Warning: The following contains spoilers for Wednesday’s Chicago Med season finale. Proceed at your own risk!
Chicago Med is saying goodbye to one of its original cast members: Nick Gehlfuss, who has played Dr. Will Halstead since the show’s debut, departed the NBC drama in Wednesday’s Season 8 finale — and his exit was accompanied by an unexpected romantic reunion!
In the episode, Will and Grace sabotaged the defective OR 2.0 tech during Jack Dayton’s hernia repair, but Will took full responsibility for the incident, leading him to resign from the hospital. Then in a surprise move, he flew to Seattle, where he reunited with his ex-fiancée Natalie Manning (former series regular Torrey DeVitto) and her son Owen.
“I’m never going to let you go,” Natalie told Will after he expressed some doubt about how long she’d want him to stay.
Gehlfuss’ history with the #OneChicago franchise goes way back: The character of Will was first introduced during Chicago P.D.‘s second season in March 2015 as the doctor brother of Jay Halstead (played by Jesse Lee Soffer). He went on to appear in a Season 3 episode of Chicago Fire that served as a planted pilot for Med, before transitioning to the medical spinoff with its series debut in November 2015.
Below, Gehlfuss talks about his decision to exit the series, why Will and Natalie are meant to be together, and if Jay Halstead’s own departure played into Will’s choice.
TVLINE | What went into your decision to leave Med? And when did you know it was time?
Well, it was a difficult decision, but I felt, maybe like a few months ago, that I was getting to the point of taking Dr. Halstead as far as I could go with him. A difficult decision because, of course, I have for the last eight years grown with a fantastic group of people, and they have become a family, they really have. We use that word a lot, but it’s the only one that makes sense, and it’s also a community of artists. And so, I’ve laid roots in this town. Chicago was never on my radar, and it’s become home. So it’s difficult to think about leaving something that’s so comfortable… [When] an actor gets involved in this profession, we’re attracted by the variety, and eight years is a long time with one character, and I felt as if I went as far as I could go with him, and that was that, really.
TVLINE | When you let the producers know, did you have an idea of how you wanted Will to exit? What kind of conversations did you have with [showrunners] Andy [Schneider] and Diane [Frolov] about that?
I called [executive producer] Dick Wolf first and then I ended up talking with [executive producer] Peter Jankowski and Andy and Diane, and they asked me if I had any ideas, and I did not have anything. I said, “Whatever makes most sense for you guys. I would like to preserve the possibility of coming back for important events or in whatever capacity makes sense,” and they all felt like that was appropriate. So the idea to kill Will off or go out in a blaze of glory, as Peter Jankowski joked around about, was not something we were going to do. This universe has become so big, and these shows are going to go on for a long time, and who knows what would make sense in the future. We all wanted to preserve that possibility, and I was happy that they were on the same page with that.
TVLINE | What was your reaction then when you found out that Will was going to be resigning and reuniting with Natalie in Seattle?
It made sense for the reasons he was resigning, and it made sense the way he went about it. The name William means protector or protection. That’s exactly how he handles his patients. And so, when he took the fall for 2.0 and blowing it up at the IPO, he was protecting Grace. He was also protecting Crockett with not even allowing him to be involved in the sabotage of 2.0, and so it’s true Will fashion there.
Will and Natalie [have] come full circle. Will was, I think, seeking elements of Natalie in every relationship that has followed their breakup. He never really got over her, and so it made such sense to bring these two together and provide some closure for fans. It was a beautiful moment that we [were] able to do. It was so great to see Torrey. We fell right back into our work rhythm, as if we didn’t have any time off.
And it was emotional to play, of course. The last scene I shot was saying goodbye to the entire ED, and it was a really emotional day, of course, but so beautiful at the same time.
TVLINE | In the back of your head, did you always envision him ending up with Natalie?
I thought maybe Natalie would come in in dire need, her life was at stake, and Will was not supposed to be on the case because he’s too emotionally close, and he went and did something that got him fired or something. Will can be counted on for going against the grain and shaking things up with the best intentions. It’s funny, I actually did see Natalie in his exit. What I think was great is that Natalie is the cherry on top of the way they decided to write it, because it’s still a lot of Will’s decision, without Natalie being the center of it, I would say. It was great for Will to make this decision on his own and have this experience of seeing the direction of the hospital.
TVLINE | We’ve seen Will have a lot of love interests over the seasons. We’ve seen him grow closer to Grace this season. There’s been an inkling that maybe he and Hannah might reunite. In the end, why do you think Natalie was The One for Will?
It’s so funny because when I hear you say that, I almost think about, just as actors, what it was to play opposite Torrey. We had a chemistry and, undoubtedly, that then seeped its way into the story, and I believe the writers wrote off of that story. So there was something about Torrey and I working together that actually helped Natalie and Will on the page and probably informed the writers about that. We just had a great way of working with one another.
I think Will is, at heart, a family man. He’s a good guy, and he’s never one to necessarily sleep around or have one-night stands too much. I mean, he explored, but he was always a good guy, and I think he could always see himself being a part of a family with Natalie and Owen, really.
TVLINE | What do you think the future has in store for Will, professionally and personally? Is he still going to be a doctor moving forward?
I think that is what we’re insinuating, that he’s moving to Seattle to probably apply for a job out there at an ED, and maybe he already has that, and we just don’t fully say it out loud. I don’t think he’s done doing what he was born to do. He’s basically relocating and starting up his family and a brand new job in a whole new area.
I think the other thing about why Will and Natalie were so good for each other is they really challenge one another, and they’re both brilliant minds in different parts of medicine. They were able to let it all out, completely be themselves with one another, even some of their flaws, and they made each other better, really.
TVLINE | Both of the Halstead brothers left Chicago this season. Do you think Jay’s absence in Will’s life at all factored into his being ready to move on, even if we didn’t see that on screen?
Yes, I think so, because they’re basically orphans. Both their parents are gone, and once their father passed, they’re, really, all they had left. So that bond between brothers, once that becomes long distance, let’s just say, because it’s not nonexistent. I know they keep in touch, but it’s not at home anymore… I think it did.
TVLINE | What are you going to miss most about the show or playing Will?
About the show, I’ll miss the people, for sure. We are a success story, and I’ll never forget this time in my life or the people I worked with. I was really lucky to start out with such a wonderful group of people. This show changed my life for the better. I remember getting the phone call in November 2014, and I was literally making a dining room table, and I would deliver them throughout Los Angeles, and after that phone call, I said yes and had no idea that I would do 163 episodes of Chicago Med. If you had told me this, I would never believe you. I did 163 episodes of Chicago Med, 21 episodes of Chicago Fire, and 18 of P.D. for a collective 202 #OneChicago episodes. Eight years, that’s two college degrees. Maybe that means I have a doctorate in television now, actually. I learned so much, I grew so much, and I’ll never forget how powerful of an experience it was to grow within a group and with the group. My favorite part of acting is how it makes me a better person. Everything I learned as an actor can directly be applied to my personal life. And it’s not just the craft, but the people you experience that craft with.
Playing Will Halstead, I’ll always love the unpredictability of what he’s going to do to make sure he protects his patients. I love that he was a wild card, but with that wild card, always having a good heart about it. He was never being malicious. I loved playing his flaws, which are just so relatable. He had a hard time of — and probably never fully learned his lesson on — keeping his personal stuff out of work.
I also have to take a moment here because I am not active on social media anymore, and I’d like to directly say to the fans: It’s no secret [that] without you, we would not have jobs. One of the most important things that we can give to one another is our time, and so thank you, all, for your time and support. I’ve been so flattered by the amount of people that have come up to me to say something positive about #OneChicago and my work. That is the best confirmation of the contract between audience and storyteller. While Will Halstead is leaving, #OneChicago is not, and #OneChicago fans can enjoy seasons to come.
#OneChicago fans, grade the season ender below, then hit the comments with your reactions to this latest exit!