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

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.

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:

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.

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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