Norman Reedus on Daryl being beaten as a kid on The Walking Dead
SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s “Omega” episode of The Walking Dead
Daryl Dixon continued his quest for information on Sunday’s “Omega” episode of The Walking Dead. And the actor who plays Daryl, Norman Reedus, was happy to share information of his own on this moving installment that saw his character forging a connection with Whisperer prisoner Lydia over them both being on the receiving end of beatings. The revelation of Daryl’s past abuse also strengthened his bond with Henry, as the teenager relayed accounts of what his new mom — and Daryl’s old friend — Carol told him about the abuse she took at the hands of her former husband.
It was a deep episode, so we got deep with Reedus to talk about it, the changes he made while filming, and how the entire story reminds him of stuff that happened with his character in relation to Merle “way back in the beginning.” Read on! (Also check out our episode Q&As with Samantha Morton and showrunner Angela Kang.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So the dynamic that we’ve seen between Daryl and Henry in these past two episodes is pretty interesting.
NORMAN REEDUS: You know, I’ve been doing something with Henry the entire year. I’ve been changing dialogue a little bit here and there. I’ve been changing stage direction a little bit here and there, trying to give Henry responsibility. If there was a line that was like, “You stay here. I’m going to go do this,” I would be like, “I need you to watch my back. I need you to watch these people while I’m away.” I change things a little bit because I have a teenage son, so I know that when you give a teenager responsibility, he feels like he’s part of the group. If you empower people, you can trust them a little bit more.
That was some pretty deep territory explored when Henry asks Daryl about being beaten.
Henry’s a smart kid. He’s figuring things out too. He’s also listening. He’s in the other cell listening. He’s figuring it out himself, which is what Daryl needs him to do. He needs him to figure it out. That’s why he’s like, “You know where your place is? It’s right where you’re at if you want. Buck up.” If you’re soft, you’re not going to make it.
That’s an interesting thing, just the stuff with bringing Henry outside of the jail and talking to him and being like, “What were you thinking?” He’s like, “I gotta go back to the cell.” I’m like, “Look, do you want to live in Hilltop? These are the Hilltop rules. The town drunk is in charge of putting you in jail for being drunk? It must mean something. This is the world you live in. We all have rules, so yeah, you gotta go back in the cell for two more days.” Would Daryl put him in a cell for getting drunk? Probably not, but It’s not his town, you know what I mean? It’s not his town. These are the rules of the town, so yeah, you gotta get down back in jail for two more days.
So what about when you add Lydia into the mix as the third point in this triangle?
When we started doing the scenes with Lydia, I really wanted to put Lydia in a position where I’m like, “I’m listening to you. Henry, stay out of it. It’s just about me and you.” I give her a little bit of power and then I keep him away from it, although I know that they’re going to at some point talk. I love the idea of setting them two not against each other, but connecting them in this way, and so I had to separate them and then separate him and then sort of get him in a position where he has to stick up for her. Once he sticks up for her, she will start talking to him, you know? So we really played around with stage direction. I really snapped at him like, “None of your business. Shut up,” to give the opportunity to stick up for her. Once that starts to happen, I can go by the window and I can hear what they’re saying.
What about when she takes a swipe at you?
Daryl can take a hit. And he gets it. He’s like, “If I was a wild girl who grew up in this world and had a mother like Alpha, I would be a wild animal too.” Daryl has that side of him, so he’s not really bothered by the fact that she took a swipe at him, but that whole first thing where he’s dragging her out of the cell, that’s all an act. He’s not taking her up there to kill her. He wants her to think that he’s doing that, but that’s to get Henry involved in the conversation. Once that happens, he lets her go.
Then with the other part about giving the water and she takes a swipe at him, he’s waiting to see her arms. He caught a glimpse of the switch marks on her arm, so when she does it, he grabs her arm and he pulls the sleeve down. He’s like, “I knew it. I know what that looks like,” because Daryl was an abused kid as well. He knows what a birch tree switch can do to an arm, what it looks like — so when he catches a glimpse of it, he’s pulling down the sleeve to let her know that he knows what that is. Then he takes it a step further by bringing the birch tree down there just to see if she notices what that is, but it’s mostly to let her know that he knows. Now once you break that ice, you can start to have a conversation. She’s not going to take that well. She’s not going to just cry in the corner. She’s going to keep on fighting, which is what Daryl would’ve done too.
Cassady McClincy, who plays Lydia, said you made some changes to some of the scenes.
In the first part when Tara and Michonne are interrogating her and they’re in her face and they’re yelling, I purposely asked that I be behind the bars. I’m not in the room with them, in her face. I want to sit there and I want to watch her face. I want to see where she cracks. I want to see what looks like a lie. Let the two girls interrogate her and scream at her and scare her, but Daryl wants to remove himself and see how she acts. He’s a very good judge of character, which Michonne says later, but that’s what that is. He’s like, “Let me just observe this from back here.” But it’s also like a wild animal behind a cage on both sides. Once Daryl enters the cage, he’s going to f— you up, you know what I mean?
[Laughs] Yeah, I do know what you mean.
I wanted to put that threat there and not just be part of the group interrogating, so I asked to be on the other side of the gate. It’s a very complicated push and pull going on with Lydia. She ends up sort of calling Daryl out too, like, “I know what you’re about. You don’t belong with these people. You don’t belong behind these walls.” She’s right. What that turns into is another mutual respect between those two characters, the same way Alpha sees the mutual respect between Daryl and Alpha. He connects with both of them. How the season progresses, that sort of connection is going to go further and further and further. It’s a really nice setup. It’s kind of like way back in the beginning.
You mean with you and Merle?
Yeah, with Merle and the drugs. They had me way back then taking drugs, tuning out, being mini-Merle. I was like, “No, I don’t want to do drugs. I want to be the guy that grew up with the drugs and hates drugs and hates the lifestyle that comes with having a druggie brother.” It’s that same sort of clearing that I’m trying to get and set for the future that it’s a different story and it’s a more meaningful story. Luckily [showrunner Angela Kang] is letting me do these things for the set up later on.
What was it like having these intense scenes with someone new like Cassady?
It’s fun to work with her too, because after nine years on a show, every character sort of develops their thing. Like, I growl, you know? Rick does his righteous thing. Jeffrey does he lean back, f—ing pose-y thing. Michonne does her stare forward, nostrils flaring, thinking thing. Everyone has a thing after a while. Whether you intend to or not, you end up with a thing. It was fun working with Cassady because she hasn’t developed this thing yet. I mean, I’m sure over time she’ll develop a thing because everybody f—ing does, but it was really fun seeing what she added. She’s such a strong actress. I got to tell you, I called all my reps and I’m like, “You guys should rep her. She’s going to be a big star,” you know? But she’s fun to work with for sure, and so is Samantha Morton.