When we caught up with the actor, he was excited to share details about the Whisperers, The Walking Dead's most fearsome foes to date.
If you thought The Governor and Negan were scary, be prepared for these guys to take villany to a whole new level.
When we last saw Daryl and company, they had just met and discovered the secret of the Whisperers. Where do we find him at the start of the back half of the season?
Norman Reedus: The threat that we have right now is a completely different threat. It’s scarier. There was a bit of chest-bumping going on for the last couple of seasons, but this is sort of like a virus. It kinda sneaks up on you, and then it overwhelms the entire group. There’s a lot going on with Daryl right now. He’s kind of caught between five different places, and he’s lost his best friend. He’s very lost, but it’s making him have to stand up, and fill some shoes that I think he wasn’t ready to fill in.
Were you ready to jump into those new responsibilities for your character?
I’ve always sort of bobbed and weaved through storylines on the show. I didn’t do a whole lot of talking the last couple of seasons, but I was always involved. So this is a whole different sort of ballgame for me. People always say, “How does it feel taking over for Rick?” But I still want to play Daryl the way that he would be played. I told them as soon as I knew Rick was leaving that I didn’t want to give ‘Rick speeches.’ Daryl isn’t the kind of character that’s going to build a podium and get up and stand and talk to a bunch of people and tell them it’s going to be okay.
When we spoke to showrunner Angela Kang before the Season 9 premiere, she talked about the initial focus being hope for the future. How does it change in the second half?
It’s a whole other ballgame right now. The bad guys that we have coming now are just the scariest bad guys we’ve had on this show in forever. It’s a different vibe. Plus, that group that we’re about to see is, I mean, visually they’re crazy to look at it. There’s no posturing. They’re like real savage animals, which is a different thing. It’s the Animal Channel, you know what I mean? Animal Planet.
Speaking of animals, what’s it like having a four-legged costar?
I love him. And the dog loves me, too. I’m his bestie on set, I love it. I’ve been asking for a dog forever on the show. I’m so happy Angela gave me one.
Plus, Angela Kang weighs in on The Whisperers and the threat they pose in the second half of Season 9.
What does Samantha Morton bring to the show as Alpha, the leader of the Whisperers?
She’s killing it. She’s so fun to work with. I have to tell you, she and I have a lot of scenes together, just she and I. We’ve sort of bonded in a certain way, without trying to give anything away. But she’s bringing an energy to the room that’s brand-new. And she’s super confident just as a woman, that she’s just, like, in there to @#$%ing mess stuff up, you know? I love working with her.
Do the Whisperers have the potential to unite the fractured groups of the Kingdom, Alexandria and Hilltop?
That’s a lot of it. A lot of those fractured communities are going to be dealt with in the back half. It’s a story point. I don’t know if I can talk about that, but Daryl is in the middle. There’s another part of the story that has to do with those x’s on our backs, the brand.
Daryl has always been a free-spirit who seems restless in any kind of societal cage. Was he happier living in a tent?
Well, that episode — that Michael Cudlitz directed — that was a different script when we got it. That original script had him living a very lavish, awesome lifestyle in the woods. He had everything he needed, and it looked like he was glamping a little bit [laughs], and we changed that script quite a bit.
What do you think about Negan’s return to power?
It’s a different sort of Negan, which I really like. Jeffrey [Dean Morgan] did some really good stuff in the first half, and he’s got some good stuff in the back half, but I like the new version of Negan. There’s a weakness there. You know, all bullies have a weakness, and if you can find that weakness, they sort of turn into mushy mashed potatoes, and I kind of like watching that happen.
A huge event is coming up, and as with most huge events on this show, it’s a given that everyone won’t make it out alive.
How has Angela Kang renewed your anticipation of getting a new script?
I cannot wait. When Andy [Lincoln] left the show — and he had his reasons for leaving, and you can’t really fault them — I was sneaking him scripts. He was like, “I can’t believe I’m leaving when this show is this good right now.” The scripts are so good, and they’re so different, and there’s a new energy. I think that after nine years you have to get some new insight, and we got the perfect person in Angela. She’s always been my favorite writer on the show. And when she took over as showrunner, I was super thrilled because I knew what we were going to do.
What do you miss about Andrew Lincoln’s friendship and leadership?
Andy’s very diplomatic. He’s got a very cool way of leading a group. Plus, he was my best friend on that show. He ate his lunch in my trailer every single day. So I miss that camaraderie.
Even though you’re no longer working together on The Walking Dead, we do get to see you guys together on Ride With Norman Reedus. Tell us about his episode.
I actually just watched Andy’s episode this morning. It’s great. It’s hysterical. And he’s a total goofball.
The Walking Dead, Sundays, 9/8c, AMC