Having nailed his breakout role in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer in the '80s, it only felt right for Michael Rooker's biggest TV show to also be within the horror realm. As The Walking Dead's Merle Dixon, Rooker had a strong introduction that was somewhat undercut by sporadic appearances in later seasons, with the character's demise happening in Season 3. While more than a few TWD vets have spoken ill of the show killing off characters willy nilly, Rooker has more often than not been grateful for his time as Merle.
But from day one all the way to the death of Merle, my favorite sequence was in the beginning, on the rooftop. I'm handcuffed to the roof. T-Dog drops the key down the pipe, I can't get loose and I end up cutting my hand off. That whole sequence for me was unbelievable, to be able to do a nine-minute monologue was fantastic. To watch it again is simply amazing. Frank Darabont, my man, thank you for casting me. And Gale Anne Hurd, thank you for casting me in that role
While I might have thought that Michael Rooker would have preferred a later-stage Merle scene where the character got to rock a highly deadly attachment for his severed arm, the actor's favorite sequence actually came largely before he even lost his hand. The moments Rooker is talking about come in Season 1's very second episode, titled "Guts."
In "Guts," Merle's moronic and racist actions against T-Dog cause Rick to handcuff him to a pipe on a building's roof. The episode gave Rooker's Merle several moments to wax on, particularly when it's just him and T-Dog on the roof and Merle is trying to convince the guy he tried to beat up that he deserves to be set free. Not the most sound logic, by any stretch. Inevitably, the handcuff key gets lost, and the main group is forced to leave Merle behind. Not that he died, of course. Rather, he made the unenviable choice to cut off his own hand, leading to his weaponized appendage in the future as one of The Governor's henchmen.
Much talk has been had over Michael Rooker's hiatus from The Walking Dead, and the actor himself seems to think it all came down to the writing teams not fully realizing how to use the actor to their full advantage. Here's how he put it:
It's basically three years of work, and they held off on the second season. I'm not sure AMC knew what to do with the character. They held off and they held off, and the moment I came back in the sequence when Norman's character has fallen down into the ravine and I end up being his guardian angel who comes to him and antagonizes him enough to force him to get up and climb. It was just a gorgeous way to bring the character back. Then in the third season, I come back full strength which is so very memorable.
Many Walking Dead fans would have loved it if Merle could have survived long enough to fully rejoin Rick's group, but it was never meant to be. Thankfully, Rooker found renewed fan-favorite fame within the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. Here's hoping he gets a chance to return as a hallucination or dream or some other way.
The Walking Dead is still waiting for the chance for production to start up again, so that the Season 10 finale can finally wrap up and air for fans. Season 11 is still currently set for a late 2020 debut, though that will probably change if the cast and crew aren't able to keep working in the coming months. While waiting, here's what audiences can expect to see debuting on TV this fall.