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The real reason why Damon Gupton left Criminal Minds

In February 2020, the minds behind Criminal Minds finally closed up shop after 15 long years, two spin-offs, a video game, and more. Though the series remained about the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) cracking cases involving the most dangerous breed of criminals from beginning to end, its run was marked by change of all kinds, including in its cast. For any single actor or actress to stay on any show for 15 years would be insane, but those who left Criminal Minds had their reasons, nonetheless.

Not every actor, however, ends up leaving of their own accord. Sometimes, fate plays a hand and, well, that's that. Such was the case for Damon Gupton, who played Special Agent Stephen Walker on the show's 12th season. With the amount of actors and actresses who'd come and gone from the show over the years, fans weren't necessarily surprised to see another one go, but the circumstances surrounding Gupton's departure were no less unfortunate for all that.

What happened to Damon Gupton's Stephen Walker?

Gupton was essentially a replacement for actor Thomas Gibson, who was fired after kicking a writer on set in the wake of a creative disagreement towards the end of season 11. Actor Shemar Moore left around the same time, though his reasons were more personal and professional than anything. All things considered, Gupton had some big shoes to fill as Stephen Walker.

While the shoes did fit, the character never truly had any room to grow or develop. That's not to say that Walker was unenjoyable, or that Gupton didn't portray him well; in fact, fans received the new addition with open arms. Both character and actor, however, received the short end of the stick from a writing perspective. What was therewas solid enough, but there was so much else already going on when Walker was introduced, leaving little time for audiences to dwell on him.

Come the finale of season 12, the BAU had the horrifying Mr. Scratch, at large for two seasons by that point, in their sights — or thought they did. Walker and the team walked right into the criminal's trap, resulting in a devastating car accident and a cliffhanger that left fans wondering who survived. When season 13 rolled around, it was discovered that Walker suffered whiplash ... and he was the only one to die.

Why Damon Gupton was let go from Criminal Minds

For those paying attention at the time, Walker's death may have been a foregone conclusion, as it was announced that Gupton was fired in the interim between seasons. Showrunner Erica Messer originally brought him in on request from CBS following the Thomas Gibson incident, but she was sad to let him go regardless. One of the show's spin-offs had just been canceled, and they wanted to bring its star, Daniel Henney, to the main party. That meant someone had to go, and Gupton was that someone. As Messer told TV Guide, "[T]hese decisions aren't made quickly or anything like that. Everything was a thoughtful decision."

None of this was made entirely clear to the public right away. In fact, the news broke because Gupton posted on Twitter in response to football player Tyvis Powell throwing the first pitch at a Cleveland Indians game despite having been released from his team. Gupton obviously couldn't help but admire Powell's strength in the face of a similar situation: Being put out of work for reasons outside of his control. Fans had his back without hesitation, which hopefully softened the blow for him.

What Damon Gupton has been up to since Criminal Minds

Lucky for him, Gupton earned a spot on Black Lightning not long after his departure from Criminal Minds, remaining on the show for a solid three seasons as Inspector Bill Henderson. It was still a law enforcement-related role, yes, but a much different one than Stephen Walker, and much more developed. Gupton's final Black Lightning episode was much more climatic and definitive than a car accident resulting in whiplash, and fans were vocal about how much his portrayal of Henderson would be missed.

Gupton will also star in upcoming miniseries The Comey Rule, which has been delayed until after the 2020 presidential elections. Based on former FBI Director James Comey's autobiography A Higher Loyalty, which was written after he was fired from the position by Donald Trump, the series will feature Gupton as lawyer and politician Jeh Johnson. It should be interesting to see the actor portray a former Secretary of Homeland Security knowing his experience with characters more often on the front lines.

Perhaps more surprisingly, Gupton is also an orchestral conductor. Having studied music education at the University of Michigan, he's as well versed in keeping a concert moving as he is in acting. He's worked with the likes of the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra and the San Francisco Symphony at venues as world-famous as Carnegie Hall. His acting skills have come in handy at these venues as well, as he's been asked to narrate multiple events.

Simply put, the man's doing well for himself, Criminal Minds or no Criminal Minds.