The Magicians EP Sera Gamble on Exploring the Grieving Process

Eike Schroter/Syfy
Eike Schroter/Syfy

Everything has changed for The Magicians. Opting to sacrifice herself for the sake of Fillory and her friends, Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley) paid the ultimate price, leaving a crushed Quentin (Jason Ralph) behind. It’s clear that the season will take a sharp turn from here as everyone deals with the consequences of battling The Beast (Charles Mesure), and owning up to their decision to rule a magical kingdom.

It’s from here that The Magicians co-creator and Executive Producer Sera Gamble says the real story of Season 3 begins. Without The Beast leading their actions, the group is forced to move on in their own way. We spoke with Gamble about the decision to include Alice’s sacrifice, and how Quentin and Julia (Stella Maeve) will move on from the tremendous new blows they’ve been dealt.

The TV Junkies: Something that makes The Magicians stand out as an adaptation is the way it uses all three books, especially this season in particular, to tell the story. With that in mind, what is your process of breaking a season?

Sera Gamble: Every season is its own particular animal, and you kind of have to figure out what that is when you get into the writers’ room. John McNamara and I find it’s helpful to start the season by defining the structure of the season as a whole and going from there. In Season 1, it was clear when we wrote the pilot that it was going to be a “big bad” season, that by Episode 13 they would face The Beast. This season is a more complicated story. It isn’t a simple linear “big bad” story all season long. Their problems fracture in the middle of the season and each character has a slightly different goal, which is something we were really excited to earn just by letting you get to know each character well enough to understand why they care about what they care about.

TTVJ: The last episode we saw Alice “niffin out” in the battle with The Beast. What was the process in deciding how you would handle Alice’s storyline this season?

SG: We always knew we were going to tell this Alice story. It’s in the books. We will, at times, be following the exact trajectory of the books and at times will deviate, but it was so powerful when I read it for the first time in Lev Grossman’s book, the way that Alice stepped up and the way she sacrificed herself, and everything that came after for every other character in that whole world. It wasn’t something we could get around and we didn’t really want to, it’s just so completely transformational. It felt like such a deep and real consequence for going after The Beast. We were excited, Olivia was excited about it and, frankly, what we were going to do next.

TTVJ: What was that conversation with Olivia like when it came to going in this direction with Alice?

SG: It went a little something like… [laughs] You know, she has read the books many times and kind of understands the general story for Alice, and had a lot of questions for us about how closely we were going to follow the timeline of the three books. It’s always interesting when you’re making a TV show because you have these series regular contracts with people. But, for me, I’m so interested in exploring the grief process, especially in a show that has fantastical elements, because anyone who has been through a deep and difficult grieving process knows that it’s very jagged and complicated and rocky, and truly difficult to the human spirit.

It can be so depressing to try to bring that to life in a TV show, but on a show where you can do things like flashbacks, have dream sequences, see ghosts or spirits, it enables us to physicalize what characters are going through inside. While we were serious about killing Alice, we also knew that there might be a moment where Quentin might think about Alice and that would be an opportunity to see Olivia again.

Carole Segal/Syfy
Carole Segal/Syfy

TTVJ: Julia’s plans for Reynard, and that also led to the death of Marina. How does she carry that burden?

SG: We’ve had Julia in over her head since Episode 1 of the show. It’s interesting writing for this character because Julia is so bright, so sharp, she learns things so quickly. She has an exceptional mind in that way, that it’s almost like we end up throwing the most monumental obstacles, difficulties, complications at her because it takes that level of difficulty to keep her from climbing on top of the world. I would say, not unlike Quentin, she is deeply affected, she is overwhelmed, and I think it’s a character trait of hers that she never stops madly paddling. She’s such a fighter, and you’ll see some extreme lengths she goes to keep fighting.

TTVJ: Obviously a huge part of Julia’s story this season is the aftermath of her rape. How has the audience reaction been so far?

SG: It’s been an interesting response. It’s something people take seriously when you portray a graphic assault like that on television, people want to talk about it. It seems like it’s something people have strong opinions about, as they should. In the writers’ room we took that storyline very seriously, we didn’t want to do it just to do it. We certainly didn’t want to do it for shock value. We were very interested in what Julia’s character would go through in the aftermath of that. The truth of the matter is that kind of assault, that kind of trauma is not unusual in real life. People are mistreated every single day, people are traumatized every single day, the people that you’re meeting just going through your life are going through incredible trauma. So this show, again, with fantastical tools, magic spells and monsters, is a way for us, from a slight remove, to delve into those real and true aspects of the human psyche. That’s what’s important to us about it.

TTVJ: Going into the next episode, what is Quentin’s mindset following Alice’s death?

SG: Well, you see that right away that nothing in his life has prepared him for a loss of this magnitude. They had a complicated relationship but it was very real and in the moments before they faced The Beast they really looked each other in the eye and saw how each cared about the other. So this is a situation where Quentin doesn’t know how to process it, doesn’t know how to feel about it. You’ll see him, frankly, floundering, trying to get his feet back on the ground at all following this. It’s true of every character in the show that they’re deeply affected by her death.


Where do you think the series will go from here? Sound off in the comments below.

The Magicians airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on Syfy and Thursdays 10 p.m. ET on Showcase.