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Norman Reedus’ Daryl Dixon is The Walking Dead‘s a wild card.
The rough-and-tumble character who’s unique to the AMC zombie drama — he’s not featured in Robert Kirkman’s comics — is turning out to be Season 2’s everyman, becoming a de facto leader who quietly looks out for the group.
“Daryl was written as angry, angry, angry,” Reedus tells The Hollywood Reporter, noting that the character grew up learning how to fight and take care of himself under the thumb of his bad-ass brother Merle. “I tried to give Daryl some layers, have him tear up a little bit as he’s throwing squirrels at people and trying to cut people.”
Despite starting the series clashing with Rick (Andrew Lincoln), T-Dog (Robert “IronE” Singleton) and company when the group was forced to leave his racist brother Merle (Michael Rooker) handcuffed to a rooftop in Atlanta, Daryl’s relationship with the gang has changed considerably.
“Daryl can hunt, he can protect you, he’s not afraid of anything, which makes him an asset to the group, but having people in the group tell him he’s valuable and he’s worth more than he thinks he is is hard for him to accept,” Reedus says. “Emotionally, he’s pretty bankrupt, so having him start relationships other than just kill-you, piss-you-off is a difficult part for Daryl; he has a different agenda than everyone else.”
Part of that includes saving T-Dog’s life in the Season 2 opener and, in Sunday’s episode, continuing the search for Carol’s (Melissa McBride) daughter, Sofia (Madison Lintz), as Rick and Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) continue to hold vigil over Carl (Chandler Riggs).
“When he goes out of his way to save certain people, it’s because he’s trying to keep the family together,” Reedus says. “He’s never really had a family before and he’s finding comfort in the group.”
Reedus says it’s the group’s faith in him that will keep Daryl among their ranks. “You have people in the group going, ‘You’re worth something, we trust you,’ and if you never had that before, you’re going to stick around,” he notes. “Besides, there’s safety and comfort in numbers even if you hate the dude sitting next to you.”
This week, Daryl will let his tough exterior down as someone will learn a bit about his childhood with Merle and see an entirely new side to the motorcycle-riding, crossbow-wielding rebel.
“Daryl is bonding with a lot of people you wouldn’t expect him to bond with,” Reedus says. “There’s a sensitive side to Daryl that’s very hard to get at. Something happens that opens up that side of Daryl and it’s a shock when people see that side of him.”
While the group later returned to Atlanta for Merle only to find his hand, a saw and the cuffs, Reedus hints that the group ultimately could pick up the search for his brother again, which could find Daryl facing a dilemma between siding with his blood family or post-apocalypse group.
“The Merle thing will definitely come back up in a big way,” Reedus says, noting that Episode 6 (titled “Secrets”) will offer additional details about his past. “If Merle comes back and he wants to hurt the group, Daryl will stick up for the group; if Merle comes back and the group wants to hurt Merle, Daryl will stick up for Merle.”
“It’s interesting to have somebody who may flip out on everybody any second,” Reedus says of Daryl.
The Walking Dead airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.
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