When The Walking Dead returns in October, it will be the beginning of the end for Rick Grimes. Many fans are rooting for Daryl to take Rick's place, but when Screen Rant visited The Walking Dead set and spoke with Norman Reedus, he revealed that he doesn't think Daryl is really the leader-type.
The news of Andrew Lincoln's departure leaked earlier this year, and, since then, AMC has been hyping Rick's final episodes and teasing who will replace him as leader once he's gone. Of those who could replace Rick, Maggie is another character who seems a likely candidate. However, Lauren Cohen's tenure on The Walking Dead is also limited, with Maggie only expected to appear in six episodes of season 9. It's been confirmed her character won't die this season and plans exist for her to return in season 10 (schedule permitting), but if not Maggie, then who better than Daryl to pick up where Rick leaves off?
During the on-set interview, Reedus was asked if he thinks Daryl wants to be a leader, to which he responded: "No, he doesn’t. He’s got that anti-hero/anti-leader thing going on." Reedus went on to explain that he doesn't think "anyone is going to step up and be Rick," and simply put, there can't be "a new Rick." And yet, while Reedus doesn't see anyone replacing Rick as leader, he isn't shy about criticizing Rick's leadership:
"I think sometimes Rick is so blinded by his vision of getting something done for this reason or for Carl or for whatever reason that he doesn’t hear people. He acts like he does but he kind of doesn’t. And then Daryl’s stepping up into a bigger role - he’s never going to be that guy that builds a podium to stand on top of and talk to his flock. He’s just not that dude, y’know? I think that Rick putting Daryl in certain situations, that he doesn’t want to be that person, he’s having a hard time getting along. And I think if you don’t listen to the people that follow you and you don’t have their attention and they don’t think you’re listening to them, you kind of lose respect.”
Reedus may not consider Daryl to be leader-material, but he does recognize his character has a very particular set of skills:
"The thing about Daryl is that he’s street smart. And I think street smart in a world in the woods full of thieves and criminals and cutthroats is more powerful than a badge, it’s more powerful than respect. You’ve got respect, you’ve got fear, and then you’ve got the guy in the middle that can see both ends."
Though typically seen as a loner, Daryl has formed close bonds with his fellow survivors, and he's had to take on more responsibility as their group has grown bigger. This has forced Daryl to make some difficult choices, and in season 9, his place as "the guy in the middle that can see both ends" will continue to be tested. And though Reedus may not think of Daryl's role in season 9 as being one of leadership, showrunner Angela Kang says that many characters will take on bigger roles this season:
"I really love what some of the other characters have, like the role that they have in this story. I think a big part of what we want to talk about this season was issues of civilization and leadership, and so a lot of these characters like Daryl, Carol, and Michonne - as well as other characters, like Tara has some great leadership stuff - we’re really seeing them try to figure out what they need to do to continue to move forward even when they’re at odds about what is the right path forward."
With major characters departing in season 9, other characters in The Walking Dead's large ensemble will need to step up and assume larger roles in the narrative. There may be no single character who can replace Rick (or even Maggie), but if the goal is to reestablish some semblance civilization, then there needs to be someone - or some people - who the residents of the many communities can look up to for guidance.
The Walking Dead season 9 premieres Sunday, October 7 at 9pm/8c on AMC.