That new threat you've been hearing so much about, the one that puts the "Walking Dead" survivors in new danger for the show's fourth season? Yeah, it's serious. And while we're not spilling any specifics, suffice it to say it does take the action in a completely new and terrifying direction, and ensures there's not a single slow moment in the season's first two episodes.
But fan favorite Norman Reedus, aka Daryl Dixon, tells us we still have no idea just how wild the season is going to get. The actor talked to Yahoo TV about Season 4, about Daryl's emergence as a true leader, and about how he can never leave his character — or Daryl's Southern drawl — behind.
1. We've seen Daryl and company learn how to survive the walkers, each other, and outsiders, and now they're at a point where they can start to think about more than simply surviving, more about building a new life. Is that the overall theme of Season 4?
Season 4 breathes in a different way. You really get to know the characters. You understand what's made them hard, or what is breaking them inside. It's a very gut wrenching, heartfelt season, and terrifying at the same time. It's more personable.
The first season started, and it was like this hyperventilating and this heartbeat, this thump, thump, thump, thump, this introduction to this world. The second season, there was more talking and storytelling, because you have to set up the world to tell stories on a television show. The third season was kind of a war. The fourth season is fear, and people reach their breaking points. People stand up and have courage, people that you didn't know had courage. It's truly remarkable what the writers have done this season. I would have never seen any of this coming.
We just did a whole press junket for our premiere, and everyone's got ideas. They see the first episode, or first two episodes, and they sit down with us, and they just want to know, "What happens with this? What happens with that?" We probably did 100 interviews. Not one of them even came close to knowing what's going to happen. It's very, very clever.
The cast and crew explain where we left off in Season 3:
2. You had the premiere in L.A. earlier this month, New York Comic Con this weekend, the day before the season premiere on AMC ... does it get the cast even more excited about the season when you have all these interactions with the fans?
Yeah, I love interacting with the fans. I can't wait for people to see this season. This whole season is so, so good. I'm so, so excited.
We always think, How can they possibly increase the tension, especially with the walkers? But after watching the first two episodes of Season 4, you've all done it. (Laughing.) Keep watching. It gets crazy.
3. Are the writers still able to surprise you and the rest of the cast at this point? Are you still wowed when you get the scripts?
They constantly keep me on my toes. Every time we get a new script, Andy [Lincoln] and I run to each other, and we're like, "Have you read it? Have you read it? Have you read it?" We're so excited when we get the scripts. And that's just on the page, and it's so good. Once you see it come to life, it's so, so fascinating. I'm really proud of this season. I'm superproud of it.
4. Do you think it's the best one so far?
By far.I'm telling you, watch. Just watch what this season does. It'll blow your mind. It's crazy.
5. The season starts off relatively peacefully, for a few moments, at least, and turns to chaos very quickly. After everything Daryl's been through, the loss of Merle, the war with the Governor, now all these new people inserting themselves into life at the prison ... how do you wrap your mind around that to set where Daryl is in the new season?
You just try to play everything for real. Daryl's [had a] natural evolution to where he is now. None of these characters are the same characters that you're introduced to in the first season. Everyone's different. You just play it for real. With the [season premiere], they called, and they were telling me the [story line] ... Daryl was taking more of a leadership role, and it took me a while to swallow that. There's only one Rick Grimes, and there's only one Daryl, and there's only one everybody on the show.
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You have to understand that it is four years of playing these characters. We really know these characters so well, and the writers know these characters so well. A lot of times, our showrunner will have story lines mapped out way in advance. It's good that we don't know those plot points in advance, so that we're not playing them now. You play everything in the moment, you play everything for real.
The characters, and the actors, too, care so much about each other, and they've been trying so hard. Every single thing just gets ripped out from underneath them over and over and over again. Our show is such a moving target at all times, so you just play the moments for real.
Reedus shares his thoughts on what makes Daryl the ideal badass:
6. There isn't a lot of time in the survivors' world to stop and mourn people, even when one of the major characters passes away. Though Daryl's relationship with Merle was complicated, did Merle's death last season free him up to emerge as that leader he's fully becoming this season?
I think that ball started rolling before. The thing with Daryl is that he was always going to become his brother. He was always going to become this racist, redneck a--hole. That was his curse. [But] I didn't want to say racist things, I didn't want to take drugs on the show. We made some changes to a few story lines, and they were gracious enough to hear me out on that.
I think once he was out from under the thumb of his big brother in Season 2, he slowly started to become someone else. Also, when he saw [Merle] in that arena scene [with the Governor in Season 3], he went back to being the scared little brother. We had to play that like that ... that scene had to be played by Daryl as a terrified little brother to make the big brother become the big brother again. To fight for him again. That whole transition was a natural transition from the beginning, to where it ended up with the death of Merle.
Daryl, all his dialogue, I played that whole first season talking out of the top left side of my head. Looking away, I wouldn't look you in the face, I'd look down at your feet, and I'd glance at your face. That's shame. That's "Don't look at me while I'm talking to you" ... there's a hidden shame there. This season, Daryl, his shoulders are squared to you, and he looks directly in your face when he talks to you. That's an evolution of him as a man. He's slowly finding this sense of self worth in himself, too.
7. Does Daryl fully trust people, even his friends?
I think there's a core group that he trusts, but I think that there might be new people that he won't trust right off the bat. I think it takes a lot to become somebody that Daryl trusts. I think he really needs to know you before he trusts you. I've always played him as a fighter, like he's always got his back up against the wall. Now he has a reason to fight. Now he has reasons to put himself in danger ... who do you want to be? What are you willing to fight for? What are you willing to give up? There's a whole bunch of things that are making him step up into more manly boots.
8. Is this character the hardest character you've ever played, in terms of letting it go when you're done filming an episode, or even in the offseason?
I'm so wrapped up in this character. I could play Daryl until I'm 80. They've given me such a rich character to play with, and they've let me run with him from the beginning. We've all worked as a team. This has never been one of those shows where they're like, "This is who you are, and you're saying this." They really pay attention to us, and we pay attention to them, and it really is a collaborative job. For that reason, yeah, I'm so wrapped up in this character and wrapped up in this show. I take him home with me, I think about him all day. It's become such a big part of me, this character.
I did a voice-over for a Japanese animation movie ["Iron Man: Rise of Technovore"]. I played The Punisher. I went in to do it, and for the first two hours I was doing it with a Southern accent. I was like, "Oh, right!" (Laughing.) Yeah, Daryl's definitely a part of me, without a doubt.
9. Daryl is one of the few main characters who isn't in the comic book series as well. Has that allowed you any more freedom to shape who he's become since there is no other source material for him?
I think it's definitely been a bonus for me to be able to do that, but I don't think any of the actors on our show have felt constrained in their visions of who their characters are because of the comic book. I think the comic book gave us this amazing world to walk into. Andrea became a badass, and Andrea on the show ended up being a badass. Look at all the stuff that's happening to Carl. That character of Carl, he could play that so many different ways, and he's playing it for real, as Chandler Riggs going through this. We've had that kid for so long that we've watched him grow up in front of us.
I don't think that any of us have felt like we couldn't turn these people into who they were, but I think not being in the comic book has given me the opportunity to create a brand-new guy. That's also our writing staff, and our producers. They work with us. We really are a team, we really are a family. We don't shoot this show in Burbank; we shoot this out in the woods by ourselves. We've become very tight. We get to know each other very well. It's one of those rare jobs where all the figures fit together perfectly.
10. How important do you think it is that you don't film in Hollywood, and you don't have to deal with that particular craziness and noise? You all seem to be an incredibly close cast.
We have a ton of fun, but we also ... you have the support of your colleagues all the time, too. I've never really been on a job before, where I can be in the middle of doing a scene, and I can look over at Andy and go, "What do you think? Should I try doing this?" and he'll honestly tell me what he thinks. Everybody wants each other to excel on this show. I can look at Mike Satrazemis, our camera operator, sometimes I'll look him in the eyes, and I know when the scene worked. I can do that with our focus puller. We're all very tight, and I think the fact that we shoot down in Georgia in the woods by ourselves, without the distractions of Starbucks and agents and managers and everybody else, I think it's a major bonus. Atlanta, and Georgia, and the heat in Georgia, and the woods of Georgia, and the people of Georgia are a character in the show. They're just as important as everything else. I can't see us shooting this anywhere else.
11. Every season, we get our hearts broken at some point. It's going to happen again this season, isn't it?
Oh, God. You have no idea. (Laughing.) You're totally in for it.
Watch a clip from the Season 4 premiere:
"The Walking Dead" Season 4 premieres Oct. 13 at 9 p.m. on AMC.