1883‘s spectacular Episode 5 brought a heartbreaking death, and we spoke to the actor who brought it all full circle. Be warned of major spoilers ahead.
“Don’t go anywhere alone, okay?” Ennis tells Elsa in 1883 Season 1, Episode 5. “I mean it.”
We’ve watched these two fall head over heels for one another throughout the first five episodes. But like so many Western love stories, it holds a tragic end.
As Ep. 5 unfolds, we see the young lovers become one. Signs of a remarkable life together flash before their eyes and ours before a trailing band of outlaws stirs up trouble of the worst kind. As she watches the cattle, Ennis (Eric Nelsen) tells Elsa (Isabel May) to ready her pistol. He does the same, taking off towards the gunfire to protect the woman he loves.
Ennis meets the outlaws head-on, exchanging gunfire. He hits his mark, but so does the bandit he squares up… And Ennis hits the ground.
“I loved her,” he tells Elsa’s father, James (Tim McGraw), with his dying breath. Ennis dies on the Texas dirt; shot through the chest. And Elsa’s heart dies with him; changing her – and 1883 – forever.
It’s a brilliantly-written sequence that highlights the dire costs of America’s Westward Expansion. Ennis’ death hits harder than any other on the show so far. But Ennis himself, Eric Nelsen, told Outsider he wouldn’t change a beat of it.
‘1883’s Eric Nelsen Speaks to Outsider on the Life and Death of Ennis
“I’ve never worked on a project like 1883,” Nelsen says while speaking to Outsider ahead of Episode 5’s release. “The arc and the storyline I get to tell—especially in Episode 5—is such a bold one. As an actor, it was so much fun to tackle something like that.”
Though his character may feel short-lived in the grand scheme of things, his 5 episode arch was enough for audiences to “really see a shift in Ennis,” Nelsen offers. “We see his innocence and hoping to be accepted by James Dutton in the beginning to standing his ground and being strong in his feelings and emotions toward Elsa—and not letting anyone get in the way of that.”
Ennis dies one of 1883‘s best heroes, too. His last words are of his love for Elsa, and the bullet he took was to make sure she didn’t suffer the same fate.
“And then we ultimately see him, in a way, sacrifice himself for the love of his life,” Nelsen continues of this pivotal moment. “So the emotional arc was just on another level. So grateful to have been able to be in those shoes and get to portray that.”
For the 1883 actor, “It’s an episode I’ll never forget working on, and although tragic, so powerful in its own right.”