For its Season 4 premiere, Riverdale is setting aside the usual over-the-top crazy plotlines and focusing on a real tragedy: the death of cast member Luke Perry.
The Oct. 9 season premiere (The CW, 8/7c) serves as both a tribute to Perry’s Riverdale character Fred Andrews and to Perry himself — and the writers wanted to make sure they gave him a proper send-off. “When Luke passed, we very quickly made the decision that we weren’t going to address it” at the end of Season 3, executive producer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa explains. “We didn’t want to rush it. We didn’t want to sandwich it in between all the other plotlines.” They considered ending last season with a brief acknowledgement of Perry’s death, but “that felt a little cheap. So we thought, ‘Let’s just hold it, so we can think about it over the hiatus and reflect on it.'”
Now Season 4 kicks off with a full episode dedicated to Perry’s memory, which was “absolutely the right decision,” Aguirre-Sacasa now says: “It kind of allowed us to absorb what happened, and really think about what kind of story we wanted to tell.” That story drops Riverdale‘s typical noir-infused camp and instead takes inspiration from the pivotal Friday Night Lights episode “The Son,” about the death of quarterback Matt Saracen’s father, the EP reveals: “We kind of wanted to just tell a very grounded, truthful story.”
Shooting the episode wasn’t easy, though, with the cast and crew still mourning Perry’s sudden passing. “We kind of knew this was going to be brutal on the cast, especially KJ [Apa], who was Luke’s main scene partner,” Aguirre-Sacasa recalls. But “everyone was really proud to gather to tell this tribute to Fred, and to Luke,” he adds. Plus, it gave the Riverdale cast and crew a chance to process the loss together: “When it happened, we were all kind of scattered. So there was something really special when we gathered to do the table read that was cathartic. You know, shows are families. But we knew it was going to be hard, and it was.”