SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details of tonight’s The Walking Dead Season 8 debut & 100th episode
“It’s a lot of Rick’s story, so we’re following Rick’s plan, and we’re seeing it through Rick’s eyes,” said The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus of tonight’s Season 8 debut, Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes character and the zombie apocalypse blockbuster’s 100th episode that just aired.
Coming off last year’s transitional season, as executive producer Gale Anne Hurd has called it, tonight’s episode titled “Mercy” took a look back to the AMC series’ past and pulled the trigger repeatedly on the “All Out War” with Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan — a detail that the cabler has been hyping for this season.
With all that, and just before tonight’s live screening of TWD at L.A. Greek Theatre, Reedus chatted with me about what Season 8 holds for Daryl Dixon, the rest of the Survivors, the criticism of Season 7 and whether the crossbow carrier will be at the center of the recently announced upcoming crossover between TWD and spinoff Fear The Walking Dead. The Boondock Saints alum also discussed the second season of his Ride With Norman Reedus that premieres on November 5, what reaching 100 episodes of the series based on Robert Kirkman’s comics means, why he’s a big supporter of Marvel’s The Punisher and standing in the footsteps of Iggy Pop.
DEADLINE: The season opener sees Rick rise up after being so beaten down by Negan and the bloodshed of last season. Daryl is obviously a big part of the initial attack on the Saviors but after all, he went through as a prisoner of Negan’s last year, seems like he has some unfinished business of his own — some personal revenge?
REEDUS: There definitely is. I mean, we’re sticking to a plan in the first episode. Everybody has their job in the plan, and it’s a very thought-out, well-conceived plan. But yeah, Daryl’s just out for revenge at this point. He’s tired of playing around. He’s tired of waiting, and there are several moments this whole season where Daryl pretty much goes rogue. He wants to do something faster and quicker, which might not be the smartest thing to do, but he’s just fed up. He’s ready for revenge.
DEADLINE: With all the celebration of the show hitting its 100th episode with the Season 8 debut, how has Daryl changed for you from last season and over the run of The Walking Dead?
REEDUS: He’s back to being himself now, and I think he’s smarter now too. You know, he started off as such a hot head, and he would just blow up at anything. Now he’s kind of still quiet at times. He looks at all the chess pieces on the board now instead of saying “I have the queen, I’m just going to plow through everyone.” He really looks to see what pieces you got and [what] he has and what he can do with them. He’s more studied now and he’s become wiser.
DEADLINE: With that wisdom, what has been the biggest challenge for the eighth season for you?
REEDUS: Well, it’s a lot of Rick’s story, so we’re following Rick’s plan, and we’re seeing it through Rick’s eyes. The biggest challenge I think is fitting in with the group. I mean, you could take every single character on this show and make a spinoff off every single one. So, when you have this many characters on a show, sometimes people are spinning left, people are spinning right, but the whole direction is we’re going forward. So you always got to keep in mind what the main goal is towards the end, you know?
DEADLINE: Well Norman, talking about spinoff, after the revelation that you guys dropped at New York Comic-Con about the Fear the Walking Dead crossover with TWD, is Daryl going to be the crossover character?
REEDUS: I couldn’t tell you that. Come on.
DEADLINE: OK, but a lot of people think he should be. Actually, it makes a lot of sense with the timelines of the two shows…
REEDUS: It could be any one of us, to be honest. But, I can’t tell you spoilers like that because Robert would kill me.
DEADLINE: Which would kill any potential crossover in one blow too. Looking back at Season 7, after the huge opener of the death of Steven Yeun’s Glenn and Michael Cudlitz’s Abraham, there was a lot of rumbling that the show lost its way a bit in what EP Gale Anne Hurd has now said was a transitional season. What’s your take and how do you think this new season course corrects?
REEDUS: I don’t know if it felt like The Walking Dead lost its way. It was just put in a different direction for a minute. I mean, you can’t tell the same story over and over every season. It can’t be everyone’s got their mojo on and roller skating 300 miles an hour towards each other every single episode of every season. The reason it felt paused is because our group was put on hold. We were put in our place.
DEADLINE: How was that from your perspective?
REEDUS: I used to say to (showrunner) Scott Gimple, “Man, this season sucks for me.” He’s said, “It’s supposed to.” I think if it sucks for me doing it, people are going to watch it and be like, oh, man, that poor guy. That’s part of the story that we’re telling, and to show what a formidable opponent Negan is. To show what a badass he is, we had to take that stance.
DEADLINE: So, Season 7’s lulls, so to speak, had to happen as part of the larger TWD story?
REEDUS: Oh yeah. The whole story has to sell that character as being the type of guy that can throw us all in the hole and torture us and put us on pause. So the characters have to play those parts, you know what I mean? If he came in swinging his bat, talking all this, and we were like, come on, let’s fight, you know, we’re not scared of you, and then nobody would’ve been scared of him. We had to play those parts. That’s the story that we told
DEADLINE: Speaking of the story, this is of course not just the Season 8 premiere but the 100th episode of The Walking Dead, a big benchmark for any series on broadcast, cable or streaming. AMC has been marketing the hell out of it but inside the TWD family, what’s it actually like to hit 100?
REEDUS: It’s mind blowing, I have to tell you. I haven’t done TV really before this. You know, Jeff’s been on, like, 100 shows, He’s been in every kind of show there is I think at this point. I only really did movies before this. On a movie, you have such a short amount of time to do the arc of a character and show growth in a character. So just being able to have the time to work on one character this long has been such a joy.
DEADLINE: I guess part of the joy for the show also has to be looking back. Greg Nicotero, who directed the Season 8 opener, revealed to fans at New York Comic-Con that there was a homage in the 100th episode at the very beginning with a shot-by-shot sequence. It’s a nice move, but was it one you thought important?
REEDUS: We’ve always put little Easter eggs in episodes. They’ve always been there, and sometimes people find them, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes I don’t even know about them while we’re doing them, to be honest. But, in this case, it was about giving back to the fans, you know?
I don’t think we ever thought we would hit 100 episodes, and we definitely didn’t in the very beginning. So, I think it’s a giving back to the fans for sticking with us and you know, being fans of the show and supporting us. It’s like a little gift, and it was fun to do.
DEADLINE: Your character was not and is not part of the original comics. With this season so closely aligned with the comics, does that outsider role offer opportunities?
REEDUS: I’ve always kind of liked being outside of the comic book. In the beginning, I really wanted to be in the comic book, and there were lots of teases with the Dwight character and so forth. You know, they created that Dwight character after Daryl was already on the air. So I know that influenced that character being written, which is quite the compliment right there.
You know, there’s a quote from an old Willem Dafoe movie where he walks inside, and somebody says, “So how was it?” He goes, “The door was wide open.” It kind of feels like that to me
DEADLINE: You know, obviously, based on how last season went, are Negan and Daryl going to go face to face this year at some point?
REEDUS: You know, I can’t tell you, but wouldn’t that be rad?
DEADLINE: What we do know is that you and Jeff are going to go lane to lane on the new season of Ride. How has that show changed from Season 1 to the upcoming season?
REEDUS: The first season of Ride, we were kind of learning as we were going along. I’m really proud of the first season, but the Season 2 of that show is so much better just because of what we learned along the way, you know?
DEADLINE: How so?
REEDUS: Well, I think the show originally was kind of starting off to be more of a show about mechanics and showing off certain motorcycles and more like Top Gear. Now it’s turned into more of an Anthony Bourdain style vibe, which I like much better. I think it flows easily and it’s friendlier. You open yourself up to learning more. You know, the relationships that you form and the people that you meet, it’s all super genuine, and it’s all fun, and it’s not scripted in any way.
For me, it’s a more fluid way of making that show, and I think we had to go through the trials and tribulations of Season 1 of just learning and doing it first to figure some things out, and we’ve really gotten to a point in that show where it’s really, really cool.
DEADLINE: You know that people follow your every move online and sometimes they blur the line between Daryl and you, the real person. Showing your friendship with Jeff, talking about other aspects of your life in Season 2 of Ride, was that spotlight something that concerned you?
REEDUS: Well, you know, I did go through a couple of seasons of Walking Dead where I kind of read every single thing in the world, But the result of that is you kind of get freaked out about it. Now I really don’t pay attention to the online world as much as I could. I mean, you know, I like to give. I just don’t like to read.
So, as far as Ride goes, that’s me every day. I’m that big of a goofball every single day. I’ve known Jeffrey for, like, 20 years now, and we live near each other. We ride motorcycles together all the time. It’s fun to show that in the show. He’s a really good friend of mine as is Andy. I’d have Andy on the show, too, if he knew how to ride a motorcycle. I’ve been trying to teach him forever.
DEADLINE: Another good friend of yours and a TWD alum Jon Bernthal has a new show coming out as Marvel’s The Punisher finally debut next month. Punisher has become a big thing unto itself, what’s that like looking at from stage left so to speak?
REEDUS: It feels great. Jon’s one of my best friends. I talk to Jon all the time. I’m proud of him and I’m going to support his show. I wear Punisher hats and t-shirts all the time when I’m in public doing public things. I think Jon kicks ass in everything he does, and he’s a really hard worker, and he’s super honest, and you know, he kills it every single time.
DEADLINE: Tonight The Walking Dead is premiering on AMC obviously but there’s a big event at the Greek Theatre here in L.A. and a live Talking Dead right after. A couple of years ago, you guys debuted the show at Madison Square Garden, last year it was at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. You guys spend most of the year shooting the show off in 101-degree heat and soaking humidity in rural Georgia, so what is it like to be at this type of event in front of all these fans who are getting their first significant look at the new season?
REEDUS: It makes me really nervous, to be honest. I get a little nervous, but then you hear the people screaming and the people clapping, and it makes you feel good. It makes you feel like you’re doing something cool. I’ve never been at the Greek Theatre, but I heard Iggy Pop played there, so I get to walk out on the stage that Iggy Pop played on, so that’s cool.