Spoilers ahead for the mid-season finale of Pretty Little Liars.
Tuesday night’s mid-season finale of Pretty Little Liars was perhaps one of the bloodiest episodes the Freeform series ever aired in its seven-year history — Noel Kahn, Rosewood’s resident troublemaker, met his demise by accidentally decapitating himself with an ax while in pursuit of the Liars. The scene was not only surprisingly gory for the teen drama — his head rolls down the staircase like an oddly-shaped bowling ball — but it also marked an unexpected end for Noel, who was often characterized as Rosewood’s primary elusive figure throughout the course of the series. Eager to learn more about Noel’s last hoorah, Vulture called up the affable Brant Daugherty earlier today to discuss filming Noel’s death, why he was a “misunderstood” character, and the end of the show.
First off, congratulations on such an epic death scene.
Yeah, we were Game of Thrones-ing it over here. [Laughs.]
How did Marlene King break the news that you would be killed off in such a gruesome fashion?
She made one of her famous death calls, which I’m sure she’s made a ton of over the years. I think I handled it a little bit differently than everybody else. Most people over the years have been very sad to see their characters leave the show. I had heard word that this was going to be the last season. I hadn’t been in season six at all; I was off doing other things, so we made it work with my filming schedule to come back for season seven knowing that it was going to be a limited run. I thought, well, if it’s the last season like they say it might be, and I make it to the summer finale the way that they’re planning, that was a good run. I was very happy to see how it played out.
Walk me through how your death scene was conceived and filmed.
A lot of people thought it was a prosthetic head. It was my actual head. We wanted it to bounce down the steps, so they CGI-ed my body out but they had to have my head on a step and I had to bounce. It was very, very technically tricky and we had to do it about a hundred billion times to get it right. So I had to bounce my own head off the step, and then land, and then settle into its final resting position. It was one of the more bizarre days of my life.
I bet everyone had a good sense of humor about it.
[Laughs.] It’s true. We were all laughing between takes. We were like, what are we even doing right now?
Do you think Noel’s death was a satisfying ending to his story?
His death was very satisfying. Mostly because, if you look at it technically, he wasn’t murdered, he was complicit in his own death. It was an accident brought on by his own actions. And that sums up what Noel has been through throughout the course of the show, which is trying to control and manipulate situations that ultimately don’t serve him in the long run. He died the way he lived.
Right before he dies, Noel tells the Liars that they “never understood” him. I’m curious what you think he means by this.
I have a couple of things that I’ve been running through my head when I read that line. Actually, on my own accord I wrote a bigger monologue for him to say as he was chasing the girls in the house. I knew we would never film it, but I wanted to be clear on what he meant. Noel was such a great, complex character. Not just a great character in the sense of this show, but he was a good person, and he wanted nothing more than to be with Aria and have a healthy relationship and be a popular rich jock and throw parties and have fun. It was all very harmless. And then Aria betrays him for our teacher, and then I get suspended from school, and then this whole cascade of terrible things happens to him throughout the years. Some of them are his own fault, but a lot of them are not. And he’s not privy to the same information that the four Liars are about “A” and all of these things. So he’s been misunderstood his entire run on the show. He’s always been something that they don’t see him has. They see him as a villain, they see him as this, they see him as that. And then finally in the last season, he owns it, and he becomes that villain. And I think he means a lot of things by saying “you never understood me.”
What else did you write for this monologue of yours?
It was something I knew we would never film, so it was a little long and rambling, and I’m also not a writer on the show, so there was that to consider. [Laughs.] I really wanted to get inside of what he was dealing with and highlight all of the things that have been done to him after all of these years. Everything he was mistakenly blamed for, or felt ashamed for something that he didn’t do. He had a tough run, and it all culminates in this moment when he’s finally going to take these people out with Jenna. That was their plan. And I was just trying to run through everything that went into that moment from the start. So a lot of it had to do with Aria; a lot had to deal with the accusations from Spencer; the constant side-eye from Emily. The way they treated him over the years. If you look at this show from Noel’s perspective, which is what my job is, he’s not a bad guy. In a way, the four Liars have been antagonizing him for years.
You might just drive me to rewatch the entire series from his perspective now.
That’s what I keep telling people. They keep tweeting me and saying, why did Noel do that in the end? I’m like, you go back and watch it with Noel as the protagonist of the show. And you’ll see.
Can we expect flashbacks of you when the second half of the season picks back up?
There’s always hope, right? There’s nothing that I can say or confirm directly for you. I can’t spoil anything. But I will say that I’m always happy to be back, and if we could explore a little bit more of what happen between Noel and Jenna and Charlotte and Sara and that whole arc, I would be honored and I would love it.
How would you like your character to be remembered on the show?
Hmmm. You know what, I haven’t ever thought about it. But we can run through it right now.
Let’s do it. Monologue away!
The show needed that one character who was a little bit aloof, a little bit smarmy, and who could highlight some of the things that were going on in a way that maybe the audience could relate to a little better, even if they don’t agree with what Noel does or what Noel says. There’s always an element of truth to it. I think his legacy is that he was a selfish son of a bitch who always looked out for himself, but he was unapologetically that. Whereas a lot of the characters are that way, but try to pretend they’re helping their friends or whatever. Noel was just who he was. He never apologized for it, and it ultimately led to his downfall and he was just looking out for himself. I don’t know if that’s a legacy or not. [Laughs.] He was the voice of the audience in some situations. He played devil’s advocate a lot and he gave a counterpoint to some of the things that were at the forefront of the show.