Warning: contains The Walking Dead season 8 spoilers.
Poor Carl Grimes. While he might be justified in picking up mugs with the words ‘World’s greatest dad (post apocalypse)’ every year, he’s endured more than any child should ever have to. Carl had just about survived season one, when he was shot and nearly died, not long after his hands were covered in blood, both directly and indirectly, with everyone from Dale, to his own mother and surrogate father, to a surrendering child – the list goes on. He’s also seen Papa Grimes rip out a man’s throat with his teeth to defend him and lost an eye in the line of duty.
In season eight, his tormented and at times triumphant journey came to an end. In what proved to be the most relentlessly upsetting episode in The Walking Dead‘s long and corpse strewn history, Carl died, throwing the future of the show into the unknown, while snuffing out any hope that Grimes Jr. would take over the mantle from Rick.
We spoke to Chandler Riggs about his time on the show and how he coped with it coming to an end.
Firstly I wanted to say congratulations on eight seasons of incredible work. It must be a really bittersweet feeling to be asked to do press interviews, for what is now your last season?
Thank you, yeah. It definitely is. Everything about leaving the show is very bittersweet.
I thought it was really great that you were still offering to do interviews, but also ‘is it too soon!?’
Yeah, yeah! [laughs]
It must have been a uniquely strange feeling, to leave something that you have quite literally grown up with, because you started at such young age?
Yeah, it was. I’ve definitely had to try to change and adapt. It’s been really bizarre, because I’ve seen all of the ads for the show and not being a part of it. But it’s great to have my doors opened and to be able to do really I guess any show, or movie that I want now, without having to worry about the show or anything like that. It’s really, really exciting.
And it must have been such a great environment to really learn the craft, as you’re surrounded by a constant flow of incredible actors.
Oh, it totally was. I wish I could have appreciated it way more than I did, because I’ve been rewatching the show actually for the past couple of weeks and it’s so incredible to see how amazing the whole cast is: from Andy to Norman to Melissa McBride to Danai – everyone. It’s just insane to see how talented everybody is. I wish I could go back and redo all of those scenes, just so I could study Andy and everyone to see what they do because it’s so, so impressive.
It’s a shame George Lucas didn’t own it, because he would probably let you redo all your scenes with CGI!
Who’s been your biggest mentor on the show over the years?
I think, honestly, Andy is definitely the biggest inspiration and mentor on the set, because I spent so much time with him on set. He’s just such an amazing person and actor. From time to time he would give me a little direction, or just a thought to think about during the scene and it would just completely change my way of thinking about it; a completely different outcome. It was so much fun to just play around with him on set and I’m really, really hoping I can do more stuff with him in the future.
From an outside point of view, it didn’t seem like a big coincidence in some ways that you went and then he decided “I’m off too!” – it’s the end of a massive era.
Yeah! [laughs] yeah, it really is, it’s crazy. But it will be really exciting to see where the story heads and unfolds to and who fills the roles of these characters from the comic on the television show.
One of the things I must say, as not only a fan of the show from the beginning, but also a father to a son – your last episode was ruinous. My wife was begging me not to watch it, as she knew how difficult it would be to get through it, but I don’t mind confessing that I don’t think I actually stopped crying throughout the whole thing! [he laughs] And it’s funny because you sort of get used to trauma and shock on The Walking Dead but it’s rarely upsetting in such a raw and emotional way. How did you get through it?
Oh man, I just remember reading the script and like “Oh my God, this is so depressing! Like, why? Why do they have to make it so sad!?” It was the first time that I had teared up at reading a script in so long, it’s so emotional. Especially when he’s saying goodbye to Judith, it’s just so heart-wrenching and horrible. I was not looking forward to shooting those scenes and rightfully so, they were super depressing on set [laughs], because it was just as bad shooting them as it was, probably, watching it. But regardless I think it was a great send off, and I think having it encompass the whole episode was a great move to, kind of, give me one last pay off for the show, like a goodbye and have it stretch out for the whole episode. I really liked it and it was so much fun to do, it was great.
When did you actually get the script, or the news? Was it before you started filming season eight completely?
Unfortunately the back log for writing for Walking Dead is pretty backed up! Usually we wouldn’t see the scripts until the week before, or sometimes even the week of. There was one case actually, I think in season five or six, where we didn’t get the scripts until the day before we had to start shooting and it was very stressful! [laughs] But, yeah, I didn’t find out until Scott Gimple told me when we were rehearsing, we were doing rehearsals for episode six of season eight and then I got the script while we were shooting episode eight so, yeah, it was quite the quick turnaround.
Wow, that’s definitely a shock. Carl has been through so much, therefore so have you, because whenever I’ve spoken to your colleagues from the show, they always feel the loss of a character, so how difficult was it for you to leave? Because I always think about Carl having to go through events like Shane’s death, or Lori’s death.
Yeah, it was very bittersweet leaving the show, because it sucked having to leave because there’s all these great friends that I had gotten and this life that I had with the show was so awesome and it was great just going to work every day and actually having a job, so having to leave it definitely sucked. When I found out it wasn’t too happy for a while but after a came to terms to it, after about a week or two, I realised that it definitely was the best for my life. Like I get to focus more on music and I can also focus more on auditions and improve my craft, so the next time I’m in something big I really get to show off what I can do. It’s really, really exciting having so many opportunities and so many open doors.
Yeah, definitely – that’s a great way of looking at it. It’s funny looking back over the show, which you said you’ve also been doing, because season three for me, for a whole load of different reasons, is probably my favourite and will probably remain so. Was there a season that you were especially connected to?
Yeah, I think season four was my favourite, I think just because it was the first season I really got to do a lot and rewatching it, it’s interesting to see that season four is really where my acting stepped up and I went from just being this little kid with some scenes here and there, to an actual real part of the ensemble and have the ability to create these really empowering scenes, and have it be really, really exciting for viewers to be able to watch it on the show. It was awesome and a ton of fun, so I think season four was my favourite to shoot.
It makes a lot of sense because that was when the proper bond between Carl and Michonne started, which became one of the strongest in the show.
Oh definitely, their mother-and-son bond they have is so fascinating to watch on television, because it’s really amazing to see their relationship grow into what it is and when it does it’s really exciting.
I interviewed Danai a few years ago for season four and when I was talking about Michonne’s relationship with Carl she got really enthused, it was great.
Yeah, Danai’s amazing and I was always so excited when I got to have scenes with her and to see the amount of work that she puts into every single scene. She’ll have just pages of notes and ideas just on things to do for the scene. She has a notebook of stuff filled up with different ways to do scenes, it’s so, so impressive to see her technique and see her perform and I’m definitely really, really happy that I got a chance to work with her as much as I did.
Going back again a few seasons, when there was a secret psycho feeding rats to the walkers through the prison fence, I remember at the time writing about it and I was convinced it was going to be Carl, because he seemed to be headed, for the longest time, into full blown psychosis. Did you ever think back then that he was going to go completely off the rails?
Umm, I honestly was only thirteen or fourteen, so I don’t really know if I was thinking about much, or where my life was going to go! [both laugh] So I don’t know if I was even looking for any theories! I did get to dabble in that area a little bit, at least in season three and gunning that kid down, there’s a few of those moments over the series where Carl kind of goes crazy for a little bit and it was definitely a lot of fun to do things like that and even now being off the show, I get to dabble into more areas like that.
I did a movie recently where I had to be a little bit unhinged and a little psychotic and it was so much fun to play that type of character, it was great and I’m really looking forward to doing more things like that. It’s called Only and I don’t know if it’s going to go anywhere, but I think it got submitted to some film festivals so hopefully there can be a release at some point.
Only sounds like it’s got a great concept with the virus that’s wiping out all the women on the planet.
Yeah it’s a weird, almost apocalyptic, movie that is really fun, so I think anyone that sees it will definitely enjoy it!
Chandler Riggs, thank you very much and all the best for your future projects!
The Walking Dead the complete eighth season is available on Blu-ray™ and DVD from 24th September 2018, courtesy of Entertainment One.