‘Little House on the Prairie’: The Real Reason Karen Grassle Thought This Episode ‘Was a Shame’

Little House on the Prairie became an instant hit in 1974. Viewers tuned into the show to watch the simpler times of the Ingalls family. The show’s fictional town of Walnut Grove served as the backdrop for the series. 

 Michael Landon as Charles Philip Ingalls, Karen Grassle as Caroline Quiner Holbrook Ingalls
Michael Landon as Charles Philip Ingalls, Karen Grassle as Caroline Quiner Holbrook Ingalls| NBCU Photo Bank

In 1984, Little House on the Prairie aired its final episode. The tv movie finale greatly affected the show’s matriarch, Karen Grassle

Karen Grassle played Caroline ‘Ma’ Ingalls on ‘Little House on the Prairie’ 

When Little House on the Prairie aired, the show marked Grassle’s first time on television. Before she landed the role as Caroline “Ma” Ingalls, Grassle was a stage actor. She studied theatre professionally at both University of California, Berkeley, and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Grassle also participated in theatre companies that allowed her to tour through the United States and England. 

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In the early 1970s, Grassle moved back to California to try her hand at television acting. She recalled being “flat broke” when she first auditioned for Caroline. After meeting with Little House on the Prairie star and creator Michael Landon, Grassle got the offer. For Caroline, Grassle used someone personal to her to land the part. 

“I based her on my mother,” Grassle said during an interview with Closer Weekly. “If you read [Laura Ingalls Wilder’s] books and see photos, Caroline was very tough and sturdy.  

My mother rode a horse barefoot to school, and as a young woman, she taught in a one-room schoolhouse! So I took her character, strength, and wisdom and infused Caroline with that.”

Karen Grassle didn’t like the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ finale

After Landon selected Grassle to play Caroline, she remained on the series for eight seasons. In 1982, Grassle and Landon’s characters were retired. The network decided to focus the show on Laura Ingalls’ (Melissa Gilbert) life with her husband, Almanzo Wilder (Dean Butler). The final season of the show Little House: A New Beginning aired in 1983. 

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Little House on the Prairie premiered its farewell episode in 1984. Landon decided to end the series with a two-hour movie special called Little House: The Last Farewell. The finale brought Caroline and Charles back on the series. At the end of the film, Laura convinces Walnut Grove’s residents to blow up the beloved town. The decision to destroy Walnut Grove is something that upset Grassle years later, per Entertainment Weekly

“I thought it was a shame,” she said of the finale. “We could have done annual specials about the characters. But once you blow up the town, you can’t do that.”

‘Little House on the Prairie’s’ finale was reportedly Michael Landon’s retaliation

Although Grassle has been vocal about not liking the finale, many cast members took the movie hard. Gilbert shared with Entertainment Weekly that she “weeps” every time she watches the town explode at the end of the series. 

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As heartbreaking as the finale was for Little House fans, rumors about Landon’s motives swirled after the show ended. According to CBR, executives accused Landon of blowing up the town due to Little House’s cancellation. However, Bill Kiley, a publicist for NBC, explained that Landon didn’t have a sinister plan when he created the ending, per UPI

“Mike decided that if the town had to go, he might as well send it out in a blaze of glory on the screen,” Kiley said.