SPOILER ALERT: This article contains details of tonight’s ‘The Cell’ episode of The Walking Dead.
After the very bloody deaths of two core characters at end of villain Negan’s bat in the Season 7 opener on October 23 and last week’s introduction to the very different world of The Kingdom, tonight’s The Walking Dead was all about the brutal world of the Saviors and the breaking of Daryl Dixon. “He’s being tortured, and the only thing he has left is that he’s not giving up,” says Norman Reedus about the character and tonight’s “The Cell” episode.
Taking a swipe at the Jeffrey Dean Morgan-played Negan in the season opener, the Reedus-portrayed Daryl not only saw fatal retribution smashed into the skull of his friend Glenn (Steven Yeun) but was also hauled off to the Saviors’ HQ as a hostage to ensure Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and the rest of the Survivors bow to Negan’s rule. Nobody central to TWD dies in tonight’s Angela King-penned episode (though Dwight get Daryl’s bike). But, as Negan learns, Daryl doesn’t “scare easy.” That and more is revealed about how the Sanctuary is really run, and it feels like a lot of seeds are being planted for the rest of the seventh season of the zombie apocalypse series based on Robert Kirkman’s comics.
With all that in mind, Reedus talked with me after a day on set shooting TWD in Georgia about the pivotal aspects of ‘The Cell,’ what it means for Season 7, and what it is like working with old friend but new cast mate Morgan. The Boondock Saints actor also hinted at what we could expect from the recently announced Season 2 of his motorcycle travelogue show Ride With Norman Reedus, discussed avoiding spoilers, and weighed in on those near-record blockbuster ratings that TWD returned with this year.
DEADLINE: From those opening scenes with Austin Amelio’s Dwight’s going through his daily routine at the Sanctuary, the hard realities of Negan’s rule and you, naked in a dark cell being tortured with music and the worst food imaginable, tonight’s episode oddly really reminded me of an independent film, did it feel that way for you?
REEDUS: Yeah, it was a very intimate episode. It had a lot to do with, you know, what’s going on inside people’s heads more than anything, so to shoot it in that way I think helps tell that story.
You know, it was a very emotional episode. I was in that jail cell for a couple of days, and you know, it was hard. It was a hard thing to do, but you see Daryl in the beginning of that episode. He’s being shoved down the hallway, and he’s being pushed by the head, and he’s being pushed up against the fence and this stuff, and he’s taking it. He’s not fighting back, and do I think Daryl could’ve beat up Dwight? Yeah, but you don’t see him fight. He’s lost the will to fight. I think the guilt of having, you know, the things that happened in the first episode, the guilt is with him, and he’s taking it, and he thinks that he deserves whatever they’re being thrown at him
DEADLINE: But even after Negan offers him a role as a top lieutenant if he submits, Daryl won’t bow even for a tactical advantage, why?
REEDUS: He doesn’t have his weapons. He doesn’t have his friends. He’s being humiliated. He’s being tortured, and the only thing he has left is that, and he’s not giving that up. That last scene in the episode is not a fuck you, Negan. It’s a ‘this is all I have, and you can’t have it’ – and it’s got to be played like that.
DEADLINE: Is this what the rest of the season is going to be like and where it’s going to go?
REEDUS: You know, it’s an emotional season. It’s a different season for us. There’s a lot of heart in this season, and when and if it ever turns back around, it’ll be super large. It’ll be very powerful.
Andy and I joke all the time, remember when we were, like, badass on this show and we were like…and it’s different, you know? It’s harder for us. We’re not winning right now, but if you have a hero, he has to go all the way to the bottom before he can rise back up again, and hopefully, there’s light at the end of that tunnel, and that’s pretty much what this season’s about for everyone.
DEADLINE: So where is Daryl in all that, especially after the events of episode 3?
REEDUS: He’s completely guilt-ridden, man. You know, he’s got this family, and he lost one of his family members, and was it a result of something that he did? Maybe. He doesn’t know, you know? I would assume that he thought that if someone was going to get the bat after that punch, it was going to be him, you know, and he was willing to do it. He just wasn’t going to have this guy mock Abraham and mock Rosita in her face with a bloody bat and watch her cry. He can’t put up with that – and then that happened. But I’m sure that you’ll see Maggie and Daryl at some point run into each other, and it’ll be interesting, you know? It’ll be honest, and it’ll be interesting.
DEADLINE: Speaking of interesting, after the cliffhanger of the Season 6 finale, how you guys did a pretty good job of not letting anything slip out about it being Michael Cudlitz’s Abraham and Steven’s Glenn that would be killed in the Season 7 opener. How hard was that when everyone and their dog wanted to know?
REEDUS: You know, we were here in Georgia and worked the whole time. You know, we didn’t leave our little compound. So maybe it’s easier that way.
I never cross the line, but you know, with spoilers like that, we try really hard to keep those close to us. I mean, there’s so many groups out there trying to spoil our show, and you know, The Spoiling This and The Spoiling That, and it’s like, I get the enthusiasm and stuff, but to me, it’s like going to your house on Christmas and opening your presents and telling you what you got and then wrapping them back up, you know?
DEADLINE: In that vein, and with the very close scenes you guys share in ‘The Cell,’ what has it been like now having Jeffrey on the show?
REEDUS: He fits in like a glove in this cast and the show. When we first started this show, we started with such a strong cast. Everyone was 150 percent every single day about everything. When you work with people that have that attitude, it’s always fun, and it’s always real, and it’s always satisfying. You’re in it for an experience, and it happens, and you have confidence that it’s going to be great, and you can feel it while you’re doing it it’s great. Jeffrey has that. He came late in the show, but he came bringing that old school attitude and that drive – so it’s great working with him.
I have that bond with Andy. Whenever I have scenes with Andy, I’m like, yeah, this is going to be great. Jeffrey came with that attitude already engrained in him, and he came to play, and he’s fun, and he respects us, and we respect him.
DEADLINE: Off topic into another realm of fun, once you are on break from TWD, what can we expect for Season 2 of Ride With Norman Reedus, are you taking it outside of America this year?
REEDUS: (laughs) I’m excited to get back at it, man. It’s a nice, fun, positive job to do after this one that’s been so brutal. So yeah, we’re talking about taking it to some places outside of the U.S. and doing a lot of places in the U.S. I mean, you could do 50 episodes a year in the United States and not see every beautiful inch.
There are so many places to go here, so we’re talking about guests, and we’re talking about schedules, and we’ll start that stuff up in January, and how it’s all kind of like the planning of everything right now is happening. So there’ll be good music. There’ll be good guests. There’ll be cool spots.
DEADLINE: Back to Walking Dead for a sec, you guys came back with that Season 7 premiere with near-record ratings, Week 2, where you face a strong Sunday Night Football game and part of the World Series, had a 35% jump in viewership and a nearly 40% jump in the 18-49 demo in delayed viewing Live + 3 numbers – this far into a show that has broken all the ratings rules, what do those kind of numbers mean to you?
REEDUS: I don’t really watch the numbers like that, but I hear people talk about it on set and stuff. It’s great. It’s great, and the show’s getting better all the time. I say that every year, and it actually gets better every time, but yeah, we’re very thankful In fact, we’re super grateful that we have that many people that are watching us and liking what we’re doing, and we’re trying really hard to get the good stuff right.