8:00am PT by Josh Wigler
'Walking Dead': Norman Reedus on the "Poetic and Tragic" Season 9 Premiere
[This story contains spoilers for the season nine premiere of AMC's The Walking Dead, "A New Beginning."]
Even with Andrew Lincoln's exit from the series still on the horizon, Norman Reedus' role in the Walking Dead universe is already taking on renewed focus.
In the season nine premiere of the AMC drama, "A New Beginning," Daryl Dixon (Reedus) stands more firmly in the spotlight than ever before. He's part of the group's trip to Washington, D.C., as they attempt to scavenge supplies and salvage historical artifacts for future posterity. Daryl soothes Cyndie (Sydney Park), the Oceansider still grieving the loss of loved ones. He rejects his newfound role as leader of the Saviors, all but begging Carol (Melissa McBride) to bail him out and take on the job. He stands in a dimly lit Sanctuary, quietly fuming at Rick Grimes (Lincoln) for not seeing and hearing his needs more clearly.
The Walking Dead fandom knows all too well that continued time with Lincoln as Rick is limited at best, and as a result, the show's focus on other characters is starting to become more and more obvious — including the heightened role for Reedus as Daryl. But don't believe the hype that Daryl will fill out Rick's vacant position as leader once the sheriff rides off into the sunset, however that comes to pass. Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Reedus vehemently denies any and all reports that Daryl's going to become a substitute for the beloved Rick Grimes.
"I want to put that to bed right now," says Reedus. "He's number one on the call sheet. I'm number 20. I'm still number 20. Everybody on the cast is doing more to fill the void. Everyone's stepping up to the plate. There are all-new characters. Daryl isn't the type of person who builds a podium and [gives speeches]. He's not that guy. He says, 'You can come, you can come, but I don't know you.' On set, everybody's still bringing it. As far as the character, I'm still Daryl."
Reedus' philosophy about Daryl's leadership tactics — such as they are — is on full display in "A New Beginning," as the bow-wielding badass begins the process of stepping down from his post at the Sanctuary. (In the comics from Robert Kirkman, Daryl's current lack of confidence as a leader belongs to a different character: Dwight, played by former Walking Dead series regular Austin Amelio. Amelio's future with the show is currently unknown.) Indeed, not only is Daryl not eager to follow in Rick's footsteps, he's actively at odds with his longtime friend and veritable brother.
"I think one of Rick's biggest problems at this stage in the game is that he's so blinded by grief," says Reedus, referring to the loss of Chandler Riggs' Carl. "He's overwhelmed by so much. As a family member and loved one, you support him, but you have to tell him where he's messing up. The brash reality and slap in the face isn't something he's expecting."
Even though Reedus defends Daryl's anger toward Rick, he acknowledges that his character's hot temper might not lead toward productivity for the greater Alexandria community as season nine pushes forward.
"We're doing all of these things with good intentions, but for the wrong reasons," he says. "Daryl's story with him this season, especially in the first half, is about, 'You're not listening to me.' How you empower people is making them part of the conversation. A lot of the time, we've been blindly following him. We're running, we're in peril in some sort of way. But his therapeutic game right now is people telling him what's up."
That therapeutic approach could very likely lead to the reason why Lincoln's time as Rick Grimes is about to draw to a close. Whatever lies ahead, Reedus promises the show's future is built on "stories [that] are super emotional, but are very scary in a poetic and tragic kind of way. It's still an animal planet and very ferocious, but it's a very honest take on it."
Follow THR.com/WalkingDead for more coverage.