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The Walking Dead star Andrew Lincoln’s reign as Rick Grimes will end at some point in the weeks ahead. However Lincoln exits the AMC drama in the forthcoming season nine (circumstances are shrouded in secrecy, even if the departure itself is publicly known), there’s no doubt that the man waged and won his fair share of battles over the better part of a decade as zombie-killing Rick. But in the end, Lincoln lost the only Walking Dead war that ever truly mattered: the prank war with the once and future Daryl Dixon, co-star Norman Reedus.
“I’m so freaking far ahead of him, it’s not even funny,” says Reedus, speaking with The Hollywood Reporter and other press members from the Atlanta set of The Walking Dead. “He could prank me a hundred times, and I’ll still be ahead.”
During the course of their time together as the top-billed members of the Walking Dead cast, Lincoln and Reedus became very close friends — a friendship marked by a litany of pranks between the two men, beginning with Reedus tricking Lincoln into asking a packed audience if they could show him to the toilet, during a press event in Japan. Before his final day on the show’s Georgia-based set, Lincoln fired one last shot in the prank wars against his old friend, closing things out much as they began.
“He toilet papered my car,” Reedus recalls, speaking with a hint of feigned disgust. “You know how he did it? We were filming a very intense scene, and he told one of the set’s [production assistants] to go and do it. It’s so lazy. It’s so bad. He just wasted a bunch of toilet paper. What an asshole!”
Nobody involved with the show really thinks of Lincoln in such harsh terms, of course, least of all Reedus. Indeed, the actor’s reaction to losing the day-to-day grind with his close friend and colleague is not unlike what fans have come to expect from the relationship between Rick and Daryl: a whole lot of history, which means a lot of love, and sometimes some pain.
“I was depressed,” he says, looking back on learning about Lincoln’s departure. “We always had a pact that we weren’t going to leave the show without each other. ‘If you want to leave? Tell me.’ We were going to stay with it. So I knew [about Lincoln’s decision] before AMC knew. I knew before anyone knew. I tried to talk him out of it a thousand times. But I get it. He has two little kids outside of London. I have a little boy in New York, and I spend a lot of time [bouncing around between home and set], and I get it. At that age, you need to be able to be there. You can’t fault him.”
Despite their pact, Reedus has no intentions of following his friend’s path away from the show. In fact, quite the opposite: Reedus wants to ride all the way to the end of the Walking Dead line, as evidenced by news of a deal worth upward of $20 million to stay with the series.
“I started on season one of the show, and I would love to bookend it,” says the actor. “I’ve put so much effort into this. For me to walk away now would seem so cowardly. It’s a fight every day, in a million different ways, but it’s a fight I’m invested in. My family is here. I like my life here. I like riding my motorcycle through the country to work. I’ve lived in New York for a long time, and every time I go back to New York, I just want to go back to Georgia. It’s crazy [for me] there, especially as the show has become so big; I’m very recognizable with my long hair and my beady, scary little eyes. It’s hard for me to go anywhere, to be honest. I like it here. This is my family out here. I would love to see it to the end.”
Reedus feels a kinship with Daryl, to the point that he’s found himself struggling to see the line between where the character ends and the actor begins: “It’s weird how the lines blur sometimes. For a long time, I would see people dressing [at conventions] as Daryl. Now, I see them dressing as me. They’re leaving their jobs to go on tours to dress as me, right now. It blends, sometimes.”
“As Daryl has gone from a crook to having a chip on his shoulder to not trusting anybody to having no friends and then slowly being trusted, slowly being part of a group and a family, to being a leader? My life has been like that,” he continues. “I’m a better friend. I’m a better father. I’m more responsible. I like my job. I pay attention more. I remember getting movies way back in the day and saying, ‘I don’t want to go.’ And they would say, ‘You have to go. It’s the studio paying for it.’ And I would try to get out of it. Now I’m making it work and having a good time doing it — and so is Daryl. He’s not having as good a time as me! But they’re very similar in some ways.”
In season nine, Daryl will experience new and unprecedented challenges, including stepping up into more of a leadership role. However, Reedus downplays the reports that he’s going to fill the void left by Lincoln as the new face of the franchise. “All of the characters are stepping up this year,” he insists. All he knows is this: as long as Walking Dead remains on the air, he wants to remain right by its side — and he, like many fans, will riot if the reaper comes calling for Daryl beforehand: “I’ll burn this fucker to the ground.”
With that said, Reedus does have some ideas about where Daryl’s journey should end: “People used to ask me, ‘How do you want him to die?’ I don’t want him to die. I want him to walk up over a mountain and a little dog joins him, and people wonder, ‘Whatever happened to that guy?’ Almost like The Outlaw Josey Wales. Now…the building of the community and the group has never been a Daryl thing. It’s not him. You take care of your immediate family, and that’s it. I wouldn’t mind him heading west, wanting to go see what’s left, not caring about building these communities and fighting for what’s right. He just wants to go and see what else is out there. That would be an awesome show. I think that would be cool. Maybe I listen to too much Fleetwood Mac.”
Reedus has an end game in mind for Daryl, then, but not one he wants to execute until the show reaches its eventual end. “I think we’re all going to get that script some day,” he says, looking toward the show’s inevitable conclusion, however far in the distance. Even then, he says he could imagine following Daryl beyond the confines of the flagship Walking Dead series.
“Possibly,” he says, when asked if he would continue playing Daryl after The Walking Dead, be it a new series or a film project. “If it looked cool. I just want to tell honest stories. This show is a huge show. The scripts are so long, and you have this many days to shoot them. It’s work. It’s tough. We shoot scenes on this show in an hour that if it were a movie, it would take four days to shoot. You have that luxury on a film. Not on this. I would like to slow the pace entirely. Don’t rush me. I’d like a tiny script and stretch it out. I think that would be fun. If it was like that? Yeah.”
What are your hopes from Norman Reedus’ future with the Walking Dead franchise? Sound off in the comments below and keep following THR.com/WalkingDead for more coverage.
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