Chandler Riggs may have the coolest job any 13-year-old boy has ever possessed.
While other kids his age are tossing newspapers or bagging groceries to fill out their college funds, he earns a lot more sticking screwdrivers into the eyes of zombies and using a gun to take out the brainpans of any flesh-eating "walkers" who cross his path.
That's because Riggs is the Georgia-born youth who plays Carl Grimes on AMC's blockbuster zombie adventure drama, The Walking Dead.
And just as the show returned for its third season Sunday — setting records as the most-watched drama in cable history with 10.9 million viewers at 9 p.m. — the teen character is coming into his own as a kid packing his own gun with a group of humans struggling to survive a zombie apocalypse.
"It shows that transformation from a child to a boy soldier, you know?" said Riggs, who appears at this weekend's Tampa Bay Comic Con. "He's on a strike team now. He's not that little kid who runs off anymore all the time."
Walking Dead tells the story of Georgia sheriff Rick Grimes (Carl's dad) who wakes from a coma in an empty hospital to find the world ravaged by zombies hungry for human flesh. Somehow, he finds his wife and 12-year-old son along with a group of other human survivors, roaming across the Southern countryside trying to stay one step ahead of the walkers, animated by some mysterious virus.
The episode Sunday picked up about seven months after the time of the season two finale, which featured a herd of walkers chasing the group off a bucolic farm where they had been living.
Wearing his father's old sheriff's hat and packing a gun with a homemade silencer, Carl is shown calmly capping a zombie in the head while the survivors secure a home, eagerly grabbing a can of dog food before father Rick tosses it against a wall in frustration.
In that moment, producers seemed to be sending a message: This kid has adapted to the new world order a lot faster than his old man.
"I think, for him, he hadn't eaten in a day or two," Riggs said, laughing. "When he finds that dog food…well, desperate times call for desperate measures."
Riggs, a native of Atlanta who started acting at age 4, has appeared in the Robert Duvall film Get Low and the Lifetime movie The Wronged Man.
He joined the show at age 10, though he didn't get to actually work in a scene with a zombie until much later. Still, he cited a special reason why all the gory-looking walkers and explicit zombie takedowns didn't bother him.
He had been reading the graphic novels — which are two or three times more explicit than the TV show — well before he was cast.
"They don't really shield me from anything," he said of the show's action, which often features zombies' heads split open or cut off by humans. "It's really just like a video game or like Halloween…everybody walking around in costumes. And when they say 'cut,' they're just walking around smoking cigarettes. It's mainly just a lot of fun."
Riggs also won't criticize producers, even though they briefly turned Carl into the typically disobedient TV kid; he inadvertently freed a walker from a swamp who wound up killing one of the humans on the farm last season.
And despite working on a set dressed up as an abandoned prison, with fake feces and decay so realistic it actually made some crew and cast members sick (including him), Riggs looked on the bright side.
At least it had air conditioning.
"I'm so spoiled with this show now…I'm getting everything I ever wanted and more and it's just amazing," said Riggs, who couldn't dish specifics on his character's future because the episodes haven't aired yet. "Most of it, I can't say...But, trust me, it's going to be cool."