Spoiler Warning: Please don’t read ahead unless you’ve seen the season 8 mid-season finale of The Walking Dead.
On the most recent episode of The Walking Dead: How It’s Gonna Be, we discover that Carl has been bitten and will soon die. Our own James Frazier sat down for an exclusive interview with Chandler Riggs who plays Carl on the show.
If you’re still reeling like we are, we hope his words bring you some comfort.
James Frazier: So wow. I mean that’s all I can really say is this is a complete shock. And I think the biggest reason why is because I’m such a comic book lover. And I’ve really been reading the comics, which is years ahead of where the show is right now, with the idea that carl was going to be the long-term character on The Walking Dead. When AMC said the show was going to go on forever, it was gonna be Carl Grimes leading the way. So this was a complete shock. When you learned Carl’s fate, how did you feel?
Chandler Riggs: I was really shocked too. I don’t think me or my family or anyone on the cast or crew or anyone in the audience anywhere thought this was gonna happen and this is how it was going to go down. Like you said, Carl has played such a big role, and it’s a huge deviation from the comic. So it’s definitely quite the shocker.
J.F: I’m sure over the years you’ve been asked how you envision Carl either growing up on the show, or if Carl was to die, how that would happen. What was your standard answer, what did you always think?
C.R.: I was always hoping for a big battle, some epic death, sacrificing himself for someone or something. in this situation, he kind of is sacrificing himself for Saddiq and for Alexandria. It kind of works in a way. It’s not as epic as I had envisioned, but there’s still explosions and gunfire, so ill take it.
J.F.: Well Carl probably wouldn’t have taken the risk in the episode though had he not been bitten. I’d have to think he’d be a lot more protective of himself if he didn’t know that he was going to die, so in a way I think there is that greater sacrifice-that he got everybody out, right?
C.R.: For sure yeah. But I think between the dialogue between Carl and Negan at the gates, he’s kind of giving himself up. Really, I think a lot of that was spoken true to himself and he would’ve done the same thing even if he wasn’t bitten. I think that’s just a testament of how much Carl has grown over the series of the show.
J.F.: I think Saddiq verbally brought out to where we could hear and understand where Carl’s view of humanity has changed and shifted. You go back to where Carl shoots the one kid right in front of Hershel, to this moment where Carl is viewing life as precious. It is a shift, but because it’s against what Rick Grimes is envisioning at the moment. And Carl mentions he’s really honoring his mother’s vision. Can you talk about that conflict and how that wraps it up?
C.R.: Yeah, I mean Carl has always wanted to kind of honor his mother by doing what’s right, and if it doesn’t feel right then don’t do it. That’s kind of what she told him back right before she dies, and I think a lot of what she said has stayed with him and he’s kind of lived by it as much as he could. Especially this past season seeing him realize not everyone is a bad person and that how Carl and Rick were talking in the flashback of the episode, “You can’t kill all the saviors, not everyone is bad. There are good people in this world”. I think that’s gonna be one of the biggest challenges in episode 9 when Carl is just trying to teach Rick as much as he can in those final moments.
J.F.: Do you think Carl will be able to have that lasting impact on Rick though, where Rick will carry this as a lesson from Carl that he will hold on to? There’s been a lot of shifts in how Rick views outsiders, either being accepting or at times combative. Do you think because it’s Carl, that he’ll be able to hold onto that and kind of make that-for lack of a better term-Carl’s dying wish?
C.R.: It’s definitely gonna be a challenge for Rick to accept this idea that Carl is proposing to him, because of the last however long, all that’s been on Rick’s mind is to kill Negan and every one of the saviors if that’s what it takes. And for Carl, it’s more like bringing out the good side in people and living together. There’s no point in having Judith grow up in a world where everyone is just killing each other and there’s no hope for any kind of future. There has to be some way around that and some way people can live together without having such differing views that they have to murder every single person with a different view?
J.F.: I know you always read the comic books, were you still reading the comic books, or are you current?
C.R.: Yeah, here and there. I’ve kind of fallen off recently with getting busy, but I still keep up with the comics yeah.
J.F.: Are you sad you never got to the moment where Lydia licked Carl’s eye socket?
C.R.: *laughs* I mean, honestly, the whole Whisperers storyline was definitely something I was looking forward to because the role Carl plays in that whole storyline was so awesome. With the whole Romeo and Juliet kind of thing. I know that scene would’ve been super awkward to film. I’m kind of glad that I’m not going to have to do that.
J.F.: You would have been the one licked, not having to lick the eye socket.
C.R.: Very true. It could be worse. *laughs*
J.F.: This will obviously go down as one of the most shocking moments of The Walking Dead. Truthfully as sad as I am to see you go and to see your character go, and really as much as I hoped that Carl would carry on the legacy of the show, it’s definitely such a shocking moment and such a deviation from the comics and what people expected, I think it’s what the show needed. Because, it’s been missing those unexpected moments.
I think one of the bad parts of The Walking Dead is Talking Dead. There’s always, “Next week we’re gonna tease this, and next week this is gonna be shocking and somebody’s gonna be on the couch.” No other show does that, so we always get a little bit spoiled and maybe this show gets spoiled more than any other show. It’s nice though to watch an episode and be completely stunned and blown away. It’s been a long time. Do you think that Carl’s death will in some ways rejuvenate The Walking Dead and give it a jolt of energy?
C.R.: I’m honestly not sure. Seeing all the fans reactions, it could encourage people to watch the show and see how Carl’s story comes to a close, or it’s might repel people from wanting to watch a show where their favorite characters are getting killed off every week. I really don’t know what’s gonna happen with the show. It’s definitely kind of a wild card.
JF.: It is a wild card, and to go back to the Negan episode with Glenn and Abraham dying, there was a bit of a drop off because people loved Glenn, and that was their character and they were done. That was enough for them.
I would certainly understand for the Carl fans that are like, “Hey, Carl’s gone. That was my character. Because that is what’s made The Walking Dead so wonderful is that everybody always had a character that they identify with. For you, it’s obviously been the youth-guys and girls-they had somebody to connect with through this until Enid came along. So I would understand if there is that drop off.
But I do hope more than anything that it will create that buzz where people come back and watch the episode. I’m certainly interested to hear how this is gonna go down with Rick and Carl and to really see those closing moments. With really the last family relationship from the start of the show. It’s Rick and Carl and Carol and Daryl. So this is the last family bit of legacy we have. We’ve lost all the Greenes, and we’ve had other family connections fall off, so it’s gonna be tough to watch.
It’s one thing when you learn about the fact that your character is going. It’s another when you get to that point and have to act out that scene. How was it showing up to set that day and acting that out with them?
C.R.: I think the rest of the cast was way more depressed about it than I was. By then, I had decided I wanted to take a gap year from school and pursue acting further and music. But it was definitely really sad because after that, starting in episode 9 that would be my last few scenes with the rest of the actors. In episode 9, I think that was the first script I’ve ever read that I actually got emotional reading. Some of the stuff I say is really really depressing.
J.F.: Let’s focus on some of the positives though. You’re a young man, you’re 18, so what this does do is create great new opportunities for you and one of them is music-but the other is a haircut! You’ve had this hair forever, and now you don’t even get to have the haircut you want, you’ve got to move into a mullet. How’s that?
C.R.: It’s definitely quite the change. Luckily it’s only for a few weeks while I’m filming this movie. I’m not really a hat guy, but I’m now constantly wearing a hat and have all my hair pushed up to it. I’d rather not burn anyone’s eyes wearing this out in public.
J.F.: Do you find yourself missing the long hair, thinking it’s there brushing your face and realizing it’s nowhere to be found?
C.R.: Oh no totally. Yeah, I try and slick my hair back thinking it’s going to fall into my face. But it’s super weird not having it when I put in headphones or something. I’m so used to pushing it out of the way to put it on my ears.
J.F.: You released some music this week too?
C.R.: Yeah, My first single under the alias Eclipse came out on Tuesday!
J.F.: So talk about the process of releasing your own music. I’ve had the honor of seeing you DJ last year, but talk about producing your own music and putting it out. Does it make you nervous to put something out like that?
C.R.: A little bit. Yeah, but my fans are so dedicated that no matter how bad it is, they love it. It’s really awesome to have a fan base like that. So I wasn’t really nervous about putting out this stuff. I started that song in November of last year, so it’s really nice to finally get it out.
Actually, another one of the songs that me and Vincent-who I collabed with-won’t be out until February, but we finished it last October. I’m super excited to get a lot of this music out. Producing music is really fun because I have complete creative control over it. I feel super super proud. I feel really proud of my performance The Walking Dead obviously, but having complete control over what I produce is really real cool. I get to put it out and say, “That’s all me.”
J.F.: You’ve grown up with Carl. Is there anything that you will take from carl with you as you move on in life?
C.R.: Definitely. I mean, I’ve grown up with this character for the last 8 years. I think all of the fans kind of grew up with him as well, and that’s why this is such a devastating thing. People relate to Carl on such a level, because they’ve watched him grow up and have grown up with him and changed with Carl. But definitely the humanitarian side. Not everyone is bad, and you don’t know everyone’s story. It’s hard to judge people and where they are in life without knowing who they are. I think that’s one of the best qualities about Carl. It’s gonna be so impactful.
J.F.: This, in some ways, has changed your future plans. You were gonna go to school and now you’ve moved to LA right? So this has altered the course you’ve envisioned. Do you ever plan on going back to school? What are you most excited about now that you’re in LA and exploring different areas?
C.R.: I’m really really excited to do other things. To do other roles and explore other areas that I’ve never gotten to do before. Comedy. I’ve had a chance to be on this comedy show possibly, and I’m so excited! I’ve never done comedy before. It’s so weird being an actor my whole life, and not having done these other things. I’m super, super excited to explore. Even this mullet-super-redneck-kid. It’s really exciting to get to be able to do a plethora of different things.
J.F.: I’ll tell ya what, I’ve really enjoyed watching you grow up and getting to know you over the years. I love your family, your parents are awesome and I really hope and expect great things from you buddy, because I know how talented you are. So, we’ll get a little bit more here in the next episode, and then, we’ll bid ado. But man, it’s been awesome, and we’ll talk to you down the line.