Teo Rapp-Olsson on Sebastian Shocker (Exclusive)

Warning: this story contains spoilers for Sunday’s “A New Deal” episode of The Walking Dead. Eat the rich! Such was the fate of Sebastian Milton (Teo Rapp-Olsson), the spoiled rotten son of Commonwealth Governor Pamela Milton (Laila Robins) on The Walking Dead. After the revelation that Sebastian disappeared dozens of poor and indebted Commonwealth citizens, sending them to their deaths in a zombie cash heist to support his affluent lifestyle, journalist Connie (Lauren Ridloff) wrote an exposé that sparked social unrest within the civilization’s walls. With the anti-Milton movement at its boiling point, it was Pamela’s executive assistant and whistle-blower Max (Margot Bingham) who put the figurative nail in Sebastian’s coffin on Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead, “A New Deal.”

As the Commonwealth celebrated Founders Day, commemorating the late President Milton and the founding of the Ohio community, Max and boyfriend Eugene (Josh McDermitt) hijacked Sebastian’s speech to expose the Milton heir publicly. Playing a tape that Max secretly recorded, the citizens of the Commonwealth heard what Sebastian believed: “The Commonwealth is built on buying into bullshit.” “The reality is that the poor stay poor so that the rich can do whatever the hell we want.” “They’re just too stupid to see it. It’s pathetic.”

Chaos ensued when walkers — the freshly zombified corpses of Commonwealth workers gunned down by spies working for the incarcerated Deputy Governor Lance Hornsby (Josh Hamilton) — were unleashed on the protesting crowd. A humiliated and furious Sebastian grinned in sociopathic satisfaction as he hurled Max towards a walker, only to meet his end when Eugene shoved the zombie off of Max and onto Sebastian.

The episode ended with Sebastian’s bloodcurdling screams begging for help as he suffered the walker’s fatal bite. But nothing — not his money, not his mother — could save him. In a surprising twist on the comic book, Sebastian Milton died as a crowd of Commonwealth citizens watched in cold-blooded apathy.

We spoke to Teo Rapp-Olsson about the episode and putting a television twist on the biggest shocker from the comics. When and how did he find out about Sebastian’s death? Why was Sebastian so rotten? What happens next in the remaining six episodes of The Walking Dead’s final season? Read on for our exclusive post-mortem.

COMICBOOK.COM: Tell me the story of how and when you found out about Sebastian’s death. Was this something you knew about going into season 11?

TEO-RAPP-OLSSON: No. A lot of the actors, you kind of find out as it’s coming upon you. So I found out when I read [episode] 1118, and it’s one of those things where I think — especially when you’re dealing with the final season of a show — the writers are still trying to figure out every last turn as they’re going through it because you’re also trying to land the plane. You’re trying to land so many different arcs. And so I found out in 1118. I have to admit, I was being a nosy snoopy actor and had gotten a copy of the script from one of the crew. Because a lot of times, crew get it in advance of the actors because they have to know much larger scale things of, “What kind of makeup are we going to be using? What’s the set going to need to look like?”

And so I got an advanced copy, reading through it, I see the part where I push Max. I’m like, “Wow, I guess Max is going out! That’s it.” Only to then hear Eugene coming in. I was like, “Oh, no.” And so then met my untimely demise. [Showrunner] Angela Kang, in her infinite kindness and wisdom, had fully intended to call me before I ever read a copy of the script. So not in any way her fault, completely my own doing, but I had read it before anybody had had a plan to announce to me this fate (laughs).

It’s fitting it was a surprise for you. This was especially shocking for comic book readers, who know that — spoiler alert! — Sebastian shoots and kills Rick Grimes in the comics. There were many fan theories about who might get Rick’s death on the show, and the twist is that Sebastian bites it instead. Did the writers ever weigh a fate more like his comic counterpart, or was this always the plan for Sebastian?

I can’t really speak to what the writer’s intention was prior to this version of it. What I can say… so, I’ve read through the comics. I obviously had my own theories and machinations of who I would kill from this. When I read through this, something that I really thought on was the fact that Walking Dead has, from a very early point, made it clear that they don’t always follow the comics. We’ve seen that with Carol staying. Even the way that Abraham dies before Glenn, all these kind of aspects, but there’s oftentimes little twists so that therefore comic book readers aren’t going to just simply sit there and go like, “Wow, I saw that coming from a mile away.” But in fact, actually leave you thrown for a loop.

And so while obviously this is probably not what a lot of people expected, by that same token, it’s what a lot of people did not expect and therefore, I think leaves people quite shocked. I’d gotten a message from one fan who’d seen [the episode] on AMC+ and was just like, “I was screaming at my TV!” And some part of me was like, “You know what? If we elicited you screaming at your TV, I think we’ve done our job right.”

As a comic reader, I was caught off-guard. Are you relieved — or maybe even disappointed — that you didn’t be the one to kill off a major character like that on the show?

I won’t lie. I’ve been really enjoying all the fan hate — not actually evil fan hate. Very much like, “I love to hate you.” So I would’ve been more than happy to end [fan-favorites like] Aaron or Ezekiel because I’m sure that would’ve made a lot of people very upset at me. But again, as the actor, that’s not always up to me. But I do think that while we lose that ability with this character, what we gain is the motivation of now we’re really seeing the destabilization of the Commonwealth and especially the destabilization of the Commonwealth through the lens of my mother.

And then the other part is, again, for the comic book fans, what a whirlwind this is where you’re going to go like, “Okay, this isn’t going to be the comic book.” And in some sense it’s good. I think we live in a world where we’re seeing so much — whether it’s books, video games — being turned into TV shows and movies and it’s very easy to just follow the exact narrative beats of it. But at a certain point then it’s like, ‘Well, go consume the original IP, then.’ And this is, by its very nature, its own thing. And I think that’s what we’re given the license to do here.

You once said you think there’s a good reason why Sebastian turned out the way he did. That he was forced to fit into a mold, and maybe he’s a different person if he’s not a product of the Milton Dynasty. Can you talk more about what you think shapes Sebastian into who he is? Is he just rotten? Or to borrow a real-world term, is it so-called “affluenza?” 

So something that was big when I got this part was, I’m a firm believer that evil — unless you are like a demonic being from the seventh rung of hell — you’re not evil. There’s a motive. There’s a reason that you believe what you’re doing, it’s got reason. And so I do think it’s affluenza. This is a person who was born into an expectation that he wasn’t necessarily ever going to meet. I don’t know what Sebastian’s life would’ve looked like if he was born to a gas station attendant in Pennsylvania. It might have been very different than the expectation of your grandfather has been the president. Your mother is on that kind of track, you should be, too. Because he might not actually have all those skills.

And I think that we see that he’s plenty smart, he has a lot of Machiavellian tactics to him, but he’s impulsive and he is impetuous. And obviously, that doesn’t make for an amazingly powerful leader. And you see that at the very end with Max playing his speech and him just instantly not knowing what to do. His first reaction is, “Beat the crap out of her.” Which, there’s no method to it anymore, which is obviously not my mom’s MO. And I think this is a person who’s just a little in over his head from day one. And it obviously manifests itself very poorly, but it comes from a real reason.

You have these great scenes with Laila [Robins] where you make this excellent choice to play Sebastian as submissive to his mother. Sebastian’s whole demeanor changes around her. It’s different from how we see him act toward every other character, like Daryl or General Mercer. How would you describe that mother-son relationship between Pamela and Sebastian?

Well, first off, it’s very easy to do all those things when Laila Robins is your mother. She is the commanding force, and she couldn’t have been a more generous and caring actor. She would turn to me a lot and really bring me into the fold of, “What do we perceive this relationship to be?” Which, for somebody who’s a Broadway veteran and an amazing actor, I would’ve been very understanding if she’s like, “I’m going to put the scene on top of you, child.” (Laughs.) But I would say a big thing is especially juxtaposing it with, in [episode] 1117, Daryl dealing with his parental inabilities. In this moment we see one parent who’s trying to learn how to rise to the occasion and saying to a kid to some degree like, “Look, I’m not perfect. That’s a thing you got to learn about humans is, we’re fallible.”

Whereas my mother is kind of the ultimate being. And we hear that from Hornsby who says, “You do not step up against Pamela Milton.” Well, it’s hard when that’s your mother, and by the very nature of being a kid, you have to act out and make mistakes and do these things. But it’s difficult when your mother is going to be this person who is, A, going to cover for you, so you don’t ever actually deal with the repercussions of the mistake, but B, is going to do more to punish you emotionally and internally than any of the repercussions necessarily would have. And you’re given access to making mistakes on a scale that no young adult should be given access to. At his age or maybe a little younger, it’s like I’m trying to sneak in some beers. I’m not trying to find a new source of income that would include the deaths of countless working-class individuals. But that’s what happens in this world and that’s what she is constantly going to evade me taking any sort of blame for.

In your first episode [“Promises Broken”], Eugene punches Sebastian because he’s ungrateful about being saved from walkers. In your last episode, Eugene shoves a walker into Sebastian, and no one helps him. How did you feel about Sebastian going out like that? Is it deserved? 

Well, I’ve said this before, but Josh McDermitt is one of my favorite human beings in the world. He was the first person who really invited me to the show and to the family, and from day one has always made me feel like part of the family. So I was actually very, very happy and grateful that he was there on the last day with that and could literally be the man who feeds me to that walker.

I think it’s also just so telling of Sebastian that nobody comes to his aid in that moment and that his death, it’s so human and simple in that he’s freaking out as any of us would be. He’s crying for his mom, which is sadly very real of a young boy who is in this last moment. It’s like all you want is the comfort that is from a hug. And maybe it’s not the most comfortable hug when it’s Pamela Milton, but it’s still a far safer place than this. And to see that nobody comes to his aid shows you just, like, how ill-prepared he was for this time and space and was never meant to be this boy king.

What do you think was Sebastian’s ultimate downfall? Was it the greed of the cash heist that led to this anti-Milton revolution? Was it making enemies of Max and Eugene? Was it something else?

I think it’s an amalgamation of those things. I think it comes from the fact that he was ill-suited to a lot of these tasks. He’s very smart. We see that he knows how to work within the parameters of this nation-state, but there’s a certain sense of, “There’s never going to be repercussions, so I don’t really even need to cover my tracks that well.” This whole plan of sending countless people to their deaths – obviously, when you’re sending 40-plus people [to die], there’s always a chance that somehow word is going to get out and to do so in a way where there’s no better alibi than just, “I run off and disappear.” I think he’s a kid who’s in over his head. I mean, there’s a reason that Negan has to have that conversation with him where he is saying, “If you’re pissing in jars, you’re doing something wrong.”

At the very end of the day, for all of the posturing and the grandstanding that he is able to do on these big stages, he’s a kid. And I think that he, at his most simple point, is just scared and is looking for the easiest way out of situations, which oftentimes is not a wise one. We’ve all made really stupid decisions at younger ages where in the moment you’re like, “Oh, this is clearly the best outcome.” And then after five minutes, you’re like, “What the heck was I thinking?” And I think that’s unfortunately what happens to Sebastian in some very large-scale and moralistically dark areas.

From the trailers, Pamela wants to make an example out of Eugene. The Milton lineage ends with her. What can you tease about the fallout from this episode and what her son’s death means for Pamela moving forward?

Well, I think what we’re seeing is a very close connection between the current state of the Commonwealth as a whole, and now the mental and emotional state of the Commonwealth’s leader in my mother. Both are very fraught, both are very fragile and both seem to be on the edge of slipping into some real problematic areas. And obviously, Eugene can’t simply just walk away from the fact that he was the ultimate decider of Sebastian’s fate. Even if it was to save Max, he doomed Pamela’s only child, and she is certainly not a person who is willing to forgive and forget.

Let’s say Sebastian lived. If he did take his mother’s place as leader of the Commonwealth, how do you think he might have done? 

Oh, it would’ve been amazing. Everybody would’ve been so happy with him. (Laughs.) No. I, as the actor — and obviously to some degree, I have to always stand with my character even when they’re as awful as Sebastian is — I really did feel in that last speech to the audience that there was a sense of, “Maybe I can rise to this.” I don’t know if you would ever be as… There’s a saying, which is that, ‘Great men are often not good men.’ In this case, let’s say, great leaders are not often good people. I think [Pamela] is a great leader, but she’s not necessarily a good person. And I think in some ways the problem for Sebastian is he’s just been aware of how the sausage gets made from way too young of an age, and he’s jaded by it. And maybe there’s a world where he could try to fix those things, but obviously, it’s too little too late for him, and with good reason. He’s made his own bed, but I think there’s a world where this could have been potentially a turning point for him.

It’s interesting that you called Sebastian a “boy king” because fans have been praising your performance, some comparing Sebastian to Joffrey from Game of Thrones as this character that they love to hate. How has your experience been with the fans? 

All seriousness, a few of the cast members told me, like, “Hey, get ready. This could be ugly for you.” And I’m not blowing smoke or anything, but to this point, I have yet to receive one mean or cruel message from a fan or anything. Everybody has been very understanding of separating the actor from the character. Everything I’ve gotten is basically like, “Hey, don’t take this the wrong way, but I love to hate you.” Or, “When you got punched in the face, God, that felt good.” And as long as somebody punches me in the face, then I’m good. 

So I was very prepared for the understanding that, unfortunately, some people aren’t always able to separate [the actor from the character]. And I am a fan of a lot of sagas and universes. I love Star Wars. I have very strong opinions on Star Wars. But something that always feels very strong to me is even if I didn’t like a portrayal or an arc or anything like that, that isn’t necessarily the condemnation of one person’s work, but I am so therefore grateful that everything I’ve received has been so positive.

And I really was quite surprised I had to make my own peace and connection that I’ve put my seal of approval as I, Teo the actor, but that’s months before anybody’s going to see this. And at the time I felt really good about the work, but I didn’t feel like I was in some position that was going to be like, “Oh, this is going to be very lauded for it.” And so every piece of praise has been just tremendously humbling and grounding to feel like I took the time to get to know this universe because I know there are fans who have invested so much time and I, being a fan of stories and of lore, would want the very same from the actors who are tasked with that in my universes.

What was your last day on set like, and what’s next for you after The Walking Dead

It was really sweet. It was bittersweet, but it was really nice. The thing that’s really cool is, a lot of times some of those leads who don’t even need to be there that day will show up. Literally, when I was getting off the ground, Ross [Marquand, who plays Aaron] was the one who hoisted me up. And I didn’t look up until I’m already standing and somebody’s going like, “Hey, great job man, great job.” And then I’m looking, I’m like, “Oh, hey. Hey Ross, what are you doing here?” But it’s a credit to their character as a person that they took the time to be like, “Hey, this is going to be a big moment for this young actor for who this has been a highlight.” And will forever, no matter where I go in this career, be one of the greatest highlights and accomplishments of my career.

In terms of what I got next, I’m doing an episode of Fantasy Island on Fox. It’s a little bit of a different tone than this, but it comes out in January. Look out for it. I believe it’s the fifth episode of the season. And it was super fun, but again, very different, a lot more comedic, which I won’t lie, was definitely nice after screaming bloody murder as my neck gets ripped open to just be like, “Hey, we’re on a crazy wacky island.” (Laughs.) But definitely check that one out. But I can’t stress enough, [The Walking Dead was] one of the best experiences in my life.

New episodes of The Walking Dead‘s final season air Sundays on AMC and AMC+. Follow @CameronBonomolo and @NewsOfTheDead on Twitter for TWD Universe coverage all season long.


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