SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s midseason premiere of The Walking Dead, “Honor.”
Perhaps the only thing closer than the relationship between Rick Grimes and his son Carl on The Walking Dead is the one between Andrew Lincoln and his costar Chandler Riggs, who have grown together as an on-set family over eight seasons. However, both families were torn apart by the events of Sunday’s midseason premiere of The Walking Dead, titled “Honor.”
Carl finally was felled by the walker bite he revealed in the midseason finale, and it was an emotional goodbye both on camera and off. We chatted with Lincoln to get his behind-the-scenes take on the “unbearable” farewell, saying goodbye to Riggs, and what it all means moving forward on the show. (Read what Riggs himself had to say here and showrunner Scott M. Gimple’s thoughts here.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Chandler told me he felt he was really able to give this last episode 100 percent because he didn’t have to split his time with school or anything. Could you feel that in terms of his performance here?
ANDREW LINCOLN: You know, the only sort of huge comfort I take in Chandler leaving at this point is the fact that he got to be the hero of the series and the episode and give the gift to Michonne and Rick for the future and to say farewell. And the fact that he did absolutely all of it, that he was so focused and he just ran with it. You got to see this young man at normalcy now in a time when you watched him grow up on screen and give this absolutely beautiful and emotional performance and farewell. The positive is that it’s the beginning of this young man’s career here, and what a start to a career.
Is there a particular moment that emotionally really got you while you were filming this?
I think all of it. The final farewell is really unbearable. The crew is just astonishing. I said to them during the church scene that you could hear a pin drop the whole night. I was so focused and it went through the night until daybreak. We came out to the outside and it just kind of happened — Chandler and Danai and I all got sort of giggly that we’ve done this thing, and we all hugged each afterwards. Yeah, that was a real special moment because you go into these big scenes with a little bit of apprehension of, Will I get it right and will I do justice for this man’s legacy on the show? I thought that, but we all went home satisfied that night.
I can only imagine the off-screen emotion of saying goodbye to Chandler. What was it like to have to say goodbye to your on-screen son, especially after watching this a boy turn into a man?
It was rough. You came out so sad. He’s been spectacular in all areas, as he pretty much has been the whole time I’ve known him. He’s really a young man and it’s been one of the greatest privileges to watch this man grow up on screen in front of my eyes. So yeah, saying goodbye is something that we’ve gotten used to on this show, but I’ll say it again — the wife and his son were the original chief things that got [Rick] out of that hospital bed in that first episode, and it’s terribly sad today. I’m like that guy left on the pier, you know? He’s lost his most precious cargo.
When you work with somebody and watch a boy going to a man in front of your eyes — you love this guy. You admire him, and learn from him, and you see him growing into this remarkable young man. He’s taught you about his country, and his family, and he has this beautiful heart into your heart. I just loved watching and marveling at this really extraordinary young man.
Tell me your reaction when showrunner Scott M. Gimple first told you about this idea of taking the time jump from the comic books and instead turning it into Carl’s deathbed vision for the future?
I thought it was breathtaking. And it was interesting because at first in the first episode I was convinced it was maybe a double reality — one with Rick’s literally dying under the tree and another where everything is glorious. Scott took a look at me and he said, “No.” And I said, “Oh God.” And it just made me even more confused. So it’s Carl’s vision for the future? What does that mean? And then it clicked when he told me what was happening. It’s this iconic scene from the comics, but played very smartly.
I think the one consolation was we rarely get to say goodbye on our show. You don’t get to have these kind of moments. People are ripped from you unceremoniously in this world, and so for Carl to be able to offer this gift, this vision for the future — it’s absolutely gut-wrenching, but it’s rather beautiful at the same time and sets up a very interesting problem for Rick.
Rick says, “I’m going to make it real. Carl, I promise. I’m going to make it real.” What’s the immediate effect of this event? Will we see an immediate change in Rick in terms of his approach or is he going to have to find a way to win this war while also honoring Carl’s wishes in the way they win the war?
Yeah, I think he’s going to change in that he’s got a big conflict in: Do I honor my child and his dying bedside wishes, or do I go my own way? I mean, that’s the conflict that he faces, which is quite complicated. Does he stay in the middle of this battle for his community and the civilization in the future? But ultimately, as he said, it’s at what cost? What happens after? So I think it will be the challenge that he faces — will humanity prevail over that? I think that’s ultimately at the heart of the battle.
So what can you say about that final shot of Rick in the field by the tree clutching a wound in his side? Very ominous, sir.
It doesn’t look good does it? [Laughs] It doesn’t look good at all.
What’s next? What can you say about episode 810?
This is an unexpected, twisty-turning kind of back end. There are a lot of threats out there. There are a lot of places spinning, but certainly from the point of view of Rick and Michonne, we pick up the morning after, and we see what’s left and whether or not these people can keep fighting for their future and risking their lives, with a legacy to live on.
It’s an edgy pace for these last eight episodes. This is why I like it. It felt like there’s a lot going on, and it’s in the wake of this absolutely cavernous loss. And it makes, certainly for me, a very exciting and interesting back end to try and thread a lot of needles to make sense of something that is incomprehensible for Rick in the middle of an action-packed war.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC. For more TWD intel, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.