Maybe it's the crossbow. Maybe it's his prickly disposition towards his fellow survivors, an armor he casts aside when lost little children are dropped into the mix. Or maybe it's just the simple fact that Norman Reedus is a bit of a badass. Whatever the reason (let's face it, it's the crossbow), there's no question that Daryl Dixon is the coolest character on "The Walking Dead." In fact, he's one of the coolest characters on television,evidenced by his #13 position on MTV News' Top 50 TV Characters of 2011 list.
It's a well-earned victory for the zombie-killing hillbilly: In one and a half seasons, we've seen Daryl bash zombie brains with rocks, slash open throats with double axes, and even hallucinate a conversation with his brother while killing even more zombies. Between all that, Daryl has spent much of the current second season searching tirelessly for the missing Sophia — a search that ended tragically during the midseason finale. Whether Sophia's death will push Daryl back to being the antisocial bully of yesterday or galvanize him even further as a protector of this group of survivors remains to be seen, but we can tell you this much: No matter where Daryl goes next, we'll be along for the ride.
Reedus swung by MTV News headquarters to talk about the awesomeness that is Daryl Dixon, touching upon the character's damaged past, his coolest kills and his future with the series.
MTV News: Fans have been hugely supportive of Daryl Dixon. Even ["Walking Dead" creator] Robert Kirkman has admitted that Daryl is a favorite of his. It just seems to be the general consensus that people love this character. What has the fan reaction been like in your experience?
Norman Reedus: Actually, walking across the street [in Times Square] just now, a cop grabbed me by the arm and said, "I love your character on 'The Walking Dead!' " I get it a lot, actually. I [even] have my own Daryl Dixon "Hello Kitty" iPhone case. It's been really good, you know? The fans really like Daryl, and I'm really appreciative.
MTV: What is it about Daryl Dixon that's just so f---ing cool?
Reedus: Well, it's hard not to look cool while holding a crossbow, first off. But he's interesting in that he has a different sort of struggle than anyone else. He's trying to just get along with people for the first time, I think. That one moment where Carol reaches down to kiss him on the forehead and he [recoils], he thinks he's about to get hit. There's this damaged thing about him that's really interesting. And when you have a backdrop like "The Walking Dead," it's even more powerful. But you have Rick and Shane fighting for what's the best thing in this group, and Daryl is just sort of trying to find his footing. He's not used to people telling him he's worth a damn. So once people start telling him that, his first reaction is fight or flight. He's such an interesting person. You could have that personality type in a Wall Street movie and he'd still be interesting.
MTV: You touched on it briefly, but this season has been largely about the struggle between Rick and Shane. Is this a world where you can spend multiple days searching for a missing girl — even though chances are good that she's dead in a barn next door — or is it time to abandon those values and forge ahead? Daryl seems to have come down on a side, with his whole mission this season focused on finding Sophia. What was his motivation there? Why was he so obsessed with finding Sophia?
Reedus: A couple of things. First off, in that scene I mentioned with Carol, I'm covered in scars. You couldn't see them super up close in that scene, but I'm shredded with scars. There's a backstory with Daryl that he was a beaten child and he was [abandoned], and I'm really trying to play that up. He's a very damaged person. When Sophia gets lost, he takes it upon himself to look for her, to clear up some of the demons he has. He took it very personally. Besides, he can handle himself in the woods. He doesn't really need these people for survival — he's looking at them for a very different kind of survival, for interaction that he's not used to, which is a new world for him. Looking for Sophia alone in the woods isn't a scary thing for him; he can go out there himself. But he took it personally because that girl represented something to him that was larger than just this world we're living in, trying to survive. He went after her with a lot of gusto.
MTV: Of course, we got an answer to Sophia's whereabouts, though it wasn't the answer Daryl was hoping for. Can you talk about that experience, shooting that scene in the barn and losing [actress Madison Lintz] from the cast?
Reedus: That day sucked, because I really like Madison. She's such a cool little girl. It was really emotional. Jon [Bernthal] had a lot of dialogue and was doing his amped-up thing. Melissa [McBride] was doing her emotional oh-my-god thing, and [Andrew Lincoln] was doing his "no, stop!" thing. [Chandler Riggs] was doing his "no, I can't believe that's true!" thing. And Daryl's just like, "Let's kill somebody!" Then [Sophia emerges] and there were a few different ways you could go. With Melissa running in, for Daryl to take her on — damaged people gravitate toward damaged people, and he took it upon himself to hold her. I know there are lots of rumors about [Daryl and Carol] having a romantic affair, but I think it's more than that. I think it's more of a protection thing, which I find much more interesting than kissy-kissy sexy-sex stuff. That day was big. It was a large day. We shot it for a few days, actually, to get it all down.
MTV: Daryl has made a lot of personal progress this season, but will Sophia's death set him back? How does he react to finding out that she's gone?
Reedus: It's going to be interesting. It sets him back in certain ways, in that the hope's gone. That little girl that he's looking for, if she's one of them, he doesn't really give a crap anymore. You can have these so-called leaders of the group saying "do this, do that," and he doesn't really need them anymore. So you find out that Daryl sort of separates himself a little bit. He reacts violently to anything emotional revolving around that story line. There's another side of that in that he's looked upon more as one of the leaders now, so there's a new set of responsibilities that Daryl has to deal with. Whether he wants them, whether he wants to take them, [is another story]. But it's interesting to see him looked upon as a leader. Fireworks fly. It's not necessarily something he wanted or asked for. He's not super thrilled about it.
MTV: Daryl has had some of the best zombie kills of the series. Which one was your favorite this season?
Reedus: Ooh. My best kill of the season? Well, I like last season, the double-ax to the throat. That was fun. [This season], I liked slashing the zombie churchgoer across the face; that was kind of fun. And I liked shooting the well-dressed zombie in the woods [in the season premiere], that was kind of fun too, then cutting his chest open and reaching inside of him, the gut bag. That was cool. That was a lot of fun. That was Andy and me being, "Ooh, gross!" You'd put your hand inside and it goes [makes a balloon deflating noise], and they put tubes of hot air that would blow in your face with gas inside the intestines. It was disgusting. [Co-executive producer and makeup effects designer] Greg Nicotero is completely twisted.
MTV: Looking beyond Daryl, this show has taken off in a big way. Ratings are huge, and it's been getting a lot of attention. Obviously you're very close to the show, but what's your take: Why is "Walking Dead" so huge?
Reedus: There's a whole thing about the economy that I've heard, that when the economy is bad, for some reason zombies and horror films are huge. Maybe that's part of something. But also because it's not really about zombies. It's about these people trying to get together and working together and making lives for themselves, whether life is even worth living anymore. There's this desperate smell in the air that people have to come together who won't normally come together, and I think that's the appeal, really. It's like that show "Survivor." These people try to figure it out, cut each other's throats, be a--holes here and there and rip each other off — that's part of it [on "Walking Dead"]. Plus, our special effects are so amazing. Our cinematography is so great. Our writing is really good. There are a lot of elements that have come together. It's more than just a zombie show. I think that's a big deal.