Tonight's Heroes: Who dies, who lives and what it means

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Dec 14, 2012, 4:09 PM EST

Over the seasons of NBC's Heroes, Nathan Petrelli (Adrian Pasdar) ended up nearly dead more times than we can count. Most recently, his mostly dead character has hung around longer than any other mostly dead character we can remember. But in tonight's Heroes winter finale, "The Fifth Stage," the question about Nathan's future is finally answered. (Big spoilers ahead!)

Yes, Nathan croaks, and Pasdar leaves the series for good.

Well, OK, maybe he'll come back in a flashback or a dream ... but, really, that's it for Nathan. Pasdar might come back to direct, but he's gone as an actor. Probably.

Heroes fans—and we know you're still out there—know that Nathan actually died after his throat was slit by Sylar (Zachary Qunito) at the end of last season. A plot was hatched to keep Nathan alive by having mind master Matt Parkman (Greg Grunberg) implant Nathan's memories into shape-shifter Sylar's body. The tangled plot left Matt with Sylar's mind trapped with his and a confused Nathan struggling for an identity. Now the two have merged, and Sylar's not happy.

In "The Fifth Stage," "Once Nathan and Sylar come back together, there is a battle for the life of that body," executive producer Adam Armus told us. "Who is going to be in control? And whoever loses is the one that dies. It's the knock-down-drag-out who's going to win this body? And it's going to be between Peter and Nathan/Sylar. And Peter's going to be caught in the middle of it and fighting for his brother."

Pasdar's exit from the series had been leaked earlier this season, and creator Tim Kring and Pasdar have recently acknowledged the exit.

Armus admits it is tough to lose Pasdar and his character, Nathan, since they've been with the show since Heroes began. "We made some commitments last year, and we've committed that there is going to be an epic battle between two characters and who's going to win and who's going to lose. That's something we've been planning all this year," Armus said, adding: "Someone has to lose."

While it's doubtful few viewers would have picked Nathan to win this Sylar/Nathan battle royale, since Nathan would always be an interloper in Sylar's body, the character has been important to Heroes. We're going to miss him. Still, it's time to get this show on the road, and Armus promises there will be plenty of action among the remaining characters.

"We call this year of redemption for a very specific reason," Armus said. "It's all about the things that we've done in the past and whether we can make up for them. For Samuel [Robert Knepper] in particular, we're going to explore a lot of the things he's done in his past, a lot of what made him the man he is today, a lot of things that have shaped him. One of the things we're going to explore is the relationships he's had. And on the reverse coin, we're going to explore the relationships that Sylar has not had."

Armus added: "So there's going to be a duality between Sylar and Samuel that's going to be really interesting, and it's going to lead to the endgame, where some good guys that you think are really good are going to turn bad and some bad guys who you think are really bad are going to be good. It's going to really interesting in that way. But for us it's always been about the fact that our heroes have to work together; they have to get together and they have to come together as a family to win, to defeat the evil that's out there."

Are you glad Nathan's going to die? Or do you think he should live? Or have you stopped caring? Heroes airs at 8 p.m. tonight; after this episode, Heroes takes a break until Jan. 11, 2010, when it moves to 9 p.m.