It’s been hard for “The Walking Dead” star Norman Reedus to watch someone else wear Daryl Dixon’s leather jacket and carry his crossbow this season.
In fact, Reedus told CNN, watching Austin Amelio’s Dwight in possession of Daryl’s belongings has “really been pissing me off.”
“It’s just hard for me to look at,” said Reedus, speaking with a level of passion that blurs the line between the actor and his tough guy character.
This season, however, Daryl’s zeal has been replaced with a gut-wrenching guilt that fans got to see in Sunday’s episode, “The Cell” — perhaps one of Reedus’ finest hours on the hit AMC series.
After last week took viewers to The Kingdom and focused the action on Carol (Melissa McBride) and Morgan (Lennie James), this episode followed Daryl as he ventured into The Sanctuary, home to villain Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his Saviors.
Daryl was taken there at the end of the season premiere, after watching two of his friends die gruesomely at the hands of Negan.
While both deaths weigh heavily on Daryl, it’s Glenn’s (Steven Yeun) that haunts him deeply in this hour. It was Daryl’s outburst in the emotional aftermath of Abraham’s (Michael Cudlitz) death that caused Negan to take a second victim.
“He’s so guilt-ridden by what happened in that first episode, he’s lost the will to fight,” Reedus said of Daryl’s emotional state in “The Cell.”
At the Sanctuary, the episode showed, Daryl was shoved in a small cell, stripped naked, fed dog food and mentally pushed to his edge after they employed some unique torture techniques. (They played “Easy Street” by The Collapsible Hearts Club on a constant loop.)
The scenes were more than a challenge to execute, according to Reedus. He was emotionally naked — and literally, too. He went without the notorious modesty sock often given to male actors for nude scenes, he said.
“It was kind of funny, though, because I dropped the robe and I’m butt naked and the whole crew and camera department — it was like they were watching a tennis match — they all just looked to the left,” he said laughing. “It was in unison.”
Reedus credits that same crew for giving him the support he needed to show Daryl at his lowest.
“I have to give it up to them because they’re in there with me for a couple of days and they weren’t cracking jokes. They were very quiet, very respectful,” he said. “I don’t know that it would be as easy to go there emotionally with a bunch of strangers and people I didn’t trust.”
Broken as he was, the end of the episode showed that Daryl still had strength in him.
In a tense scene, Negan asked Daryl his name, wanting his prisoner to answer “Negan” — as all his subjects do. Daryl refused.
“It’s not a ‘F–k you’ to Negan,” Reedus said. “It’s a ‘You can’t have me.'”
But what gave Daryl the will to take the stand while the same bat that killed his friends was staring back at him? That’s easy, said Reedus: “Glenn.”
“Because if I disrespect what Glenn means to me and what Abraham means to me and what they fought for, then they have everything,” Reedus said of his character’s thinking. “[Daryl thinks], ‘You can beat me down and you can humiliate me and make me suffer, but I’m not giving you that.'”
What the future holds for Daryl is up in the air by the end of the episode, but Reedus is sure revenge is on his character’s mind.
“I don’t want to say [Dwight] is enemy number one; he’s probably enemy number two,” Reedus said. “Daryl wants to kill him and there’s nothing that dead dude can do to save himself in Daryl’s eyes — and Negan too. There’s nothing they can do.”
Reedus also smells a comeback in the cards.
“Andy and I, we’re not used to being in this position,” he said, referring to fellow star Andrew Lincoln, who plays Rick. “We’re not used to not being badasses and fighting and winning, but it’s been explained to me that heroes need to fall really far down to be able to go really far back up again. Hopefully there’s a light at the end of that tunnel.”
“The Walking Dead” airs Sundays on AMC.