The cast of The Walking Dead promised some big and surprising deaths in season 8, and it doesn’t get much bigger or surprising than what happened on Sunday’s midseason finale, where it was revealed Carl Grimes (played by Chandler Riggs) was bitten by a walker, signaling his impending death on the show.
What makes the move so shocking is not just that Carl is one of only five original characters still on the show — and another one, Lennie James’ Morgan, will be leaving by the end of the season to move over to Fear the Walking Dead — but he is still a major figure in the comic book. In fact, not only is Carl still alive there, but the comic book has often felt to be just as much about him growing up in the apocalypse as it is about his dad Rick. Many fans have even wondered if Rick might be killed off there with Carl taking over leadership duties.
We caught up with the man who plays Papa Grimes, Andrew Lincoln, to get his thoughts on the show’s most shocking move yet, what it will mean for Rick going forward, and what it was like having to say goodbye to his on-screen son.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was your reaction when you first found out about this happening to Carl?
ANDREW LINCOLN: [Showrunner] Scott Gimple always makes a phone call to everybody, and he said to me, “You’re going to hate this one.” And I mentioned four names. None of them were right, and he had to tell me that it was the kid. I was so shocked that he said three times, “Are you there? Are you there? Are you there?” I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to say.
I never saw it coming because I always thought that the kid would be the future, and that was the whole point of this — that I was going to hand over the revolver and let him walk off into the distance, you know? So it was incredibly shocking. Everybody was reeling from it and continue to reel from it.
I mean, you can’t write a character like Rick Grimes — whose engines are his wife and his son — and you take away the wife and you’re left with the son. And then, of course, there’s Judith, but then you take away the other engine that fuels him, that got him off his deathbed in the first ever episode, and you take that away. That’s not done lightly, you know? And from this episode onwards, that s— got real.
You all always talk about how you are The Walking Dead family down there and here you have someone who literally played your family leaving. What’s that like?
When someone from the old guard goes, there’s a part of you that goes with them. It’s like what they say — when formative people in your life die, a part of you dies because what is carried in that relationship is your memories and your history, and all those kinds of things. It’s not that dramatic, okay. It’s a job and all those kinds of things, but certainly for Chandler and my relationship — he’s a kid. I saw this child grow into an amazing young man in front of my eyes, and one of the best parts of this experience has been watching that young man turn into who he’s become today.