‘The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus “Super Grateful” Daryl Hasn’t Replaced Rick Grimes

The Walking Dead star Norman Reedus is grateful showrunner Angela Kang has avoided turning Daryl Dixon into a replacement Rick Grimes after the mid-season departure of longtime leading man Andrew Lincoln.

“I was like, ‘Dude,’” Reedus said Friday at PaleyFest. “But I remember I was talking to Angela: I was like, ‘Don’t give me Rick Grimes speeches.’ Daryl’s not the guy who’s going to build a soapbox and say, ‘We’re gonna build a community!’ He’s just not that guy.” In handling Reedus’ transition to top-billed actor on the series, the star added Kang has “done such a good job of keeping Daryl Daryl,” which Reedus said he’s “super grateful for.”

Reedus, who earlier this month surpassed Lincoln’s Rick Grimes for most episode appearances since his Season One start with the show, said he’s “seen so many people come and go.”

“Right now on the show, the ghosts of all those guys are with me through every frickin’ scene,” he said. “I remember how tight Andy and I are, how tight Scott [Wilson] and I were and Jon [Bernthal], too.”

The exits of natural leaders Rick and Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and the deepening clash with Alpha (Samantha Morton) and the Whisperers has nudged Daryl towards a leadership role, but the star has long been insistent he’ll never step into Rick’s unfillable boots. “Rick is the quarterback of this football team, he’s always been, he always will be,” Reedus said in July.

Instead of transitioning towards any one leader in the wake of Rick’s loss — he’ll next resurface in a trilogy of television movies, set someplace far from Alexandria — The Walking Dead upped the presence of its expansive ensemble, developing the leadership roles of Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Carol (Melissa McBride) alongside Daryl’s new role.

“Norman sort of has Daryl’s attitude, like ‘I don’t wanna be called number one.’ In his own way, he leads,” Kang told Variety in October. “I think Danai is a wonderful leader as well. She has her own style of things. She very much looks out to make sure things are fair for people. Melissa is a wonderful presence that anchors stuff when she’s there.”

With stories centered around Michonne’s Alexandria, Carol and Ezekiel’s (Khary Payton) Kingdom, and the Hilltop, a larger focus now spreads the story evenly among the communities — who will soon find a common enemy in the Whisperers.

“At this point, I don’t think any one person has to be like, ‘OK, I’m the leader, guys,’” Kang said.

“Everybody just knows whenever you’re in a scene and you’re the senior person, you set this example of the professionalism and the respect that has been the vibe of the show since the beginning, which was set by Andy. I think that’s a big part of his legacy to the show.”

The Walking Dead premieres new episodes Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.

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