There's an epic confrontation coming on season three of AMC's The Walking Dead. But only it's not the pending faceoff between Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and the eagerly anticipated arrival of the comics' big bad, the Governor (David Morrissey). Instead, it's the Dixon brothers -- Norman Reedus' Daryl and Michael Rooker's long-lost Merle -- who will come face to face after the latter was left handcuffed to an Atlanta rooftop during season one.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Reedus and Rooker to talk season three, how Merle has changed, what Daryl's new role with the group is and what their eventual reunion will be like as part of our seven days of Walking Dead coverage leading up to Sunday's return.
What's it been like returning to the dust and grime of the Atlanta set?
Michael Rooker: It's been great, I'm tickled. I'm a fan like everyone else so I've been watching the show and thinking, "There's my bike, there's Merle's drugs!"
With the group having lost Shane, how will Daryl adjust to his new role?
Norman Reedus: Daryl and Shane always agreed; they butted heads a few times but their decisions were always the same -- kill Randall, etc. The biggest problem was Shane had his heartstrings pulled and Daryl doesn't have any. I don't think Daryl ever wants to lead the group. It's not a responsibility he wants. There's certain times during season three where Daryl has to take the leadership role because there's no other choice. He handles those situations quickly and delegates immediately. But as far as sitting down in front of a group of people and explaining what needs to be done in the future, Daryl doesn't want the emotional responsibility. He's definitely still this lone wolf but people are feeding him and petting him and he feels that if people like him, he'll stay with them for a while.
One of those people who cares deeply for him is Carol. Could their relationship move beyond friends?
Reedus: I never want Daryl to be suave and have game. I want him to be awkward as long as they'll let me. I don't want Daryl to hook up with Carol, I've been fighting it forever. I think it'd be more interesting that the glue that connects us is this damaged feeling that we both have. I find it more interesting and I never want to be that dude that throws someone up against a tree and the moonlight hits their glistening chest. F--- that! If they hook me up with somebody I want to be all thumbs and cry in the corner and not know what to do. It's interesting to be dead inside in this world to start off dead inside. That's a huge story with Daryl this season and to be dead inside and slowly unravel into this ferocious flower is more interesting. It's a route that no one else on the show is taking and that's where I'd like to see him go.
Have there been any fundamental changes since we last saw Merle?
Rooker: It's been months since he chopped off his hand and whatever injuries he sustained have healed and he's found a handy prosthetic. You're going to see a lot of different shades of Merle. The basic Merle is still there. That first episode with Merle when you first meet him, he was completely high. He had so much up his nose that he didn't know who he was. It's going to be interesting to see how this character has evolved and how his relationships are with everyone. He's always been somewhat of a black sheep, lone wolf type but now as time has passed, we'll see what happens.
What will Merle and Daryl's reunion look like?
Reedus: Daryl's always looking for Merle and thinks he's alive. Merle, in turn, is always looking for Daryl and knows he's alive as well. We have new characters this season and they also have conflict with Merle. He's a bull in a china shop but he's Daryl's brother and I want him to be in the china shop. He's definitely breaking things all over the place. Their first interaction is huge and a giant story point this season. It doesn't go how two brothers who are lost would want it to go.
Rooker: Merle has definitely been looking for his brother but then you forget and stop looking. You think they're gone and you survive and move on. When they do come face to face with a person that he knew from the past, there are a lot of questions he has for the group from the rooftop. Daryl has carved out a really nice niche place in the group. In a way, they're brothers yet Merle is definitely much more aggressive and flamboyant now that the group is ready to kick ass and give chase to get his point across. Daryl is much more laid back and a bit more introverted.
Does that make Andrea a target? What will seeing them trigger in him?
Rooker: Seeing Andrea is the first inkling that Merle has that anyone from that group survived. Andrea doesn't look too good in the teaser from Comic-Con when Merle finds her. She's in pretty bad shape and it's appropriate that Merle saves her ass.
Who else might not be too happy to see Merle, maybe the Governor, Michonne?
Reedus: It's both of those and some new ones. He doesn't make friends very well. There's two sides to Merle: one, is the guy that doesn't make friends well and; two is the guy who wants to. He's teetering on the edge but doing it in all the wrong ways and Daryl is basically cleaning up the mess and starting fights of his own for his own personal reasons. There's as much turmoil inside the camps as there is out in the world -- but maybe more.
Merle has the brawn but Daryl seems to have the brains. Who has the edge here?
Reedus: They're both very similar in that they're good at the same things -- like hunting. Daryl's more of an observer; he'll shoot things out of his mouth but he means what he says. Merle will just say what ever comes out of his mouth. He's like the little poodle that barks really loud and Daryl is a big mean dog who would rather you just pet him on the head. They're both on par with each other.
What are you looking forward to seeing for the Dixon brothers? Hit the comments with your thoughts. The Walking Dead season three premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC. Check back to THR's The Live Feed every day this week for the Seven Days of The Walking Dead preview.
- Norman Reedus
- Michael Rooker