This Is Us Recap Season 1 Episode 16 William Dies

This Is Us Recap: Coming Home

Need to catch up? Check out the previous This Is Us recap. And beware: This post contains major spoilers for Tuesday’s episode.

William’s father both sings to his unborn son and dies at war within the first two minutes of this week’s This Is Us. And if that flashback does anything, it sets the joyful/mournful tone for an episode we’ve known was coming from the moment Randall’s dad announced that he had a terminal illness.

The hour is beautiful. It features great performances by Ron Cephas Jones and Sterling K. Brown. And oof, it hurts so much when, at the end, William succumbs to his cancer and dies while on an interstate roadtrip with his biological son.

So, imagine me putting my palms on either side of your face. Just breathe. We’re gonna all get through this together: Here are the highlights of “Memphis.”

ROAD TRIPPIN’ | We open at Randall’s psychiatrist’s office, where Beth is putting up a strenuous and multi-tiered objection to her husband’s desire to drive William back to his birthplace of Memphis. Randall was in the hospital for a few days following his breakdown, we learn, but he’s feeling much better, is taking some time off work and has recovered sufficiently to give tease Beth as she lists all the reasons he should stay put. “You two sure are adorable,” the doctor says. He must’ve had his nose stuck in a medical journal all season, because the rest of us figured that out in the pilot.

When Randall very calmly yet pointedly says that his father doesn’t have much time left… it’s settled. Beth is still not on board, but resigned. The two men leave early one morning, after William kisses his granddaughters goodbye as they lay mostly asleep in bed. Randall’s got a whole plan about how they’re going to go old school with maps and such, but William throws the maps out the window. “Just drive, son,” he says, settling into his seat. “We’ll get there. Just drive.”

This Is Us Recap Season 1 Episode 16 William Dies WILLIAM MEETS JACK | During the ride, William keeps thinking about his mother, who left him in Memphis when he was a young man so she could care for her sick mother in Pittsburgh. “You have so many beautiful futures in front of you,” she tells him at the train station just before she goes, and they’re both a little sad.

In the present, William asks Randall to tell him about Jack. That leads to stories about Jack’s great laugh, and how the elder Pearson would help Randall get his anxiety under control by putting his hands on either side of his face and telling him to focus on breathing. William then demands to go see the tree where some of Jack’s ashes were scattered, and even though Randall protests that it’s a half day outside of their route, they wind up there anyway.

“Thank you for doing what I couldn’t, for raising him to be the man he is,” William says. “I’m sorry I ddn’t get the chance to meet you, brother. I would have liked to have heard that laugh. I would have liked to have met my son’s father. Yeah. Cool.”

No, YOU’RE crying at an old man talking to a tree.

AMENDS AND A BAND | In William’s memory, we see his mom staying in Pittsburgh and getting a job while he continues to live a lonely, straitlaced life in Memphis. He winds up playing with his cousin’s cover band — that cousin is played by Atlanta‘s Bryan Tyree Henry — which becomes a legit musical outfit after William starts writing them some really good original songs. But when William’s mom becomes quite ill, he has to borrow some money from his cousin and travel to Pennsylvania… where it’s clear that William’s mama is dying.

In a montage, we see William meet Randall’s mother, Laura, on the bus. They fall in love and take care of his mom until the end, but in his pain, he turns to the drugs that Laura’s been doing for a while. And we all know how that story ended. And in the present, when William and Randall arrive at the bar where he used to play, William’s cousin is not happy to see him.

“I was ashamed at what I had become,” William admits, apologizing for ghosting on the band all those years ago. He turns to leave, but the cousin stops him by asking him if he’s too sick to play. “I’m never too sick to play,” William says. And the next thing you know, Randall is a little tipsy and hanging out with newly met cousins of his own while his dad tickles the ivories onstage with the band. Everyone’s happy. Life is good!

… Until the next morning, when Randall finds William in bed and gasping for air. At the emergency room, William’s doctor says the old man has “hours,” not days, and that there’ll be no more Tennesee sightseeing on the agenda, because William’s organs are shutting down and he “is not leaving this hospital.” (Side note: The way it finally sinks in for Randall then, and the way he starts crying, is all thanks to some subtle, powerful work on Brown’s part. Beautiful.)

THE END | So, to put it bluntly, all that’s left is for William to die. He gives Randall the manuscript of poems we saw him with earlier this season and shuts down Randall’s desire to fly Beth and the girls there to say goodbye — he knew he was leaving forever when they set out on the road trip, and he doesn’t want them to remember him in a hospital bed. “You deserve the beautiful life you’ve made,” William tells his son, adding that he feels blessed to have had both his own mother and Randall in his life — “the person at the very beginning and the person at the very end.”

When the old man admits that he’s a little scared, Randall does for his father what Jack did for him all those years: puts his hands on his face and tells him to breathe. (Side note: This particular part absolutely ruined me.)

While an acoustic cover of the song William wrote plays in the background, we watch a montage of memories from his life, ending with him as an adult giving his mother (circa the age she was when he was born) a hug. Later, Randall drives home with William’s effects in the car with him. He stops when a family of ducks — like the ones at Memphis’ Peabody Hotel, which William never did get to show his son  — cross in front of the car. Randall takes his late father’s advice then, and rolls down the windows, turns up the music, and keeps driving.

Now it’s your turn. Were you as emotionally ravaged by the episode as I was? Hit the comments and let us know!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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92 Comments
  1. Sam says:

    This is TV at its finest. Just spectacular.

  2. kn1231 says:

    Whoops, posted my comments on the wrong post, they are more for the review article so I will post them again…

    Well, I’ve never cried so much during a single episode of a tv show. My stomach is still in knots thinking about it. This episode made me feel as though I was losing my own father. I am not doing well after this episode, and it’s going to take me a while to recover.
    I will say that I’m very thankful for the subtle comic relief they added, because this episode needed it. My favorite moment: “AND YOU GET A COUSIN, EVERYBODY GETS A COUSIN”. I’m a sucker for a good Oprah reference.

  3. Patsy Haley says:

    What an absolutely perfect episode , with beautiful memories, reconnections, and introductions. William had a lovely death.

  4. Evelyn says:

    Yes, emotionally ravaged! I damn near drowned! TV at is best! They need to have Emmy’s thrown at them!

  5. BELINDA FLORES says:

    What is the name of that acoustic song that plays in the background during the montage of memories playing as he is dying and who is singing it? It kicked me straight to my heart and I couldn’t bear watching it. I had to walk away, but that song! I still heard it even as I tried walking away. The lyrics! Ugh! Tears! Buckets! Literally.

    • Pamela says:

      It’s “We Can Always Come Back To This” by Hannah Miller.

      • herman1959 says:

        Thank you.

      • BELINDA FLORES says:

        Yay! Thanks, Pamela. ☺
        I’ll try to listen to it when I’m really happy about something random so it doesn’t break my heart into little bitty pieces like it did last night. For a TV show and song to do that to me when that was the only part I got a chance to see!? Wow! That’s all I can say.

  6. Lori says:

    Powerful!

  7. Brian says:

    I knew it was coming from the beginning, I was bracing myself and preparing myself the whole episode, I thought I was good – but when William gave that beautiful farewell speech to Randall, my tears started falling around the same time as his in that hospital room. That was a gut punch as if an actual family member passed. What an epic, beautiful and sad episode.

  8. Tracy Marie says:

    Anyone know the name of that song played during the ending scene montage?

  9. dan says:

    Favorite moments: the opening with Randall & Beth in the psychiatrist’s office, William talking to Jack’s tree, William playing the piano with his cousin (present day), and the doctor telling Randall that William isn’t going home (I know, that shouldn’t be a “favorite” moment, but the scene was played perfectly by both actors and it was written beautifully). I knew how the episode would end from the moment I realized the opening flashback was William’s parents and I was ready for the inevitable ending. Congrats to Dan Fogelman who wrote this episode. Great job!

    • herman1959 says:

      The scene with the doctor forcing Randall to deal with William’s impending death was my favorite too. The writing was so elegant; I’m expecting multiple Emmy nominations.

  10. Karla says:

    It is 11:45pm, I purposely didn’t watch the episode bc I knew William was going to die tonight, and I am STILL sobbing. I tuned in just in time to see the dr tell Randall that William wasn’t coming home and that was it. I read some recaps online bc watching would be too much. After last week, I said I was done with this show bc I cried so much I could barely breathe, but this is worse – and I didn’t even watch!! Don’t know if I can continue watching, William was a big part of this show, as was his relationship with Randall. I would like to have seen that explored more. But this is how life is – unpredictable, happy, deeply sad, beautiful and tragic – and sometimes, a lot of times, you don’t get the ending you want.

    • MLO says:

      Sweetheart. It’s a TV show. He didn’t REALLY die. How do you get through all of life’s trials and tribulations if you can’t even watch a fake TV death? Don’t get me wrong, I cried at the ending just like everyone else, but then I put on The Tonight Show and had a good laugh. Buck up honey.. and just breathe.

    • And that’s the beauty of this show; it depicts real life, not a fairytale. It was an absolutely gutt-renching episode, but definitely worth the watch and trust me, you really missed out.

    • Angie D says:

      Since the show will continue to use flashbacks, I’m sure that ‘William’ will be back for some scenes.

  11. Amy says:

    There was never any doubt from the start what was going to happen by the end of the episode. That didn’t keep it from being achingly beautiful and painful to watch.

  12. Winter says:

    I literally have not been able to stop crying and have used all of my Kleenex. Such a beautiful and sad episode. Give Sterling K Brown all the awards.

  13. mrmcgee says:

    ’m still crying, which is something I’ve not done to a tv program in ages. This brought back a lot of the emotions and memories from losing my dad to cancer seven years ago. That look of terror on William’s face in the hotel bed: I remember my dad’s face looking just like that. Such a beautiful episode, but it’s going to take me a while to recover

    • ameraleigh says:

      Sorry for your loss, I understand it well as I lost my own father to cancer nearly five years ago. William’s portrayal of dying from the cancer was heartbreaking-ly accurate that the outstanding acting and writing made it feel a little like I was reliving those memories. So as sad as it made me, I’m grateful for tv shows and writing like this, it was handled so elegantly and respectfully.

  14. Sandrine says:

    I knew the moment they said they were going home to Memphis that William would die there. Makes sense, it was his home and he was at his happiest there.

  15. Sandra Tentarelli says:

    I was absolutely blown away crying. It reminded me so much of losing my own precious dad. The acting was exceptional. Can’t wait to see what happens next. Great show.

  16. Pedro says:

    Did anyone see at the three scene there was a VFX description?

    “VFX REMOVE CAR AND RAILING”

    Weird that went through.

  17. Mac says:

    I’m not typically one to fall prone to sentiment, but this episode completely wrecked me. I’ve never felt as emotionally assaulted as I was with Randall’s death. Honest, fervent, storytelling at its best.

  18. bigdede says:

    From the moment William asked Randall did he want to come in, I was in love with their characters. I love William, the wise old owl. When he told that British evil actress about herself, I loved him even more. I don’t understand why he couldn’t stay until the end of season two. Why couldn’t his cancer go into remission and then suddenly it comes back aggressive and he dies? I hope this means we will meet Randall’s mother soon. Losing William will leave a huge hole in this show.

    • kn1231 says:

      Didn’t Randall’s mother die during child birth, and that’s what led to William giving Randall up? I think the scenes tonight are as much of Randall’s mother as we are going to get unless they revisit William’s past again.

      • Jamie says:

        I get the feeling this is nowhere near the last time we see William or Randall’s biological mother. This series is literally filled with flashbacks in every episode. Jack only exists in flashbacks. I’m sure they will continue to revisit William’s past.

    • Angie D says:

      Randall’s mother passed away just after giving birth. it is possible that Randall will want to find his bio mother’s family

  19. Big Cheddar says:

    This is it. This is the episode that they should submit to the emmy committee.

    • Brian says:

      Agreed. This was the best episode of the season hands down IMO. Sterling K Brown and Ron Cephas Jones brought their A+++ acting game on this one.

  20. Like everyone else, I broke down the last few mins of the episode.
    I would recommend checking out Sterling’s Facebook Live video he did tonight…an honest, emotional video…he is just such an incredible person…appreciative of all the love he’s (deservedly) receiving <3

  21. Eran says:

    This episode went to town on my tear ducts with a butcher’s knife. A screenwriting and acting master class.

  22. How does this show not get 22 episodes a year? I think it’s ending prematurely, and I hope in subsequent seasons, we get more. Having lost my own father in a hospital last October, and being in the room with him, and looking at him as he died, this episode definitely touched me a bit.

    I think it was actually a good decision to have William die, much as I liked the actor and the character. You don’t introduce a terminally ill character and keep him around for a 5 year run. At least we can see him in flashbacks should it be appropriate.

    If they could do that kind of an episode with William, I can only imagine how it will be when we find out how Jack dies.

    • Eran says:

      Quality over quantity, my friend. I suspect an extra four episodes would have saddled us with some unnecessary fillers that would have taken away from the exceptional, not to mention unbelievably organic unfolding pace of this family’s narrative.

    • dan says:

      I understand that the creator and head writer, Dan Fogelman, only plotted out 18 episodes. That was his proposal to NBC and they agreed to it. The show has been renewed for two more 18-episode seasons so we know there are at least 36 more coming in the next two years.

    • Angie D says:

      I agree with the others that cite quality over quantity. I think this show is incredibly complex to prepare. For this 1st season, since they weren’t sure if 2nd 1/2 of the season would be produced, I think 18 is a good #.

  23. Theresa Beals says:

    This is what network TV has been lacking. It’s amazing writing, acting, editing etc. I don’t know what could follow This Is Us.

  24. Imzadi says:

    I am in the minority, it would seem. Although I did appreciate how good the episode was, I really had wanted to see the aftermath of Kevin’s walking out on the play, especially with regard to Sloan. She is a character I’ve come to love and want to see more of. And, yes, Jack had a lot to do with the man Marshall became, but so did Rebecca. This really wasn’t the episode I wanted to see.

  25. It was the most beautiful episode! I am still teary-eyed. Hey, I don’t think I missed an episode, but whatever happened to William’s gay lover?

  26. Cari says:

    I smell Emmy nominations coming this way

  27. Dev says:

    Beautiful. Heartbreaking. Perfect.

  28. VegasGal72 says:

    Before the episode aired I knew it was the one when William died. I was prepared for it, I wasn’t going to cry. After all it is only a TV show. First 5 minutes in my eyes leaked a little. Last 10 minutes were full on sob/gasp out loud big ugly tears. My cats were looking at me like I was a crazy woman. Amazing episode, best one so far and best episode in any series in years. Cant wait to see what else they have planned.

  29. ABinTX says:

    Part of me wishes William had “met” Jack at the end of the episode, similar to the afterlife reunion with his mom, but if he had I would still be too wrecked to have made it to work today.

    I was worried that this episode was going to show the parallel stories of Randall losing both of his fathers, but I think Jacks death will be Kate’s story to tell, especially after her conversation with Toby last week.

    anyone else think the producers get a nickel for each tear we shed?

    • Bosco says:

      I looked for him too! I half-expected him to be in the background, waving, hey, nice to meet you! Probably wouldn’t have seen him through the tears anyway.

  30. Scottm_dj says:

    …just think that if “Neighbors” had survived (a show i loved), This is Us probably never would have materialized. Good to see Toks show up in latest Castle eps and Simon guest on a memorable Modern Family. Plus of couse Jami appear in an earlier This Is Us ep!

  31. M says:

    God I’m a mess from this episode…man my feels

  32. Kenny says:

    Emmy Submission episode.

    Enough said.

  33. LARIS says:

    A very MOVING and TOUCHING episode. The words of William when he says that he was BLESSED to have had his mother and son at the two most important times(beginning/end) of his life were absolutely beautiful.

  34. Luis Roman says:

    STOP DOING THIS TO ME, THIS IS US!!!!!!! YOU’LL BREAK MY TEAR DUCTS!!!!!!!!!

  35. What a fantastic episode of television. Hats off to Sterling K Brown and Ron Cephas Jones. Haven’t cried that hard because of TV in a while!

  36. Candace says:

    I cried when the episode aired, then cried some more reading this recap.

  37. Ama Lita says:

    Kimberly Roots, I think you did an outstanding job of recapping this episode!

  38. Anne-Marie Bruner says:

    Absolutely crushed. I sobbed out loud. This is what story telling should be like. I was so invested that my heart broke right along with Randall’s.

  39. bonnie says:

    I don’t think Randall’s biological mom is dead. No where can I find that that has been definitely said, “She died”. I think instead, William & Laurel both decided that neither could care for a baby due to their substance abuse & both decided to give the baby up. So William took him to the fire station. I feel Randall’s bio-mother will show up in a future episode.

  40. mike mason says:

    What a beautiful end for William and Randall. The writing and acting — beyond words. We knew it was coming, and they did him proud. We lost our 2 year old son 15 years ago, and when William said, ‘My beautiful boy, my son’ I (quite audibly) choked out a wrenching cry. I wrote those exact words in the first line of a poem that was read at his funeral.

    Randall does have an amazing life, as i have had as well.we are all richer for the love we give and receive.

  41. Stacy Dunn says:

    i almost died from loss of fluids when william walked into his mothers arms. it was beautiful. i really hope jacks death is not horrible.

  42. Darn Ducks says:

    That episode was amazing. I’m still crying. I cried practically the whole time, and just when I thought I was mostly done crying, those stupid ducks had to show up. I have never cried over ducks before, but I lost it. It was so great seeing Randall (in the “you get a cousin” scene) just relaxing and having a good time. Hopefully we will get to see him take his wife and kids to Memphis and introduce them as well.

  43. paula says:

    I’ve been thinking about this episode ALL DAY!!! I LOVE this weekly treasure, but I am usually emotionally exhausted for a while after viewing; but last nights’ episode is gonna take ALOT longer to get over! TY cast, crew, writers, producers & all those who help make this show such a WINNER!!!

  44. Loretta adams says:

    This show has to be the best show I’ve ever watched! Last night’s episode was spectacular. I cried myself to sleep, and I woke in the morning still very touched. I can’t stop thinking about it. I loved William’s mothers last words about looking down into big beautiful brown eyes as,a infant and now those eyes are looking down into hers.
    Beautiful.

  45. Michelle says:

    Touched my 💜 to the core~
    “We can always come back to this”… my new favorite song 🎶

    LOVE… This is Us ❤️

  46. This was a terrific and poignant episode, but it was misplaced. There should have been an intervening episode between this one and the prior one addressing what happened to Randall and Kevin and the play. That would have laid the groundwork for this episode.

    • LARIS says:

      I agree with you, terrific and poignant. However, I don’t agree that it was misplaced. An intervening episode would make things neat and tidy and the writers are not about that with this series. We the viewers will come to better understandings of the events that will play out in our lives, but it will take time. That absolute CLARITY will not always be there staring at us.

      • CIP says:

        And I’m sure the writers will elaborate in the future. I love how they interwine the storylines and use the flashbacks. I think the non-linear story telling really works on this show.

  47. Jennifer says:

    it is good to see a good ending to a wonderful story
    love the song that was played by the band in the club

  48. Angie D says:

    I cried watching the episode. Got teary eyed again after reading the recap. incredible episode from acting to writing. if This is Us doesn’t win multiple emmys – best show, best writing, best actor at least, then I don’t know what everyone else is watching. Everyone connected to this show is fortunate since it’s obviously that once in a lifetime show that’s made the public aware of everyone of them. Can’t wait to see more!

  49. Bella says:

    Best show I’ve seen in many many years, THIS IS US. The writing is down-to-earth and the acting gets better and better.

  50. Teresa Tolbert says:

    I totally lost it when Bryan Tyree Henry sang the song that young William wrote! It was so cool to see Randall find African American extended family and see him loved and accepted. Amazing episode of a show that deserves the big Emmy Haul I every category!