SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s midseason premiere of The Walking Dead, “Honor.”
We all knew it was coming after Carl revealed in The Walking Dead’s midseason finale that he had been bitten by a zombie. That made Sunday’s midseason premiere, titled “Honor,” a goodbye sendoff to one of the few original characters and actors left that started the show.
Chandler Riggs was just a boy when the AMC zombie drama started, but he leaves eight years later as a man. His final installment served as Carl’s powerful plea to his dad Rick to embrace a more optimistic, inclusive, and forgiving vision of the future — literally. Those scenes from the season premiere and scattered throughout this latest episode that showed a bearded, limping Rick from the future that appeared to mirror a time jump from the comics were actually Carl’s vision that he explained to his father with some of his very last breaths.
We spoke to Riggs — who also has filmed the movie Inherit the Viper and makes music under the name Eclipse — all about his last days on set, including the most difficult scene for him to film and saying goodbye to the cast and crew. He also reveals his favorite episode ever. (Read what Riggs’ costar Andrew Lincoln had to say here and showrunner Scott M. Gimple’s thoughts here.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We’ve been talking about this goodbye episode for a while now. What was the experience like of finally sitting down and watching it?
CHANDLER RIGGS: I mean, it’s kind of weird. When we were shooting it, I was actually so excited to see it, just because the sets were just insane. Like when Carl is being dragged to the church, and inside the church, and Alexandra is being burned — everything was just so beautifully shot, and getting to see it was just even better. Just really, really cool.
There are a lot of really emotional moments for your character here — one with Judith, one with Daryl, and obviously a bunch with Michonne and Rick. Was there one moment in particular that really choked you up the most when you were either filming or watching it back?
The goodbye scene with Judith, I think, is always going to get me, just because of how depressing some of the stuff I was saying was. I remember when I read the script, I was like, “Gosh, I’m going to have to say all that?” It was definitely not a scene that I was excited for. Like, when he’s talking about his mom telling him that he was going to beat this world, and he didn’t. All of that stuff, is just so, so sad.
You had so many big speeches in this episode. While that’s great, as an actor, that’s also a lot to handle and memorize, isn’t it?
Yeah! Luckily, I had made the decision to take a gap year, and take the time off from school, and focus on acting. Usually, around episodes 8 and 9, I would be swamped at school, because I would have just started, and I would have been stressing to try and stay caught up while shooting a lot of The Walking Dead. But, as I’d taken some time off, it was really nice to be able to put 100 percent into that episode, and into that story. It was just really nice, for a change, to be able to put all of my effort into it.
How and when did showrunner Scott M. Gimple explain to you that this time jump from the comic that we first started seeing play out in the season premiere was actually Carl’s vision of what the future could be?
I found out when Scott was telling me that Carl was getting killed off. I was super juiced because I was in the flash-forwards, I guess to just to kind of throw off viewers. So one of my questions to him, was, “So how does that fit in?” He told me that it was Carl’s vision of what the future could be like, and I think it’s definitely possible. So if Rick actually listens to Carl, and really wants to pursue a better life for Judith, that’s what’s he’s going to have to do.
What was director Greg Nicotero’s direction to you like on this episode? Did he or Scott have any specific notes or guidance on how they wanted you to play this?
Kind of, yeah. They wanted it to be more somber and calm, and a very mature outlook to the situation, because, while Rick and Michonne are kind of freaking out to figure out what to do, Carl is more calm, and he’s already written his notes. He’s already said a lot of his goodbyes, and then actually gets to talk to Rick and Michonne, and tell Rick whatever he can. I think that’s more than he could have asked for, and him being with Rick and Michonne is definitely, like, worse for them than his last moments.
What do you think the significance is of Carl insisting on shooting himself instead of having Rick or Michonne do it?
I think it’s kind of showing Rick mercy, in a way, because Carl knew that this mistake was his fault, and he could have easily prevented it if he didn’t listen to Siddiq and try to pursue killing those walkers. He helped Siddiq honor his mom, and he saved his life. This is kind of Carl showing Rick mercy because he knew it was going to crush him, and this is kind of his way of saying that he’s sorry and trying to put him through as little grief as possible.
What was the last thing from this episode you actually shot?
The last scene that we shot was, I think, the last scene of Judith. That was the very last scene. Actually, we came back to that scene in October, two months later, and had to do some new shoots for it. Yeah, it was definitely not a fun scene to film. But, I’m just glad that we got it over with, and out of the way because it was my least favorite scene to have to read through in the script, and have to do. Luckily, it’s all said and done, and I’m really happy with how it came out.
What was it like after they announced that it was a wrap for Chandler Riggs on The Walking Dead?
That was really weird, just because I had never really thought that it would happen before I found out. Even after sitting on it for so long, it was still super weird hearing them say it, and actually saying goodbye to everyone. Waking up the next morning was super-bizarre, knowing that nothing would really ever be the same again.
I remember talking to Steven Yeun after Glenn died on the show, and Steven said the whole experience was kind of like getting to see his own funeral. Did you have that same weird sensation, in a way?
Yeah. It was really bizarre because I’ve gotten so close with Carl. I have grown up with him. Really having to say goodbye to that whole part of my life was super, super weird. But kind of a relief in a way knowing that I get to go and do other stuff, and movies, and things like that. It was very bizarre.
What are you going to miss the most about working on this show?
Really, just being able to work with all the amazing actors. That was my favorite part about being on the show. Being off the show, I definitely miss it, and I miss working with them. It’s weird, because I’m doing scenes with other actors that I haven’t known for eight years, and it’s different.
What’s your favorite episode you ever got to do in eight seasons, because you’ve had a few big ones?
My episode that I shot was definitely the infamous pudding episode — season 4, episode 9 — because I got to really kind of push my boundaries of what I could do as an actor, and I got a whole episode dedicated to me, and I got to do stuff that I’d really never gotten to do before, which was really, really fun. It was definitely something that I was looking forward to for so long and I’m really, really happy with how it played out.
How much pudding did you actually eat on that episode?
Luckily, it was only a 1/4 of the can that I ended up eating, but it was still definitely a lot of pudding.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC. For more TWD intel, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.