Before signing on with The Walking Dead, actor Norman Reedus had already reached a high level of "coolness" through The Boondock Saints, but that would quickly become overshadowed by the crossbow-wielding badassery of Daryl Dixon. Had TV fans gotten the version of Daryl that was originally peppered into the early Walking Dead scripts, though, we all might have had a far different opinion as time went on. Here's what Reedus said about the more Merle-tinged way Daryl was first conceived.
There are two clear takeaways from that, and we'll take what's arguably the more uncomfortable one first: the racism. Whenever the Dixon brothers were first introduced, Merle was clearly the bigger personality, and part of that was because he was loose-lipped and not exactly morally uptight. It caused some clashing with T-Dogg at the time, and looking back, those scenes felt a few degrees more uncomfortable than the creative team probably wanted. (Not that actors Michael Rooker and Iron-E didn't sell it well or anything like that.) Daryl, meanwhile, seemed to stand just outside Merle's shadow in those early days, in just such a way that Norman Reedus getting verbose with his character's bigotry almost definitely would have come across as learned behavior, as opposed to something genuine.
So instead, he was mostly dismissive and harsh to everyone as a whole, rather specifically picking on the non-white survivors. Certainly part of that blanketed angst could be sourced to his brother losing his hand and going missing for a while, But if anything, losing Merle's constant presence only helped Daryl to break out of his character's early shell to become a permanent fan favorite.
Credit also has to be given to Norman Reedus, who spoke with CNET about his career, for doing what he could to shift Daryl away from the druggie route, since there are only so many ways to write characters like that in the post-apocalypse without eventually killing them off or changing them into someone else entirely. By making Daryl's background addicted-adjacent, so to speak, it does/did allow for growth without getting maudlin about recovering from substance abuse while zombies are milling about. Reedus also shared the story he's shared in the past about how Daryl was originally meant to ride a horse, despite Reedus' definitive lack of interest in it, while Merle was to be the motorcycle guy. Something everyone wants in times of duress is a fucked up dude on a horse.
Plus, Daryl-as-is can totally still cop to having vices that may of the other characters seem to have left behind, such as smoking cigarettes and drinking whatever booze is around. And fans know that one of the character's most interesting episodes, from an emotional perspective, was the standalone Season 4 episode "Still," in which Daryl and Beth got ripped on moonshine and bonded over setting fire to things. It was a nice reminder that people could still have some fun in such dismal times.
Daryl and the rest of The Walking Dead characters will return to AMC for Season 8 on Sunday, October 22, at 9:00 p.m. ET. (Expect it to be a lot easier on Norman Reedus, who faced quite a few challenges in Season 7 that he wasn't too fond of.) To see when the rest of TV's biggest shows are coming back, hit up our summer TV schedule and our fall TV schedule.