This contains spoilers for episode 4 of Years and Years.
As the HBO British import Years and Years moves into the future, things only seem to get worse in terms of escalating political and family strife — concluding, in Monday night’s episode, with a gut punch. Russell Tovey’s character, Daniel, has spent much of the season trying to protect his Ukrainian refugee boyfriend Viktor (played by Maxim Baldry) from political persecution after he’s deported when Britain’s policies swing right. By episode four, Daniel has gotten Viktor to Spain, and after one attempt at smuggling him back to Britain goes wrong, they attempt to cross the English Channel in a dinghy that gets overcrowded. Viktor survives, but Daniel’s body washes up onshore, dead.
The unexpected death shocked British audiences when the episode aired in the U.K., but Tovey himself is very happy with the decision. “It’s been amazing. People did not want it to happen, and people were angry about it,” Tovey told Vulture, noting that it made viewers confront their expectation about who gets to survive in a story. “People were angry that Viktor survived, and then they had to check themselves and be like, ‘Well, why am I angry that he survived? Do I want him to survive more than Daniel? What does that say about me moralistically? That the Westerner should be alive and the asylum seeker should die?’”
According to Tovey, Years and Years creator Russell T. Davies had originally planned to kill Viktor and leave Daniel alive, but then changed his mind. “If I wasn’t in it I’d think it was the best idea you’ve ever had, but since I’m in it, it’s terrible idea, and you need to rewrite it,” Tovey remembered telling Davies when the writer first suggested the change. But Davies persisted, and also promised that this is a one-off miniseries, so having your character die wouldn’t matter that much anyway. “When we had the table read, I was sitting there sobbing like an absolute narcissist about my own death,” Tovey said. “I was unable to pull myself together. I was like, This is an issue I’ve got to work on.”
What struck him so deeply about Daniel’s death, in the end, was that what we see Daniel and Viktor aspiring to is so simple. “You want them to be happy, because all they want is a boring life,” Tovey said. “They don’t aspire to anything. That’s all they want. They don’t have big dreams, they just wanna be boring together. And they didn’t get it, and it’s so fucking tragic.”