'The Walking Dead' star Norman Reedus on that 'devastating' midseason finale and Daryl's sexual orientation
[SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s midseason finale of The Walking Dead.]
It was an emotional midseason finale episode of The Walking Dead on Sunday night, especially for star Norman Reedus who woke up “sad” and “depressed” this morning after watching the episode last night and reliving the death of Emily Kinney’s Beth all over again. Reedus called into Entertainment Weekly Radio (SiriusXM, channel 105) this morning to talk all about Daryl Dixon and the big installment, copping an inadvertent feel on Kinney, what to expect coming up, and his reaction to Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman’s clarification on last night’s Talking Dead as to Daryl’s sexual orientation. (Also make sure to check out our deep dive with Andrew Lincoln, midseason finale Q&A with Emily Kinney, and burning questions with showrunner Scott M. Gimple.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I know how super emotional it is for you guys when you have to say goodbye to a cast member. What was it like having to film these last scenes with Emily Kinney, who played Beth?
NORMAN REEDUS: It was rough. I won’t lie, it was rough. She’s such an amazing girl and such a great actress and what her character meant to our characters was a big deal, so to lose that was a very emotional day for everyone. It felt like you actually lost a friend.
And I know you do take things very hard and you had some trouble before filming this scene, didn’t you?
I think all the characters are sort of hanging on a thread, not in terms of being killed off the show but their emotional state. All of us are walking that fine line between completely savage and broken and I really wanted to play out that scene as devastated. And it means as much to Daryl as it meant to all of us. I really wanted to be completely devastated by that and taken off guard by that. Daryl’s one of those guys — he’s tough but he doesn’t puff out his chest and have to be tough. He’s just tough. And you can’t really have one without the other. You can’t just be one-note tough. You have to show reasons as to why he fights and you have to show the world that we’re living in. So he had to be devastated by that.
We’ve talked before how Daryl is such a tough guy, but he has some very tender and childlike qualities as well, especially when confronted with tragedy. We saw it when Merle was a zombie and we saw it again here when he watches Beth get shot. All that tough stuff just evaporates.
Yeah, he’s never been a showboat, and I think as an adult he’s taken a lot of the trauma that he had growing up and he’s taken it with him and you don’t fully became one or the other. I think in a tragic situation it’s fight or flight, and he’s always been a fighter, but at the end of the fight, I don’t think he ever feels proud of himself, you know what I mean?
He does not hesitate. He puts a bullet right through Dawn’s skull. Is that just a natural gut reaction?
I think so. That’s just animal instinct kicking in, and he’s kind of a wild animal in a lot of ways. He wouldn’t flinch at that. He would just do that.
So did Emily Kinney’s lifeless body get a little heavy after multiple takes of carrying her out of the hospital?
[Laughs] You know, she’s not a heavy girl. I wouldn’t say that. But it’s this defeated posture. I couldn’t walk her out like a fireman saving a baby. It couldn’t be like that. Everything had to hang. It wasn’t the most comfortable position to carry someone. You kind of have to be sobbing and hang as you carry her. It can’t be a heroic thing, it has to be a devastating thing. I think I grabbed her boob once by accident. After like, six takes and you’re walking really slow and sobbing, I thought maybe I would drop her at least once, but I didn’t.
What does the loss of Beth do to Daryl and to the group moving forward?
She was such a beacon of hope, that girl. She sang and she had a positive outlook and she was hopeful. All these little slivers of hope are being taken from this group one by one. It just gets worse and worse and worse. Humanity and the goodness in people is slowly being evaporated from their world. I think she was a big beacon of hope for us, and to watch her go is just devastating.
How is Daryl feeling about Rick’s decision making? We saw last week he actually sided with Tyreese’s plan instead of Rick just wanting to go into the hospital guns blazing. Is part of his job to keep Rick 2.0 in check a little from time to time?
One of the joys of watching the show is you see these little gifts that we give each other. And Rick’s done it to me quite a bit of times, and if you watch the episode with Carol, we see the little kids behind the glass and Daryl says “You don’t have to do it,” and then Daryl is going to go burn those bodies while she’s asleep. It’s just these little things where we have each other’s backs and that moment with Tyreese, Tyreese is really shaken-up and he’s had a hard time killing people, and Daryl is looking at Tyreese and thinking, you can’t fail. You have to be at 10. You can’t be at 3 and go in there. So while Rick is down there on the ground and drawing a map, he’s not really looking at Tyreese. Daryl is looking at Tyreese, and he realizes that he may screw this up, so Daryl sides with Tyreese and Rick doesn’t really know why because Rick didn’t see Tyreese flinching like that. So it’s little gift that Daryl gave Tyreese. But Rick listens to Daryl now. So that was between me and Tyreese, and Rick’s done that for Daryl numerous times, and Carol has done that for Daryl, and Glenn has done that for him. It’s these little gifts you give each other to show solidarity and friendship and that you have each other’s backs and that’s what that was. The same thing when I beat the guy over the head with the skull and Rick is ready to shoot him — Daryl wants to play the smart move. Four aces is better than three aces. He just wants to get the girls back, which is why it is so devastating for him in the end. He’s just playing good poker there.
We’ve had some seasons with tons of action and others with tons of character development, but this is I would argue the best one at really marrying both of those things. We got through both the Terminus threat and the hospital threat in only 8 episodes yet we also had a lot of character study in there. Would you agree that this season has excelled in that way?
Oh, man, you ain’t seen nothing yet. It just gets more so. It’s very well thought out this season, and a really strong combination of both of those things — character and action. And with both of those things comes a lot of sorrow and even mini-victories here and there. But it’s gonna become even more complicated in the back eight episodes.
I know you just wrapped production on season 5 last week. What’s that like in terms of bring excited about making it through another campaign but also saying goodbye to this on-set family for a good five months or whatever?
I feel like I’m still in it to be honest. I feel like I’m just visiting my apartment in New York and I’m about to go back. It takes you a while to decompress from it, and all of us are emailing each other on group emails already. All of us are doing that. It’s weird to be home for a minute. Even watching last night’s episode I woke up this morning feeling really down.
In what sense?
Just sad. I woke up sad. You put a lot of time and effort into all of this and you don’t just snap out of it sometimes. So I woke up pretty depressed.
What can you tell us about what we’re going to see coming up when the show returns?
It’s a very different show, the back eight. It’s still the same show, but it’s very different circumstances. Personalities really come to a boil and a lot of unexpected things are going to happen because it’s in a very different vein. You see us in a very different circumstance and it becomes very desperate. And there’s a false level of security that really messes with everyone.
I don’t know if you watched The Talking Dead last night, but Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman went out of his way to explain that Daryl is straight because of all that hubbub where he mentioned in the letters section of the comics that there had been talk of having the character be gay at one point. Does it amuse and confuse you as to why people are so invested in Daryl Dixon’s sexual orientation?
[Laughs] It’s funny that you brought that up because he caught of a lot of grief for even mentioning anything. Sometimes stories just get blown out of proportion. Whatever they gave me to do, I would happily do it and I don’t think it matters one way or another his sexual orientation. He’s an honest, badass dude and he has a lot of heart to him and it doesn’t really matter. It’s so funny when you meet people and their reaction to this and to that — and believe me they go from all the way far left to all the way far right. I didn’t really address that when it came out because it doesn’t matter. And whatever they give me to do, I would have done. But it’s kind of funny watching him cover his tracks a bit. A lot of times stories do get blown way out of proportion.
Gotcha with Emily Kinney