'Mare of Easttown' Director and EP Breaks Down That 'Surprise' Death (Exclusive)

Craig Zobel says it was 'time to remind everybody that it still was a thriller, not a murder mystery.'

Spoiler alert! Do not proceed if you haven't watched Sunday's episode of Mare of Easttown. 

It's time to change the pace on Mare of Easttown. Mare Sheehan's (Kate Winslet) case has slowly started to unravel on the HBO crime drama -- until this week's episode. 

"It certainly did feel like the time to remind everybody that it still was a thriller, not a murder mystery," Craig Zobel tells ET. In addition to directing every episode of the miniseries, Zobel also serves as an executive producer. "You need to start kind of putting some of the pieces together," he adds. 

Sunday's episode, titled "Illusions," didn't just mark a breakthrough in Mare and Zabel's (Evan Peters) investigation into what happened to Erin McMenamin. It cracked the case wide open, with the pair locating a suspect and finding another missing girl, Katie Bailey, alive -- but Zabel died in the process. 

Michele K. Short/HBO

The young detective's death seemingly came out of nowhere. Just seconds after he and Mare realized they had likely found the man they were looking for, the suspect drew his weapon and shot and killed Zabel. And yes, Zobel confirms he's really dead. 

"It was important, I think for all of us, that we make sure that it'd be clear that he did die, so that people don't get confused by that element," Zobel says, noting that Zabel's death came out of nowhere by design. 

"And he's really, truly a fantastic actor," he adds of Peters. "I've been a fan of his for a while. He's done so many different kinds of characters on American Horror Story that just was such an impressive training ground for him. And it was fun to watch him kind of build this character. I genuinely was impressed every day."

Zabel's death will "weigh heavy" on Mare, despite their odd coupling (professionally and romantically), Zobel says. Over the last few episodes, viewers have seen Winslet's character struggle with a custody battle with her grandson's mom and lingering pain from her son's suicide. 

"I think that Mare would be a great romantic partner for Zabel, but I think Zabel probably wouldn't be a great romantic partner for Mare," Zobel says of the character, who has another love interest in Guy Pearce's Richard Ryan. "Zabel would learn a lot from Mare, but I'm not a hundred percent sure that long-term, that that would be the best relationship, at least not for her." 

"But I think that she goes from a position of thinking that he's just the county hack to really starting to respect him and be impressed with him... and is impressed that he is kind of bold and forward," he notes. "So yeah, I think that this will weigh heavy on her." 

Michele K. Short/HBO

And while pieces of the puzzle are starting to come together, viewers still don't know all the details behind Erin's death -- or who is the father of her baby DJ. Her high school boyfriend, Dylan Hinchey, and Mare's ex-husband, Frank Sheehan, have both been ruled out, but the series has alluded to several other men having inappropriate relationships with the town's girls. 

"Mum's the word, is what I'm going to say on that. I'm not going to say anything," Zobel teases. "I'm just enjoying watching people come up with the theories and so it's exciting. So, keep watching." 

"I can tell you that it's a miniseries. I hope it answers all of the questions [in the finale]," he adds. "It answers all the big questions for sure. You will know by the last episode, for sure." 

But as for whether the miniseries could turn into something more, a la HBO's Big Little Lies, Zobel doesn't rule it out. 

"Never say never, I guess. ... It's hard to fabricate new reasons to have more murders, to have more detective stories, but I would never say never. And I just suppose it's up to whether or not everyone clammers for it," he says. "I certainly like Mare Sheehan so much that I would like to watch her more." 

"I feel really excited that it seems like people are happy to see a character like that on TV right now," Zobel shares. "It's making me happy to see people enjoy that." 

Just two episodes remain on Mare of Easttown, which airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on HBO. The show is also available to stream on HBO Max.


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