When I last spoke with Jonathan Tucker at the beginning of Kingdom Season 3, he tried to prepare viewers for the gut-punch that was coming by way of the finale.
Suffice it to say, nothing prepared viewers for what came at the end of Kingdom's penultimate episode.
I had a chance to jump on the phone with Tucker to talk about the stunning developments of "Cactus" and what to expect from Kingdom Season 3 Episode 10, "Lie Down in the Light."
"Good, it's going to get even worse," is what Tucker said when I assured him I felt appropriately gutted, just as he had predicted.
As I began reciting what I thought would happen by eyeing the trailer for the Kingdom finale, Tucker said cryptically, "From what you could tell."
Will Episodes 9 and 10 be a one-two punch and not just a gut punch? To escape the obvious and not share what he knows about the finale, Tucker shared a bit about the experience of television and telling a rich, dynamic story in 40 hours.
But "Cactus." There was a certain point in the episode when the tension was so thick and so many characters had reached a breaking point that the only obvious character to go, the only one whose absence could make an impact across the board, was Nate.
"He's a very pure character," Tucker agreed.
The only way to shake up everybody is to pull out their light, and the realization was horrible as a viewer. I wondered what it was like filming the pivotal scene after so much time together.
Tucker hesitated, "Even answering your question now I get a little choked up. Our time on this Earth is just so limited, and when you're lucky enough to have found what your passion is, and you fall in love with the process of the craft, and then you're given this rare opportunity to really dance with a variety of beautiful dance partners, it's very hard to let go. It's very hard to let go."
Some stunning scenes were showing Alvey, Nate, and Jay as a family. They were sharing time together, training together, laughing. and loving. Despite Nate's yearning to talk to his father, they were still lovely scenes. And it was also a time that Jay had become the brother Nate needed and the son Alvey needed.
Then everything exploded.
"Yeah. You know, the show's never been afraid to address, in a meaningful way, in an authentic way, the complexities of who we are. Ultimately, all of us in this world, we're all fighters, we're all on a court or on a field, we're all in our own battles.
"Often times our greatest battles, the most important battles, are with ourselves. We are the biggest impediment to our happiness and success, and nothing matters more than family. That's our show," Tucker explained.
"That is, at the end of 40 episodes and all of this time and effort...From top to bottom on this call sheet, from the people you recognize, like the directors and the writers and the actors, down to the production assistants in the office, and the transportation crew, everybody wearing Navy St shirts, everybody coming to set and leaving set proud of what they were doing, what really resonated with all us was that we were in this story that was laying everything out there in service of family and battle.
"The two things that are universal across our species, economically, socially, racially, religiously, geographically, sexually. They're all united by that. The understanding of what it is to be family. That's his idea of a fighting gym. You have all these, for the most part, broken people, battling ultimately themselves, coming together and finding and threading a family together."
Tucker continued, "Yeah, we're all trying to find some common ground here. Life isn't easy. Life is tough, it's complicated, it's painful, and it can be beautifully rewarding and holy in many ways. But, it's not easy, and I think our show's done a really admiral job of showing that."
The feeling from our discussion is that this series finale isn't going to find a group of people coming together after the light was pulled out of their lives suddenly trying to make something beautiful in the darkness. As we discussed that, I asked Tucker, "Is there more pain coming in the finale, Jonathan?"
"We can polish a lot of things in our storytelling, but you don't have to be a nihilist to look around and see, in the world, that some things don't go...A lot of things don't go as planned," Tucker said with confidence.
"Addicts don't always recover. People who are depressed don't always end up living out their life. Marriages don't always work. You're not always going to win a fight. Seeing as though this is our final two episodes, I think we reflect that truth."
He continued, "You look to family, you look to faith, you look to friends. You try to make some of kind of meaning out of this. But life can be really challenging."
While the ending of Kingdom may or may not be a happy one, Tucker is going to places. It was announced in conjunction with their panel at San Diego Comic-Con that he would be joining HBO's Westworld as Major Craddock, a commanding military officer.
"Well, I feel pretty lucky," Tucker conceded. "I feel like the luckiest guy in the whole world. I'm getting to make a living as an actor. It's like, what else could I possibly want?"
Tucker is a fan of the show, too. "The idea, as a young man and as an actor, to get to this set is thrilling. The scope and the size, the offerings that a production of this level offers or that this level show provides, it's unparalleled.
"It's kind of like having all the tools at your disposal and trying to figure what's going to work and what's not going to work. But it's very, very exciting."
Tucker is still trying to make the next season of American Gods work, too. He refuses to let Bryan Fuller and Michael Green down, "because the thrill to come back for that second season is too great to jeopardize. I'm grateful for the opportunity to work with them and collaborate with them again.
"I think it's one of the best casts ever put together for television, and one of the most, just ... What's the word to use to describe that show? Kind of the most original. One of the most original shows on television. I certainly want to be a part of it."
With one spectacular series ending, another in the works and a third taking root, Tucker's future seems incredibly bright. He not only has the immense talent for what's ahead, but the intelligence and emotional awareness to make every moment count.
"It's like, you look at a mountain, but I think the only way to climb it is what's in your perspective, that three feet ahead of you, just one hold at a time," Tucker said of his career's forward momentum.
He's also not afraid to share that without challenges in his life, he wouldn't be the man he is today. "I've had my ups and downs. I've been served really...They were unwelcome at the time, maybe...Periods of really having to figure who I was and what I wanted, and realizing that I couldn't derive my self-worth or tie my self-worth as an actor or as a human to whether or not somebody was hiring me or not.
"I have to be happy with me, and I have to love the craft. If I hadn't have had that period, which was really challenging... Well, I'm just happy I had that period."
He's happy to have the harder times behind him because it's not as fun trying to gain perspective when you're in the thick of it. At that moment, though, he was signing off our call to stake his big flag on the Westworld production.
If it goes as well as three seasons playing Jay Kulina on Audience Network's Kingdom, HBO will be fighting to find a way to keep Tucker on Westworld for the foreseeable future.
Tune into the Kingdom Series Finale tonight on Audience on AT&T U-verse, DirecTV and DirecTV Now airing at 9/8c. If I know nothing else in this world, I know the episode and Tucker's performance will be outstanding.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.