[SPOILER ALERT: Read only if you have already watched The Walking Dead midseason finale, “How It’s Gotta Be.”]
Carl Grimes might just be the future of The Walking Dead comic book. For a while, the original source material has appeared to be setting up a possible leadership transition from father Rick to son Carl. However, the future of TV Carl is far less rosy.
Executing the biggest departure yet from the comic, The Walking Dead dropped a bomb on Sunday’s midseason finale — revealing at the very end that Carl had been bitten by a walker and that his departure was imminent. It was a huge shock for fans, as well as for the cast, who has watched actor Chandler Riggs grow up on set. (Star Andrew Lincoln told EW it was “the biggest death we’ve ever done.”)
We spoke to Riggs, who opened up about how he first got the news, playing some of his final scenes, not being able to play out comic book Carl’s story, saying goodbye to his Walking Dead family, and looking forward to his other film and music projects. (He is currently shooting a film titled Inherit the Viper and just released a new music single under the alias Eclipse.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So this was all Siddiq’s mom’s fault, wasn’t it?
CHANDLER RIGGS: [Laughing] I guess so, yeah.
Tell me how and when you found out this would be going on?
I found out in June when we were rehearsing for episode 6. Scott Gimple called to meet with me and my mom and my dad to talk about story stuff. And then he revealed that Carl would be dying in episode 9. It was devastating because the show has been such a big part of my life. I had gone to school and done the show and dedicated so much time and effort into the show that it was crazy that that was going to be the decision. I was so excited to do the story lines from the comics. But I guess it does make sense for Rick to kind of have to adopt this humanitarian lifestyle that Carl has an outlook on right now.
You say it makes sense. What did Scott say was his reasoning for doing it, because contrary to what some fans may think, he does not kill main characters lightly?
His reasoning behind it was that in the comics after All-Out War, Negan gets taken prisoner, so to figure out a way to make Rick not want to kill Negan would be to have Carl see things from a different perspective and try to push those ideals onto Rick. That was kind of touched on in the flashback where Carl is talking to Rick about how they can’t kill every one of the Saviors and not everyone is a bad person.
Because even Carl has grown so much over the past eight seasons and evolved into this whole new person — especially from seasons 3 and 4 where he was this coldblooded murderer to now this person who can see the good light in other people. I think episode 9 is really going to focus on Carl trying to teach Rick as much as he can about what he has learned and show him that people can change.
What was your reaction when you first found out this was going down?
I honestly thought he was joking the first time he said it, because Scott has a pretty good sense of humor and we joke around a lot. So I thought he was joking. When I realized he wasn’t, it was quite the shocker, because I was really looking forward to the story arc from the comic book with another group, the Whisperers. Carl has a really, really cool interaction with one of the members of that whole group and I was super excited to do that whole story line. But in terms of typecasting and my career, it’s the best move for me. For my acting career in general, it’s definitely not going to end up being a bad thing. I’m super stoked to be doing bigger things and other things I haven’t had a chance to do before.
A lot of people would say the comics are really just as much about Carl as Rick and that we may be seeing that transfer of power from father to son there, which we will now not see here on the TV show. That has to make this the biggest change from the comic, right?
Absolutely, especially with how much Robert Kirkman values Carl’s character — at least in the comics. I think this was the last thing anyone expected or any of the cast members expected. I remember talking to Andy [Lincoln] and Alana [Masterson] after I found out and everybody else found out and no one could believe it at all because it was so out of left field that I don’t think anybody saw it coming.
How did you want to approach the big scene with you and Negan at the Alexandria wall where you tell him to kill you if that will bring peace?
I was actually really looking forward to that scene because I remember reading the script and I was like, “Oh, that is so cool. I can’t wait to do that.” And filming was definitely fun, although it was also kind of sad because it was my last scene with Jeffrey Dean Morgan. It was really fun to do just because that scene was so powerful and really sums up Carl’s story arc in one scene. It shows Carl being a leader and standing up for himself and for Alexandria and for all of the people living in it — that he’s willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good of the community.
Everyone talks about the Walking Dead family. How difficult was it over these final few weeks of filming?
It was really weird, especially because once the script came out, everybody was treating me like I was actually getting killed. Everyone was like, “Are you okay?” And I’d be like, “Yeah, I’m totally fine. I’m moving out to L.A. in a month. It’s actually awesome!” So it was weird, but everybody was really nice and we had a death dinner. It was really helpful that I had made up my mind in moving to Los Angeles and doing music and everything and had a positive outlook on it — that really helped the morale of the cast and crew in not being too worried about me.
Was saying goodbye hard?
That definitely sucked, knowing that I was going to have to say goodbye to all the cast and crew. The crew especially, because a lot of them have been there since day 1. Because with the cast, I’m always going to see them at conventions and what not. I saw Scott Wilson this past weekend at a convention. But with the crew, I don’t know when I’m going to see them again. It’s weird thinking that. But it’s such a privilege to be a part of this amazing family. I definitely don’t regret any moment of it at all. Going through this sucked for sure, but ultimately in terms of my career and my life, it’s definitely going to be for the better and I’m really excited to see what’s to come.
What’s it been like to grow up on this show as both a young man and an actor?
It’s been incredible. About half of my life has been this show, and I’ve really grown up with that and grown up with everyone — and even the fans. That’s been the most incredible part of this show is how dedicated the fans are to my character and how much they can relate to this character because they have grown up with him. I know it’s going to be super devastating in episode 9 when he finally does get his proper send-away. But the coolest part has definitely been the fan base.
What’s the thing you’re most proud of from your eight years on this show?
I’m definitely proud of how I’ve grown as an actor. I went back and watched my old audition tapes from season 1 a few months ago. In my opinion, I was so bad on those audition tapes. Yeah, I was 10 and had only done a couple of other things, but it was really not that great an audition. It’s just incredible to see how much I’ve really learned from being around these actors and working with these incredible people and directors. That’s my biggest takeaway from the show.
What can you say about playing this out in the next episode when the show returns?
Carl is going to spend his every last moment trying to teach Rick everything that he can about what he has learned because Carl has been watching and observing Rick between his every right move and wrong move over the last few years. Carl has grown into this wise old soul and can see past this hate and anger that Rick has for Negan and the Saviors. In episode 9, he’s going to be trying to teach Rick everything he can.
For more Walking Dead intel, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.