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The Real Reason Chandler Riggs Left The Walking Dead

Few shows are as ruthless about killing off fan-favorite characters as The Walking Dead, but even by the AMC show's standards, the season 8 death of Carl (Chandler Riggs) was shocking. Carl, the son of the show's now departed lead Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), still had plenty of comic-based stories left to tell, and he was largely seen as the future of the post-apocalyptic world. Ultimately, Riggs was axed from The Walking Dead not because the actor was ready to leave or the character was out of stories, but because former showrunner Scott M. Gimple needed to give Rick some motivation to keep Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) around.

At the time, Rick's humanity seemed to be hanging in the balance as he contemplated killing Negan and the rest of his followers. That all changes when Carl is bitten by a walker, and tells his father that he can see a future where all of the survivors live in harmony and happiness — including Negan. As a result of his son's hopes for a future filled with less violence, Rick promises Carl he will work toward making his dream a reality.

"This was a story turn, that's it," Gimple said to The Hollywood Reporter of Riggs' departure in 2017. "We did not receive a request [from any actor] or anything like that. This has everything to do with story. It's unbelievably difficult to lose someone you've worked with for as long as we've worked with him. It's been a really tough thing. We're hoping to be telling a story that's worthy of it."

Chandler Riggs was shocked that Carl had been written off The Walking Dead

For Riggs, finding out Carl was being killed off the show was a shock. The young actor was planning to start college, and had recently purchased a home in Georgia, where the show is filmed, when he received the call, according to THR. While he had initially planned on attending college and filming The Walking Dead at the same time, his exit led the actor to take a gap year to pursue new career opportunities instead.

"It was devastating for me and my family because the show has been such a huge part of my life for so long," he told THR at the time. "For a few days, we didn't know what to do; I just bought a house in Senoia [near where the show films in Georgia]. That was a big deal that I wouldn't be on anymore. I decided that I wanted to not go to college for at least a year and move to L.A. and focus on acting and music."

Riggs' father, William, also claimed that his son was blindsided by the decision. In a since-deleted Facebook post, per Syfy Wire, he wrote, "Chandler was absolutely devastated. I was disappointed Scott had been dishonest with a 17-year-old making life decisions and waited to tell us."

Since his Walking Dead exit, Chandler Riggs has found a new TV family

Despite the shock of his departure, Riggs has landed on his feet, and the now 21 year old even has a new regular TV gig. In 2019, the young actor joined ABC's drama series A Million Little Things, which follows a group of friends grappling with the aftermath of their friend's suicide. Riggs stars as P.J., who believes a member of the group is his real birth father.

In terms of tone, the grounded and heartfelt A Million Little Things is a world away from the gritty, zombie-fueled action of The Walking Dead, and Riggs likes it that way. In a 2019 interview with The New York Post, the actor revealed that it's refreshing for him to be part of a cast where he's not viewed as the kid who grew up on set. "In Canada ['AMLT' is filmed in Vancouver] I can go out for some drinks with my castmates and just be an adult," he said. "I'm getting to work with so many professionals that don't see me as just 'the kid on the set' and that's really cool."

Chandler Riggs is still a big fan of The Walking Dead

Even though Carl and his dad, Rick, are no longer on The Walking Dead, Riggs remains a fan of the show. The actor hasn't let the sudden nature of his departure dim his enthusiasm for the series or seeing where things end up when The Walking Dead ends with season 11. In September 2020, he responded to the news of the show's upcoming final season with a tweet that was all about appreciating the iconic series. He tweeted, "truly the end of a legendary era in television. i was the biggest fan of the show while i was on it, and will continue to watch until the very end & am so excited to see how it closes."

Given Carl's heartbreaking death, it seems unlikely that the actor will return for one more appearance before the series ends. However, it's heartening to know that Riggs will be out there watching The Walking Dead's grand finale and supporting his former castmates from afar.