Michael Rooker says The Walking Dead producers AMC didn't know "what to do" with his character Merle, the volatile older brother of Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus). Created for the television show by series developer and then-showrunner Frank Darabont, Merle first appears in the show's second episode, "Guts," when Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) cools tensions between T-Dog (IronE Singleton) and a racist and reckless Merle. Rooker would appear twice in the six-episode first season of the zombie drama and just once in the show's second season, later returning as series regular for his third and final season of The Walking Dead.
"It's basically three years of work, and they held off on the second season. I'm not sure AMC knew what to do with the character," Rooker told SYFY WIRE ahead of a virtual appearance at GalaxyCon Live. "They held off and they held off, and the moment I came back in the sequence when Norman's character has fallen down into the ravine and I end up being his guardian angel who comes to him and antagonizes him enough to force him to get up and climb. It was just a gorgeous way to bring the character back."
Following his hallucinated cameo appearance in Season 2 episode "Chupacabra," a missing Merle resurfaces as one of the Governor's (David Morrissey) lieutenants when Rick, Daryl and the group of Atlanta survivors relocate from a farm to a prison. Despite his increased role in the third season, it's first season episode "Tell It to the Frogs" that contains Rooker's favorite Walking Dead scene.
"From day one all the way to the death of Merle, my favorite sequence was in the beginning, on the rooftop," Rooker said. "I'm handcuffed to the roof. T-Dog drops the key down the pipe, I can't get loose and I end up cutting my hand off. That whole sequence for me was unbelievable, to be able to do a nine-minute monologue was fantastic."
"To watch it again is simply amazing," he added. "Frank Darabont, my man, thank you for casting me. And [executive producer] Gale Anne Hurd, thank you for casting me in that role."
Reflecting on his Walking Dead role during a live convention appearance earlier this year, Rooker said AMC was "very cheap" and quipped Merle was probably killed off "because they knew I was gonna get more money the next season." Elaborating on those comments in an April interview, the actor explained "nobody got any money" on early seasons of The Walking Dead.
It wasn't until the show's third season that The Walking Dead became a ratings phenomenon, inspiring a franchise that now includes three TV series and a coming movie trilogy.
Asked if he's surprised the show is still alive nearly a decade after it started, Rooker said, "Yeah, I thought they'd just close it up after I died [laughs]."
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