Sons of Anarchy's Ryan Hurst: 'Opie's Reached the End of His Rope' With Jax, Clay and SAMCRO

Sons of Anarchy‘s breakneck fourth season continues this Tuesday (FX, 10/9c) with perpetually downtrodden Opie featured prominently due to the untimely (and unseemly) death of his father. How will he cope with the knowledge of who killed Piney? Should retaliation be expected? Is Opie’s friendship with Jax now but a distant memory? Ryan Hurst spoke with TVLine about what lies ahead for his conflicted Son as well as what the end of the season holds for the club.

TVLINE | Opie has now been catapulted to a darker place than we’ve ever seen him — and that’s saying a lot. What’s going through his mind moving forward?
There’s a lot of talk on this show about the club, the club, the club, but there’s also this pragmatic side to it that a lot of members face in their lives where they say, “Well, wait a minute — this is my life we’re talking about and what good is this doing for me personally?” Opie and Jax’s [respective] journeys are very similar in that they are questioning the purpose of being a part of this club in the end. Jax has obviously decided to leave the club and focus on his family, and meanwhile Opie is losing more and more of his own family. Things with Lyla don’t seem to be panning out, and his father gets murdered. And Opie has reached the end of his rope. He realizes that he’s giving his life to this thing that’s killing him, so there’s some real soul-searching that Jax and Opie do that is paralleled nicely.

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TVLINE | Speaking of Jax and Opie, there is a serious strain on their friendship at the moment, given recent events. Is that relationship fractured beyond repair?
I would say that for the time being it’s pretty much fractured. I’ve spoken a lot with [series creator] Kurt [Sutter] about where things might go for following seasons, and [in Opie’s mind] — and I believe this is something I brought up with [the writers] in the second season — the only thing that holds anyone to an organization is their trust in it. A few seasons back when Opie sat down with Clay and the club when they thought he was a rat, he said, “It looks this way, but it’s not this way,” and he was led to believe everything was cool. And then Clay turned around, tried to kill him and ended up offing his wife [Donna]. There’s a similar thing brewing now between Jax and Opie. He feels betrayed  [because] Jax convinced Opie to sign off on the [drug cartel deal] without telling him he was planning on leaving the club, which is lying by omission. That, plus his trust being broken with Lyla, his trust in people in general has really been broken down and torn apart. For the foreseeable future of Jax and Opie, Jax is really going to have to prove himself in a way that can salvage their relationship.

TVLINE | By the same token, Opie’s trust in Clay is now completely abolished, and I cannot fathom a world in which these two can coexist let alone participate in the same club. How can Clay possibly survive the season? And is this a relationship that can be salvaged enough to continue on in Season 5?
That’s a great question, but I don’t really have an answer for you… [Laughs]

TVLINE | Fair enough. I have to say, the way you’re talking about the show makes it seem like you’re as big of a fan as the average viewer. Are you actually someone tuning in week-to-week?
Yeah, I love everyone in the cast and the whole creative team. I feel like I’m pretty much an average viewer. [Laughs] There are some episodes I feel strongly about that really hit home, and then there others that are kind of more filler than anything else. Kurt just has so much story that he wants to tell, and in that capacity I’m a huge fan of the show.

TVLINE | Talk about the death of Piney. Did it come as a surprise to the cast that the producers decided to kill off William Lucking‘s character?
It was a huge surprise. No one really knew that it was coming, and afterward, once word came down, Charlie [Hunnam] and I took a meeting with Kurt and asked if there was any way we could not lose him. Obviously it’s Kurt’s show and he knows the story better than we do, but Bill’s just such a strong component to the dynamic. Kurt said, “No, guys, I’m sorry. This is the decision that I made and that’s the way we’re going.” We had a big going-away party for Bill at a nice restaurant to send him off, but it was a very sad day. Also, the way that the whole thing developed is that originally in the pilot script, Piney was not Opie’s father; he was just another club member. It was the likeness between the two of us that made Kurt decide to put it in that way, and it ended up being the missing piece in the dynamic of the whole show. It helped complement Jax and Opie’s relationship as two guys who grew up with their fathers in the club. But, yes, Bill’s really missed.

TVLINE | We’re heading into the final three episodes of the season and given the intensity of the installments up to this point, I have to imagine fans are in for more of the same — meaning not being able to breathe, but not wanting to look away either.
From the very beginning of the show, Kurt has been very good at restraint. Even though he tells these big, broad, violent stories, he’s good at pulling the information back up until the last couple of episodes, where he then just takes the inertia that’s been building throughout the season — or seasons — and flies through it, so we always end with a bang. It’s a testament to his ability as a creator and a showrunner. And the way in which he does that this season — I would say from a viewer’s standpoint — delivers the strongest ending that this show has ever had by far. [This momentum] probably started when Piney died and from there on out there was a change on set where the cast started getting excited again about the show and talking to the writers and Kurt about the really great stuff they were putting out there. When you’re on a show for the longterm, you don’t usually get a lot of that. You kind of just show up and do your best, but when everybody four years in starts getting excited about the story that they’re telling, you know it’s good.

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TVLINE | This season has certainly seemed amplified in so many ways, but was that the plan from the start? Or as the scripts came in, were you all becoming more aware of just how good it was?
Beforehand Kurt let us know that the majority of last season he had this very personal story that he wanted to tell that involved all that happened in Ireland, and going into this season he had a lot of ammunition at his disposal. He’d refocused the show back on the club and character dynamics within, and he hinted at what that meant going in. From the get-go he said that this would be “the year of the gun” and that it’s all about the club, so everyone should get ready to do a lot of work. But we had no idea — like you said — how raw the middle and end of this season was going to get.

TVLINE | As it stands now, everything that has happened to Opie is bad, and his world is sort of crumbling around him. But is there a chance this all might ultimately afford him some much-needed closure?
I always tease the writers that Opie is the Job of this show — nothing good ever happens to him and it’s always torture. [Laughs] I’ve made fun of Charlie about it, too. So much of this show revolves around Jax not finding out what happened to John [Teller], as well as Gemma and Clay’s possible involvement in his death, and Opie, meanwhile, has been dealing with that stuff since the end of the first season! He knew Clay killed his wife and now he knows Clay killed his father, and it’s kind of like he runs interference on a lot of the issues Jax is being protected from. But by the end of this season, all of that stuff can’t be controlled anymore. It bubbles to the surface and he realizes the life-and-death nature of what he’s become and what he’s a part of. There’s an old saying that if you live a violent life, you die a violent death, and he’s reaching a point where [he’s asking himself] if he’s willing to accept that one of these guys is probably going to kill him in his bed. And is he OK with dedicating his life to that? In true Kurt form, you’re not going to get an answer this season. It’s unavoidable anymore for Opie, and that becomes clear, but a firm answer [to that question] really won’t be handed out this season.