The death of television characters is often a source of great contention and debate within the show’s loyal fanbase. Sometimes, a beloved character bites the dust to heighten the stakes in the plot or propel another character’s story arc forward, while other times, the death occurs because of behind-the-scenes drama. This isn’t always the fault of the actor portraying the character; sometimes scheduling conflicts or real-life events are to blame, though occasionally, the actor’s lack of professionalism or tendency to create conflict among the cast and crew spells doom for the character they portray on screen. This isn’t the case with the ill-fated Abbie Mills, one of the main characters of the television series Sleepy Hollow, whose death left the fanbase in an uproar and led to the declining viewership and the series’ eventual cancellation.
Sleepy Hollow, a supernatural drama series that aired on Fox from 2013-2017, follows Ichabod Crane who’s mortally wounded in a battle against the Headless Horseman and wakes up in the present day. He forms a partnership with Abbie Mills, a police officer who witnesses her mentor and the town sheriff decapitated by the Horseman, to fight the forces of darkness who will bring about the end of days. Many fans were drawn to Sleepy Hollow for its strong cast and chemistry between Abbie and Ichabod and tuned in week after week to watch Abbie kick-ass and settle into her role as one of the two saviors–or Witnesses–whose seven-year mission was to prevent the upcoming apocalypse. Nicole Beharie was excellent in her performance as Abbie, and she was credited for the show’s success. She was relatable–she had fears and doubts, but she was driven to help others and protect the innocent. She was intelligent, she was a problem-solver, and she faced off against some seriously dark and sinister forces.
As one of the series’ co-leads, it seemed that Abbie was in the game for the long haul, but with the introduction of Ichabod’s wife, Katrina, and the disastrous direction of Season 2, she was instead sidelined until her death in the show’s third season finale. While she died a hero’s death in sacrificing her soul to stop Pandora, it was a move that was met with intense adverse reaction from fans. Fox initially claimed that the reason for her death was because Beharie wanted out of the series and asked for an early exit. However, in later interviews, Beharie revealed that she left the show in part due to an autoimmune disorder and the horrible treatment she endured from the showrunners.
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“My costar and I were both sick at the same time but I don’t believe that we were treated equally,” Beharie told The San Diego Union-Tribune. “He was allowed to go back to England for a month while I was given Episode 9 to shoot on my own. So I pushed through it and then by the end of that episode I was in urgent care. And all the doctors, including the doctors that the studio was sending, were all confirming, ‘Hey, she can’t work right now.’” It was not something the producers wanted to hear. Beharie ended up getting lawyer, and asked for a reduced schedule to work through her illness. By then, her condition worsened. Production on Sleepy Hollow shut down for two weeks, but she received no support and was even labeled as a trouble-maker which prevented her from finding future work.
“Sometimes I think that some people I was working with didn’t like that I was unwell but loved by the audience,” she said. “I would think they’d support that. But everyone of color on that show was seen as expendable and eventually let go.”
The treatment she received at the hands of Sleepy Hollow‘s showrunners took the Beharie several years to recover from, and the actress admitted that it changed the trajectory of her life and career. Fortunately, both her career and her health have bounced back, with her roles in Black Mirror, Little Fires Everywhere, and as Turquoise Jones in the film Miss Juneteenth. Still, her treatment, and the way Abbie was sidelined and fridged left fans outraged, and everyone agreed that Abbie deserved better.
YouTube channel, MelinaPendulum, delved into great detail about the circumstances surrounding the actress’ departure from the series and treatment she received behind the scenes. You can watch the video here: