The Walking Dead is known for its willingness to kill off any character — even Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes isn’t safe from death — but we always assumed that the demise of any major character was fairly well thought out. However, during Walker Stalker Con in Atlanta at the start of November, special effects guru and frequent TWD director Greg Nicotero admitted that one important character’s passing was actually largely unplanned.
According to Greg, Merle Dixon’s demise was a “last-minute decision.” He explains via Comicbook.com, “The trick with Michael [Rooker] was that him dying was sort of a last minute thing. Like, it wasn’t planned out at the beginning of the season. As we were going, it was like, ‘God, we love this character, and he’s so great.’ And, then I was directing that episode, and they called and were like, ‘Ok, so Merle’s going to die.’ And I went, ‘Oh, my god, are you kidding me? Really? I killed Dale. Now, I have to kill Merle.”
Poor Greg has directed his fair share of TWD episodes with significant character’s deaths. And even though Greg also admitted that he was scared of the reaction Merle’s portrayer Michael Rooker would have to his on-screen counterpart’s demise, he says the way Norman Reedus (Daryl Dixon) played Daryl’s reaction is what really got to him.
“It was an easy scene for me to direct because Norman’s performance was so spot on that I got emails from people, ‘You made cry, man. That was bulls***.’ I just forwarded them on to Norman. It wasn’t me. It was him,” Greg explained.
Are you surprised to learn that Merle’s death wasn’t planned? Share your thoughts below!
The Walking Dead airs Sunday nights at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.