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The Walking Dead: Norman Reedus recalls Daryl's most devastating moment

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Ahead of the release of The Walking Dead’s seventh season, EW takes an inside look at the horror franchise. Entertainment Weekly’s Ultimate Guide to the Walking Dead is on sale now and can be found with a collectible cover on newsstands after October 14, 2016. As part of the book, we spoke to key Walking Dead figures to look back at one of the biggest moments from each season. Some may be major, others a bit more subtle. In this third installment of the series, we chatted with star Norman Reedus about a key moment from season 3. (Also make sure to check out our season 1 moment Q&A with Andrew Lincoln, and season 2 moment Q&A with showrunner Scott M. Gimple.)

SEASON 3 KEY MOMENT

THE INTERVIEW: NORMAN REEDUS

THE EPISODE: “THIS SORROWFUL LIFE”

THE MOMENT: DARYL KILLS ZOMBIE MERLE

He’s been called The Walking Dead’s resident badass, but noted tough guy Daryl Dixon also has a very tender side. And that vulnerability was laid bare in a heartbreaking scene in which Daryl (played by Norman Reedus) not only discovered his brother Merle (Michael Rooker) had turned into a walker, but then had to finish the job — mixing stabs and sobs as he tearfully killed his zombified brother in one of the show’s most devastating moments ever. We spoke to Reedus about having to prepare for that emotional day of filming, and what it meant for both himself and his character.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Start off by talking about what you remember about that day and filming this emotional scene.

NORMAN REEDUS: I remember when we got that script and reading it and just thinking how hard this day was going to be and how I wanted to pay respect to Michael as an actor. I was a big fan of his even before the show, and it was at a time when he and I were really starting to hit it off. We were really starting to bond and become good friends, and we were having dinner together quite a bit. He really was like a big brother. That day was so hard. It was a very intense, very sad, emotional day for everyone involved.

It’s really a tragic end to this complicated relationship between brothers.

I had to play that out as the brother of Merle, and what those two characters have gone through up to that point. And it also is about the changes in Daryl, and how he’s no longer under the thumb of his brother. His brother had recognized that he was starting to become his own man now, and it was Merle’s previous absence that actually made that happen. So I just remember shooting that and [director Greg Nicotero] said, “You’re not just stabbing him to kill him. You go on a rage and stab him, and you’re stabbing the circumstances, and hating the world at this point and what the world is now, and what the world’s led you to have to do.”

It’s interesting because some actors would really look forward to doing a scene like that to show off their chops. Were you feeling that way or were you kind of dreading it, knowing the places you were going to have to go emotionally to pull it off, while also saying goodbye to Rooker?

I hated that day. I hated it. I’m not one of those people that can turn it on and just cry a flood of tears and then just turn it off and go have a coffee and be cool again. I go to bed thinking about it and I have a knot in my stomach and I wake up and I don’t want to go to work. I don’t want to do it, and we’re about to film it, and everything floods to the front and you’re just miserable. I mean, I have to get miserable to play miserable and that day was miserable for everybody, and I think that’s what made that scene so good.

I know you guys use music a lot to get you in the right mood for a scene. You had a Willie Nelson song queued up before you took that scene on, right?

Yeah, I played it over and over. We use music a lot of the times to get in the right state, and a lot of times it’s not the song that you think you would play. You would imagine I would play a really sad, depressing song, but I played a very uplifting Willie Nelson song because it reminded me of something. It was a song my dad used to like and he used to enjoy playing. I remember him playing that song when I was a kid. It could lead to a happy moment, which led me to a sad moment, but sometimes it’s not the obvious choice.

This scene is about Daryl having to say goodbye to his brother and their whole very complicated relationship, and it’s interesting how you used your relationship with your father to help you connect the dots.

After you do this awhile you learn things about yourself, and sometimes to go to a sad place you got to go remember something happy that you lost. I lost my father too young and I was dealt a bad hand, and that’s what I thought about for that scene where my brother’s taken from me. It’s all connected in a weird sort of way.

Is this the hardest scene you’ve ever had to film on the show?

I’ve filmed so many hard ones — hard in different ways. Carrying Beth out in season 5 was hard. I just looked at her and went away and cried for a long time and then came out and did it. But that was different because I didn’t want to break down on camera, I wanted it to look like I had already been crying for half an hour. They’re all different and you approach them in different ways.

Check out the two collectible covers for Entertainment Weekly’s Ultimate Guide to the Walking Dead, below. And for all the essential exclusive Walking Dead scoop, pick up the book right here.