Warning: Spoiler alert! Do not proceed if you have not watched Wednesday's season four premiere of Riverdale.
The masterminds behind Riverdale couldn't have pulled off a more perfect tribute to Luke Perry.
To kick off season four of the popular drama series, The CW aired an hour-long, standalone episode on Wednesday that honored the late actor, who tragically died earlier this year after suffering a stroke. Simultaneously, it also celebrated the life of Perry's beloved character on the show, Fred Andrews, the father of Archie (portrayed by KJ Apa). Fans learned that Fred died in a hit-and-run accident, in a heroic effort to save a woman whose car broke down on the side of the road. The actress that played that woman was Shannen Doherty, Perry's real-life friend and former Beverly Hills, 90210 co-star.
Speaking with reporters at a special press screening for the episode, creator and executive producer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa said he and his team knew "very early on" that they wanted Fred to have a heroic death that would be "impactful" for Archie.
"It felt like that's a way that Fred could have gone," he said of the accident. "After that, we said that this episode really wasn't going to launch any huge stories for this season. It was really going to be kind of focused on [Fred's death] and the emotional effects of that passing for everyone."
"We talked about putting in some other storylines, but as we were working on it, we just kind of kept focusing it on our characters and focusing it truly on Archie," he continued. "There have been, sadly, a lot of tribute episodes in television. One of my favorites is the Friday Night Lights episode where the football player's father dies, it's called 'The Son.' We kind of just wanted to tell a very grounded, truthful story. So that kind of became the organizing principle for the marching orders."
As for the significance of Doherty being the character that Fred saves, Aguirre-Sacasasaid that getting her on the show has actually been a long time coming.
"Over the seasons, Luke and I talked a lot about trying to get Shannen on the show and the timing never worked out, or the part was never quite right -- she was doing this or unavailable or it didn't feel right," he shared. "When we were working on the episode, we knew that there would be some characters outside of our cast of characters that would be involved."
"Rather than have another actor play that [part], we thought that it would be nice if it was someone he cared for in real life. And he cared so deeply about Shannen," he added. "That's how we got to that. Again, with these episodes like this, it resonates for Fred, it also resonates for Luke, and Shannen kind of speaks to that, I think. And I think she really wanted it to be part of it from the moment we first talked to her about it."
Aguirre-Sacasa continued on, saying that with the exception of Doherty, he and his team really wrote the episode as a tribute to Fred, "knowing that most of our viewers have a real, deep, personal connection to [him]."
"It just exists," he said, adding that having a welcome parade for Fred felt innate. "It felt like the town would naturally honor Fred for who he was, and that was similar to how we all [did for Luke]. After Luke passed, there was a memorial at Warner Bros., and all of Luke's family and friends gathered. The [welcome home] parade sort of felt like that, a little bit."
Having Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes) and Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart) go in to see Fred's body instead of Archie also wasn't a coincidence, Aguirre-Sacasa revealed. "We talked about it in the room and what it kind of came down to was a character choice," he explained. "They do say that; I believe some people say, 'I wanna remember my father a certain way, and if I see him a certain way, I'll never erase that from my thought.'"
"And to be honest with you, until almost the last draft of the script, we had Archie going in there," he added. "We kind of kept going over that moment where Archie ... it almost feels like he's a little boy in that moment and he can't go into that room. And then he turns to one of his oldest friends, Betty, and his girlfriend to do it. I think it's as valid a choice as going in there. We talked about it a lot though."
Toward the end of the emotional episode, flashback clips featuring Perry and Apa together play, which brought back some vivid memories for Aguirre-Sacasa.
"It so happened that those two flashbacks were in the garage where Archie would go. I will say that I remember vividly from season one, it's in the third episode, where Fred soundproofs the garage. It's a really simple story, right? Like, Dad says you're making too much noise, son says I want to play my music, loving father sound-proofs the garage," he said. "I remember when we did that episode, Luke called me and said, 'I love that Fred's doing this for Archie. It's something I would have done for my son.' There's so much baroque storytelling on Riverdale that there was such a truth and simplicity to that story. It was nice that that was a thing we could go back to."
And now, with Fred being gone, Molly Ringwald's character, Mary Andrews, is really stepping in as the parental figure for Archie.
"It's been great to have Molly back," Aguirre-Sacasa shared. "We've been having a lot of fun with Mary back to Riverdale ... she's moving from Chicago, not quite aware of what a rough town Riverdale is."
"I think that it’s really great that Archie has Mary there for him and I think that Mary loves being there for her son," he continued. "I do still think there's no replacing his dad. But Mary's doing great and I'd really be worried for Archie if not for Mary."
Fans also learned at the end of the episode that Archie made a promise to himself to honor his dad's legacy every day for the rest of his life.
"Fred casts a long shadow. Fred, on the show, he's always kind of been our kind of moral center," Aguirre-Sacasa explained. "We certainly describe him as the one good parent on Riverdale and the best influence on Archie. He's got dignity and honor and really good values."
"Archie does too, but we've seen Archie for three years looking to see what kind of man he's going to be, what he's going to do and I think, in the end, it’s trying to do what his father did, which was help his community, help his town, help his friends, make the right choices," he continued. "Archie wants to live up to that I think. I think he's always wanted to follow in Fred's footsteps and now feels that burden even more so. But Archie's still going to be Archie, and I think he's going to struggle with grief and struggle with how to live up to Fred's memory."
On the approach for going into the next episode following the beautiful tribute, Aguirre-Sacasa confirmed there will be "a little bit of a time gap."
"So episode one is on July 4, and then we pick back up in September," he revealed. "I will say that the shadow that Fred casts, Fred's death casts, is on episode two, and honestly, we're about 10 episodes into the season and we're still feeling that."
"The truth is, Archie will be wrestling with that for the rest of his life, other characters less so," he added. "One of the things that's been interesting is, when something like a tragedy like that happens, everyone grieves and then people move on at different points. But for the person who's at the core of it, they live with it every day. So we don't pretend it didn't happen. It's still very much permeating Archie's story."
Calling all Riverbabes! The new season of Sweetwater Secrets, ET's Riverdale aftershow, is airing every Thursday at 10:30 AM PST / 1:30 PM EST on ET Live! Join host Leanne Aguilera as she unleashes her weekly Hisses and Kisses, chats live with fans and debuts exclusive interviews from your favorite Riverdale stars.