SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have watched Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead, “Sing Me a Song.”
It’s the issue of the comic book many Walking Dead fans have been waiting to see brought to life — and they’re not the only ones. Chandler Riggs says he’s been excited “for years” to show Carl’s failed assassination attempt on Negan and his subsequent private tour of the Sanctuary that follows it. And it’s no wonder, considering that the Dec. 4 installment featured Carl at his bravest and boldest, but also at his most vulnerable, as he was forced to show off his missing eye and serenade Negan with a lullaby. We spoke to Riggs to get his insight into the pivotal episode. (Also make sure to read our interview with Jeffrey Dean Morgan.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Carl has had some really big moments over the years, like when he had to put his mom down in the prison, or when he shot that Woodbury guy, or when he lost his eye — but in terms of a full episode and everything you got to do, is this your biggest one?
CHANDLER RIGGS: Yeah, I think it definitely was one of the biggest. The only other episode like that would be 409, the pudding episode. But in terms of character development, this episode is definitely the biggest for Carl, because Negan has been ruling over them for the last six or so episodes, and he’s done with it. He’s upset at Negan and upset at the rest of the group for not wanting to fight against him. So it’s a really big step for him.
Carl going to the sanctuary is probably my favorite issue ever of The Walking Dead comic. Had you read that one before you filmed this?
Oh, yeah. I’ve been excited for this episode for years. The only reason why I was excited for Negan to come in was so I could have that storyline. The relationship between Negan and Carl is so cool. It’s really, really fascinating, and I’m so glad everyone gets to see it.
What sort of guidance did showrunner Scott M. Gimple or anyone give you in terms of how they wanted you to approach this episode?
They kind of just let me go with it. I guess they wanted to see how I would portray the role, because I’ve been doing this show for almost as long as I can remember, and I know Carl pretty well. But they wanted me to be defiant, specifically in episode 5 more — that scene between Michonne and Carl, towards the beginning when he’s telling Michonne that they can’t live like this and she says, “Maybe we can.” At that point, he realizes that there is no hope for Alexandria. They can’t live like this. There’s no way they can. If they do, then Negan will probably still end up killing them all in the end anyways. That’s what he’s like. He doesn’t need their help anymore. So Carl tries to go on his own and does what he has to do.
Tell me about what filming this with Jeffrey Dean Morgan was like. Because I’ve seen him on set and the dude is intense, and he sort of prides himself on riling Andrew Lincoln up and stuff, so what was it like sitting across the table from him for some very intense scenes?
It was so great. It’s so easy to do scenes with Jeffrey because he’s such an amazing actor. You just bounce the emotion right off him. It’s so much fun working with him. He’s such a cool guy. He’s so nice, which sucks because I have to hate him, and he’s such a nice guy, it makes my job harder. But yeah, he’s a lot of fun to work with. All those scenes were so much fun. I’ve been waiting for those words and those scenes for so, so long, and having the prosthetic was so cool.
I want to ask you about a few scenes in particular, starting with the one when Negan makes you take the bandage off your eye and then starts to mock how ugly Carl looks with his eye missing. That tough Carl Grimes exterior fades away for a minute and you start crying. Tell me about having to make that transition on screen — what was that scene like for you?
Well, I’ve known that Carl is very ashamed of how he looks with his eye and everything. He doesn’t see it as a cool thing at all. He sees it as really gross and disgusting, and he sees it as a weakness for him because it has hindered his ability to survive by a lot, because from experience, it takes away a good 70 degrees of your vision only having one eye. It’s tough. That’s a weakness for Carl, and he doesn’t want people to see that. Negan being the first person to see that — other than when he was in the infirmary after he got shot — is super embarrassing for him. He doesn’t really know how to react because no one has seen it before. He didn’t expect anyone to react like that.
What’s the makeup process like for you when we see that eye socket?
It took about an hour each time. I think the first time it was like three to four hours, but that was during the tests and all that stuff. We actually had a couple of different variants of the eye, but Kerrin Jackson, she did all the makeup for my eye and she did such an amazing job. It was really, really cool seeing it kind of come alive in the mirror as she would be painting the prosthetic and gluing everything on.
Another great scene is when Negan makes you sing, and not only makes you sing, but makes you sing while swinging a barbed wire covered baseball bat violently a few feet away from you. What was it like filming that?
It was weird, me singing “You Are My Sunshine” while he’s pretending like he’s bashing someone’s head in. I think in the script they had him hitting stuff like vases and glass off tables and stuff like that, which would have been a little more terrifying. But I think he’s just kind of mocking Carl and trying to break him more and more by doing that. It was really, really freaky to see him.
You’ve been on this show since the very beginning, and you’ve been through and seen a lot on this show. But Jeffrey Dean Morgan is still new to the show and working with you, so did he try to be careful working with you since you’re a younger actor?
He’s a super respectful guy, but he fits right in with the rest of us. He fits in perfectly, and he knows exactly how to play Negan, and he does such a good job. I mean, I don’t think he held back at all. I don’t blame him because he’s doing a really, really good job by not holding back, and I’m very, very happy about that.
There’s one other moment I wanted to ask you about during that brutal scene with the iron where I noticed Carl and Daryl share a quick moment. It’s just kind of really a glance with each other that they share. Since you’re working with all these new people in this new place, was it nice to have Norman Reedus there in a few scenes since you two have worked together for so long?
Yeah, I’m not really in any scenes with Norman. Or when I am in scenes with him, it’s just a big group scene, so it’s not one on one. We actually did have a scene back in season 2, but it was cut. It was about me wanting him to train me how to use a crossbow and ride a motorcycle and stuff like that. But other than that, they don’t really show Carl and Daryl talking much to each other.
It was kind of nice having it, and it was kind of weird because you feel like an alien in that place. Everyone is kind of dressed the same way, all kind of dark clothing, and they’re all doing their daily routines, and it’s Negan, and you have to stick with him. It was kind of nice being with Norman in that scene because it was the first time that Carl probably didn’t feel like an alien in there.