The Walking Dead actor Norman Reedus, and his character Daryl Dixon, have become fan favorites in the franchise over the years. Even though Daryl was kind of stuck under the shadow of his brother Merle (Michael Rooker) for the first few seasons, it didn’t take long for viewers to see that Daryl was more than just a badass zombie killer – he is also a loyal and compassionate person. Who do we have to thank for Daryl’s compelling character development? Well aside from the showrunners, writers, and producers it turns out that Reedus himself has greatly influenced the direction of his character in the series.
After the death of Daryl’s brother Merle in season 3, Reedus gave a long speech to the writers about how he wanted Daryl to “become [his] own person and not just mini-Merle.” Reedus didn’t want Daryl to be the same kind of racist, misogynistic, selfish jerk that his brother was, telling Variety that “I got to really make [Daryl] my own and that felt great to collaborate. At first, they had me taking drugs and being racist and all this stuff, and I convinced them that, no, no, I want to have grown up with it and been ashamed of it.” Whereas Merle was a clear byproduct of their cruel upbringing, Reedus really wanted Daryl to have a heart and moral compass in spite of the awful and prejudiced environment they grew up in.
Because Daryl was created for The Walking Dead TV series and doesn’t have a comic book counterpart, Reedus and The Walking Dead’s creative team have a little more freedom to explore the character without totally enraging diehard fans. But that doesn’t mean that Reedus and the producers always saw eye-to-eye on Daryl. Producer Scott Gimple told Variety about the first time he met Reedus on set saying “I remember shortly after my boots touched the gravel on set, Norman approached me to immediately talk about a story point. It was kind of an intense conversation right off the bat, because we weren’t in agreement.” Despite their differing ideas for Daryl, however, Gimple immediately respected Reedus’s passion and commitment to his character.
If Reedus hadn’t spoken up for Daryl in the early days of The Walking Dead, who knows what the character would look like today, or if he’d still even be alive. According to Gimple, “the Daryl Dixon that exists would not have existed without Norman Reedus. I’m not saying Norman is Daryl — but both he and his character are a complex mix of youth and wisdom, guardedness and warmth, strength and smarts.”