'1883' Star Breaks Down Brutal Death: 'It Changes Things Completely' (Exclusive)

The actor opens up to ET about the dramatic latest episode.

Spoiler alert! Do not proceed if you have not watched the latest episode of 1883.

Say goodbye to the cowboy.

On the latest episode of Paramount+'s Yellowstone prequel, 1883, which dropped Sunday, it was a dramatic farewell for Ennis (played by Eric Nelsen), who agreed to help the Duttons and their herd find a new homestead. During that time, Ennis took an immediate liking to the Duttons' eldest daughter, Elsa (Isabel May), and soon thereafter, the two fell in love. Unfortunately for the young couple, their honeymoon ended abruptly when Ennis, in an effort to protect Elsa and the others, from a dangerous group of bandits, was killed by gunshot in the final minutes of the latest installment. 

The timing couldn't have been worse. Just the day before his tragic death, Ennis and Elsa took their union to the next level, consummating their whirlwind romance, and even making plans to raise a family together. And Ennis' often tense relationship with Elsa's father, James (Tim McGraw), reached a moment of understanding when Ennis declared to the Dutton patriarch that he accept them as a couple or lose his daughter as a result.

The immediate after of Ennis' death, however, will change Elsa forever, and viewers caught a glimpse of that dramatic shift when she marched over the hill and fired shots in point-blank range at the bandit responsible for killing her love. "She is completely stripped of innocence from that moment and she goes from a girl to a woman right then and there, and that's evident," Nelsen told ET. "You're not going to see Elsa like you saw her before going forward.

Nelsen breaks down Ennis' death, his character's brief but pivotal journey on the show and if there's a chance he'll be back in some way, shape or form.

ET: When you signed on to 1883, were you aware of your character's fate?

Eric Nelsen: Not at first. I did not know what was happening at first -- before I signed on -- I just knew it was an epic story by Taylor Sheridan, the prequel to 1883 and I think I only read the first episode. Then I got cast and we went through the process and then I found out. Taylor sent me the scripts and I read what happens at the end of [episode] five and I was heartbroken. I mean, it was just as gut-punching as it's going to be for the viewers who get to watch, but it's all so beautiful. And the way it's told, it's so emotional and it's such a pivotal moment in the series so I was grateful to be able to be the one to portray that. Where the story goes from here, you'll see how impactful this moment is and it really shifts things completely. It was hard to read and watch, but a beautiful piece of art to be a part of and I'm so grateful for the opportunity.

Even over a very brief period of time, there's been a lot of growth for Ennis. What are your thoughts on his journey in these five episodes?

Yeah. I feel like it's pretty quick because we see it all happen within these five [episodes], but you're absolutely right. Ennis has a great arc that I wanted to make sure showed. In the beginning, we see that he's this cowboy who has got some innocence and purity to him in a way and he really just wants acceptance from James Dutton. I want him to like me and to give me approval to like his daughter and I feel like I'm stuck in between two places at times. But of course, Ennis uses his humor and his lightness to get through situations and then we start to see Ennis fall head over heels in love with Elsa and then ultimately his whole body. His whole being is in love with this girl and at that point, he really doesn't care what other people think and he no longer is submissive to James. He stands up to him and he gives him the ultimatum of "[Accept] us or you don't have either of us. I'm going to take your daughter because we're in love. She loves me, she trusts me. I trust her and if you're not supportive, we're going to go do our own thing." That's a huge turning point for Ennis' strength and relationship on the show to not only James but to himself. We see that power and he stands his ground for the first time. Of course, at the end, his dying words are to James, which I think is a pretty powerful moment within itself. If there's anything James Dutton saw from Ennis, it's his true heart and his true soul more than ever, especially at the end there so I hope he has love and appreciation for Ennis by the end of this.

Emerson Miller/Paramount+

You touched on the fraught relationship that he has with Elsa's dad. But at end of it they reach an understanding. Had Ennis not died, what were you curious about exploring?

Elsa just flat out asks Ennis if he'd be man enough to have her child. And he says yes, if he's even lucky enough for that to happen. It would've been nice to explore a family dynamic together and see where that went. At that point, Elsa could have asked Ennis to do anything and he would say yes for her. We see that too, but just the fact that Ennis chooses to have her stay as he rides up over the hill towards those bandits, he knows what's coming and he knows that in order to save her, he needs to go first. Ultimately, he gives his own life for her. I don't think there's anything Ennis wouldn't have wanted to explore with Elsa going forward, but specifically that family dynamic and children with the girl he's head over heels in love with would've been really special.

In the immediate aftermath of his death, there's like a switch that's turned off -- or on, depending how you see it -- when it comes to Elsa. How do you think this is going to impact her?

I know what happens so I can't really put it in [words]. However, I can say we see almost instantly a major shift in Elsa. When she walks over to that bandit and shoots and kills him, that's just a glimpse into Elsa's journey from here on out. She is completely stripped of innocence from that moment and she goes from a girl to a woman right then and there, and that's evident. You're not going to see Elsa like you saw her before going forward. That's about all I can tease, but it was a crucial moment for her character arc and the show as a whole. For her to go through this tragedy with Ennis and it gives her the strength and power that she otherwise maybe wouldn't have had.

There was a lot of talk of babies and family between Ennis and Elsa. Is that something that will come back around? Will we find out that she is expecting his baby? 

It leaves everyone wondering and questioning. I can't divulge that information because those are big questions in the storyline, but I will say, regardless of what happens, it's obviously a tragic event in her life and she's going to be approaching anything that happens to her from here with that weight on her shoulders. We're going to see her walk through the rest of this journey with a much heavier foot than she did before.

Any chance of you coming back in some shape or form, like flashbacks? Are you still in the world?

Ennis is not forgotten, but again, I can't explain what's going to happen for Ennis but Elsa definitely carries his memory on and we see that throughout.

What's next for you? 

Definitely putting my foot to the pedal and moving on and using this show as leverage for the next [thing]. As of right now, still technically working with Paramount. Actually, they're still filming. I think their last day of the shoot is [Saturday] and so we're about to close that door and open another one. Definitely have some stuff in the works. Nothing I can put out there as of yet, but again, so grateful for my time on the show and hope that with every ounce of my being can remain in the shared universe.

What do you want to say to viewers who might be a little distraught after watching this latest episode?

I'm with you guys. I was [distraught] too and filming it was difficult, especially because I was supposed to be laying there dead and the emotion that's happening around me, it was hard for me not to cry in the moment. But I thank everyone for their support and encouragement, and trust that this is a crucial moment and turning point for the series and it was a very impactful and crucial moment for Elsa's development and where her character goes from here. But I'm in your boat. I'm sad. I wish it didn't have to happen, but that's storytelling at its finest and it's going to have everybody talking. At the end of the day, it's entertainment and we hope we evoked emotion because that's what we're trying to achieve here.

New episodes of 1883 drop Sundays at 12:01 a.m. PT/3:01 a.m. ET on Paramount+. For more, watch below.

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