'Walking Dead' Star Chandler Riggs: Carl Is "Going Out a Hero"

After growing up on the AMC show, the actor talks with THR about his "bittersweet" farewell to the zombie drama.
Gene Page/AMC

[This story contains spoilers for "Honor," the midseason eight premiere of AMC's The Walking Dead.]

Chandler Riggs has filmed his last scene of AMC's The Walking Dead.

During Sunday's midseason premiere, the erstwhile Carl Grimes said his final farewells to Rick (Andrew Lincoln), Michonne (Danai Gurira) and kid sister Judith (Kinsley Isla Dillon), while also establishing a vision for what he'd like to see his father accomplish going forward.

As it turned out, the flash-forwards of an old, bearded Rick walking with a cane were not a glimpse into the events of the comic book series but instead were Carl's vision of the future: an idyllic Alexandria where everyone — possibly including Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) — could coexist without violence. That future is Carl's dying wish for Rick: to stop killing everyone and start planning for what comes "after."

Of course, there's still the more immediate flash-forwards that see Rick, gravely injured, leaning against a tree muttering "My mercy prevails over my wrath," as that part of the show's timeline still remains a mystery.

Below, Riggs talks with The Hollywood Reporter about saying goodbye to the show on which he grew up, the touching gifts he received from the cast and why it was "bittersweet" to leave.

You've had a few months to sit with the response to Carl being killed off. What has surprised you about the reaction to the midseason finale?

Honestly, the amount of love and support that the fans have given the character. It's incredible to see how much everyone adored this character, loved him and related to him. It's really amazing to see the massive support that I got through it.

This was an incredibly emotional farewell episode. What was it like filming this episode?

It was really sad because it was my last episode and everything. But it was also bittersweet in a way because I really loved my time on the show and it was really unfortunate to go. But I'm also excited to go do other things. I made the decision to move to L.A. and do more of my own thing, like movies and things like that. I was excited to do all that stuff that I've never really done before. It was unfortunate that I had to leave but I was still excited for what comes next.

What was your last day on set like? What was the last scene you filmed?

The last scene I shot was my farewell scene to Judith. I remember reading the script and thinking how depressing all these scenes were. It was a really awkward day. When we finished the last shot, the entire crew had patches or bandages over their eyes [in a nod to Carl] and were clapping and cheering. It was overwhelming and everyone was both excited and sad to see me go. They gave me one of the original hats that Andrew Lincoln wore in season one and a framed T-shirt of one of the science dog T-shirts that Carl wore in season one, which was really cool.

What was it like saying goodbye to everyone? Did you have one of The Walking Dead's famed "death dinners"?

I did have a death dinner. It helped morale that I didn't have a super-negative outlook on [leaving]. It was bittersweet. It's never really a final goodbye because I'm still always going to see the other actors at conventions or in other projects. But it does suck to know that I might not work with any of them again, but Carl can always come back in flashbacks or hallucinations or something like that. You never know.

Which is what Sarah Wayne Callies did when Lori returned in Rick's hallucination. Have there been any discussions about you returning somewhere down the line, be it a vision like Lori or some other capacity?

Yes, there have been. Toward the second half of the eighth season but nothing past that — yet. I hope so! It'd be great to come back and work with the cast again. But nothing major like that.

Is this episode the last viewers will see of you this season?

Yes, it's the last that you'll see of Carl.

Carl says goodbye to several characters — Rick, Michonne and Judith, among others. Is there one you wish you had a final scene with?

It would have been nice to say goodbye to Enid (Katelyn Nacon) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and everyone at the Hilltop. That's why Carl wrote the letters — he didn't know if he'd get to say goodbye to anyone before he died — to Rick, Michonne and everyone else. He expected to never see them again.

Carl uses his death to send a strong message to his father — that he needs to start prepping for a life that comes after violence. That's a pretty significant thing for a dying teenager to do. Do you think Carl died a hero?

I definitely think so. He went out saving all of Alexandria. Without him, a lot of people would have died and all the homes within Alexandria would have been lost. Rick probably wouldn't have had a home to come to. Carl is definitely going out a hero in many ways, with rescuing Siddiq [who is a doctor] too.

This episode answered the bearded Rick flash-forwards: Those were Carl's vision of what life could be like in the future. Do you think there's a way in which Carl's vision of the future can become a reality?

With everything that Carl was trying to teach Rick in this episode, it's definitely possible that that is the future for the group.

Many actors who have died on this show in the past have come back as walkers. Was there a part of you that wanted to do that?

Not really, no. I didn't want to turn into a walker. [Greg Nicotero's company] KNB does an incredible job with the special effects, but out of respect for Carl and how devoted to the character people are I didn't want him to go through something like that.

At the same time, this is a kid who had to put down his mother after she died to prevent her from turning into the undead. Carl takes that decision out of Rick and Michonne's hands and does that himself. What was that discussion like? Did you have any say in who did that and how that panned out?

Not really. We didn't have much say in how the story went. I didn't know that was how it was going to go down until I read the script. Ultimately, I think it's a super empowering thing for Carl to show as much mercy for Rick and he can. Carl knows that this is crushing Rick and that Carl made a mistake and he's having to pay for it — and his father shouldn't have to. 

It's interesting that you use the word "mercy," given the words Rick says in this episode in what seem to be in the not-too-distant future when he says, "My mercy prevails over my wrath." How much do you think that will be something that is on Rick's mind going forward?

Those words are going to resonate with him throughout the rest of the series. I don't get scripts anymore so I don't know how the story goes, but I'm assuming that phrase is something that's going to go through Rick's mind a lot.

Looking back, you've grown up on the show and done so much over the course of these eight seasons. Is there anything that you didn't have time to do that you really wanted to do?

Not really. My time on the show was incredible. I don't regret being on the show at all. It was such an amazing experience; I got to work with so many amazing people and I definitely got to squeeze in everything that I could have possibly wanted to do.

When you look back, do you have a favorite memory, onscreen or off?

In episode four or five of season four, when Rick and Carl were mowing down all the walkers at the prison, that was definitely my favorite moment. It was the night of my 14th birthday and child labor laws say that anyone under 14 can't handle a firearm on set. It was the night of my 14th birthday and we all counted down to midnight and Andy handed me a machine gun. That scene was so much fun to film; it felt like I was in a video game.

Did you keep anything from the show?

No, I didn't want to take anything. But you'll definitely see different pieces of Carl's throughout the next few episodes.

Will you continue to watch the show?

Of course! I've always been a fan of the show and I always will be.

Follow THR.com/WalkingDead for full coverage of season eight and the fallout from Carl's death.

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