'Walking Dead' star Michael Rooker says 'expect the unexpected of Merle'
Things haven’t been going so well for Rick Grimes and his gang since taking over the prison at the start of “The Walking Dead’s” Season 3.
There have been dozens of walkers to take out, issues with devious prisoners, major losses for the group and a zombie-bomb attack, courtesy of The Governor and his Woodbury crew. Most recently though, the prison has taken on a new challenge -- letting Michael Rooker’s Merle Dixon back into the group.
An unpredictable character with a foul mouth, Merle is, “sort of like your drunk uncle ... You can’t take him to a Christmas party or anything,” Norman Reedus, who plays younger Dixon sibling, Daryl, previously told Access Hollywood.
But, whether Merle will be able to fit in with Rick’s group at the prison remains to be seen. His concern for his brother, combined with his firsthand knowledge of The Governor’s dirty dealing style, already prompted him into a physical with Glenn (Steven Yeun) last week.
So what’s next? AccessHollywood.com spoke to Rooker to find out. We also chatted about his scenes with Reedus earlier in the season, and Rooker shared his thoughts on how Merle should be judged not by today’s standards, but by zombie apocalypse rules.
AccessHollywood.com: One of the things that’s been so fun this second half of Season 3 is you and Norman finally have some proper screen time together. You didn’t share the screen in Season 1, and you technically weren’t a character in Season 2 -- you were a vision of Daryl’s delusions.
Rooker: My character was still there and because of the way they wrote it, they have my bike, they have my stash, they keep bringing back and mentioning Merle. So, in a subliminal way, the audience is still sensing Merle’s presence. [It was very] interesting, very cool how that was sort of folded into what was going on in the show without my actual physical presence.
Access: When the second half of Season 3 rolled around, how excited you were to have interactions with Norman on screen?
Rooker: It’s about time, don’t ya’ think? Holy s---! I was like, ‘Oh my God; finally we get to actually have words together!’
Access: You two have an incredible chemistry ... Are you friends on set, do you do stuff together?
Rooker: When we work together, the scenes that we are together on screen doing are electrifying and the audience knows it, AMC must see it, it’s obvious and yet, there’s still not a lot of stuff that we do. It’s sort of like you bring it out there and then you take it away, probably making the audience want it even more and that’s what they did with Merle. And it’s kind of a cool way of putting it out there and then sort of hiding it [so] you’re constantly looking for Merle, you’re constantly wondering, ‘Did Merle shoot the deer with the gun that went through and shot the kid?’ You’re constantly wondering, ‘Is Merle doing this stuff?’ ... So I became for a while [there], the boogeyman, right?
Access: It’s true.
Rooker: It’s true, isn’t it (laughs). I mean, I sort of became the boogeyman and everything bad that happened, ‘Merle must have done that!’ ‘Oh, I bet you Merle did that!’ It was very interesting how the audience would sort of speculate [over] what happened to Merle and so by not telling it, was way more exciting to have this Merle that is sort of like omnipresent somewhere out there seeking his vengeful acts.
Access: We got to see Merle’s heroic side when the second half of Season 3 returned in February -- he worked to save his brother in the ring at Woodbury. Do you think that opened the door for your character to make some great changes or do you think Merle is always going to be a not great guy?
Rooker: Merle is not a not great guy. I think Merle is actually a survivor. His thinking is quite linear. A lot of the decisions being made, like for example, unfortunately there’s a child involved and unfortunately there’s a mother and a father and a son, think about it now -- you can’t keep judging Merle or any of these other characters by the way we live today in regular society. This is not regular society anymore. Society no longer exists. This is self-preservation. This is plain and simple survival of the fittest and if, in fact, you go around saving everybody or try to save everybody every time ... you risk your own life.
Access: And you waste energy.
Rooker: You’re expending energy fighting the zombies. Look, we just finished trying to find food to eat in the woods, we couldn’t, there was no food, we did not eat. We gotta be hungry, we gotta be weakened by this and Merle’s attitude is, you’re gonna go up there, pretty much risk your life, waste your energy, and you’re gonna save these people that in probably two days, three days’ time, on down the road, they’re gonna end up being zombie meat anyway. This is the kind of thinking process that Merle goes through ... You want to live to see next week; don’t waste your time and your energy ... But, it’s interesting that his connection to his brother and his family is intense, there’s no one that he cares about more, no one that he cares about period, I think, but his brother and that’s just it, that’s the way it is. And he’ll do anything for his brother.
Access: What are we going to see of Merle ahead? He knows The Governor, he’s got some special inside knowledge, Rick’s facing some big decisions and then there’s the Daryl factor.
Michael: Yeah, I think that’s what motivated Merle in regards to going for his brother [and attempting to leave the prison last week] because he knows The Governor and he knows what a lying, basically piece of s--- the guy is and Merle’s thinking is, ‘If I don’t’ get there, my brother’s not gonna come back.’ It was very interesting what went down and I think Merle -- the way I’ve been playing it -- even though he’s been in prison before and in the stockade while he was in the military and stuff, it’s not a good place for him. He doesn’t fare well behind closed, [locked] doors.
Access: Since your character knows him so well, what can you hint at about how dangerous The Governor truly is?
Rooker: It’s obvious how dangerous The Governor is. We just saw it ... It becomes quite clear that he’s not going to play the game by the rules, by most civil rules. He’s going to invite them in to bring in Michonne and then he’s going to slaughter them all.
Access: Can we expect Merle to help out Rick in the coming weeks? He certainly could use the manpower, let’s face it!
Rooker: Rick could use probably a good doctor at this point.
Access: It’s true, but he’s got Hershel.
Rooker: I mean a different kind of doctor. A doctor that can help him sort out his issues (laughs).
Access: I don’t think Dr. Phil survived the apocalypse, I’m gonna be honest.
Rooker: I don’t think so either (laughs).
Access: Can we expect Merle and Michonne to get along at all?
Rooker: You know what you can expect of Merle? You can expect the unexpected of Merle ... and I think that’s what the audiences like ... Merle is one of these guys that -- he is extremely unpredictable, you’re not sure where’s he’s coming from most of the time and we make it fairly clear in the show his commitment to his brother and his blood and from then on, whatever you get from Merle is hopefully gonna be a surprise and the less you know about Merle, as far as I’m concerned, the better. The more questions you have in regards to my motivations and all this kind of stuff, the better I like it. When you walk away from an episode that I’ve been in and you have more questions than answers -- I’ve done my job.