Why Michael Rooker Almost Wasn't Merle In The Walking Dead

Merle without his arm in The Walking Dead

There are few TV shows as massively popular as AMC's The Walking Dead. The apocalyptic drama has accrued a large and rabid fanbase, allowing TWD actors to quickly rise in notoriety and nab some high profile jobs. One actor who has gotten significantly more famous since his tenure on the show is Michael Rooker, who played Merle Dixon in Season 3, after originally appearing in the show's second episode. And while Rooker has gained notoriety for his roles in James Gunn's various projects, especially Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, it turns out he almost missed out on the role of Merle. And it all has to do with a grudge held against him for dropping out of a project over a decade before. Rooker recently opened up about this ordeal, saying:

She goes, 'ah, yeah, but there's... there's one little issue.' And I said, 'what? It's not an offer?' And she goes, 'nah... the producers have a hard-on for you.' And I'm thinking, it's not a good one. I said, 'well, what do I do to change their mind?' She said, 'dude, I don't know. But something happened like years ago, and he still has some issues.' And I'm going, 'what was it? I don't remember, what did I do to him?' And I won't get into the whole story, but something had happened, and I pulled out of a project, and it was their project, and it was like there was this grudge sort of held for a long time since, and I didn't know that.

I guess it's true what they say: you shouldn't burn bridges in show business. Because while Michael Rooker dropped out of a project almost 20 years ago, it eventually came back to bite him in the ass. Luckily the casting associated reconsidered, and his performance as Merle was pretty unbelievable.

It's currently unclear which movie or TV show caused this grudge for Michael Rooker, but definitely a blessing that he managed to work past it and land the role of Merle Dixon. The early seasons of The Walking Dead just wouldn't have been the same without him. In his same appearance at NY Comic-Con (via Comic Book), Rooker described how he eventually was given forgiveness, and also given the role.

The producer read the letter, and I was a good writer, he believed my letter, he believed it. He believed it because it was true! And so hence, I ended up having a second chance at getting the role of Merle Dixon, and I ended up getting the role of Merle Dixon because I was able to explain myself from like, maybe 19 years ago -- that far back. 19 years ago something had happened and there was a grudge being held for 19 years, and I did not know anything about it. And I finally found out, and then I explained myself through a letter via the casting director, and I ended up being able to do The Walking Dead.

Sometimes all it takes is an apology. Michael Rooker's worked, and now he's bonafide TWD and MCU royalty.

The Walking Dead will return for Season 8 October 22nd on AMC. In the meantime, check out our fall premiere list to plan your next binge watch.

Corey Chichizola
Movies Editor

Corey was born and raised in New Jersey. Double majored in theater and literature during undergrad. After working in administrative theater for a year in New York, he started as the Weekend Editor at CinemaBlend. He's since been able to work himself up to reviews, phoners, and press junkets-- and is now able to appear on camera with some of his favorite actors... just not as he would have predicted as a kid.