‘Riverdale’ Showrunner on Fred’s ‘Heroic Death,’ Honoring Luke Perry With Shannen Doherty Cameo

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa says CW drama “wanted to tell a very grounded, truthful story” after Perry’s passing

Riverdale Luke Perry Tribute Shannen Doherty
Photo: Robert Falconer/The CW

(Warning: This post contains spoilers for the Season 4 premiere of “Riverdale,” titled “In Memoriam.”)

Though the world said goodbye to Luke Perry last March, following his death due to a stroke at the age of 52, it wasn’t until Wednesday’s Season 4 premiere of “Riverdale” that the residents of the town suffered through the passing of his character, Fred Andrews.

And the one who took Fred’s untimely death the hardest was, understandably, his son, Archie (played by KJ Apa), who sets out with his girlfriend, Veronica (Camila Mendes), and best friends Jughead (Cole Sprouse) and Betty (Lili Reinhart) to retrieve his father’s body from the nearby town he was killed in via a hit-and-run just ahead of the July 4th holiday.

Tonight’s installment of The CW drama, titled “In Memoriam,” was planned as a tribute to Perry that series creator/showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa had been working on with the other writers since before the end of Season 3, due to their decision to finish out that year’s plot and hold on addressing Fred’s death until the fourth season’s premiere.

And during the hour, it’s revealed Fred died while putting himself in the path of a rogue car to save a woman (played by Shannen Doherty) who he had stopped to help because her vehicle had broken down on the side of the road.

“Very early on, we landed on the idea that Fred should have a heroic death and that that would be impactful for Archie,” Aguirre-Sacasa told TheWrap during a Q&A with reporters last week. “And it felt like that’s a way that Fred could have gone. You know, after that we really, again, said that this episode really isn’t going to launch any huge stories for the season, it was really gonna be focused on that and the emotional effects of that passing for everyone… Again, as we were working on the episode, we talked about putting in some other storylines, but as we were working on it we just kind of kept focusing it on our characters and focusing it truly on Archie.”

“There have been, sadly, a lot of tribute episodes in television. One of my favorites is the ‘Friday Night Lights’ episode where the football player’s father dies, it’s called ‘The Son,’” he continued. “And we kind of just wanted to tell a very grounded, truthful story. So that kind of became the organizing principle or the marching orders.”

Doherty’s guest-starring role on the episode was revealed by Aguirre-Sacasa and the “Riverdale” cast during San Diego Comic-Con in July, though the part she would play during the hour was kept under wraps. The executive producer told reporters how they landed Perry’s “Beverly Hills, 90210” star for the special cameo.

“Over the seasons, Luke and I had talked a lot about trying to get Shannen on the show and the timing never worked out or the part was never quite right,” Aguirre-Sacasa said. “She was either doing this [other project] or unavailable or it didn’t feel right. And when we were working on the episode, we knew that there would be some characters outside of our cast of characters that would be involved. We thought that, rather than have another actor play that, we thought it would be nice if it was someone he cared for in real life — and he cared so deeply about Shannen.”

Because Perry’s death occurred suddenly in the middle of production on Season 3, only a few episodes including appearances by Fred aired after the actor’s passing, and then the character was just referenced as being off-screen. Though no never-before-seen footage of Luke is shown on the Season 4 premiere, two quick flashbacks of Fred in the garage are featured when Archie is remembering special moments with his father, one of which Aguirre-Sacasa says was special to Perry himself.

“I will say that I remember vividly, from Season 1, it’s in the third episode of Season 1 where Fred soundproofs the garage,” he said. “And it’s a really simple story, right: Dad says, ‘You’re making too much noise,’ son says ‘I wanna play my music,’ loving father soundproofs the garage. And I remember when we did that episode, Luke called me and said, ‘I love that Fred’s doing this for Archie. It’s something I would have done for my son.’ And there is so much baroque storytelling on ‘Riverdale’ that there was such a truth and simplicity to that story that it was nice that that was a thing we could go back to. Same when Archie bought the jalopy to fix up with his dad. In years of baroque storytelling, really simple stories. So that was a nice confluence of memories.”

As for where Archie goes from here, time will tell, but he does make a declaration in this episode he wants to live up to his father’s memory. But Aguirre-Sacasa points out that “Fred casts a long shadow.”

“Fred, on the show, he’s always kind of been our moral center,” he said. “We frequently describe him as the one good parent on ‘Riverdale’ (laughs) and the best influence on Archie. And in a noir, crime-ridden world, which is what ‘Riverdale’ is, he’s got dignity and honor and really good values. And Archie does too, but we’ve seen Archie for three years looking to see what kind of man he’s going to be, what he’s going to do.”

“And I think in the end, it’s trying to do what his father did, which was help his community, help his town, help his friends make the right choices,” he continued. “And Archie wants to live up to that, I think. I think he’s always wanted to follow in Fred’s footsteps, but now feels that burden even more so. But, Archie is still gonna be Archie and I think he’s gonna struggle with grief and struggle with how to live up to Fred’s memory.”

“Riverdale” airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on The CW.