While much of the discussion for comic readers surrounding AMC’s “The Walking Dead” centers on how the show will adapt the stories and characters of the Image/Sybound comic, there’s one area where that idea is effectively moot: Daryl.
A core member of “Walking Dead’s” TV cast, the crossbow-hunting member of the survivor group is an original character with no prescient in Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard’s original comic issues. Despite that, the character has become a fan favorite as he’s grown from dismissive little brother to the unhinged racist Merle and into one of the more sympathetic heroes of the core cast.
Ahead of tonight’s second episode debut, CBR News is happy to share a conversation with Daryl actor Norman Reedus about the character’s internal life. Conducted recently as part of our “Walking Dead” set visit (see our core report and a discussion with Michonne actress Danai Gurira as well), the discussion below ranges from Daryl’s view of himself to his relationship to Carol to where things will go when his brother reemerges after a two-season absence.
Last season, Daryl went through a lot of ups and downs and started to become more of a leader. Where is he at as Season 3 gets underway?
Norman Reedus: The first season was kind of an inroduction to the world, and the second season was them running for their lives. This season, everyone is treating the zombies like it’s a plague – an infestation. Daryl this season is tighter with the group. They’re relying on them. I think he’s found some comfort in having people rely on him. He doesn’t feel like as much of an outsider. And he’s much tighter with Rick. When he’s fighting, he’s always got one eye on Rick, and he’s sort of become the brother that Merle wasn’t -Â which is going to cause some problems when Merle comes back. But he’s an integrated part of the group now. I think he’d do anything to keep these people alive.
And speaking of Merle, from the moment he disappeared there was an expectation for his return. Did you want to know more about when that would happen, or did you put it out of your mind as your character changed?
I think Daryl always wanted to find Merle and always found hints of Merle. Like he said, nobody can kill Merle but Merle. But so much other shit started to happen. It wasn’t as thought I went to the producers and said, “Let’s get this guy out of my mind.” We just got overran by so many things. I think Daryl always wanted to find Merle, but he got overrun by other things.
So now we know there’s been a lot of talk about Merle coming back, and about us coming face-to-face in a fight. But when we took over this little town and found Merle was alive, I as a character wanted to just run out and fix things. But at the same time, [Daryl] had no idea what his involvement was with the rest of the cast. But he does sort of follow along under the thumb of Merle whenever he’s around, almost reverts back to being a little kid again. That’s sort of how the writers wrote him coming in.
It’s funny. I never had conversations with anybody about Daryl when I started the show, but little things I did kind of turned into story lines. The abused kid thing and interviews I did about Merle and what it’s like to be Daryl and what it’s like to have Merle as a brother in those ways. I never had meetings with the writers about how Daryl saw Merle, but it all came together as one. I think either we’re all on the same page, or they read those interviews. [Laughter]
Does Daryl still carry Merle’s hand?
[Laughs] You know, I don’t know if he’s still got a hold of the hand anymore. He probably threw it away. He couldn’t put it back on. It’s decidedly raisny and purple.
Are you getting at all involved with the new video game -Â doing voice work?
I’m excited to do the voice for sure. I mean, I have a 12-year-old son, so this video game better be great, or he’ll kill me. [Laughs] I won’t be the cool dad anymore. I don’t know the story lines for the game yet. It’s still in the works, and it takes a long time to make a game. But once the game’s a little further along before I’m involved creatively. The whole thing takes place before we meet the camp with Merle and I, so it’ll be interesting. I’ve never been in a video game that’s been well done yet, to be honest. There were some “Boondock Saints” iPhone games, so they were pretty basic stuff. I’m excited for this. It should be cool to kill myself. [Laughter]
What’s it been like being back on set with Michael Rooker?
He’s a lot of fun. He’s definitely like from the Bugs Bunny cartoon – that little Tasmanian Devil that’s running around in circles? He’s like that. He storms around like a tornado and throws you all over the place. He’s a good actor, and he’s fun to watch, and he’s fun to work with. He’s definitely got his thing down – this Rooker thing that he’s got down to a T. He’s a force to be reckoned with because he’s set in his ways of how he likes to do stuff, and you have to do your stuff to match what he’s throwing at you. There are some actors who say, “I don’t know? How do we do this? Let’s be spontaneous and find it.” And then other actors have a certain way they want to do stuff. You have to be like liquid metal around those people and move with them. So he’s fun.
When you talk about Daryl reverting a bit in personality around Merle. Now that he’s grown so much over the past two years and is so much more accepting of people, will his reversion bring out his dark side a bit?
He does seem to revert to the little brother, but it’s sort of like Carol’s story in a way. Her husband beats her up, but she goes, “Don’t hurt him!” It’s like that, but there are certain boundaries now that Merle can’t cross with Daryl anymore. Daryl’s not the same guy he was anymore when he was hanging out with Merle. A lot’s happened.
And Merle kept Daryl secluded, so he didn’t have very good social skills. Now he’s learning that it’s okay to be Daryl. It’s a fight for Merle to bring Daryl back to who he was, and it’s a fight for Daryl not to give up who he wants to be. There were certain scenes in particular for Daryl last year when he just went out into the woods, did Merle’s drugs and zoned out. I kind of had a problem with doing that. I didn’t want to be that guy. I wanted to be more of an Al-Anon member and not an Alcoholics Anonymous member. I grew up with people taking drugs, and it sucked. I don’t want to say racist stuff because it’s embarrassing, and I have people in my family who still think like that. So all those things that make Merle such an unlikable guy, you grow up with it and see that he’s unlikable. You realize that you don’t want to grow up to be that guy. I think there’s been some time now where Daryl’s finding out who he is, and he’s realized that it’s okay to have friends. It’s okay to be who I am. So he doesn’t want to let go of that. People rely on him. This is his family, and he wouldn’t let anything hurt them. He’s going to fight to the death to keep them around.
On the flipside, what’s your relationship with Carol going to be like as we get into Season 3? Some time has passed. Does the relationships get stronger?
You know, I think the relationships with all the characters is stronger at this point. Carol and Daryl share a lot in common, and it’s not just because of where they’re from – they seem a lot more country than some of the others -Â but also because of the abuse. They gravitate towards other abused people. With that whole storyline with Sophia [last year], Daryl spent a long time looking for Sophia, and Carol appreciated it but then she went kind of vacant, and that upset Daryl. Because of that, they’ve kind of bonded now. They have more history with each other than with the other characters, so we’re definitely closer.
I’ve been fortunate enough to do a lot of scenes with Melissa [McBride]. She’s such a good actress -Â definitely one of the strongest I’ve ever worked with. She says a lot with her face, and I really like that in an actress -Â the subtleties. If instead of crying, you’re trying not to cry, I think that’s almost more sad. She can really play these little beats in between things, and when you’re playing with someone like that, it just makes you look better.
A new episode of “The Walking Dead” premiers tonight on AMC.