This weekend’s SEAL Team episode was many things, but we have to imagine the first emotion for many is simple: Devastation. (Warning: There are big spoilers ahead within this article. Read ahead at your own risk.)
At the end of this episode, we saw Clay Spenser do what he could to help talk down Ben, a troubled veteran who was ready to take his own life. He was able to convince him to stand down, and in the process showed this man great empathy — something that he may not have received elsewhere since his service. It was the ultimate evolution for a guy like Clay, who initially struggled to find his place and next calling after his amputation.
Then, it was all gone. Clay was shot by a security guard mistaking him for a threat. This episode, titled “Aces and Eights,” is the last for Max Thieriot as a series regular. The actor’s future has long been in question thanks to his other show in Fire Country and now, his exit is cemented.
To better understand this goodbye and the discussions that went into this departure, we had a chance to recently speak to showrunner Spencer Hudnut. As you will hear from him, this was not a death that he wanted to write into the story, but it was one necessary due to the circumstances placed in front of him.
Matt & Jess TV – I know this may seem obvious, but I do have to ask since there will be theories out there: Clay is 100% dead, correct?
Spencer Hudnut – Yes. Clay does not make it out of this.
When did you know this was how you wanted Clay’s story to end?
Well I never wanted it to end, by the way (laughs). Let me admit that. Even going back to the end of season 5 with the cliffhanger and everyone being blown up, there were questions about whether Max would even be back for season 6. It started back then, and he and I talked at the end of season 5 about what we would do with his character, given that he was going through this development process with Fire Country. I wanted to do everything possible to ensure we could keep him if that show didn’t move forward.
We started writing in March, and it wasn’t until the middle of May when we learned that Fire Country was being ordered to series. At that point, we were very far down the road when it comes to planning the story. It was very clear to me that he wasn’t going to be able to do both shows. We were in second position [contractually], and we were never going to be able to get him in a way where we could [consistently use him].
We really wrestled with how to exit that character, and it wasn’t until about a month after his show got ordered that I really started to circle an idea. We could’ve had him leave and drive off with his family, but this was a guy who lost his leg and had given up operating. The idea that his stories and struggles weren’t worth covering felt disingenuous, given that is the heart of this show. I would actually love to have one of our characters retire and document that struggle for them.
The second part was how his departure impacted the team. Unfortunately, it felt like he had to go out in a painful way — the question then became how you do that. We really liked the idea of him going out a hero. Going out to help Ben … Clay is a guy who always ran into the fire to help people he didn’t know. Now, he’s helping someone he cares about. It comes full-circle to the Swanny story from season 2, where there was a vet in crisis who he couldn’t stop from taking his life. Here, he has that victory. He unfortunately pays the steepest price here, but he has a successful mission here at the end of his life. He saved Ben from making a horrible mistake.
We really wanted the honor the character by giving him this victory. It’s a brutal, shocking way for him to go out, but it was important for us that he had that full-circle moment.
I’m sure there were a lot of discussions with Max throughout the process; how did he receive this particular ending?
I love Max, and we have a fantastic relationship. With Clay losing his leg, we talked ever since January about him going down that road and how important that story was. He and I were in lockstep through a lot of this, and I think we were both hopeful we could figure out a way for Clay to exist on SEAL Team while Bode was on Fire Country.
It just became clear to me that we were in second position, and as brutal as it sounds, this show doesn’t deserve to be in second position for anyone or anything. He and I talked throughout, and I was really exploring all options — this was really the last thing I wanted to do. I love Max and I really love writing this character. Writing him for the past five years has meant a lot to me. When I sat him down it was an emotional conversation. I know he wanted to continue forward; I think now that he’s executive-producing another show, he may have a different perspective on how difficult that would be (laughs).
I think he understood that Clay is such a huge part of SEAL Team, and to have him exit the show without him making an impact would be bad storytelling and not making the most of the situation. Max was so great and such a professional throughout. His last week on the show, he shot his scenes for episodes 5, 6, 7, and 8. He was doing nine or ten pages a day, and he finished three days before going up and shooting Fire Country. None of this would have happened without Max making it happen. He loves the character and loves the show, but he’s off starring and executive-producing a hit series! He’s going to be doing that for quite some time, so his availability to come back and do this was pretty nonexistent.
You mentioned the scene with Clay and Ben, so is there going to be a chance to see Ben again, where we can hear from him express how Clay kept him from taking his own life?
I think it’s important. A part of this show is highlighting veterans’ struggles. I think Ben gives us an opportunity to continue doing that. Ben obviously has some responsibility here, but we’re not pointing the finger at him and blaming him. Even Clay’s teammates and family will feel the same way.
I very much would like to see Ben again. One of the things we would lose if Clay and Stella and Brian moved to California was really seeing how these families come together and the community comes together in times of tragedy. We’ve touched on it in the past, but this is different. It’s a wife and young son who have lost their husband and father. Exploring that next season is important to us, if we get an opportunity to have another season.
How you are going to fold in what happened to Clay with Bravo? Clearly, they are in the midst of their own dangerous mission right now.
These guys have all lost teammates in the past, and have gone back into the battlefield within hours or days. This is so different because it’s such a shock and blindside hit. There is a question of “are they fit to operate?” because this is a traumatic event for Bravo Team. They are going to be reeling from this loss and feel somewhat responsible and guilty for what happened.
We really explore if they are fit for duty, because they are in the midst of a mission that if it goes wrong, could have global consequences. We’ve never seen Bravo not raise their hand when called to action, but this is an extreme circumstance.
Before we wrap up, let’s look far ahead. It’s been months since we’ve heard anything about the movie, but did you plan the end of the season to dovetail into that?
I think any [question] about the movie should be sent to Paramount+ because I really don’t know. The way that I ended the season was always hoping that there’d be more story to tell. I think we ended it in a way that finds Bravo under threat. There are a lot of question marks surrounding our team. Whether it is a movie or another season, we are ending in a propulsive way that would leave room for more.
What did you think about this week’s devastating SEAL Team episode?
Be sure to share right now in the comments! Once you do just that, stay tuned for some other updates. (Photo: Paramount+.)