The following contains spoilers from the Nov. 6 episode of Paramount+’s SEAL Team.
As Paramount+’s SEAL Team served up its shocking ending to this season’s eighth episode of 10, as much as one’s thoughts may have turned to Clay’s wife Stella and how she would eventually take the tragic news, you may have found yourself equally anxious about Bravo member Sonny Quinn’s reaction.
After all, the kinship between Sonny and Clay was legendary, built brick by brick following a rocky Season 1 start (when the latter was the team’s headstrong noob), and ultimately replete with brotherly love and many, many nicknames.
TVLine spoke with series vet AJ Buckley about Sonny’s reaction to Clay’s death (which begins in this Sunday’s kickoff to the season-ending two-parter), his own feelings about best bud Max Thieriot leaving the series, and more.
TVLINE | Who brings the news to AJ Buckley that Max is leaving the show and Clay is getting killed off?
I think, actually, Max told me. Max told me when it was happening. You know, Max and I became really close over the show. He is one of my best friends. Our kids were born a couple months apart during that first season and all sorts of stuff, so we became incredibly close and it was a really hard thing to hear. But I knew that it was an opportunity for him to sort of “stretch out his wings” and go [co-create and star in CBS’ Fire Country]. I think it was tough for everybody, but me in particular because it one of the best parts about going to work. Max and I would drive into work everyday together, so I lost my “battle boo.” There’s an emptiness, for sure. He’s such a great guy, on- and off-screen. He is salt of the earth and probably one of the best guys I’ve ever met in the business. So I’ll miss him, man. I’ll miss my buddy.
TVLINE | And as an actor, at some point thereafter does your mind go to, “Oh man — how is Sonny possibly going to react to this?”
Yeah. Yeah. And I was really grateful for [showrunner] Spencer [Hudnut] and for [directing EP] Chris [Chulack]. Spencer had some conversations with me about the approach that they’re going to take and how painful it was going to be for Sonny. I mean, there’s some real emotion mixed in there — especially in the finale, as well — of losing him, in a sense. And then sitting with Chris, as well, during those two episodes he was directing, 9 and 10…. There are a lot of things that happen, these moments where it crescendos and I really lose it, but then we have to go back into the battle. So it was all about trying to “pick the moments” to give it some sort of balance of where I really let go.
It was tough, but I really felt great support from Chris and Spencer to help me hone in on how to emotionally get through this without blowing it all at once and tell the story of this grief, and then tell the story of how these warriors are able to go through something like this and then turn that off and get back to the mission. I am so blown away by how these special operations guys are able to hit that “switch” and focus on the mission when they lose a brother like that, and with the stakes they’re handed. It’s a quality that not many men are able to do. It’s commendable, and that’s why our special operations are the best in the world.
TVLINE | This Sunday’s episode actually touches on that a bit, and I’m curious: Do you know, in real life could a team choose to stand down after being dealt such a devastating loss?
You know, I asked that question, and depending on the circumstances and the assets available, if certain things that happen but you’re the only game in town, then, unfortunately, you have to complete the mission.
That’s the one thing that I really love about our show, and Chris Chulack and Spencer first said at the beginning, is it’s about staying true to what happens in real life. I definitely asked that question, like, “Why wouldn’t we just go home? How are we going to focus?” And our advisors said that if command says you’ve got to finish the job, you’ve got to finish the job. There’s nothing you can do, though that would just be insane.
Also, that was the first episode where Max wasn’t there, he was no longer on the call sheet, and I remember how it kind of got me. I was like, “Oh man, it’s real, he’s not on the show anymore.” But that’s what I love about the show, is they really stay true to what these guys have to go through.
TVLINE | If I’m the strip mall cop that accidentally shot Clay, how worried am I about his Bravo brothers eventually returning Stateside?
[Laughs] Oh, mall cops…. Mall cops, nobody likes mall cops. No, I think they’re above that, you know. That was a “wrong place, wrong time” scenario that unfortunately happened with Clay. So no, I don’t think any mall cop back there would have to worry [about retribution].
TVLINE | I told Spencer Hudnut at the beginning of our talk last week, “My feelings for you as a showrunner are very complicated,” given the way that Clay was killed. That was a f–kin’ gut punch. Just devastating.
Oh, yeah. I feel for Spencer, man. It’s not an easy position to be put in, because Max is such a great guy to have on set, he has this depth of knowledge and is a very positive person loved by the fans. But I think Spencer did a good job ,and the best he could with the circumstances he was given.
TVLINE | What do you want to say about how this season ends next week, where it leaves us?
Oh, man…. I mean, it’s a gut-wrencher. There’s a scene in [Episode] 10 that was one of the hardest scenes I’ve ever done in my career thus far. I’ll leave it at that.