They might not have reunited on the small screen yet, but the Dixon Brothers were side by side in Austin this afternoon. Earlier this afternoon, actors Michael Rooker and Norman Reedus (best known to fans of AMC's The Walking Dead as Merle and Daryl Dixon on the series) held court at Wizard World Austin Comic Con. In a panel moderated by "Action Chick" Katrina Hill, the fan-favorite actors talked, joked and cursed a little, with Rooker singing the praises of ousted showrunner Frank Darabont and doing a surprising amount of math. You can listen to some audio from the panel here. Note: We previously erroneously identified Michael Rooker as having come from Georgia. In fact, he's from Alabama. We apologize for any confusion. According to our reporter on the floor (and also to a couple of mainstream media folks who sat with her in the press section), this panel seemed to be kind of oddly more representative of traditional comic book fans than the rest of the convention; fewer female fans and fewer cosplayers hit the panel than almost anything else this weekend, but that doesn't mean the room wasn't packed. After introductions and a bit of chatter, Rooker and Reedus started out the panel in earnest by talking about the weirdest items fans have given to them, or asked them for. Norman Reedus said he had a few--that he'd been presented at a panel with a bag of oily meat, which the presenter then said was squirrel that she had hunted down with a shovel. He also said that some Japanese women once asked for him to blow in a bottle. There was quite a bit of talk about horses on the panel--Reedus doesn't get along with them, in part because the animals are always backing into shots. Each of them shared some funny horse-related anecdotes. Asked whether it seemed like a bad idea for Daryl to be driving a "really loud motorcycle" that might attract zombies, Reedus responded, "Well, it's good on gas, and Daryl don't give a f--k."
Asked about the experience of being the only major characters not based on comic book counterparts, the pair agreed that it was somewhat freeing not to have those expectations; fans think they know what's going to happen to those characters, and having nothing to base such assumptions on can be beneficial. "That frees us even more," Rooker said. "We don't have to look at the comic book and go, 'oh, I have to be like that? I have to make that face?" "We follow the comic book, but not exactly. So all of the characters often develop in different ways," said Reedus. "It's sort of liberating not having any sort of rules whatsoever but the writers on this show are really good and I've said it before but with movies you go from here to here and sort of make that arc. In TV, you do things and drop little seeds on the ground and hopefully they turn into trees and storylines. When Carol leans over and kisses me on the forehead, I kind of flinch like she was going to hit me and that wasn't in the script but now there's a story of me being an abused child."
"I've done mostly film and doing this television thing--you really can't do a full arc here because you are laying down these little hints and seeds and sometimes they develop and sometimes they don't," Rooker said. "It's interesting." Asked who they wouldn't want to take with them during the zombie apocalypse, they agreed that they would take each other, then embraced. Norman Reedus said that, like his character, he loves his crossbow. "The crossbow is one of those instruments where you go somewhere high, you pull out your bolts and you pick someone off," said Reedus. "When there's a scene that it's written where I wipe out a bunch of people, it becomes a math problem."
He pointed out that since you have to dry-fire an arrow (use a weapon without an arrow head for actual firing), it's necessary to load the crossbow with a real arrow on camera, then drop the arm out of frame so that they can make the switch before firing the weapon, after which they have to recover the "real" arrow and put it in the target. "I remember that day, and I was very impressed," Rooker told him. "I had no idea that you were that coordinated, actually." "I'm really not," Reedus responded, to laughter from the audience. "People who have compounds and recurves--I don't want to say this, but they poop people who use crossbows," Rooker joked. "Crossbows are for people who can't pull it," which evoked the response from Reedus, "I pull it every night." There were some great fan interactions; a cosplayer dressed as a squirrel came to the microphone and was fired upon by the pair's imaginary crossbows. Rooker acknowledges that, yes, that was his ass in Mallrats - "plus forty pounds." Reedus also agreed to take smoke break after the panel with a girl who'd been having a bad day. The pair talked a bit about the accuracy of accents in the show, although nobody pointed out that Rooker actually grew up in the South. "We're around Georgians all day, so it helps," Reedus said. Will the showrunners be bringing back Morgan, who appeared in the pilot and not since? Rooker answered, "None of your damn business." The "Cherokee Rose" story was a favorite of Reedus's, and the actor talked a bit about the writing on that story (which involved his inspiring hope in Carol after Sophia's disappearance). "I really liked that episode because it kind of came out of nowhere and it was much different than everything else," Reedus said, and praised his co-star Melissa McBride. Rooker didn't know for sure whether Merle would ever return. "They always hint, but they never tell," he said of the show's producers, adding that he didn't learn that he was going to be asked back until later in the second season. Rooker told the fans that during his "hiatus," there are always hints about the ongoing stories but while he's a fan, he's a little out of the loop. He further noted that he had counted them up and there were seven and a half minutes of Merle prior to tonight's episode.
"Seven and a half minutes can change your life, actors, so make the best of all of 'em," he said. Asked who they might kill on the series, the stars sidestepped the question with a complete denial that either the actors or directors influence who lives or dies. Asked which scenes bring out the humanity of the Dixons, and inform their emotional characterization, Reedus again mentions "Cherokee Rose," saying that's what got him all his female fans. Rooker joked that he got his female fans when he said "Sugar tits," then immediately talked himself out of the hole by giving a sincere answer. For Merle, it's the rooftop scene that was the core of his character. Rooker says that while he wouldn't say there was absolutely no ad libbing, that sequence was almost entirely on the page when it came in from ex-showrunner Frank Darabont and that it's "by some of the most beautifully-written material that I have ever had the opportunity to do, bar none, from day one of my career."