Death at the end of a blade isn’t unusual in AMC’s Into the Badlands, but the martial arts series cut down a major character in the April 9 episode.
SPOILERS AHEAD IF YOU AREN’T CAUGHT UP!
In “Palm of the Iron Fox,” Ryder (Oliver Stark) calls all of the Barons together to hash out their differences—or hack up The Widow (Emily Beecham). But Ryder gets shanked instead.
During an interview last week, London native Stark seemed fine—even grateful—with how his first series regular role ended.
“When I first read for this role there was talk of Ryder actually dying in Season 1,” he said, chuckling. “I managed to eke out a few more months of life, so I’ll take what I can get.”
For Stark, the way Ryder goes out made sense. Ryder’s father, Quinn (Marton Csokas), crashed the Baron’s conclave and ordered his men to kill everyone. Quinn chased down Ryder himself.
Ryder thought he killed Quinn at the end of Season 1, then proceeded to take his territory and his wife, Jade (Sarah Bolger). So naturally Quinn has vengeance on his mind.
“Once you found out that Quinn was still alive and he was going to make his comeback, I think it was always going to come down to Quinn or Ryder,” Stark told me over the phone last week. “One of them has to go.”
Stark talked more about the complicated father-son relationship, how he found out his fate and the experience filming his final episode.
New episode of “Into the Badlands” air at 10/9c Sundays on AMC.
Say it isn’t so, Oliver!
I’m afraid it is so.
Is this another fake out, like with Quinn? Is Ryder really dead?
It’s not a fake out. That’s the way it’s ended for Ryder. Yeah, that’s how the cookie has crumbled.
Well, that’s too bad. Ryder looks so sad. I’m sure he’s because, well, he’s dying. But is he upset to know that his dad would go to such lengths?
I think it’s a really complicated moment. I think a lot of the sadness is fueled by the fact that he had [a win] there. He had the opportunity to take everything he has ever claimed that he wants. When it came down to it, he wasn’t quite able to take it. It’s that realization more than anything.
He’s just a boy who wanted his dad to love him and never could quite do enough for that to happen.
Dads and their sons, always an issue, right? Quinn gave him the chance to kill him and Ryder didn’t do it. Why?
Really it’s almost a Catch-22, you know? To get Quinn’s love he has to kill him and on the reverse of that, for Quinn to respect Ryder, Ryder has to kill Quinn. So there’s no happy outcome.
He wasn’t able to do it because he still loves his dad. No matter how much he resents him and does hold hatred for him, he loved him and just wanted that in return. So he couldn’t quite step up and take what he had always believed was there for him.
Did he imagine Quinn would go to that extreme?
That’s a tough question. I don’t think so. He probably thought that whatever level it got to between them, Quinn would never kill him. That he was safe from that end. Quinn probably thought the same. I haven’t actually seen the episode yet, but when we were shooting … I felt Quinn was shocked that he had done it. It was a surprise for both characters that this is the way it ended.
Quinn says something like “Why did you hesitate?” to Ryder, like he was blaming him for not taking the opportunity to kill Quinn. He almost suggests that he had no other choice in the end.
Yeah, he wanted Ryder to be the man that Quinn was trying to groom him to be.
You haven’t seen it, but I can tell you the scene plays well in the episode. I feel fans are going to be a little upset.
Thank you, and that would be nice. It’s not great if no one bats an eyelid at his death! It’s a world where everybody has a sword—people have got to die at some point. … The way that it played out was the right way; it is the way that things needed to fall. It would be interesting for me to see as well as the audience how this man ignites the rest of the season and what happens based off of this episode.
How did Miles and Al break it to you?
I knew a few months before we started filming. We went out for coffee and they told me. The way it was going to happen changed a couple of times, but yeah, they took me out and we sat down. They were very honest about it and how they settled it. They said, “Listen, this is not an easy conversation, but Ryder is not going to quite make it to the end of the season.”
When you get this kind of news what is the first thing in your mind? Mine would be, “What did I do wrong?”
That [thought] is always in there somewhere. I would be lying if it wasn’t. But in this day and age characters die on TV all the time and it’s almost the norm. So I have to realize it’s not about me. It’s in service to the story and my job is just to play out the story that they create. My logical head didn’t look at it that way.
Did everybody know this was going to happen at the beginning of the season? Was there a “dead-man-walking” vibe on set all season?
[Laughs.] No, but I think everybody knew. … In my mind it was certainly common knowledge to most of the cast.
When you think about filming that scene, what jumps to your mind?
More than anything the freedom that Marton and I were given. Toa [Fraser], who is the director of the episode, really gave us a lot of license to do different things with it and experiment. That was really lovely and liberating as an actor, to get to do that and for such a big moment as well. I think it was necessary. It was just a really pressure-free environment and it was more about [creating] a nice moment and [giving] him a nice send-off more than anything. It was a lot of fun to shoot.
How did you commemorate your exit from the show?
This is quite a boring answer, but I don’t think I did anything. [Laughs.] Got back on the plane to Los Angeles and started looking for a new job. … I got the “This is a series wrap on Ryder.” You get a nice round of applause and then you slink off back to your trailer and you rub the blood off your face and you head home. It was a nice moment.
I feel like it was a good time for Ryder to die. He reached his peak. I was happy that he got to experience being Baron and I got to play that out. That was never going to last, if we’re honest.
This episode also had the first meeting of all the Barons that viewers got to see. That also must have been special for the cast.
The first time I saw them all together it was so cool. I felt a little jealous because I got to see everybody so dressed up and suddenly I wasn’t the only fancy one. [Laughs.] I didn’t like it. I thought I needed something shiny on my costume, so I got an old tie pin so that I could match up to the costumes of the other Barons. But yeah, it was nice having them all there. That makes the size of the world more real, because we finally have faces to put to names that we’ve heard. I think it’s important to the story that we’ve finally met them.
Was it hard for you to keep quiet about your demise after you left?
Yeah, it is! Whenever somebody wants to talk about the show, I kind of want to go, “Yeah, well actually guess what happens this season?” But it’s quite nice to have that secret and think, “Just wait ’til you find out.” It plays out both ways for me. But it was certainly nice to have people care about the show.
Are you going to keep up with your martial arts?
It’s funny—I haven’t been, if I’m being honest, until yesterday. I started going through a Tai Chi tutorial. It is a really lovely, calming thing to do. So yes, I’d love to stay involved with it. It’s something I don’t want to lose because you never know when it’s going to come in handy again for another job.
This role required a lot of extra study, didn’t it?
Which for me is one of the biggest perks of the job—getting to learn stuff. And getting paid to do that is part of the dream, you know?
What will you miss most about the show?
I’ll miss being part of a world and a show that is genuinely pushing boundaries of television. In my slightly biased opinion, this is some of the best action stuff that’s ever been on television.
The diversity that the show is putting out, too, especially this season. I think it’s really moving into the forefront of a lot of politic movement in television. I’ll miss being a part of a show that is doing that and is willing to push those boundaries.
Is there anything you wish you could have done with Ryder?
Oooh, I wish that we’d seen more of his fighting, because I think if you survived in this world up until whatever age, you have a certain capability physically. I felt like most of the time he fights, we saw him coming off pretty badly. I wish there had been a couple of moments where we saw him being able to handle things. That’s also probably just my ego talking.
All right, that’s pretty funny. “How come I gotta be the only guy who loses the fight every time?”
[Laughs.] Pretty much, yeah. Like, do I have to keep on climbing out of windows and running away?
What’s coming next? Are you just looking around?
Yeah, for me right now it’s about making intelligent choices. … It’s becoming more and more important to be a part of projects that are important socially and sending the right message. And yes, for me it’s about being intelligent in that choice and ending up in something that is good for the world.
This is your first series regular role, right?
It was, yeah. And it was a huge deal for me. Still, even at the end of this journey, it feels slightly surreal.