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[Warning: This story contains spoilers from episode 703, “The Cell,” of AMC’s The Walking Dead.]
Daryl Dixon will not kneel before Negan.
After a week off to visit the Kingdom, Sunday’s The Walking Dead returned to follow Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his band of savage Saviors — including Dwight (Austin Amelio) — as they attempted to break the unbreakable: Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus).
Taken back to the Saviors’ so-called Sanctuary, Daryl is being held in a jail cell, being tormented with music, fed dog food sandwiches and shown a photo of Glenn’s (Steven Yeun) remains as Negan and Dwight attempt to get him on board. It doesn’t work, and instead Daryl rejects all three of Negan’s options.
Even Sherry (Christine Evangelista) — Dwight’s wife who was first introduced during an encounter with Daryl in season six — tries to warn him to fall in line. Ultimately, Daryl would rather go back to the cell, where he grapples with his role in Glenn’s death.
THR caught up with Reedus to break down Daryl’s breakdown and what’s next.
You had like two lines of dialogue in this episode. What was it like to film and work with Austin so much?
It was emotionally draining; it was definitely one of the hardest ones I’ve had to film in a long time. There was totally a bizarre-o thing going on with Dwight and Daryl. But on set, we have such a good crew. They respect us and we’ve been together for a long time. You’re in a jail cell and you’re naked and crying for three days and they’re right there with you and everyone was really quiet just trying to capture what’s in the air. I don’t know if you could do that with a crew that you didn’t feel that comfortable with. It was intense.
Dwight is trying to break Daryl with dog food and music. What is keeping Daryl going at this point?
Negan is trying to break Daryl. Dwight’s just the errand boy; it’s Negan’s view of torture. When Daryl first met Dwight, Dwight was a good guy. He was trying to protect his people, and he was running. But Dwight f—s Daryl over — and people do things out of fear in this world that they regret. And Daryl can forgive that; he sees people do that all the time. But it’s different now because he’s taken it to the extreme. Dwight has given up, and is constantly saying, “Just say you’re Negan. Just say it. I don’t get it. Why are you doing this? Just say this!” But Daryl can’t do it because of the same reason that Dwight did things that were shitty because he had something he was protecting. Daryl can’t say, “I’m Negan,” because he would be giving up what Glenn was to him and what he was to all of the group. Glenn was the heart of our group; he was the optimist and he believed in people. If Daryl was to say, “I am Negan,” he would be disrespecting the memory of Glenn. And that’s why Daryl can’t do it”
You had to eat a lot of fake dog food sandwiches in this episode. They looked disgusting. Was really in them?
Spam or something with some other stuff ground up in it with rock-hard rolls. I imagine that’s what dog food would taste like. That sandwich … it was pretty gross.
Dwight gives Daryl a photo of Glenn’s remains. What is Daryl’s thought in that moment? He really breaks down like we haven’t seen before.
That’s what they do: they hit people over the heads and then take a picture of it. Glenn found one of them in the compound we raided last year and we saw those photos all over the walls. It’s part of the torture and their technique. Daryl has a lot of time to sit in that cell and think and over and over that he’s being tortured. Seeing that photo of Glenn was just a reminder of what happened.
How much does Daryl blame himself for Glenn’s death?
He full-heartedly blames himself. Rosita (Christian Serratos) was kneeling right next to him [in Negan’s lineup] and after Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) got hit, Negan was waving that bloody bat in Daryl’s face and taunting Rosita with it, like it was a big joke. Daryl was the closest one to Rosita, and he lashed out to protect her and honor his friend, Abraham. Negan lashes out at her and Daryl lashes out at Negan. One would assume that if anyone was going to get shit for it, it was going to be Daryl who was going to be the one that gets hit next. Glenn was a surprise to that whole group. They never saw that coming. Steven fought for that death; it’s such an iconic death in the comic book, and it’s such a turning point for that group and for the story. I think fans of the comic book would have been really upset if that would have gone to anybody else. They shot it frame-for-frame like it is in the comic book and honored that story. But as far as the group, nobody saw it coming. And Daryl definitely never would have done anything to hurt anybody in his group.
How is Daryl holding on to who he is given his guilt over Glenn’s death and the fact that he’s being tortured with no time to grieve?
You see him doing stuff around the hallways, pushed by the head and shoved into the fence and you know that Daryl could take Dwight. But that’s not what’s going on. He’s letting it all happen. He thinks he deserves to be there, and he thinks whatever the Saviors throw at him, he thinks he deserves it. He’s not fighting back at all. He’s lost the will to fight. That’s why he won’t say that he’s Negan. It’s such a “f— you!”/”Yeah!” moment. You want it to feel like it’s the last thing he has left. It can’t look like it’s a middle finger. It has to look like Daryl is feeling like his humanity is the last thing that he has.
Do you think Dwight sees himself in Daryl?
No. I think Dwight wants to see himself in Daryl, but that’s not going to happen; Daryl can see that he’s doing that. It almost validates Dwight’s decisions if Daryl will choose to say that he’s Negan. Like, if Daryl does it, too, then it makes it OK that Dwight did it and probably makes him feel better about himself. But Daryl knows that. Daryl knows what Dwight has done and Dwight knows that he has made a mistake and has to live with it. Those two characters are very different. You can wear the vest and you can use the crossbow and everything else, but he’s not going to be Daryl. Dwight was written in the comic books after Daryl was already on the television show but it’s not like those characters are identical. There’s definitely a bizarre-o thing going on here, but they’re very different.
Sherry remembers Daryl from their exchange in the forest, when Daryl tried to help her, her sister, Tina, and Dwight. Why doesn’t Daryl listen to her when she warns him to go back?
Daryl doesn’t care what she says; he just wants out of there. He doesn’t need to hear her. He gets it. For Daryl, all these people doing this Negan circus, they’ve all given up and they’re all cowards. You can’t take a character like Daryl and just tame him and have him join your group. Especially if it’s fear-based because Daryl doesn’t do stuff because he’s afraid. So, he’s looking at all these people and thinking, “This is your life. This is not my life. And I’m not joining the country club. It’s not happening.”
Daryl rejects all three of Negan’s options. Does he have a long-term plan here? Where does he go from here?
No. I imagine after that, he goes back to the cell eating the dog food sandwich and he holds onto the only thing he has left, which is his honor. His honor is based on these people that he loves and who have given him this self-respect that he never had before. He has the hope in his chest that he will see these people again, and he’s holding onto the only thing he has. That wasn’t a “F— you, Negan. My name’s Daryl.” It was more of a, “This is the last thing I have, and you can’t have it.” That’s what this was. Daryl has one thing left and that’s his honor, his word and his name and he’s not giving it to Negan. Maybe six years ago he would have. But what Glenn means to him and what that group means to him, that’s the only thing he has left; he’s lost everybody but them. And you can’t take that away from them. It’s much better than “F— you, Negan.”
How would you describe Negan and Daryl’s relationship going forward?
Daryl wants to kill him. Negan is interested in Daryl and is trying to break him. Daryl is a strong-willed animal. It’s almost like a game to Negan. Daryl wants to rip his face off. He wants to kill him and he wants to kill Dwight, and he f—ing hates them.
What did you think of Daryl’s confrontation with Dwight and Negan? Sound off in the comments, below. The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.