‘Empire’ Boss Explains Decision to Kill Off Major Character in Season 3 Premiere (SPOILERS)

Empire Season 3 premiere recap
Courtesy of Fox

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read ahead if you have not watched the Season 3 premiere of “Empire,” which aired Wednesday, Sept. 21 on Fox.

After a summer of waiting, “Empire” viewers finally know who fell to their death on last season’s finale…Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday) is dunzo.

Last season’s final episode saw Rhonda fighting with Anika (Grace Gealey) on top of a roof when Andre (Trai Byers) walked out onto the scene to see someone fall off the balcony — but he didn’t see who.

Moments after Season 3 kicked off Wednesday night, Rhonda fell from the sky, her bloody and lifeless body landing on a car, and there’s no doubt about it: she’s dead.

However, Rhonda came back in the episode by way of Andre’s hallucinations, setting up a storyline for the eldest Lyon brother — who’s dealt with mental illness over the past two seasons — to deal with new demons in the upcoming episodes.

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So, does that mean that Doubleday is still a series regular, or will she just appear every now-and-then in hallucinations or flashbacks?

“Empire” showrunner Ilene Chaiken declined to answer that question in an interview conducted earlier Wednesday by Variety, but she teased, “We could still see her. Rhonda is quite likely not out of our ‘Empire’ world just yet. I don’t want to say how long Andre will have this unusual relationship with his deceased wife, but there’s a good chance that we will see more of her.”

Chaiken also reveals that at the time the Season 2 finale aired, she and the “Empire” writers — let alone the cast — did not know if it would be Rhonda or Anika who would be killed off. They just knew that one of them had to die, in order to serve the story of the upcoming third season.

“It was a really, really tough decision because it wasn’t as if we had an agenda last season. We love the character and we love the actress and we didn’t want to lose her from the show. It was really the story that led to the decision, Chaiken explains. “That fight on the balcony, it just happened. It wasn’t in the original finale script, and as Lee [Daniels] and I were working on it, we loved it and we said, we have to do it. And then I said, ‘Lee, you realized that means one of these women will be killed off?!’ Lee and Danny [Strong] both said, ‘No! We love them both! They can’t die!’ But after much anguishing, we came to the very, very tough conclusion.”

Here, Chaiken talks to Variety more about that death scene, and the rest of the “Empire” Season 3 premiere:

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I can’t believe you truly did not know who was being killed off when the Season 2 finale aired!

The finale aired and we didn’t know who died. We knew that one of them did. As we started breaking Season 3, we delved into the stories we were telling, the stories we had set up and the opportunities for all of our characters, and obviously made decisions based on where we thought we had the most rich stories to tell.

Rhonda’s death is clearly impacting Andre in a harsh way — he is hallucinating that she’s still alive. How will he continue to cope with her being gone?

It’s obviously taking a large toll on him. He’s bereaved deeply and profoundly, and he’s also a man with a delicate psychological constitution who, apparently based on that scene, is going to take this very hard and might face challenges that other people don’t face. It’s going to be an ongoing challenge for Andre. The way that he regroups and goes forward is going to be very stunning.

Is Anika really off the hook? Andre did see her push Rhonda over the edge, right?

He didn’t see that Anika set out to hurt Rhonda — in fact, I think Andre knows that Rhonda came for Anika. I would venture that he knows that Rhonda came for Anika so although he’s deeply upset at it, I don’t think he’s looking at Anika as someone who came after her to kill her. But regardless, Anika is in a pretty uncomfortable situation, stuck in that family and stuck in that house.

So is there any fear of Anika being charged with Rhonda’s death? Or is it just understood that there was a fight and no one is at fault?

It will have repercussions for her. It will absolutely have ongoing ramifications.

Anika lied to Lucious (Terrence Howard) about having a baby girl. Where does their very twisted relationship stand now, especially with Lucious’ mother (Leslie Uggams) living in the house?

You’ve identified a source of conflict and story for us! Not only are Lucious and Anika locked in a loveless and conflicted and contentious marriage, but Anika is unwelcome in that home and unwanted by Leah who seems to have taken pretty comfortable to her role as woman of the house. They’re going to make one another’s lives hell.

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Jamal chooses to perform a song that includes lyrics about the Orlando tragedy and Black Lives Matter. Why did the writers decide to incorporate those events?

We believe that’s what Jamal would be singing about — it’s who his character is and it’s his story and his drive for the season. He even stated it in the Season 2 finale that his intention is to make music with a view of doing good in the world. That’s what motivates him and he’s taking it all with a sense of mission — to change the narrative of his family and to lead his family away from these dark currents to Lucious has drawn him toward. That’s Jamal’s goal and his mission.

Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) is really trying to separate her relationship from Lucious. Will that last throughout the season?

The relationship between them is powerful and the things that draw them to one another won’t easily be vanquished, but her determinations are steadfast and sincere so I would say that it will be a source of tension between them. Lucious is really throwing down and much of his drive for this season is to win Cookie back, but her drive, which will evolve, is to try to start a new life and to cut herself loose from something that’s brought her pain.

Do we need to be worried about that Teddy Bear that Tariq (Morocco Omari) planted a camera inside?

We need to be worried. Tariq is very determined and he’s going after Lucious with a vengeance and I’m sure the teddy bear isn’t his only move.

Will Tariq continue to be an important character through the entirety of the season?

He’s an important character and it’ an important storyline for us and it will play throughout much of the season.

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  1. 45 says:

    did any of ya”ll realize that its just a show damn yall act like they actually died in real life like damn

  2. Dottie says:

    I am done with this show. I liked Rhonda……………..not Anika………………wasn’t too happy but now this is the straw. Out!

  3. ZARIA WOODS says:

    Rhonda did deserve a funeral. Now that was poor writing. She dies, Anika gives birth and they planned a whole concert as if Rhonda didn’t just pass. Even Hakeems “cougar” whom Lucious killed was given a memorial service. Geesh!!! Rhonda was a legitimate LYON.

  4. Shaquitta says:

    Uhhh throughout the show Rhonda was trying to make Andre do sneaky/ evil things to his family so y’all just mad because they killed a white person. I really don’t think it’s racist. She really wasn’t a good person. I thought she was a low down trick but imma let y’all pull the race card.

  5. Alex says:

    She’s a ghost, she’ll be around for the rest of the season driving her hubby insane…which will not be a long drive.

    • Morgan Farantino 860 says:

      u got that right and it is not about the white girl being gone happy happy nope i am italian,she was a bad person/rotten to the core imo to make ANDRE do things he otherwise would have never done.so any race it is wrong,but since she is white it is ok to say the white woman was rotten same as if it was blk hispanic etc.
      i m glad she is gone.IMHO she messed up dre.He could do better on this show lol i am watching re-runs a TV ONE marathon,this epie is great and love older woman beautiful model naomi and young tasty kutee hakeem they were so hot.

  6. cadavra says:

    ‘Dja ever notice how, when someone falls from a great height, 90% of the time they land on a car rather than the pavement? Time to retire this cliche.

  7. Well that’s a mistake. Ronda brought a good balance to a show that is quickly becoming a circus of overindulgence and a misguided mess. Too bad.

  8. Former empire fan says:

    Just took off my season pass on my DVR. Felt so good. More room for something else. They were very short sighted in killing Rhonda. Great actress. And I have to say that I agree that it seems racist

  9. Kim Murphy says:

    Is empire still coming on e.tv coz I’ve been patient enough?.I’m really looking forward for season 3

  10. jcksnrch says:

    Apologies for my misspellings. Some of my keys stick…

  11. jcksnrch says:

    I NO LONGER support nor watch Empire. Sadly, Ilene Chaiken, Lee Daniels, Danny Strong are LAZY and took away the only viable character on that show. It’s POOR WRITING that you guys don’t have the creative wherewithal to actually FORCE yourselves to keep the only viable couple on the show? That’s LAZY WRITING. Period! The sad thing about all of your WEAK decision making? Is that Shonda Rhimes at ABC could’ve written a MUCH BETTER story line than you people who actually originated the show. I’m quite DONE with this joke of a show? Kinda’ reminiscent of police shooting unarmed people and getting away with it? That is the character of Anika in a nutshell. She is allowed to KILL an unborn child?, then is allowed to actually throw another person to her death? Yeah? That’s a RELLY GOOD ROLLMODEL for viewers to root for? The true “IRONY” of the situation is this: The Young & the Restless JUST completed their10,000 episode? and Victor Newman and his wife Nikki are still together? Your on ONLY your “god-forbid 3rd season?” And the only VIABLE couple you dismantle for the sake of Anika character? VERY, VERY, POOR WRITING AND WORSE YET? Actual lack of “plot-pointing.” I COUULD HAE RITTEN A BETTER EPISODE. There’s a book called “Frank Capra-The Name Above the Title.” I would STRONGLY urge ALL of your writers? Producers? To not only get it BUT ACTUALLY READ IT. I took pride in this show BECAUSE I am Black. (I know your probably laughing to yourselves thinking “geez look at ALL of these passionate responses to what we did! Ha! Whoopee!!!”) well I for one am done. I truly HOPE your numbers keep on declining. This is not Game of Thrones, it was a show about people like ME. Or at least I thought so? And I don’t even follow hip-hop! Interesting that you kept the mulato character and killed of the Caucasian? I guess a bit of Political correctness reared it’s ugly head too in that producers meeting. This is nothing more than a case of LAZY, UNPREPARED and uninspired WRITERS.I hope your proud of yourselves. I’m done with your show. Lazy writing like that? You don’t DESERVE any Emmy’s.Thank Goodness NBC’s Wednesday lineup is back in rotation.

  12. People need to calm down, it’s only a television show. I would have preferred to have Rhonda live, but to attribute more to the decision than a plot twist.

  13. jay says:

    Well since shows with primarily white cast members get accused of racism when they kill off black characters can we say the same for empire if they killed off Rhonda? I mean let’s be real, she was the only white main character and the writers treated her like crap from start to finish for no reason……

  14. jona says:

    Who watches this crap?

  15. Mikki says:

    Wow. You had to fire someone why couldn’t it have been booboo kitty. her character is running out rhonda would have always had a storyline she is family. Not sure I agree with this one.

  16. Michelle says:

    I was so disappointed last night. First that Rhonda lied and not Anika. I don’t like aka boo boo kity. I thought the show was so boring for the opening season.

  17. donna says:

    I was so disappointed. I liked Rhonda, I can’t stand Anika and was sorry to see her return in Season 2. Maybe Lucious will take care of her once and for all for killing his grandson!

  18. Toughcritic says:

    A thoroughly crummy show that should never have been renewed after the first season. It is one of several crummy shows like Scandal and Mistresses that should have never been brought to the family TV screen. Hollywood is really scratching the bottom of the barrel in producing muck like this.

    • Annie says:

      I’m pretty sure that it was renewed because it is the highest rated show on network television. It seems like a common sense move.

  19. cheryl Theriot says:

    I wish they hadn’t killed her. I hope Empire doesn’t kill a major character every season.

  20. Hal says:

    Actually, in reality Chiken, the person who made the suggestion to kill her is white, while Lee a black man wanted her to live. It obviously was not a racist decision.

  21. maya says:

    So Lee Daniel’s goes to Kaitlin Doubleday’s wedding and then KILLS her on her show????

  22. Truth says:

    Agreed. Definitely racist to kill the only white character

  23. BringBackRhonda says:

    I wish Anika died. She SUCKS. Rhonda ROCKS

  24. I don’t understand if people are just daft or what? How did you guys even stumble upon the site? Everyone knows Empire will be a hot topic being discussed. How is the title a spoiler? It doesn’t say who died, but we all know someone was going to die from S2. If you read anything aside from the headline, it’s your own fault that the episode was ruined for you LOL.

  25. How? We know someone went over at the end of S2, we just didn’t know who. Both Anika and Rhonda were major characters and no names were mentioned. How was the episode spoiled?

  26. Kristal says:

    Sounds racist to me. Killed off the only white actor. LOL Done watching.

  27. “He didn’t see that Anika set out to hurt Rhonda…” When? When Anika was standing outside, minding her business before Rhonda grabbed her from behind, hit her and tried to throw her off the balcony?

  28. tracyjl says:

    Honestly, Rhonda is one of my FAVES on the show. This sucks. She’s really a good actress and should get a better show with better writing. RIP EMPIRE

  29. LW says:

    Way to spoil it! Thanks a lot.

  30. Ugh says:

    WTF. SPOILER MUCH? ugh

  31. Jacques Strappe says:

    Empire has flamed out completely. #yesterdaysnews

  32. Spoiler alert your mfkn amp plugin, dumb ass.

  33. Erica says:

    No Rhonda!!!!! I’m officially done. Love her

  34. SMC says:

    Damn Rhonda went through some hell with that family and all their drama, now she’s dead!

  35. Michael anthony says:

    Like they were going to kill Anoka. Please, give the viewers credit. This once promising show is just plain trash.

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