merritt Wever Opens Up About Denise's Big Day Out and That Heartbreaking Twist

Actress opens up about shooting her final episode on the hit AMC thriller

By Billy Nilles Mar 21, 2016 2:02 AMTags
Merritt Wever, The Walking DeadAMC

Warning: The following contains spoilers from tonight's new episode of The Walking Dead. Proceed with caution.

Well, it looks like Alexandria is in the market for a new doctor.

That's right, after convincing Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Rosita (Christian Serratos) to accompany her on a run to a pharmacy in town on the quest to replenish the settlement's drug supply—and earning her first walker kill—poor Denise (Merritt Wever) took an arrow to the head thanks to that creep who stole Daryl's crossbow and bike earlier in the season. Suddenly, what seemed like a bit of a slow episode was anything but.


She may have not been around long, but Wever made quite an impression as Tara's (Alanna Masterson) girlfriend. To process our grief over the loss of Alexandria's good doc, E! News got the actress on the phone to break down her final episode.

I'm a little bummed that we're having this chat because it means no more Denise on The Walking Dead!
Ah, well, you know. I'm assuming you're familiar with the show. [Laughs] Gotta happen at some point. Someone's gotta go.

Thinking about the episode, she's making this speech to Daryl and Rosita about what the day meant to her, but she doesn't even get to finish before she's shot. What did this day out mean to her?
[Showrunner] Scott [Gimple] had explained it to me, and I think, she wanted to go out. She wanted to push herself. I think that she really regretted not going out with Tara on Tara's run because she was still too scared and not telling Tara that she loved her back because she was still too hesitant and scared of getting involved, and I think that she's lived her whole life, not just her time in Alexandria, in that way. This was a real test of her strength.

She wanted to go with those two people in particular. I think Daryl is someone who makes her feel safe and comforted and is very familiar to her because he reminds her of her brother. I think she probably wanted to get to experience a bit of feeling like part of their team, wanting to be one of the cool kids and wanting camaraderie and support and acceptance and getting to know each other. I think she knew that Rosita had been through the breakup and I think she saw this as—I think she had her therapist glasses on and thought it turned out to be an interpersonal relationship thing and they were not having it. They were not having green Denise bumbling after them as their brand-new friend or comrade. I think that bummed her out. I think she was bummed that she failed in what she wanted to do back at the pharmacy, and she was still scared that she hadn't had a victory and she felt left out. And this is her victory, killing the walker and finding the soda for Tara. Getting to bring home her booty.

You mentioned when Tara said "I love you" before the group went out to Negan's, and she didn't say it back. She said she'd say it when Tara came back. So, do you believe that up until her death, she hadn't said it to Tara?
Yeah, definitely not. I think that she was lying, trying to say "I'll say it when you come back" making it into a promise of them seeing each other again. That they don't have to worry about something happening to either of them. The way I believe it was describe to me was that it was more of her commitment phobia, just living her whole life with her weight on her back foot kind of thing, and I think she was really disappointed in herself after Tara left and wanted to make a change and move in a different direction. And that's what the trip was. I feel bad for Tara.


How far in advance did you get word that Denise's time was up?
Well, I always knew that Scott had wanted Denise to only be around for this season, that she was going to serve her purpose. I assumed that meant that she would die just because it's The Walking Dead. And then he gave me a call a couple of week before shooting the last episode, before getting the script, and let me know the ins and outs of the story and how it was going to happen.

Knowing that Scott only wanted her around for one season, when Denise was taken hostage by the Wolf, were you think this it, this was the time? And were you relieved when her time was extended beyond that?
That was the first time that I realized—I remember when I first talked to Scott about doing the show and he told me her story, and I naively thought that was the whole arc of the season. And then I got the first few scripts and realized, oh, he only told me episode number one. And then all of a sudden, I'm here with the Wolf man and I realized, oh, you don't know what they're going to do to you from script to script. You have no idea who you're going to be working with and what the story's going to be. That was the middle of the season, and I had a feeling I was going to be around for some later episodes. But, yeah, I didn't know if it was going to be me and Benedict [Samuel], who was great, for the rest of the season or what. But it's quite an act of musical chairs doing that show. You don't know where you're going to be or who you're going to be with.


Were you a fan of the show prior to doing it? What was your familiarity level with it?
I knew exactly what it was. I hadn't seen an episode, but I'd been told by people that I would like it. But then I had to catch up really quickly, which is hard to do in five season of an hour-long show. [Laughs] By the time I showed up on set, I was already in a fandom head space and I was still reeling from certain people's deaths that had really hit hard.

What's the day like when you're shooting the death scene? What's the mood like when you're filming something like that?
It was a day where were shooting outside, and it's TV and you've got to get it all in. It's a matter of getting everything done before you lose light, so there wasn't a lot of time to stop and reminisce. And it wasn't my last day, so I wasn't feeling sentimental. It was just a matter of getting it all done. It was a packed day for me, and I hadn't had so much to do in the episode before, so I was just keeping busy.

What was the last thing that you shot?
I think the last thing I was shot may not have even be used. I just watched 614 this morning, but I hadn't watched any of the other episodes yet. But I think what was shot for 614 on my last day didn't make it into the episode. It was me going through the yellow pages for the town and finding the Edison's Apothecary and remembering that that was a place that would probably have supplies and it was something useful that I could go do and bring back to the community.


Since the death day wasn't your last day, when you get to a series wrap on Merritt Wever, what's that day like on the set? How does the set treat that?
Everybody says that it's a really nice place to work, and that's what I'd heard and that's one of the things that made me want to do the job. Then I got there, and it was all very, very true. The cast and the crew are very welcoming and very friendly and kind and inclusive. I think they know that camaraderie just makes the experience of working on a job so much better and more fulfilling. And I think especially on a show like this, where's there a bit of a revolving door, it's very important to extend that kind of communal spirit to people. And I didn't know, but the last day, people showed up who weren't working, which was really nice because I'd only been around one season. I thought it was really, really generous and kind. We shoot an hour outside of Atlanta, so people had to make a trip to come and be there for a wrap. That was embarrassingly a little emotionally overwhelming, and I'd just gone through that on another show, so I was trying to keep it together. I wasn't interested having to revisit those feelings, but I felt very grateful. I respect those people down there a lot. I really, really do.

What are you going to miss the most about your season of time on The Walking Dead?
I have to say the cast and crew. Really nice people. Just that. It's not always like that, it doesn't always have that kind of cohesive spirit. And this place did and I appreciated that a lot.

What effect do you think Denise's death will have on the show moving forward? Alexandria's just lost their doctor.
I don't know. That's a really good question. I hadn't thought about how this leaves them in a vulnerable position. I had thought about the impact it will have on Tara, but I don't know. One thing that sucks about not doing the show anymore is you don't know what the hell's going to happen.

Now you have to go back to being a fan.
Yeah, I got used to having privileged information. [Laughs]

The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.

Watch: How Have "The Walking Dead" Stars Changed?