This Walking Dead article contains spoilers.
Ever since AMC’s The Walking Dead launched in 2010, the casualty-heavy zombie apocalypse series has operated on the unspoken rule that protagonist Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his son Carl (Chandler Riggs) serve as the collective fulcrum on which the story will always hinge. However, Season 8 midseason finale, “How It’s Gotta Be,” may stand as having broken that rule concerning Carl. Now, Riggs is opening up about the process of being informed that his formerly plot-armored The Walking Dead character will be… well, dead.
While Carl isn’t technically dead yet on The Walking Dead, Riggs has given a number of post-mortem interviews in the aftermath of said midseason finale and, based on how he’s describing the process, seems resigned to the idea that he has already wrapped his role on the series. It’s a major life event for the young actor, who was only 11 when the role began and has now turned 18, ready to move on to other acting endeavors as an adult in the eyes of the law. Of course, the move remains a curious one, seeing as Carl’s story continues to greater heights in the pages of Robert Kirkman’s comic book series, on which the show is based.
Interestingly, while Riggs’s apparent college prospects fueled speculation that he was planning an exit of some kind from the series, it seems that this wasn’t the case. As Riggs explains to THR on the moment when showrunner Scott M. Gimple gave him the news about Carl’s fate:
“I was planning on going to college until I found out. I found out when I was doing rehearsals for episode six back in June. It was quite the shocker for me, Andy and everyone because I don’t think anyone saw it coming. It’s definitely not a bad thing because it has been awesome being on the show, but now I get to go and do a lot of other stuff that I haven’t gotten to do before. Scott wanted to meet in person because it was such a big deal. We had just finished rehearsing for a scene in episode six and he wanted to meet with me and my mom and dad and talk about what’s going to happen.”
The episode, “How It’s Gotta Be,” saw apocalypse extortionists the Saviors, led by Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan, retaliate against Rick and his rebelling cohorts, who had gained the upper hand and were on the verge of victory for the first half of the season. After Carl – with suspicious little regard for his own life – led the denizens of Alexandria to safety into a hiding place in the sewers away from the Saviors’ grenade firebombing, the episode concludes with a returning Rick walking up to a grounded Carl, who pulls up his shirt to reveal a (rib-located) walker bite he sustained earlier, which, in this undead-overrun world, is a death sentence. Thus, barring a serious dose of Deus ex Machina, February’s midseason premiere should properly serve as Carl’s curtain call episode.
As far as Gimple’s reasoning for this imminent colossal casualty, Riggs explains that it was designed to give weight to Rick’s decision regarding the fate of Negan and the Saviors. Indeed, the corresponding “All Out War” storyline of the comic book series culminates with a showdown between Rick and Negan in which Rick emerges victorious after slashing Negan’s throat. However, Rick – whose leg is permanently injured in the kerfuffle – makes the decision to save Negan’s life and keep him as a permanent prisoner in Alexandria as a sign that civil society can be restored. As Riggs explains:
“Scott was trying to figure out how to bridge the gap between Rick not wanting to kill Negan and Rick also really wanting to kill Negan, which he does right now [in the show’s story]. Scott’s way to get around that was to make Carl this really humanitarian figure and person who could see the good in people and see that people can change and not everyone out there is bad. That’s what Carl’s talk to Rick was in this episode: there’s no way that they can kill every one of the Saviors and not everyone is a bad person and there has to be some way forward than just killing people.”
Riggs also explains the process of being a cast casualty on The Walking Dead, though his is clearly a unique one, given the scale of the character. As Riggs tells EW:
“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.”
However, Riggs’s father didn’t quite see profundity in Gimple’s vision of Carl’s end and took to Facebook (with a subsequently-deleted post,) to call the move “disappointing” and occurring after Chandler was told he’d have at least three more years on the series.
Regardless, Carl is, for now, still alive and kicking, despite him being beyond the help of reinforcements or an advantageously-placed dumpster. While there’s every indication that he’s destined to meet his end, The Walking Dead has previously led us down the primrose path when it comes to purported deaths and the frankness with which the yet-to-occur moment is being discussed does raise suspicion.
The Walking Dead will resume with Season 8B when it premieres on February 25, 2018.