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Many fans of The Walking Dead have been up in arms ever since it was revealed in the last moments of the show’s Dec. 10 midseason finale that Carl was bitten by a zombie, signaling his impending demise (which will play out in the Feb. 25 midseason premiere).
Of course, fans are always up in arms when a character is killed off, but Carl felt different. For one thing, Chandler Riggs is one of only five original season 1 characters still on the show, and another one of those — Lennie James, who plays Morgan — will be leaving at the end of the season to join companion series Fear the Walking Dead. But even more troubling to some was the fact that Carl is not only still alive in the comic, but features very prominently in the upcoming comic story — a story that some fans now worry will have to be reworked or completely scrapped for the TV adaptation.
We spoke to showrunner Scott M. Gimple (as well as star Andrew Lincoln and Riggs himself) in December about the decision to kill Carl, but what about the man who created The Walking Dead and is still writing Carl’s comic book adventures? We asked Robert Kirkman to share his feelings about the massive move.
“I think Scott first brought it up to me as a possibility probably about a year ago at this point,” says Kirkman, who is also an exec producer on the TV version. “At first, I was kind of like, ‘Well, that’s a big one, you know?’ I might have had a little bit of trepidation. But once he laid out to me exactly what his long-term plans were, and the things that come out of it, and the things that it leads to, it was something I got on board with.”
Kirkman has heard the clamoring from those distraught about the development, but he says that the team making the show expects and welcomes the pressure that comes along with such a huge death and deviation from the original source material. “I know that some fans online have been very upset, but that’s by design,” says Kirkman. “We’re not supposed to be happy when these characters die. We are supposed to be worried about what comes next, and anticipating what comes next, and stressing about what comes next. That just shows that you’re engaged and you’re interested. Our job is to now pay that off and fulfill that interest, and prove that this was a decision worth making. That’s what we’ve got to do.”
Executive producer Greg Nicotero, who directed the Feb, 25 midseason premiere that will serve as Carl’s final chapter, says the work to pay that off begins now. “The people that clearly are upset about losing Carl and questioning where the show goes without Carl — I really do believe that a lot of people will put those feelings aside when they watch this episode,” says Nicotero, “because they’re really going to get an opportunity to make some peace with it.”
Kirkman concurs and says the episode makes for a great sendoff for both the character and the boy-turned-man playing him. “It’s a great tribute to Carl the character, and Chandler the actor,” says Kirkman. “It’s definitely Chandler’s best work. His work in this episode is absolutely amazing. It’s something he should really be proud of. I think it’s something people will be talking about for a good long while. We’re just really excited to share with the audience.” (Riggs also talked to EW about what his last episode will mean moving forward: “He’s definitely leaving behind a really long-lasting legacy, which was the coolest part about playing those final moments — knowing that Carl was going to have such a lasting impact on the story.”)
As for what happens after Carl leaves, Kirkman insists the story rejiggering will not be as extensive as some may assume. “There are big, huge stories coming up that you might think will be massively altered because of the absence of Carl,” says Kirkman. “But we have known these story lines have been coming for years. There are plans in place to make it all work. The loss of Carl doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re going to be losing big swaths of the comic book story. It means that there will be some differences to them. The goal is that those differences will be as exciting to the audience as they are to me.”
Time will tell.
The Walking Dead returns on Feb. 25 on AMC.
For more exclusive Walking Dead scoop, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly and follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.