EXCLUSIVE: 'Nashville' Star Charles Esten on the Rayna Cliffhanger: 'Hang on Tight'

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Spoiler alert! If you've watched Thursday's episode of Nashville, read our full recap here.Is Rayna Jaymes going to be OK?
Nashville shocked everyone when it ended last week’s episode with the country superstar (played by Connie Britton) getting into a brutal car accident, after nearly falling victim to a crazed fan who held her hostage at the offices of her record label, Highway 65. In tonight’s installment, titled “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” the aftermath of Rayna’s violent crash will come to a head.
“It’s shocking,” Nashville star Charles Esten, who plays Rayna’s husband, Deacon, tells ET exclusively of the cliffhanger. “It was difficult to read, let alone to see it. Hard stuff.” RELATED: 'Nashville' Ends on Shocker: What Does This Mean for Rayna?
The last scene was so surprising that even Esten’s mother, who is currently visiting him, had a visceral reaction to those final seconds. “She literally took air, both hands over her mouth, eyes wide,” he reveals. “I always know it’s a good episode because my youngest daughter would always text me, ‘It was intense.’ She’s 17, and had tears in her eyes.”
The aftermath of Rayna’s accident, and its impact on her loved ones and career, immediately becomes front and center in tonight’s episode. In the opening minutes, Deacon -- who was on the phone with Rayna at the moment of impact -- desperately notifies friends and family as he speeds through town to get to the hospital.
“His first priority is to get to Rayna as quickly as possible,” Esten says, admitting that “there’s not much more I can say” without getting into spoiler territory. “She’s always his priority.”
“He’s always wanted to protect her and that’s why it was tough for him to be on the phone -- to hear her in tears,” he continues, recalling Rayna and Deacon’s final phone conversation. “‘What is it, baby?’ ‘I’m OK, I just want to go home.’ The last thing Deacon says is, ‘Come on home baby, come home.’” RELATED: 'Nashville' Boss Talks Juliette's Season 5 Journey: 'She's Gone Through Hell'
Though Esten wouldn’t delve into details, you get the sense that this upcoming episode is more poignant than the rest.
“There’s really so much in this next episode. It’s a crucial episode,” the 51-year-old actor says. “Like this last one, the more heightened it is, the more care [goes into it]. You want to do these exactly right or as close as you can come to doing that. My goodness, they did in those final scenes near the end, and we certainly continue that in this next episode.”
“I’ve never had an episode where more people who have seen it already within our production have reached out to me to tell me how powerful they found it,” Esten shares. “I brought everything I could for this episode. We all did.”
But Esten did offer this warning of sorts.
“There’s more to come. Hang on tight.”
Nashville airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CMT.