What Really Happened To Nicky On This Is Us? Here Are The Best Theories

Photo: Courtesy of NBC.
Over a year ago, This Is Us dropped a bombshell: Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia) had a brother named Nicky (Michael Angarano). You’ll notice the past tense there, since This Is Us was practically screaming “Nicky died!” the moment his character was introduced. By the end of season 2, Jack confirmed as much, telling his teen sons (Niles Fitch and Logan Shroyer), “[My brother] went to war, and he died.” The war in question is of course the Vietnam War, which This Is Us has spent considerable time exploring in season 3.
Since the beginning of the new season, it has felt like This Is Us was preparing to unveil a billboard further rubbing in Nicky’s death as yet another Pearson family tragedy.
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Then the 2018 fall finale “The Beginning Is The End Is The Beginning,” came along and pulled the rug out from all of us. Nicky. Is. Alive. Nicky is alive! An old Nicky Pearson is alive and well and living in Bradford, PA, about 150 miles from the Pearson homebase of Pittsburgh. The very alive old Nicky is played by longtime actor Griffin Dunne, who recently appeared on Succession and The Romanoffs.
As we await the 2019 return of This Is Us, we have time to try to figure out what actually happened to the much mythologized Nicky Pearson. Keep reading for all the best theories on Nicky’s non-death and subsequent long life.
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1 of 6
Nicky faked his death

This is definitely the leading theory. Throughout “The Beginning,” Nicky, who is dealing with a newfound drug addiction influenced by wartime trauma, and Jack battle it out over the former's sobriety. In Nicky’s last 24 hours with Jack in Vietnam, Nicky gets high once again, upsetting an endlessly supportive Jack. But, because Jack is Jack, he pledges to get Nicky clean once more before he leaves.

Nicky, on the other hand, finally announces he doesn’t want to get clean. The exhaustion over the horrors of war has clearly taken its toll. Nicky, is done. The younger Pearson brother walks off, and, in one of the last scenes of the “Beginning,” we learn a boat exploded in the water just outside of their unit’s camp. Someone says an American soldier was on the vessel.

It’s heavily suggested Nicky is the man on the boat. Considering everything Jack has said about his brother, it would make a lot of sense for him to believe his brother died on that boat.

There’s just one catch…
2 of 6
Nicky seemingly died at a different time

In the present timeline, Jack’s son Kevin (Justin Hartley) learns from his personal Vietnamese tour guide that Nicky did not die in Vietnam because his name is not in the official war memorial. That means the military never declared Nicky dead. So, Jack and his family could have never been notified of Nicky’s death.

It’s possible Jack believes Nicky died upon returning from the war, maybe from a drug overdose.
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3 of 6
Jack believes he killed Nicky

It’s difficult to figure out how this one would work, but This Is Us is a show obsessed with the most morbid twists and turns possible. If it wants to make Jack believe he committed fratricide, it will.
4 of 6
Jack knew Nicky didn’t die and thought he was staying in Vietnam

To return to the “dead to me” possibility here, we arrive at Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and Jack’s first big conversation together. “I don’t like talking about the war. Or my brother. Makes me sad… makes me angry,” Jack tells Rebecca in season 3 premiere “Nine Bucks.”

Tellingly, Jack doesn’t say Nicky is dead. He does say, however, that he’s angry. It would make sense for Jack to be angry at Nicky for staying in Vietnam to continue abusing drugs rather than coming home and getting clean. And, Jack would sensibly be angry at the war for destroying his brother’s life.

This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman certainly suggests this theory is a possibility, telling Entertainment Weekly, “If as we’re saying, Nicky’s alive and Jack in present day has been carrying that, it’s not quite mourning as much as: What happened and what has Jack been hiding, and why? Psychologically it’s a big part of what we get into in the back half of the season pretty quickly.”
5 of 6
Jack knew Nicky is alive and living in America

In keeping with Fogelman’s question of “What did Jack know — or not know?,” to EW, it’s also possible Jack not only knew Nicky came home alive, but also that he settled in Pennsylvania. So, the mystery would be why did Jack lie to every person in his life about Nicky’s fate?
6 of 6
Rebecca somehow knew about Nicky

As Rebecca says to Tess in the present timeline in “Beginning,” she kept a secret from Jack. Considering how well Rebecca hid the identity of William (Ron Cephas Jones), Randall’s (Sterling K. Brown) biological father, from her son, would anyone be surprised if Rebecca also didn’t tell Jack his supposedly dead brother reached out to the Pearsons? Of course not.
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