Ultimate Karate Villain Thomas Ian Griffith Helps Us Break Down The ‘Shakespearean’ Season Finale Of ‘Cobra Kai’

Terry Silver, man. He’s glorious. I mean, he is an awful person (who made his fortune through a toxic waste disposal company) but still somehow a terrific character. One only need to consult that iconic scene in The Karate Kid III where Terry’s cackling into a phone (in a sauna while only wearing a towel) about he’s going to make Daniel LaRusso feel the pain. The rest of that threquel was not fantastic, mind you, but this scene (and Terry) will live on forever. Actor Thomas Ian Griffith infused a cosmic amount of energy into this character, which he revived for Cobra Kai a few years ago, and the results were pure magic. Fans enjoyed seeing this cartoonish villain maneuver through a new generation, and in Season 5 (which still has the “Eye of the Tiger”), Terry got what he deserved (including Daniel’s crane kick). And he lost a Rembrandt.

It’s a fitting fate for Terry, who got recruited by Vietnam war-buddy John Kreese to help reinforce the dojo against the combined forces of Miyagi-do and Eagle Fang. The baddies then won the All Valley Tournament because Terry cheated, and then the show revealed that Silver forced Stingray to help frame Kreese and ship him off to worship Jell-O in prison. The trio of performances here — from Thomas Ian Griffith, Paul Walter Hauser, and Martin Cove — were tremendous in their commitment to the karate-soap-opera drama of this franchise. Likewise, the series creators (Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, and Hayden Schlossberg) knew how to ignite the Terry Silver dynamite.

Thomas Ian Griffith was gracious enough to sit down for a chat to discuss what’s really going on in Terry Silver’s head. We also discussed the season finale, in which Terry kicked Chozen’s ass, and then Daniel kicked Terry’s ass. Also, Thomas has some dreams for Terry, no matter what happens after his Cobra Kai downfall.

Hi Thomas, I wanna start with an odd question. I know you were a martial arts expert before joining The Karate Kid franchise. If I was thinking about choosing a style for, say, self-defense, which would you recommend?

Oh, there are so many wonderful styles. It really depends on what you’re looking for and your immediate goal. Is it purely for self-defense or health to get in shape? But a good school, they’re out there, and the stretching and the physicality away from the whole fighting thing, it just becomes who you are. I grew up doing this and kept up with it, and it’s part of my daily life, and that’s helped me in so many ways. First of all, as a kid, it helped keep me on the straight and narrow, and as an adult, I have this outlet. Having a place to go where you feel safe, you get an incredible workout, and you walk out and go, “I can just deal with anything that’s coming my way.” I think that’s the way to go. If you can find a school or a teacher like that, it pushes you beyond what you thought you were capable of but also in a very safe environment because the health factors, but physical and mental, well like I said, I live it.

I was mulling over the subject while watching this season, and you seemed like the perfect person to ask, so I appreciate it.

Sure! Just to be able to divorce the rest of the world for that hour or so when you’re on the mat, there’s a purity and you’re connected with your breathing and your body, it’s just a great art.

Speaking of which, Terry Silver is an art fan. And after Season 4, you told Men’s Health that you didn’t consider Terry a “bad” guy but mostly “misunderstood.”


Given what has now transpired, do you feel any differently?

You know, when you play a character, you can’t think of them as a good or bad guy, you find the commonality of them, what you can relate to. For me, Terry has such great qualities in terms of off-the-chart loyalty. He was brought back into this world when he knew that it was the last thing that he wanted, but his loyalty towards friends, someone would say just life, and then go back to saying, “Why did we originally start this? To really teach kids a way to compete in life, to be able to (no matter what’s going on) succeed.” And that’s a pure, wonderful thing, and I think along the way, strings got pulled that took him down a dark path because things backfired and became personal.

Things got real personal with John Kreese, yeah.

And then Terry has that way where he’s someone who can devote himself to martial arts the way he did, to the piano the way he did, to his art, the way he looks at life. He exists on a certain level that’s zero tolerance for anything like, “Why don’t you understand that what I’m doing is right? It’s good. And when I ask for forgiveness and love and I don’t get it back?” He really takes it so personally, so I think through the course of this season, you see that now he’s in charge because Kreese has a weakness and wasn’t true to the commitment they made together. He thinks that by making the dojos ultra-fancy and expanding, this is going to give him what he’s looking for. I think in that search, he falls short, and that’s so devastating for him. The people that are challenging him are stopping him from succeeding. He just goes into that place where they have to literally be discarded.

There’s some debate out there on Reddit, where some people think that Terry’s behavior grew erratic too quickly. Do you think part of this is PTSD?

[Nods] Terry has demons.

For sure, I wouldn’t want to be in his head.

And Kreese taps into those demons and manipulated him. And so that’s a part of it, and he surrounds himself with the beautiful distractions of life, and he keeps being pulled back into a place where, back in Season 4, he was aware of “That was ridiculous. I tortured a teenager.” And yet when you’re in that world, because of relationships with his father, relationships with Kreese, the whole war experience, the PTSD — he has those triggers, and I think that’s what you saw manifest itself and then it was “Is this good for kids?” That path you’re going down becomes so extreme, but for Terry, it’s a means to survive.

We gotta talk about how he went down, though. There are theories about Daniel’s crane kick and an oral history and speculation that Daniel was the real villain, and Johnny got screwed, and so on. And Terry gave Daniel a hard time about his crane kick during The Karate Kid III, but in this season finale, Terry receives the crane kick. How do you feel about that full-circle moment?

Oh, it’s the ultimate full circle. I mean, for me, Thomas, it just felt like a great ending to this rivalry, you know, because of how he taught him during his youth to now coming into trying to manipulate his life. Ending that way just felt Shakespearean. I love that the writers committed to Terry going down with his passion and beliefs, and Ralph — halfway through the season, Ralph lost his way, and Terry was able to take advantage of that, both mentally and physically. At the end of it, with everything backfiring and the thought of Cobra Kai completely collapsing, he sort-of went a little mad. That took him off his game, for Daniel to use his way of martial arts and philosophy to defeat Terry. And of course, the crane kick is the ultimate punctuation mark.

But when I think about the crane kick, it seems like such an obvious move. It’s not like a surprise move. Daniel’s standing there and posing for a few seconds, so why do opponents just walk right into it in this universe? I would run my ass off.

[Laughs] Well, we’re in a wonderful make-believe scenario, and I think that’s the best way to answer that question. This is an absurd show, I mean, it’s life and death about a kids’ karate tournament. But that’s the beauty and the success of the show because you can go, “It’s ridiculous, and I’m just along for the ride, and oh, they’re taking it so seriously.” It’s affecting their lives and kids, and that’s the genius of these guys and why I think it’s so successful from the movie franchise to this television show. Because yes it was nostalgic, it was also irreverent, but it had such heart. And they keep going back to that, and then of course, the humor throughout, so I can laugh, but with Terry Silver, you gotta watch him. I sure wanna see what he is gonna come up with, and there’s such a glee to the character, which was such a big part of what I wanted to bring back. Because that was in The Karate Kid III. I wanted to keep that alive, that he really enjoys what he does. He wants the great battle. He wants the great adversary. Rise to the occasion, and if you beat me, I will respect you.

And he very dramatically said to Chozen, “I’m not afraid to die.”

That’s just the stakes. Chozen’s saying, “I”m not afraid to kill,” so Terry’s saying, “I’m not afraid to die.” Also, we have these two true warriors, the villain from Karate Kid II against the ultimate villain from Karate Kid III clashing, and on set, it was just electric when we came together. Even in rehearsals, the creators had their iPhones out, shooting us, because they’re such fanboys, like “this is what we wanted, and this is what we’ve been building to.” And Yuji, who plays Chozen, was so wonderful. And we approached it with more than the whole physicality. Obviously in that fight, how do we up the stakes, so it’s not just another karate fight. Then when we came up with the idea of the whole sword thing, it was like, “Oh, this is taking it to a whole other level.” Life and death. But also, for actors, it was like the danger fact just went up exponentially. So we are really in this place where it created a great atmosphere to work with.

It was so cinematic with the swimming pool and the lighting, but since Terry’s outta there, I do need to know this: if you could put him in any other TV show or movie, where would you want him to go?

Ooh, wow. Kimberly! God, wouldn’t you love to see Terry in like the ultimate romantic comedy? I would just love to see Terry in a different world to see how he fits in, and what are those sides and colors that we haven’t seen of him? That’s actually a great idea.

Like a Hugh Grant-type movie?

Yeah, wouldn’t that be fantastic to take the charm of that character and the skills of that character [there]? And I would love to see that. I’d love to see him fall in love.

I was thinking about how he wants love, and his war buddy rejected him, you know, in a different way, but still about love.

Yeah, and it’s funny, and I feel like his life is… where’s the human input? Which would have probably been so therapeutic to Terry.

Did you ever hope for a scene in Cobra Kai where you’d be holding that cell phone and wearing a towel and cackling?

They wanted to work that in, so bad, like how do we make it happen? I think that’s why we had the scene with Ralph and his country club in the steam room, you see me walk in holding that cellphone, so it’s sort-of a throwback for the fans, which I love that. Again, these guys, I give it all to the writers and the creators of this show for creating this character, and they have him this incredible two-season arc. I was just proud to be a part of it. It was really an honor.

I can’t believe how well they appeal to all the quadrants.

I mean, a show that can do that is so rare! Believe me, my two boys are in their 20s, the premiere’s tonight, and they are so excited. They could care less what mom and dad do, but Cobra Kai? They’re gonna go watch the first two episodes tonight.

My daughter’s friends and I can’t stop talking about this show. We agree that Anthony LaRusso is the worst character, but it’s a very bonding experience.

[Smiles] That’s the beauty of the show, and again, god bless these writers. They did an amazing job.

The fifth ‘Cobra Kai’ is currently streaming on Netflix.