The Walking Dead executive producer David Alpert revealed one of the series’ biggest deaths — that of longtime survivor Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs) — underwent several changes before the moment played out in the Season Eight mid-season premiere.
“Oh, it’s a constant push-pull up until the day, especially character deaths,” Alpert told Huffington Post.
“We take character deaths incredibly seriously because ... obviously we’re not killing the actor. We are, though, losing that actor from our life... The show shoots from May to December basically, so ... it’s like letting go of one of your co-workers. You’re no longer seeing them, you’re no longer doing this. It’s a real decision everybody grapples with, so it’s constantly something. Especially [former five-year showrunner-turned-chief content officer] Scott Gimple, he agonizes over it to the nth degree.”
Alpert confirmed Carl’s death did go through changes, but said “it’s that way with every death, honestly. Everything gets looked at a million different ways to make sure we’re trying to give the most amount of respect to the character and to the actor and to the show.”
After a scrap with a small pack of walkers when out with then-lone traveler Siddiq (Avi Nash), Carl was on the receiving end of an incurable bite to his mid-section, dooming him to an imminent death — a fate he revealed in the closing moments of the Season Eight mid-season finale.
Riggs admitted earlier this summer he learned of Carl’s death at the last minute when performing rehearsals for episode 906 — the episode Carl gets bitten.
“We got the script for episode six, when [the bite] was supposed to happen,” Riggs said during Fandemic Tour Sacramento. “We were doing rehearsals for it and then, after the rehearsals, Scott Gimple brought me in and then told me. He said, ‘That’s why you kind of act weird after you trip, because [the bite] happens.’”
The young actor previously told Entertainment Tonight Gimple “didn’t mention” Carl’s death in preliminary talks for Season Eight, suggesting the then-showrunner wasn’t yet sold on the hefty decision to kill off one of the series’ most important characters.
“I think he knew what he wanted to do, but he just wasn’t sure yet,” Riggs said. “But I think, yeah, by then he kind of made up his mind.”
According to Riggs, the decision to kill Carl was birthed out of the need to reconcile father Rick Grimes’ comic book trajectory with the I’m-gonna-kill-you attitude Rick (Andrew Lincoln) took in dealing with Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) on the television series.
“Scott was trying to figure out why there was a hole between Rick slitting Negan’s throat at the end of the All Out War arc and then there’s the time jump and Negan is alive and in prison and Rick didn’t kill Negan,” Riggs told THR.
“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... 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.”
Carl’s death and Rick’s unilateral decision to spare Negan are two major forces fueling much of The Walking Dead Season Nine, which sees Rick and Michonne (Danai Gurira) steadily working towards fulfilling the idyllic future envisioned by a dying Carl.
Riggs has since said he's “satisfied” with how his character went out.
The Walking Dead Season Nine premieres Sunday, October 7 on AMC.