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The Walking Dead: Norman Reedus on Daryl and that shocking ending

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Gene Page/AMC

[SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s “East” episode of The Walking Dead.]

“If Daryl dies, we riot,” has been a popular refrain among Walking Dead fans of the crossbow-wielding warrior Daryl Dixon. Well, in light of how the penultimate episode of season 6 just ended, producers of The Walking Dead may want to get their riot gear ready.

Angry and upset that his decision to help a stranger named Dwight backfired (with Dwight stealing his crossbow and then using it to later kill Denise), Daryl went rogue in an attempt to exact revenge for Denise’s death. Glenn, Michonne, and Rosita followed him and attempted to convince Daryl to return to the safety of Alexandria, but he refused. The result? Glenn and Michonne were captured and then used at bait to draw out Daryl and Rosita, who then found guns trained on them after they were outflanked during a rescue attempt.

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But things did not end there. Right as Daryl began to turn, Dwight shot him before the screen cut to black. And make no mistake, that was Daryl who was shot. “That’s Daryl’s blood that you see,” confirms Norman Reedus, who plays Daryl. “That’s exactly what happens, exactly what you see.” Read on to hear more intel from Reedus on Daryl’s journey of revenge — including the one scene that made him cry — and that shocking ending. (Read through both pages for the entire interview, and for more Walking Dead scoop, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start at the top of the episode. We see Daryl holding the Dennis name tag that Denise had and then he takes off, clearly trying to finish the job and take down Dwight. How haunted is he by this decision back in episode 6 of this season to go back and help Dwight, seeing as how Dwight not only returned and killed Denise, but he did it with Daryl’s weapon?

NORMAN REEDUS: Daryl took that very personally. I mean, to have her die in front of him with his arrow, I don’t think that he’s going to let that go. I think that he wants revenge.

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In that one scene where Rosita and the others catch up to you and you talk about how Dwight had a gun to your head and you say, “I even tried to help him.” It’s almost like not only is Daryl pissed about what happened but he also just can’t comprehend how he could have made such a mistake. He’s really second guessing himself.

I remember filming episode 6, and one of the biggest things that was going through my head is I let everyone down, and I let Rick down. This is my first big mission solo to trust somebody, and it took a minute, and I didn’t feel like I trusted him until they were digging those graves. And I just saw how these people aren’t going to make it by themselves out there regardless of whatever the decision is, and Daryl felt really stabbed in the back right there. And it was his weapon that it happened with, and he should have known better, and he finally let himself go out there. He trusted somebody, and it came back and bit him in the ass, and I don’t think he’s the type of guy that can just let things go, at least not that.

To that point, in that same scene, there’s that moment where Glenn tries to bring Daryl back and says, ”It’s gonna go wrong out here.” And Daryl starts to consider it and is like “I can’t, man. I can’t.” Do you think he knows deep down this isn’t the smart play but he just can’t help himself?

You know, I do. I do think he thinks that, and that’s exactly what happened. I remember we filmed several takes of that and there were certain words that came out of Steven’s mouth that really hit home with me, and the first one was “home.” You know, “Come back home, we need you.” And we did one of those takes, I just burst into tears when he said that word. It’s interesting when you play that character with those people, and Steven’s somebody I’ve known personally and has been a good friend of mine since day 1, and there are certain ways that he could say things that just really hit home.

I think the only way that scene plays out the right way is how Scott cut it. It was that outburst, and that flip-around and walk away. And it was very complicated, that little bit right there, and it meant a lot to everybody standing there, and I do feel like he feels like this is a bad mistake going after Dwight, but he’s hell bent. You can’t really stop that guy.

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It’s interesting to hear you talk about how emotional you got and how you even started to cry during one of the takes. We’ve talked about this for a long time now about how people love Daryl because he’s such a badass and he’s got all these skills, and he’s sort of perfect made for the apocalypse. But I think it’s really also that vulnerability that people really relate to and that he’s a tough guy that is also very vulnerable and very emotional, even if he tries to hide it.

It’s kind of interesting to see everyone in this cast do that. You also see Carol in a whole lot of that right now, but it’s with different outcomes. She just doesn’t want to kill. She can’t kill. And then Daryl can’t hold it in. They’re all very similar, that sort of vulnerability and fight or flight, and it’s a common theme in our show. There are a whole bunch of characters on our show that are going through that in their own way.

NEXT: Reedus on that shocking ending and questioning Dwight’s final words[pagebreak]

Okay, the episode ends with Daryl getting shot and then a quick cut to black. Dude, what the hell? Are you trying to give viewers a heart attack?

Well, it’s exactly what you see. I mean, that’s Daryl’s blood that you see. That’s exactly what happens, exactly what you see. So that’s the world that we live in. The fight between Daryl and Dwight is very real — that sort of fight on who you are and who you’re becoming and what you’ve given up is very real right now, and I think Daryl’s making that as real as possible with him. He’s forcing him into that eyeball to eyeball right now.

The Dwight character, it’s almost like a Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens situation, in that he’s gone bad. There was good in him at one point, and he’s almost trying to push the good away so he’s taking it out on you. He seemed to almost relish last week’s episode where he took down Denise and he’s getting in your face. It’s like he almost feels like he has to do that to push out any good that was in him.

What’s interesting is Daryl’s the first person he addresses, and he addresses him in a way that it  almost feels like he feels bad for saying the things that he’s saying, but he’s still doing them. Daryl’s not that type of a guy. Daryl, he’s going to say exactly what’s on his mind. Those two characters, it’s interesting to watch them — to look in the mirror at each other in some weird way.

And it cuts to black right after you get shot, and then you just hear Dwight say, “You’ll be all right,” and I almost thought that was put in just so people didn’t riot and go burn down showrunner Scott Gimple’s house because we know the phrase,  “If Daryl dies, we riot.” So it’s like, yeah, he’s in bad shape, but he’s still alive.

Yeah, but can you trust him? You know what I mean? Who is that guy? You don’t even know who he’s saying that to, to be honest.

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That’s true. We don’t see it. We only hear it. How did Scott tell you about this all going down?

He straight up told me, and I thought, “Oh s—, here we go.” Yeah, he just told me, and we talked about it, and there was a long conversation, and you know, it happened.

You know social media is exploding right as people are reading this.

Good. Burn it down.

What’s also interesting about the way this episode ends is these guys are clearly very capable to outflank a great tracker like Daryl. That surprised me that he could get outmaneuvered in the woods like that.

You know, that part really surprised me as well. Sometimes you think with your heart rather than your mind, and you’re acting aggressively and you slip up when that happens. I think that was yet another moment Daryl slipped up. He paid the price.

Gene Page/AMC

 

It’s worth noting this episode was directed by your director of photography, Michael Satrazemis, who’s directed a lot of great episodes like “The Grove.” He also directed episode 15 last season, “Try,” which was a big one with you and Ross Marquand as Aaron. What’s it like working with a guy like Mike that’s been there with the show since the very beginning?

Well, he’s also a very good surfer, I found out. You know, Mike’s one of those people right from the get-go, from the beginning that automatically you trust. He gets the shots. He comes up with some good ideas that you don’t sometimes come up with. I remember back in the prison, there was a kill that I had where it was his idea to run up and Michael Jordan through the air and come down on this guy’s head. I was like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, let’s do that!” And that ended up being one of my gnarliest kills ever.

He’s looking at you closer than anyone else is looking at you when he’s DP’ing. So he’s the guy looking through the monitor at your face close up and trying to find the truth, and he’s always trying to find the truth. So he’s one of the guys that you parallel with as you’re trying to make something realistic or make something happen, and so he’s in the inner circle when you’re filming. To have him come and direct is such a blessing because you have that trust with that director from the beginning, and he knows when you find it, when you don’t find it, or when you are trying something. And he knows where you’re headed so he lets you get there. So it’s a definite blessing when he’s directing.