The shocking end of an era for fans of “The Wire” rolled out Sunday night on HBO when Omar Little was shot in the head. HBO offers an On Demand service through which die-hard “Wire” watchers can see every episode a week in advance of its actual airing. So two weeks ago, word of the death of Omar — played by Michael K. Williams — hit the streets, and on Sunday, the controversial eighth episode of this season aired on HBO proper.
Some fans of the critically acclaimed drama didn’t think Omar, a major badass and the survivor of several street wars on the show, could be stopped at all. Some thought he would get taken out in a blaze of glory with his rivals, neighborhood crack tycoon Marlo Stanfield and his trusted henchmen (make that henchpeople) Chris Partlow and Snoop Pearson. But the executives behind the series — creator David Simon and co-executive producer and writer Ed Burns — had different ideas. Omar was killed buying a pack of cigarettes in a local corner-store by a kid who looked like he hadn’t even reached puberty yet.
“I don’t know if it was so much of a surprise,” Williams said of the conclusion of his now-iconic role. “That’s how David and Ed and all of them write: not what everybody is expecting. Everybody was expecting to see him bang out with Snoop and Chris or Marlo. That’s exactly what he didn’t give you, but he also told another story where the minds of the youth are. The young nation, that’s how they do. Life is real cheap right now.
“I was definitely shocked,” he added. “It took me for a loop. I was also saddened. Not that he was dying, ’cause when I got the job, they told me season one Omar was only going to be around for seven episodes. ’After that, expect a bullet.’ It still hurt. Five years, you lock with this dude, you know the dude real well. The people of Baltimore, I got to know the streets, how they walk, how they eat, how they dress. I soaked all of that up. I feel like I lost one of my best friends.”
Williams says that last week, he had more activity than usual on his cell phone. Since the airing of Sunday’s episode, his calls have been so heavy that he’s only answering for close friends and family for now.
“I can’t handle the calls,” said the actor, who has also appeared in a series of hip-hop and R&B videos, including the recently released “Good Love” by his friend and clubbing buddy Sheek Louch. “All the love, it’s been crazy.”
Williams recalled that a few years ago, Omar wasn’t so popular, especially with the ladies. The mythical king of the streets killed the most popular character on the show, Idris Elba’s Stringer Bell.
“I think out of all the nemeses that Omar had over the seasons, Stringer Bell was by far the strongest,” Williams said. “I didn’t even like doing [the murder] scene. I was fond of the character myself. When I got the script, I was like, ’You gotta be kidding me. This is Stringer Bell! Who am I gonna come out and play with?’ I thought the show would be over [after that]. The only scene harder than that was [this season’s] episode eight. The women came at me with vengeance. ’You mutha—-a!’ I got a lot of flak from the female community after we killed Stringer.”
Omar’s popularity increased over the past two seasons. He has to be the most complex character on the series. Forget that he goes grocery shopping in his pajamas strapped with a shotgun or that all the kids fear him more than Freddy Krueger, yelling, “Omar’s coming!” whenever they see him. He’s ruthless, but he operates from his own code of ethics. For instance, he only robs those who engage in illicit, illegitimate activities. He’ll take his grandmother to church on Sunday and wet up the block the same day. He’s killed a small army of men, but he does not curse. He’s straight from the mud of the streets, but he’s cunning and intelligent. And he’s gay.
“When I got the breakdown from the casting director, it was pretty much all that on the paper,” he said of Omar’s traits. “I knew he was a gangster, I knew he was gay. I’m all about layers and complexities. How many layers can I put on this character? The homosexuality was just another layer. I was like, ’Great, I can put that here.’ It was like decorating a crib. The thing I brought to the table was making Omar sound Baltimorean. I didn’t want to sound Brooklyn. I wanted to talk, walk, dress like a true Baltimore dude.
“When I first got the job,” he continued, “I was like, ’Ooh, I got a gig.’ Now that I look back five or six years later, and I look at the entire body of work, all the writing and love we got … I was so blessed to be part of that movement.”