Chandler Riggs is not allowed to fire a gun. In fact, he’s not even permitted to carry one. Because he is under 14 years of age, the actor has had to make do with fake rubber firearms whenever his character, Carl Grimes, is called upon to pack some heat. But all of that is about to change. When the clock strikes midnight here on the Senoia, Ga., set of The Walking Dead, it’ll be June 27 and Riggs will officially turn 14. The cast and crew are literally counting down the seconds until the teenager can be officially armed. ”Ten! Nine! Eight! Seven! Six!…” When the chant reaches ”One!” star Andrew Lincoln presents his onscreen son with a special birthday present — an M16 rifle to be used for his very next scene. ”It was so cool because Andy came and he bowed down to me and gave me the rifle like a sword or something,” Riggs recalls later with a huge smile on his face. And what, exactly, did Riggs proceed to do with said rifle? ”We blew some zombie brains out. It was awesome!”
Later that day, Lincoln leads the crew at catering in a rousing rendition of ”Happy Birthday” while bringing out a special M16-shaped cake (last year it was a zombie cake with edible eyeballs). Finally, the teenager’s birthday concludes the same way it began, with the newly armed Riggs laying waste to advancing walkers. ”Action!” yells the director, and Riggs begins squeezing the trigger. RAT-A-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT goes the gun. After firing off a few rounds of blanks, Riggs reloads, not even missing a beat as he jams another clip into the weapon and fires some more. RAT-A-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT.
The scene ends, and the cast and crew explode into applause. ”He’s smoother with clips than any of us!” marvels Norman Reedus, who has killed his fair share of zombies as resident badass Daryl Dixon. Riggs chalks his proficiency up to ”a lot of Call of Duty.” As the birthday boy walks back up the prison hill, his long day finally at an end, Reedus salutes him with an enthusiastic high five. ”Good job, Rambo!”
While a teenager getting his hands on a firearm may not be cause for celebration in the real world, the survivors of The Walking Dead need all the crack shots they can get. Because when AMC’s apocalyptic zombie drama returns in mid-October, there will be more zombies. There will be scarier zombies. And there will be a mysterious new threat that will hit the survivors where they least expect it. Of course, season 4’s biggest twist occurred before the season even began filming. Showrunner Glen Mazzara — who replaced show creator Frank Darabont and was credited with ramping up the pace and action when he took over the top spot halfway through production on season 2 — announced in a joint statement with the network last December that he himself would be leaving at the end of season 3 due to ”a difference of opinion about where the show should go moving forward.” This even as ratings continued to climb, with the season 3 finale netting a record-smashing 12.4 million viewers.