The Walking Dead's Daryl needs a spa day says Norman Reedus
Actor reflects on 11 years of the zombie epic
It has been a long, winding and at times, terrifying road, but after 11 years of some of the most riveting sustained drama on television all good things must unfortunately come to an end. Like Michonne’s Samurai sword or Aaron’s mace arm enhancement are to anything in their path, the currently running season 11 represents finality. Although The Walking Dead universe will continue with various spin-offs, the original timeline with which we have been enraptured since it debuted in 2010 will come to a close after these 24 episodes. If ever there were an excuse to go bigger with a show notorious for its insanely large cast of principals and extras, even grander sets, and storytelling so intense someone (who shall remain nameless) binges entire year runs in one day, we don’t know of any better than a farewell frenzy. Having already been treated to the first few programmes of the stretch which airs weekly in the UAE on Mondays on FoxHD at 10pm, we can report the spectacle is already living up to expectations.
If you’re unfamiliar with this particular entertainment juggernaut, the last outing would be an unusual place to jump onboard, so we’re going to assume a certain shorthand. We left off last season with Alexandria in virtual tatters though still just about viable after a protracted battle with The Whisperers. The Kingdom and Hilltop being completely destroyed; the entire community of survivors and refugees are forced to start over in the outpost we’d definitely pick if confronted with an undead apocalypse. Series 11 picks up a minute later and an increased Alexandria population mixed with dwindling resources dictates desperate measures are called for. Cue a set piece to begin ep. one — Acheron: Part I — including a former army base and a warehouse full of sleeping zombies to be tiptoed around in order to scavenge for leftover military rations. What could go wrong?
Notable for the return of Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and also following Eugene (Josh McDermitt) and his merry band’s adventure to The Commonwealth, the plots are too dense to properly impart alone, so we spoke to someone who could definitely help us out. You know him as the ever-present, crossbow-wielding Daryl Dixon, but we were lucky enough to call him Norman Reedus when we recently caught up.
So, Norman, where are we?
This season starts off with a group chasing Maggie’s group and she finds us to tell us about it. Last time we saw Maggie on the show she was running Hilltop. Then she went and now she’s back and she’s in full terrified mode. We go off to get something for the survival of our group and we’re being hunted. Daryl tells everyone he is going to watch her (Maggie). We always get back together to look after one of our own. Whenever a core family member is in trouble we all rally around each other. So, we go off to get something for the survival of our group, which turns into a separation and then it’s like Alice Through The Looking Glass. Around mid-season it turns into something completely different. It is going to blow your mind.
Sounds suitably chaotic. Aside from the action, with a decade playing the same character what are the challenges in keeping it fresh?
There’s challenges all the time. If this was a movie, one thing would happen to me that would change my perspective. In ten plus years being in TV there are little gradual changes. You can plot a timeline of things that happen to Daryl: looking for Sophia, bonding with Carol, choosing these people over his brother and Rick acknowledging Daryl as a brother. He’s doing things this season he doesn’t want to do. It’s the evolution of the character. When this show’s over I’d like to see Daryl do something for himself. He’s always doing stuff for other people. I think Daryl needs a spa day. He needs a day of getting massages and manicures.
One of the show’s strengths has always been its diversity and reflecting our world in its themes. What do you think about that?
The glue that’s kept this show together has been the relationships between the characters. These are people that never would have hung out together and because of the state of the world, they’re being forced to listen to each other and work as a team. I think that’s relevant today. We have a climate crisis we have to work together to solve. Every generation has its problems, but it’d be easier if we worked together like we do on the show. Friendships could be made to further the human race.
How does it feel to be choosing to end now (spin-offs aside)?
It feels good. Norman like Daryl has grown after the last decade. I thought if we ever went this far we’d all have three teeth and be super skinny. Me and Scott Wilson (TWD 2011-2014) had a pact to let our hair grow and just go wild. We had a contest to see who could look the roughest. We thought we’d be savage ‘end of the world’ people by now. It has been a gift to play Daryl for so long.
How did the pandemic affect the show?
It took a while for us to get our rhythm. When the pandemic first happened and we first came back we did those six small episodes where it was two people talking to each other, or if you killed something it was far away. You weren’t getting in each other’s faces. The stories were more condensed. That didn’t feel like our show for me. When we came back for this season, the crew got big again and the set got big again and I’m glad we’re back to that.
You’re a mainstay now but in the early days was reading a script like running a gauntlet given the high death rate?
In the very beginning a new character was getting killed every week. Those days everyone just power read to the end to see if they survived. I never thought I’d be on the show this long to be honest. I auditioned for the part of my character’s brother, but it was already cast. They liked what I did so they created a character for me. I wasn’t in the comic books, so I thought I’d only be in a couple of episodes. Now all the actors read the scripts and then call each other straight after.
Probably a better guarded secret than Area 51, but will we ever find Rick?
The Rick thing, you never know if that’s part of anything. I’m guessing that’s too important just to forget. I don’t know exactly!