‘SEAL Team’: AJ Buckley Reveals There’s a ‘Release’ for Sonny in Finale After Losing Clay

AJ Buckley in 'SEAL Team'
Spoiler Alert
Monty Brinton/Paramount+

[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for SEAL Team Season 6 Episode 9, “Damage Assessment.”]

SEAL Team rips out our hearts with “Damage Assessment,” but no one’s hurting following Clay’s (Max Thieriot) death more than Sonny (AJ Buckley, who delivers not only the best performance of the episode but also one of his best of the series).

Bravo is in a good mood, feeling like they’re one step closer to getting home, when Jason (David Boreanaz) gets the call that Clay’s dead. Sonny, of course, wants to go home immediately. In fact, Bravo is ready to stand down after losing a brother — only they can’t. They’re the only team who can handle a time-sensitive op.

Buckley talks about Sonny handling Clay’s death, including a big moment to come in the finale and more.

Talk about finding out about Clay’s death.

AJ Buckley: When I first found out in real life, Max told me. We had a feeling something was gonna go, we just didn’t know what way it was gonna go. But it sucked in so many ways because Max and I are such good friends. We became super close friends over the course of the five years working together, our kids are a couple months apart, and our wives are close. It was a hard pill to swallow because when you go to work with your best friend and then they’re not there anymore, it’s pretty devastating.

I felt really bad for [showrunner] Spencer [Hudnut] because having to figure out a way within the world to do this to Clay, there’s no easy way to do [that]. And knowing that the fans were gonna react the way that they would, it is a tough situation for Spencer to have to work through. But I think he did a really good job, as far as getting through that hump, and for us as actors and the rest of the actors on the crew, because Max is such a presence on set, there was a lot of real emotion there, losing that guy for sure.

David Boreanaz, Neil Brown Jr., Justin Melnick, A.J. Buckley, and Tyler Grey in 'SEAL Team'

Bonnie Osborne/Paramount+

We see Sonny rage, we see him break down, and we see him going through quite a few stages of grief. And then Bravo has to focus on the op at hand. So, where would you say Sonny is in terms of his grief at the end of the episode? Has he reached acceptance? Has he had time to?

No, I don’t think he does until — and you’ll know what scene I’m talking about in 10 — there’s a scene in 10 that truthfully was probably one of the toughest scenes I’ve ever filmed, but I’m really proud of it. Spencer and Chris Chulack were really awesome in discussing this journey that Sonny was gonna take over the next two episodes and how to emotionally blueprint it so we have these highs and lows of Sonny and stay true to the mission where he can’t get back and dealing with that and staying focused at hand and being aware of his brothers that he’s in battle with.

And then in 10, whatever happens in 10 — you’ll understand when you see it — there’s this sort of release that he needed. It was definitely tough, but like I said, Spencer and Chris Chulack were just awesome with having an open door with me just to ask all these questions, my worries, this and that, because it’s the first time we’ve really lost someone in the core group and we just wanted to honor that story as best we could.

It has to be worse for Sonny because he doesn’t have the full picture of what happened. He’s blaming himself, and perhaps getting answers could help ease that burden in a way, right?

I think with anything when you’re that far away from home, and there’s all these other things that are going on … we talked about just how you come up with these scenarios and Sonny’s guilt for not being there, and then he lashes out of Davis [Toni Trucks] for her decisions that she made. But at the end of the day, he’s gotta figure out how to just put Clay’s death to rest and have acceptance and then adapt and overcome and continue on and honor Clay and take care of his kid and all that sort of stuff.

Speaking of lashing out at Davis, the Sonny-Davis relationship this season has been so tense. How does he feel about her right now?

He’s very angry at her, but when you go through some sort of death or loss, your mind is trying to make sense of it, and you lash out at the people you love because there’s no manual for how to deal with death. People do things in different ways, and I think Sonny being the volatile character that he is, feels like he can lash out at Davis. I’m sure at some point, he’ll have to put his tail between his legs and hug it out with Davis.

He had to do that before Clay’s death, though.

He’s been a bit of a hothead this season.

AJ Buckley and Toni Trucks in 'SEAL Team'

Monty Brinton/Paramount+

Would you say there’s hope for Sonny and Davis romantically at this point?

You just never know. There’s a little piece of Savis in everybody. The fans want them, but it’s like the Mulder-Scully relationship [on The X-Files]. It almost happens, and it doesn’t, so it almost does. They both love each other dearly, but they put their job first, and we’ll see where it ends up. There are always little glimmers of hope.

It just seems like there’s always an obstacle in their way. They get past one thing, and then something else comes up.

I know, it’s crazy, right? It’s so frustrating.

After losing Clay, what does Sonny need? To be with Stella [Alona Tal] and Brian? To spend time with his daughter? Get away from everything, including Bravo and Stella?

I think he’s gotta get back and hopefully get home safe and then take some time to assess the situation of what the next steps would be for him mentally and physically.

How will losing Clay affect Sonny in terms of where the season leaves him and the choices he’ll make?

It really hits home. There’s a point before the season ends where everything clicks in for Sonny, and there’s a bit of denial that Clay’s gone. But there’s one point where everything happens, and that is where Sonny, I think, needed to have this release, so to speak.

Do you think Bravo and especially Sonny needed that time with Clay at the cabin, especially with what Clay was going through?

Yeah, I do. And just talking to special operations guys, there’s so much that these guys go through when they get home, and the suicide rate of our men and women that come back is way too high, and help is not there. Having that core group of guys that you’re with every day that continues on in battle and you’re sort of left behind can cause all sorts of scenarios. So them being there and getting on top of his pill problem and just reassuring him that their brotherhood is still strong was really important. But it’s such a real issue that these guys go through when they’re left alone or left behind, so to speak, and the rest of the team goes on; depression and different addictions can kick in. I thought that was a really great episode as far as just seeing off the battlefield how strong their brotherhood is, [and] how much they care about each other.

And just to see them all together because we haven’t seen that this season.

Yeah, I know. It was an odd season, for sure, because our filming schedules were so different from when Max was there. It was very scattered. It was definitely hard losing that guy.

Bravo did have to get to work, despite losing a brother, and the episode ended on a cliffhanger, with the helicopter taken down. What can you tease about how they’ll get out of that situation?

What blows me away about special operations guys is their ability to adapt and overcome. When something traumatic like this happens at home or wherever where they can’t get out of the mission that they’re in, they come together really as a team and bring the fight to the enemy.

Will Bravo make it to Clay’s funeral?

I can’t tell you.

This season, we saw members of Bravo looking at life after operating. Clay was dealing with that. Ray [Neil Brown Jr.] is planning to retire, and Jason has his TBI. What does the future look like for Sonny?

Sonny is a knuckle-dragger [and] door-kicker. He feels at home on the battlefield. So it will take a lot, if not everything, to get Sonny off the battlefield. He’s not good at sitting stateside. He wants to be in the fight always.

What else can you tease about the finale?

For [this two-parter], I would stock up at Costco on some Kleenex because you think [Episode] 9 is a tough one? [Episode] 10’s even tougher.

You mentioned the scene in 10 earlier. Were there any other scenes you would say were the toughest to film?

I’d say probably 9 and 10 were the toughest all year emotionally by far. That was the toughest on me anyways. I’m very grateful for, and I really mean this, Spencer and Chulack [for] really [guiding] me through that because when you’re dealing with a bunch of different emotions, you want to blow it on one take and not have anything left for these other takes because it’s two hours of television. So 9 and 10 were the toughest, but I think something that when I look back, I’m gonna be proud of.

It sounds like Sonny needed the lighthearted moment of blowing things up in Episode 9 before things get really tough in 10.

Yeah, I think that’s where he’s able to channel his energy and take out his anger. If he gets to blow some things up, I think it puts a smile on his face.

SEAL Team, Sundays, Paramount+