‘Walking Dead’: If Daryl dies, we riot

Henry Hanks


(CNN) — As “The Walking Dead” approaches its fall finale on Sunday, fans have two big questions on their minds.

First, they have been waiting weeks to see how Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) will react to the news that his closest friend Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride) has been banished from the prison where the survivors have holed up.

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Next, they want to know how the Governor’s (David Morrissey) apparent coming attack on the prison (with a tank, no less) will affect the survivors, especially Daryl, who has not had any big scenes for the better part of a month.

After all, Daryl-inspired GIFs and fan art abound online, and Reedus fans’ perfect-for-a-T-shirt battle cry is “If Daryl Dies, We Riot.” So watch out, Gov.

Reedus barely appeared in the first season of the show, but by season two, the legions of zombie fans were infected with Daryl mania.

Officially the coolest customer in the apocalypse, the crossbow-wielding Daryl takes out “walkers” with arrows, earning more fans every time. It seems that surviving just becomes him.

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This season has been a tough one for Daryl, having felt betrayed by Bob, and of course, the aforementioned banishment of Carol. (And that’s after losing brother Merle last season.)

CNN spoke to Reedus about what makes Daryl, and the actor behind him, tick.

CNN: When did you first realize that this character had a special following all his own?

Reedus: I started recognizing it gradually from the beginning. I got a lot of girl love after that “Cherokee Rose” speech (in Season 2).

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I don’t know, I guess it keeps growing gradually. When you’re shooting, you don’t know what’s going on because you’re in Georgia, and you’re shooting. Then you go somewhere like a Comic-Con and it’s, “Holy moley, that’s a lot of people.” Now I get a lot of love everywhere I go. So I guess it’s a gradual thing.

CNN: Daryl fits right in in the apocalypse in rural Georgia. How do you like filming there?

Reedus: I love it there. We shoot down in Senoia, Georgia. I like even further south than Atlanta. I’m a huge Georgia fan. I ride my motorcycle just about every day, and I drive through the country, the back roads, where there’s no cars, just cows and trees and grass. I love it, it’s heaven on Earth down there.

CNN: Daryl’s importance on the show has grown over the seasons. How has he evolved?

Reedus: In the first season, everything came out of the side of Daryl’s face. He didn’t really look you in the eyes. He kept moving; he was walking behind everybody and couldn’t sit still and he was so uncomfortable. Now he looks you directly in the face, and he can stand perfectly still.

I don’t think he was proud of who he was. He was set in his ways, and he was doomed to this life and didn’t really know it. He’s got this reverse thing than the rest of the members of the group have. He can fend for himself, he can hunt and make it on his own. I’ve gotta find the glue that keeps him with all these people.

He’s starting to make connections with people for the first time. The relationships he’s forming with these people and this feeling that people need him. I think he feels good about it. He hates what’s going on and people can die any second, but at the same time, he’s finding things out about himself.

CNN: Do you stick around to watch scenes you’re not in?

Reedus: When Lori died, the whole cast was there to watch it happen, same with T-Dog. We watch each other and support each other, especially in the big scenes. I don’t find out things I don’t need to know about, other than just supporting people.

CNN: Last season, Daryl briefly reunited with his brother Merle. What was that like to play out?

Reedus: There’s this interesting thing when we did that arena scene. The Governor brings me in there and rips that hood off. Then I see Merle and I actually back into the Governor. It’s not just like you’re seeing a ghost, but it’s almost like you stepped into your comfort zone and liked it. But then you’re back in that reality where you’re used to being the one under the thumb, the one kicked around.

It’s not written the way we do it. The nuances are the actors’ nuances. We could have all gone in there and said the same words and been like caged wolverines. You could have played it that way, but you play it how you feel it and you talk with the writers and directors. You collaborate and make it different for a reason.

I wanted to go into that playing it as small as possible. The more I whimper, the more he looks at me like “This is my fault, what have I done?” It’s more than just “oh my God, shock, it’s you!”

You have to play the sympathy and ties that keep those people interested and thinking of each other. The smaller I play it, the more big brother he is. That sad, desperate thing makes it more interesting than “We’ll kill everybody in this room!” You have to be tough and scared the same time.

I tried to play that dude like he’s always had to fight and his back’s always against the wall.

CNN: Any particularly favorite scenes over the years?

Reedus: There’s the one where Daryl is walking behind Rick, and getting baby formula for “Lil’ Asskicker,” and he says, “I want to thank you for what you’ve done,” and he says, “It’s what we do.” That’s one.

There’s the one with Carol in the trailer when he hands her the rose and does the “Cherokee Rose” speech. That came out of nowhere. I don’t think he really realized what was going on.

There’s one where he’s walking away from Rick, and says he’s better off on his own. When Merle pulls the shirt off and sees all the scars, that next five minutes is another one.

Everything you say and do is important, so nobody really wastes time. You can take every scene you’ve done and they’re all different facets of his character.

CNN: Were you originally interested in the fact that this is a zombie show?

Reedus: I kind of got late to pilot season, and I never really thought about doing a TV show before, I was doing movies.

I read all these pilots, and they were doctor drama, buddy roommate drama, lawyer drama and they were so similar and this one just stuck out. I read it, and I didn’t even see zombies in it, to be honest. The characters are what drew me into it.

Then I saw who was attached to it, and it was Frank Darabont and Gale Anne Hurd and AMC. And I was only really watching AMC shows. It just had all these elements that were too good. I didn’t see zombie show or monster show, I just saw top quality A-list people and a script that was far better than all the other ones.

I love that Andrew (Lincoln’s) character (Rick Grimes) is always making mistakes. If he just solved things, it would be boring. Frank gave him this note that he’s up on this tank and there’s all these zombies around and he finally gets out and jumps off the tank to run away, and twists his ankle. Frank told him, that’s your character. That’s so interesting.

CNN: What about the possibility of romance between Carol and Daryl?

Reedus: I like that Carol and Daryl recognize in each other that they’re damaged. It’s better than “Cue the music, let’s make out.”

CNN: Now that you have a few years under your belt, what scares you now? Anything but zombies?

Reedus: Disease scares me, death scares me.

The way Greg Nicotero does those zombies, you see the dying, scared lost sad person behind the monster. That’s what makes the monster scary.