AMC's hit series The Walking Dead returns for its second season tonight and Norman Reedus (Boondock Saints) has his crossbow locked and ready to go for his homecoming as the (not always so) lovable southern hot-head Daryl Dixon (See our coverage of The Walking Dead NYCC panel HERE). We recently had the opportunity to speak with Dixon about what viewers can expect from this season of The Walking Dead as well as the evolution of his character's storyline - and how the cast and crew have responded to the exit of series creator Frank Darabont.
Fans of The Walking Dead will recall that Reedus’ character, Daryl, entered the show in episode 3 “Tell It to the Frogs” as the younger brother of the racist drug-addict Merle Dixon (Michael Rooker) who was left handcuffed on a rooftop in Atlanta - and has not (yet) been heard from again. Daryl is a live-wire (though nowhere near as dangerous and vitriolic as his brother) but has proved to be an asset to the group as a hunter and outdoorsman that comes equipped with ready-made zombie Apocalypse survival skills.
Darabont wrote the character of Daryl specifically for Reedus after the actor auditioned for the role of Merle. Daryl has been a fan favorite since his introduction and is so popular in fact, that comic creator Robert Kirkman has announced plans to include the character in upcoming installations of his series. Reedus laughingly relayed that he asks Kirkman when Daryl is going to show up in the comics every time he sees him. "My twelve year old son would do cartwheels if that happens," the actor enthused. His work on the show has already earned his boy some "street cred" with the older kids at his school and Reedus imagines that his appearance in the comic series would only serve to solidify that cred.
Reedus fell in love with the pilot script for The Walking Dead when he read it and says he will "always be grateful to Frank (Darabont)" for giving him the opportunity to be a part of what he feels is one of the most unique shows on television. Fans of the series were shocked when Darabont was dismissed from the show and replaced with his second in command, Glen Mazzara (make-up artist Greg Nicotero was subsequently named co-executive producer alongside Mazzara).
Reedus says that the shock of the events caused the cast and crew to pull up their boot straps and, "work harder to keep the show what we had envisioned going in, and what we had already accomplished."
"It made us talk more, and collaborate more, and focus on making the best show we possibly could. We knew Glen before that, so he came on to the set and he really opened his doors to us, and wanted to talk to us about every single aspect, and keep us all in the loop on the decisions. He asked for our opinions and at the same time made decisions for himself. Whatever happened -- and I'll probably never know what really happened -- made us come together and make a tighter circle. Glen included."
As to Mazzara's capabilities as a show runner, Reedus stressed that, "He was picked by Frank so he had elements about him that Frank trusted right off the bat."
What's On Deck For The Walking Dead Season 2:
Last season of The Walking Dead ended with a bang. Literally. The explosion at the CDC left the survivors once again on the run and looking for a homestead where they can safely rebuild their lives. Reedus assures fans that this season will open with that same sense of urgency.
The aforementioned "place to land" is Hershel Greene’s farm (which readers may recall from the comics). At this point in the series, the group begins to fragment and we are introduced to the idea that our fellow man may pose as great a threat as the Zombies themselves.
Reedus describes Daryl's initial response to the new characters as wary at best.
"Daryl doesn’t trust anybody. As soon as new characters are introduced, he wants to throw down, just to see what they’re made of. But Hershel’s an older country-boy, so I think that there's something about him that Daryl connects to and trusts. But it's more about the safety of their farm. You know they have a farm that has sort of natural barriers to keep the Walkers out, and when Walkers do come there they can deal with them in a very efficient way. So it's more about fighting to keep that location."
As challenges emerge, so do factions within the group dynamic.
"The damaged people with family issues connect. Other characters that are hot heads and rebelling against the leadership in the group bond. You would think Shane and I would come to blows at a certain point -- but we never do. Shane and I both feel if someone's infected you put him down, certain characters bond over that belief system."
To Comic or Not To Comic:
Kirkman fans have noted that the television series has alternated between mirroring the trajectory of the comic and veering off into nearly unrecognizable terrain. Reedus confirms that the second season will follow a similar pattern in terms of its faithfulness to the source material.
"It's definitely its own animal. We try to stick to the comic book as much as possible, but we also jump away from it. There are certain points where four issues of the comic book will take seven episodes, or vice-versa for that matter. But we have Robert in the writing room as well, and we have his blessing - so as far as we go off of the page of the comic book, he always brings us back into that world."
Flashbacks and Family Ties:
"The thing with Daryl is that he's a hunter, you know, 'see Zombie, kill Zombie.'" Reedus reflected on his character.
"He's not terrified, he's more like...there's a situation and he fixed the situation. He's so emotionally damaged that he can't really express himself or deal with emotions in this highly volatile, emotional setting. He can kill, he can hunt, he can get you out of a jam and he can track stuff. But when someone's actually talking to him like an adult about his emotional conflicts he just shuts down. He doesn't know how to deal with it. So, he's kind of unique in that way -- his struggles are different struggles than the rest of the cast. It's kind of a reversal for him."
"He doesn't look you in the face," the actor continued. "He gets a look in his face like a little kid. I play him like he is emotionally a child. (You can see) in scenes where groups of people are stationary -- he's always moving. He's kind of like a snake, he sort of weasels toward you and strikes."
Reedus had a great deal of influence on the development of his character, as such, the actor feels as though there is a good deal of his own experience in his portrayal of Daryl.
"I'm kind of emotionally damaged. I didn't really grow up with my family and so I kind of understand the importance of trying to reconnect that sort of bond - and I'm socially awkward to be honest. If you put me in a large room full of people, and people are looking at me I get a little nervous. I don't know how to deal with that. I always want to go outside and sneak a cigarette and just want to escape. So I think there's a lot of Daryl in me. And also I fix problems. I don't really dwell on problems, I just fix it... And I like weapons."
The backstory for the infamous "Bicycle Girl" Zombie was explored in the Greg Nicotero helmed web-series that launched at the beginning of this month. The series at large will also be utilizing flashbacks to provide some background on the main characters as well as context for their actions. Reedus revealed that we will learn more about Daryl and the events that stunted his emotional growth, leaving him in the dangerous, mercurial, childlike state that we find him in.
The bonds that Daryl has with his surrogate family will be strengthened this season as he begins to open up and become a more active member of the community he now finds himself a part of.
"I think what's happening with the other characters is that he's beginning to rely on them, and they rely on him too. I think he's starting to feel a sense of self-worth. And it gets reiterated through certain characters at different times that he is important, and he is valid -- that he's an important member of this group. So I think his attitude is changing a little bit in that he feels wanted when he didn't feel wanted at all before. Probably even when he was hanging out with his brother. That's what's interesting about playing him, because you go from him seeing red to sort of almost connecting in an adult way. The struggle between adult themes and pure violence -- its interesting to play that."
You can tune in to AMC tonight at 9/8c to watch Daryl and the rest of the survivors struggle to manage their own demons and the perils of the outside world in the 90 minute season premier of The Walking Dead “What Lies Ahead.”
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