Longtime Walking Dead star Norman Reedus opened up about the process behind forming Daryl Dixon, who was created for the show by original showrunner Frank Darabont and writers Charles H. Eglee and Jack LoGuidice.
“I never actually had a conversation at all about the character when I first started with Frank Darabont or anybody,” Reedus told Matt Schichter Interviews.
Because he had no counterpart in creator Robert Kirkman’s comic books, Reedus used Daryl’s hick older brother Merle (Michael Rooker) as a starting point.
“I showed up on set and I knew some of Merle’s stuff, so I watched a bunch of tape of Merle, and then I just started to try to create a backstory,” Reedus said.
“And then working with the writers, we have very generous writers, they bring you in the writers room and they talk about, ‘What do you think Daryl thinks about T-Dog?’”
Daryl first appears three episodes into Season One as an angry, loudmouthed redneck who quickly clashes with Shane (Jon Bernthal) and group newcomer Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) when he learns Merle was left behind in Atlanta handcuffed to a roof.
The bowman proves to be a skilled and resourceful hunter and tracker, who later emerges as Rick’s right-hand man and a loyal protector of his band of survivors. He eventually finds his footing free of the overbearing Merle, who continued the cycle of abuse put into motion by their alcoholic and abusive father.
“I just tried to imagine what it was like growing up like that, just imagine like having a big brother that totally put me down, had to fight for everything... and I thought about reasons why people fight, and some people fight to protect somebody, some people fight to look tough, and some people fight because they’ve always had to,” Reedus explained.
“And so I just sort of took it from there and try to drop little hints at things about my storyline that sort of became stories, and just take it from there.”
Other hints surrounding Daryl’s traumatic history would come out in bits and pieces: admissions about a mother who died in a house fire sparked by her own cigarette, pastimes as a nobody tag-along who watched cartoons with his drug dealer brother.
A scuffle with Merle would reveal Daryl’s scar-covered back, evidence of his battered past. Later, when searching for a missing Beth (Emily Kinney) with fellow abuse survivor Carol (Melissa McBride), Daryl was spotted carrying a book titled ‘Treating Survivors of Childhood Abuse.’
“With TV, you get to drop these little seeds in the ground as you go along, and sometimes they turn into trees and stuff, and some of those trees turn into storylines,” Reedus said. “I mean, we all kind of work together, but I definitely dropped some seeds [laughs].”
While some of his ideas are folded into the show — Daryl now has a canine companion, Dog, in part because Reedus spent years requesting a dog sidekick — the writers sometimes decline the star’s suggestions.
“It’s actually very generous of them and it’s a compliment, but at the same time, sometimes I come up with ideas and they’re like, ‘No, Norman, no. You can’t do that, and no,’” Reedus said.
“And then sometimes I go, ‘Oh man, come on!’ And they go, ‘No!’ And then I go, ‘Alright, you’re probably right.’ It’s a total give and take.”
The star previously revealed he helped tone his character down after Daryl, who was specially created for Reedus, was originally penned as an alcoholic racist closer in step with Merle.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.
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