SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have watched Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead, “The Cell.”
To call Dwight’s (Austin Amelio) lot in life complicated would be an understatement. When we first met the character on The Walking Dead last season, he was on the run from a group of baddies. He seemed like a decent dude. But then he stole Daryl’s (Norman Reedus) motorcycle and crossbow, making him seem significantly less decent. Then he shot Daryl and seemed waaaay too eager to kill him after Daryl struck Negan. Again, less than decent.
But in the latest episode, “The Cell,” we got answers as to what happened to Dwight after he was tracked down by the Saviors. It turns out Dwight’s life was spared after his wife Sherry agreed to marry Negan. He also took an iron to the face as punishment for stealing medicine. Now, he acts as one of Negan’s top lieutenants after falling in line, which explains his desire to break Daryl down and see him do the same in “The Cell.”
Whether being mocked by Negan, coming across his former wife taking a pregnancy test, being challenged by a former friend who also tried to escape Negan’s clutches, or being reminded of his weakness by seeing Daryl refusing to submit, Dwight was constantly haunted by thoughts of what he had once been and what he had become. We spoke to the man who plays him to get his take on the Dwight deep dive. (Also make sure to check out our interview with Norman Reedus.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How excited were you when you got this script and saw what a deep dive we were going to get on Dwight?
AUSTIN AMELIO: Extremely excited. It was something I’ve been waiting for, and a little nervous too because of what happens in it, but yeah, really, really excited, man.
We see Dwight at the beginning and he’s just made his sandwich and he’s staring out at the fence and he’s watching this walker on a stake going up and down. What’s going through his mind there?
Well, there’s two moments, one then and then one at the end, and I think it’s the theme of, am I freer in this world where I’m at, or being a walker on the other side of the fence? So I think he’s just kind of getting lost in thought about that. I think that’s kind of like a running theme with him. Also, that walker is like… what a gnarly walker, you know?
You mentioned the one at the end where Dwight has gone out and he gets this guy who pulled the grab and go. He ultimately shoots the guy, and when it happened, I thought, is this maybe an act of mercy of Dwight shooting this guy because you choose to shoot him rather than bringing him back? But then it turns out you did bring him back and you put him on the fence as a zombie. So what does that say about Dwight at this point?
Well, first off, it’s me getting the job done, and second off, I think it absolutely is an act of mercy because Dwight was once in that situation and I think he battles coming back to the walkers on the other side of the fence. It’s like, am I better off that I came back to the Sanctuary, or should I have just stayed out there and ended it there? It’s also, that guy is, we’re acquaintances in the story, and I get my vegetables from him, and he lost his wife, and it’s that he’d be better off being put out of his misery and taken away from the misery of the Sanctuary.
There are a lot of fascinating relationships happening here. Let’s start with Dwight and Daryl. And Daryl’s a guy that tried to help Dwight when they first met. He came back for them to give them the medicine. Dwight, in return, stole his stuff, shot him, and in general has acted like a huge jerk. But he’s really invested in trying to break Daryl down here so that he will become submissive to Negan’s will. Is that just to justify his own decision in doing so himself?
There’s a lot of stuff at play here. For one, I’ve been commanded by Negan to torture this guy. Also, it’s not easy on me. It’s just as hard on both of us, because I think Dwight still has a little bit of humanity inside of him. So I’d like to get it over with and break this guy, and not have to go down there and see this guy crumble in a cell emotionally and physically. It’s not an easy thing to watch.
And we get a few almost tender moments between those two characters, like at the end when Daryl tells him, “I get why you did it, why you took it. You were thinking about someone else.” That’s a heavy moment.
Yeah, it’s an extremely heavy moment, because Daryl has been around and he’s kind of been in some awkward situations with me and Sherry and, in a weird, twisted, dark way, it’s like we had a moment of connection right there, and we’re kind of getting where each other is coming from.
What was it like working with Norman Reedus on this episode?
It was great. I love working with Norman, but it was also really heavy because he had to be in this subservient mode the whole time and having to act out being tortured and emotionally abused and all this. So it was heavy and that aura of it was definitely sinking into me when we were walking around doing all this, but it was great. I love working with him.
Let’s talk about the two very awkward scenes between Dwight and Sherry, his former wife who agreed to marry Negan to save Dwight. He sees her getting a pregnancy test and then again in the stairwell. What is he feeling when he sees her in these scenes? Is it disgust with himself, or shame, or something else? He says to her, “We did the right thing. It’s a hell of a lot better than being dead,” but I’m not sure he honestly believes that.
No, I don’t think he does either, and I’ll talk about that scene first. I think what he’s trying to do is comfort himself and her in that moment. I don’t necessarily think he 100 percent backs that because going back to him watching the walkers, it’s like he keeps comparing, is it better to be here or f—ing on the chain? It’s a tough decision. And then in the first moment when I see Sherry, it’s kind of a moment you want to get over with quickly. I come in there with Daryl and she sees him and then I see the pregnancy test and it’s like, how horrible is that for like to see your ex-lover’s pregnancy test? I mean, like, God, what a disaster!
It’s the worst timing ever.
That stuff’s happening, but then there’s physical proof that it’s happening, and it’s disgusting. Yeah, not great timing.
And then there is his relationship with Negan, a guy who stole his wife and ironed his face. Negan tries to reward Dwight at one point but at the same time belittles him and asks if he can even still have sex. Is Negan messing with Dwight here, or testing him? What does Dwight make of having to deal with that?
One, if I do anything or react a certain way now, there’s no room for me in the bigger picture if I wanted to try and change anything. So I can’t do that. I’ve got to swallow my pride. And the guy’s making a mockery of everything that I’ve been through, so it’s not fun having to sit there and not be able to say anything. It’s a weird relationship between me and him. It’s like a double-edged sword. He’s letting be one of the top leaders and take whatever I want and make egg sandwiches, and on the other hand, he’s making me torture Daryl. So we have an interesting relationship to say the least, and one that I’m not very fond of, to be honest.
What’s it like working with Jeffrey Dean Morgan? What’s it like in some of those scenes where he’s being emotionally aggressive with your character?
It’s crazy because you read his dialogue and the monologues that he has and you’re like, “Wow, that’s unbelievable that this guy can have this much asshole-ishness in this amount of dialogue.” So at times, me and him crack up, because it’s like, “Wow, I can’t believe you’re saying this stuff. I mean, you just go on!” And he’s relentless with me, you know what I’m saying? Like, he just keeps going and going. Like, “Oh, here, free women for you! Oh, wait. I’m sorry. Is your penis okay?” And then he just keeps going, and you’re like, “Oh my God, man!”
But really, it’s an absolute pleasure working with him. He’s awesome and he’s very charismatic and docile, and he’s like, “Can I do anything? Can I help you out?” And it’s just great, man. I get to work with some of the best, so it’s awesome.
When you got the role of Dwight, did you look ahead at his arc in the comics and what happens with him, or did you decide to leave it alone to see what showrunner Scott M. Gimple gives you in the TV incarnation?
At that point when I booked it, I didn’t have time to do any of that stuff. I had about four or five days to get down here and start shooting. So I was kind of going episode by episode, and obviously Scott Gimple is the mastermind and so he filled me in on everything I needed to be filled in on per episode. But then I did have a moment in the hotel room where I drank two pots of coffee and read 150-something of the comics in one day, and damn, I had no idea he was this important. Honestly, I thought I was going to go down and shoot an episode and be done, and had no idea he was this big of a character in the comic. So it was startling and a bit nerve-wracking and amazing all at the same time.