[SPOILER ALERT: Read on only of you have already watched Sunday’s “Forget” episode of The Walking Dead.]
It was a important episode for Daryl Dixon Sunday night on The Walking Dead. Alexandria’s brooding outsider finally accepted both a dinner invitation and a job in the community to join Aaron as a recruiter. But his most important and symbolic move may have been refusing to take one of the guns that Carol had smuggled out in case they needed to use them against their seemingly hospitable hosts. We talked to the man who plays Daryl, Norman Reedus, about all of that and more, including the loss of Buttons the horse…R.I.P. (Also make sure to check out our episode Q&A with Melissa McBride.)
EW: Before we get into Daryl and his evolution in this episode and maybe softening his stance a bit here on this new society and his role in it, why has he been so standoff-ish with these new people? Is it because of Terminus and Woodbury, or is that just Daryl’s natural way, to be uncomfortable and untrustworthy of strangers?
NORMAN REEDUS: He’s pretty conservative and I don’t think he trusts people right off the bat. There’s another element to it: I don’t think Daryl would have liked living in a suburban housing development even before the zombie apocalypse. Daryl’s the type of guy who likes to be on the road. He likes to keep moving. I don’t know that this town, if he’s feeling it—especially right off the bat. It all seems too easy. I know a lot of their group wants to find refuge and find a place to put their hat, but I don’t know if Daryl wears a hat.
He doesn’t go to this cocktail party that Deanna’s having, but he does agree to go have dinner with Aaron and Eric. Why does he accept that invitation?
Spaghetti is spaghetti, you know what I’m saying. [Laughs] I think that he trusts Aaron. There’s something about it where he trusts him, but I also don’t think Daryl has anywhere to go. Everyone is doing this and they’re excited about this party and they’re interested in seeing who these people are. I don’t think Daryl feels like he belongs there and that’s part of the reason that he’s so hesitant about the whole town. He feels like he’s not one of them and he’s basically gone through this stuff with his own family, so to speak. He’s always got a chip on his shoulder and I think he’s going to that chip-on-his-shoulder ways.
How much fun was that to slurp up that spaghetti?
I ate a lot of spaghetti that day. [Laughs] That’s one thing about this show—every time I eat I just shove food in my face so after about five takes I’m just like, bleachhhhhhhhh. I can’t even stand up. But it was pretty good spaghetti, I have to admit. They did a good job.
So Daryl then accepts the job of replacing Eric as a recruiter. This is kind of the perfect job for him, isn’t it, in that he can enter on the fringes of the group and do something for the community while also being totally out on his own and tracking and stuff?
Yeah, I mean, Daryl belongs out in the woods. That’s the type of animal he is. It’s a lot like what Joe said: The saddest thing is seeing an outdoor cat thinking it’s an indoor cat, and Daryl is definitely an outdoor cat. So it’s a perfect job for him.
How big a moment is it when he does not accept that gun from Carol at the end? How symbolic is that?
It’s pretty symbolic. As hesitant as Daryl is, he still wants to give it a try. He’s that type of kid that always has a family and then he gets in with the family and the family is taken away. Everything is just sort of out of arm’s reach for Daryl, but he’s still hopeful. He’s still reaching his hand out. He’s just that guy that has to learn his lessons over and over again, and I think that lesson of family and community and friendship is something he’s just not grasping. But, man, it’s like the end of the world—maybe it’s there. So let’s not plot against them yet.
And he also can feel where things are going with the group and he can see—like in the last episode where Rick was like, “We’ll just take this place”—it’s not even a dun-dun-dun-dun moment for Daryl. It’s just “Yeah, of course we’ll take this place. But let’s not start shooting guns right now.” It’s kind of like when we had to go get Emily back. Tyreese didn’t quite know, so why give that guy a loaded gun when bullets are going to be flying around? It’s kind of that same thing. Let’s not jump to anything. Let’s just see and give it a minute.
Tell me about filming the stuff with Buttons the horse. You got close to wrangling Buttons, but then the zombies came and it all went bad.
That’s was interesting because the thing with Buttons is—my last line to Aaron after he had to put down the horse was supposed to be more of a “C’mon, man, you were doing a good thing. You were trying to help.” It was more like pat on the back, like, you were trying to help. And I kind of changed that on the day to more of a “See what happens when you try to help? See what happens when you take something that is out in the wild and it’s surviving and it’s a wild animal and you bring it into a cage, you take the life out of it—literally.”
And it’s sort of the same thing that’s Daryl’s feeling—like, if you take these wild animals and if you put ‘em in a cage, they’re going to change and it’s not going to be for the better. So I kind of modified that a little bit to reflect Daryl’s feelings back at Alexandria. And I said it to him in a way where I sort of said it over my shoulder and didn’t look at him. I just kind of walked away and said it, to let him sit with that—like, who are you to think that this horse needs you? And all of his intentions were good, but this horse didn’t need you to save it. It was fine. It was a big, pretty horse and it was living, and you tried to trap it. You tried to take that bird and put it in a cage and you killed it. So I kind of left it that way and Scott let me do that and it came out really well. That was certainly the intention there.
I definitely felt the parallel that you were going for there in terms of trying to tame that horse and tame Daryl at the same time. That’s interesting to hear that it came from your vision. Speaking of ad-libs or changes, I want to ask you about that scene from last week where Carol comes out on the porch and is off to make her casserole, and as she leaves you yell after her “You look ridiculous.” Greg Nicotero told me was totally ad-libbed by you. Where did that come from?
Carol is my girl. I like to f—with her as much as possible. It just kind of came out. She actually yelled off-camera “Thank you!” which was really funny as well. Melissa and I have such good chemistry—actually, all the cast members with each other have such good chemistry—that those things happen all the time. We all throw in little things that are our own, and sometimes they make it and sometimes they don’t. Everyone cracked up after I said that and Greg had the really good sense of keeping it. It’s kind of one of those things that a little kid would say. When you’re in kindergarten and you like a girl you punch her in the arm first, you know what I mean? And it’s not that there’s any romance! I’m just saying we’re a very close group.
You have to be careful when you talk about that with Daryl and Carol, dude.
Daryl and everybody right now. Jeez!
What’s it like filming in the Alexandria setting? I remember when you all were shooting in the prison back in season 3 and complaining about how the Woodbury people had it so easy while you all were in this dark, dank jail. Now you’re in Alexandria, which is this beautiful community, but a real community. You all have people actually living in some of these houses and delivery trucks while come though while you all are filming—it’s kind of bizarre.
It’s very weird, I have to admit. It’s very, very weird. We did a scene when Tovah came to the door and I remember the doorbell went off and I was like, “What the hell? A doorbell?” It’s very not us at the moment. I mean, Daryl gutted a possum and threw its guts all over the porch. [Laughs] It’s kind of how I felt personally going in there and shooting. It’s nice to have change on a show and it’s interesting to watch these characters go through change and be put in a different environment, so as a show move I think it’s a great. As Daryl as a character, he’s really not feeling it, to be honest with you. At least not yet.