Despite a request from network AMC to keep a "top secret" death confidential, Michael Rooker immediately informed Guardians of the Galaxy writer-director James Gunn he could portray Yondu in the Marvel Studios movie after learning his character, Merle Dixon, was being killed off The Walking Dead. The 2014 Marvel movie nearly moved forward without Rooker in the role of blue-skinned alien Yondu — Gunn's longtime friend and collaborator would have played a different, smaller role to accommodate his Walking Dead shooting schedule — but Rooker's time on the zombie drama ended in Season 3 episode "This Sorrowful Life," where Merle was shot and killed by the villainous Governor (David Morrissey).
"I called James Gunn up and said, 'I can do Yondu now,'" Rooker said at GalaxyCon Richmond when asked to reveal his reaction to Merle's death. "I was at the airport and James and I had just spoken, and we were like, 'Oh man, sh-t, this Walking Dead thing is still going on. You're shooting the film, Guardians 1, right when we’re filming the season.' And so I was gonna play another role in Guardians of the Galaxy."
Rooker planned to use time off to shoot this other role in Guardians before returning to work on The Walking Dead, but soon received a message informing him Merle was being killed off.
"I looked at the dates, and they said to me, 'This is so top secret. Don't tell a soul. Don't let this out to anyone,'" Rooker recounted. "I said, 'Absolutely, no problem!' I left that conversation and I got out my cell phone, I said, 'Hey Gunn, guess what? They just killed my ass off, dude. I can do Yondu.' And he goes, 'Sh-t, yeah!!' And that's how it worked out."
"Sorry AMC, I cheated, I told James Gunn. I hope you don't mind that I actually got work out of this thing," he continued. "I hope you don't mind I kept my stupid mouth shut for months until the thing aired."
Rooker added, "Actors, don't do that. You know you're out of there, you call your friends and say, 'Hey, keep this under wraps, but I'm out of there. I’m looking for work.' Dude, they're not paying me to sit around doing nothing, thank you very much."
It was during a different convention appearance earlier this year where Rooker claimed the decision to kill Merle, the older brother of Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus), was made because AMC was "very cheap" and didn't want to pay the actor an increased fee to return for The Walking Dead Season 4.