Virgil played a big role in Michonne’s final episode on The Walking Dead. Actor Kevin Carroll talks with Undead Walking about his experience.
The Walking Dead has featured many memorable guest roles over the years, but none will be as memorable as Kevin Carroll’s Virgil. At first, it looked as though the mysterious and seemingly benevolent stranger could help turn the tide against Oceanside, but in the end he led Michonne on a trippy but insightful introspective journey in Danai Gurira’s final episode.
Undead Walking had a chance to speak with Carroll about his time on the show and how he worked to develop Virgil’s story.
What was it like finding out that you would be playing such a pivotal role in Michonne’s final arc on The Walking Dead?
You know, I purposefully decided not to get caught up in the notion of what this episode meant because I think it takes up space in your creative freedom. But I definitely respect the work that has gone into Danai’s character arc over the years.
It has started to settle in and become a bigger notion for me now that I can allow myself to think about what we were doing at the time, especially with actors of this caliber. You want to go in and focus on the work, and all of the stuff that [the show] about. You just try not to be distracted by all of that because this is a heavy bit of material. So, you know, all of my focus went into keeping up with the job at hand, and now I’m getting the sense of ‘holy sh*t this is bigger than I could ever have imagined.’
There’s a moment when Virgil sees his dead family after all this time and he takes a moment to put his wife’s shoe back on. It’s a small thing, but it conveys so much about who he is and what he’s dealing with. Can you talk about that scene?
The amazing thing about that is that when you read it there is this notion that you have these bodies hanging. It is such an overwhelming thing to see in the script and wrap your mind around when you’re reading it. And then when we actually get to shoot it’s so emotional and there are so many things going on that the worst of your imagination has already played itself out.
Then you go in and you see your family and you want to give everybody what they need in this next level of life. And the notion that she would want her shoes on, that becomes part of what you imagine and what you think about as backstory. You bring something that may not be as obvious in the script but it is part of the personalization that you’ve done in terms of thinking about the things that were important to her. Trying to bring the book back to your daughter, and the things that were important to your family.
The notion that this resonated for you is really great because that was one of the things that came out as a backstory notion and we played it out and I love that it stood out for you, that’s amazing.
Anyone who has ever read Dante’s The Divine Comedy will recall Virgil as Dante’s guide through the Underworld. In his own way, The Walking Dead’s Virgil also takes Michonne on a journey as he tries to help her see things within herself that she might not have seen before.
I think that these are the kinds of wrinkles in these characters’ souls and personalities that the show offers us a chance to work out as we follow the journey, and to see what the writers wanted to do and what they were thinking.
You’re hoping to get in and massage these areas and hopefully illuminate a part of the human condition because I think that’s a notion for all of us that comes up in different ways, like you can’t love anybody else until you love yourself, and the notion that a person needs to look within himself before he can help somebody else. These are the kinds of small touches of humanity that we find in the world at large.
And when you’re able to pick up on these things, I think those are the moments where the show goes beyond the fantastical elements of entertainment. There are human nuggets, human treasures that the writer and the team leads us to along the way. Those are the exciting things to figure out in the writing.
Do you think Virgil had any kind of plan to bring someone back with him to help him with his family, or was it a happy coincidence?
I don’t think it was his intention at all. I think initially he had a commitment to make things right for himself in that he took responsibility for his family being shut in with these walkers. And now, to help his daughter to cross over, he wanted her to have this book that she loved. I remember I was trying to lean into this notion of settling something within himself, which was to send his daughter into the crossover with what he thought she needed most and that she didn’t have, which was this book.
I think initially he wanted to get the book, and then as with all great storytelling tools, you get a character in trouble when he’s trying to accomplish something simple and it all starts to be complex and he has to figure out how to fulfill his commitment. And the way to do that became enlisting the help of others because they had taken his boat. Now he doesn’t have the boat to get back. So now how does he get back? And this is all on the way to helping his family crossover.
That was a simple want and a simple need for him that at that point I was able to lock into [as a character], and through a simple need, complex things happened. Just like in life, most of the complex problems have simple solutions. You have all hell break loose with friendships or this and that and all you need to do is apologize, but instead of apologizing we buy into the mess of it as opposed to simply apologizing.
So there are simple solutions to a lot of complex problems in life and that’s the way I looked at Virgil’s journey. He simply wanted to help his family cross over, which was his mission, and in order to do that he needed to get the book back so he could take it to his daughter. And in trying to do that they sink the boat and now he has to negotiate his way back and then it starts to snowball into a bigger operation than just him being able to sneak back to grab the book and make it back home.
The Walking Dead fans know that Virgil chose to remain on the island to fulfill his promise to his wife and kids, but who knows – maybe we’ll see him in the future….
Thanks go out to Kevin Carroll for taking the time to speak with us!