Norman Reedus Talks About His Character Daryl on The Walking Dead

Four seasons have passed and half of the original characters of The Walking Dead have met with horrible endings. Fans seem to mourn awhile, then move on, just like the forlorn cast of characters lost in this zombie infested apocalyptic world.

Few, if any of the characters are more beloved by fans than Daryl Dixon, played by Norman Reedus. When it comes to talk of the show’s crossbow-yielding, poncho-wearing resident redneck Daryl, fans don’t even want to think about what they would do if he died, many have told the show’s creators, it won’t be pretty.

Robert Kirkman said in an interview on that the regular threats he gets from Daryl Dixon fans may actually put a target on his back. “That fan reaction is going to get him killed,” Kirkman said. “I feel like it’s a dare. Like, ‘Oh, really? You’re gonna riot? We’ll see, we’ll see. No one is safe.”

Norman Reedus as Daryl
Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) The Walking Dead – Season 4

RD: Do you think Andrew Lincoln and yourself are untouchable because of your popularity?

NR: Can you not ever say that? Don’t give these writers any ideas! (laughs)

RD: People in this show are just keeling over left and right no matter how important they are. Do you think your fans will save you from a similar fate?

NR: Yes, and no. The more people that become interested in the character, the more people form an opinion, the more people think that they know the guy. I think part of the point is, not to shock people, but to introduce new levels of this guy. Once people think they have a set idea of everything that they think he is about I think it hurts the creative process in a way sometimes. On the other hand, I like that people are relating to this character, because it is a group effort here and we work really hard to make all of the characters interesting and I have put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this guy and I am glad people are liking what we are doing.

RD: Do you feel like the show is going deeper into the characters’ lives this season and do you feel like there is an increase in the gore factor?

NR: Yeah, there’s a bunch of different elements this year. As far as the gore factor, there is a new threat that is happening. It’s an internal threat and that along with something else has caused us to run away from where we were, as people and as a group, and there are certain leadership responsibilities that are delegated in different ways this year. It’s not the same prison it was when we left it in season 3. You come back in and things almost feel calm for a second, and there’s a sense of environment and a sense of family and unity that wasn’t there before, which quickly gets destroyed. Chaos ensues and it becomes a different world for all of us. Also, with this new threat, there is another way that they have introduced our zombies and our monsters and our way of dealing with things, so it is a whole new vibe this season, to be honest.

Daryl with crossbow at gate
Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) at the gate, with his crossbow The Walking Dead

RD: Why do you think people are so fascinated with the apocalypse and post-apocalyptic scenarios?

NR: Because our show is a big hit, probably! But there are a whole bunch of them now. I think it has to do with time and it has to do with, not really the apocalypse, but everyone’s own mortality, and just like this show, your clock is ticking, and these are your two feet on the ground so who do you want to be? Who do you want people to think of you as? What do you stand for and what are you willing to fight for and what are you going to put up with? In that way, Daryl is really popular; he’s chosen to not give up; he has chosen to be somebody in particular and I think that idea resonates with everyone, not just the cast, but everyone watching the show, because there are crazy, fked up things happening all the time on this planet, I mean crazy, fked up things and your time goes from here to here and what do you stand for? What are you going to put up with and who do you want to be?

RD: Who does Norman Reedus want to be?

NR: I don’t know, still figuring that out!

Norman Reedus Director Greg Nicotero
Glenn (Steven Yeun), Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) and CoExecutive Producer/SFX Makeup Supervisor Greg Nicotero The Walking Dead, Season 4, Episode 1

RD: Why do you think Daryl is so good at killing zombies and doing dirty work?

NR: I have always tried to play that character like he has had his back up against the wall his entire life. There are reasons why people fight, some people fight to protect people, some people fight to prove a point, some people fight for different reasons, but I try to play him like he fights, because he has always had to fight and it is sort of a scorpion way of dealing with things. If there’s a threat you sting it and you walk away, like you just get it out of your face. He doesn’t have a problem killing, and he doesn’t have a problem protecting, and I think he has a sort of ferocious nature to him when it comes to killing people or monsters. And I think it has to do with his upbringing, he lashes out first and reasons second. I think we all deal with them in different ways. The reason Carl kills them is not the same reason why Glenn kills them. We all have our different ways. Daryl is eliminating threats.

RD: Andrew Lincoln said Rick’s job is being a farmer this season. What do you think Daryl’s job is?

NR: Yeah, I think Daryl can do anything. You have a lot of time on your hands if you think about it. Somebody asked me the other day, “How in the world does Daryl not run out of arrows?” Well, we go around and find what we’ve shot and take them back out and keep them and go on runs and this is the South, that’s a weapon people to use to hunt with, a very popular weapon, so it wouldn’t be hard to find them. And they are like, “Yeah, but we never see that?” Well, you never see us go to the bathroom either, I am sure we do that. (laughs)

RD: It seems like you have a lot of control over your character on the show?

NR: Trust me, there are a lot of ideas I have thrown at them and they are like, “Absolutely not!” (laughs). Like, “Can I have a dog? I need a dog. Mad Max had a dog, can I have a dog? What if I am walking down the street with a dog, I will put a bandana on it, it will be my friend and keep the walkers away.” They were like, “No way in hell are you getting a dog.”

RD: It seems like your character is acquiring a lot of accoutrements; Daryl acquired a poncho and now a bandana?

NR: The bandana was for a specific reason, it’s funny too, because everyone writes me these letters; there are so many people that send me information from other blogs, everyone just feels the need to inform me about everything everyone is writing all over the place. I had that bandana in the promo, it went around that I am horribly disfigured in this season, like my face is completely scarred; my lips are blown off, all these different things. Our editors, and the people that run this show and very good at throwing people off (the scent), giving you just enough in a certain way where you think everything is headed that way and you have no idea where it is headed. I can honestly say that 99.9% of the ideas that people tell me, or that I have read about are completely false.

Daryl motorcycle
Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) The Walking Dead, Season 4, Episode 2

RD: Do you do a lot of training before the show season begins?

NR: Yes, you do. You do train before and you train during. But running around the woods of Georgia in 120 degrees in this humidity is probably the best weight loss program on the planet, automatically. And that being said, that crossbow weighs 40-45lbs, so I am constantly doing labor, so my arms can get bigger. I think it would be ridiculous if Daryl took his shirt off and he had a six-pack, it would just look stupid. Other actors would watch me on the show and say, “Oh, there is an actor who is hitting the gym over and over and over again because he has a shirtless scene coming up.” It would just look like that; it would look like I shaved my chest. So I wanted to keep it real. I am kind of trying to go more cheetah and less gorilla, you know what I’m saying?

RD: When you go home to New York, do you miss running around in Georgia with your crossbow?

NR: Yes, I miss it down here a lot actually. I miss the quiet, I miss the trees. There are no trees in my neighborhood. I live in Chinatown; we have only got one tree (laughs). I miss riding my motorcycle through the country here. Yeah, I miss a whole bunch of it. I don’t miss the chaos of New York, but then again, I miss New York and I miss my friends, but when I go back to New York over the weekends, I really look forward to coming back.

RD: What have you learned from being on the show over four seasons now?

NR: If you do a movie, you have an hour and a half and possibly a month or two to watch this guy change, and tell this story with this character, but with television, you get to do all the little things that build up and tell a story. You have four years to work on a character, so it’s not just your line means something, and your line is part of the story, it’s how you interact with this person, and how you walk. You have all these tiny areas to play with and it’s something I didn’t see happening when I got this job, because I have never done anything like this. It has rebuilt my faith in doing this. The people I work with, the quality of people I work with and just my entire life style has changed. I don’t mean in any sort of famey way, I mean in health ways and being inspired every day and enjoying what I do, it’s changed the way I live.

The Walking Dead Season 4 Part 2 premieres on FX Australia, Express from the U.S. Monday February 10 at 1.30pm (Express play) and 8.30pm AEDT (Primetime)

Russell W. Dickson, lives in upstate NY, and is a Freelance journalist. He has written for both print and online news/opinion pages.Russell holds a B.A. in English, minor Journalism from The University at Albany, Albany, NY. His writing experience spans more than a decade and his work has graced the pages of newspapers, magazines, online news orgs, and political websites in both the U.S. and abroad.