Mania Interview: Michael Rooker and Robert Kirkman -

Mania Interview: Michael Rooker and Robert Kirkman

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Mania Interview: Michael Rooker and Robert Kirkman

Merle Dixon Returns!

By Joel Rickenbach     October 18, 2012

Mania had the chance to sit down with the cast of The Walking Dead this past weekend at New York Comic Con. We chatted with the cast and crew about their characters, their experiences on set, and what we can expect from season 3. Part two brings us comic creator, writer and producer, Robert Kirkman, and everyone's favorite one-handed redneck, Merle Dixon, played by the incomparable Michael Rooker.
Last we saw Merle he got his hand cut off on the top of a building, how does he come back into the fold in season 3?

Michael Rooker: Merle got his hand cut off? Merle had to cut his hand off. Yeah, he's not happy about that, it's not exactly a happy moment for him (laughter), yeah, hand is off, and next we see him his hand is healed, and he has a wee bit of an apparatus attached to it that serves him well in the zombie apocalypse.

(To Robert Kirkman) Is that something you would do in the comic?

Robert Kirkman: I think in the comic he'd have a chainsaw or something...

Michael Rooker: A bazooka!

Robert Kirkman: or a lazer... 


The Governor and Michonne are both introduced this season, and both characters are very much born from a comic book style of storytelling, did you do anything to make them fit the more realistic world of the show?

Robert Kirkman: What's interesting about introducing elements like the Governor and Michonne, you really start analyzing the world. You are saying- these are the kind of people that exist in the world now, and it shows a progression of time really well, and so it shows other people who have been existing separate from Rick and the others in the group, and shows how other people have adapted to what's going on. You have a character like Michonne, who has been living on her own, and she's been going around with this katana sword, and she's come up with this system with these pets who protect her to certain extent, and that's how she has survived. Everything that she's done may be somewhat fantastical, but is it more fantastical than a dead person getting up and walking around?  Everything that she does has been kind of worked out in reality, and something that does, to a certain extent, make sense.  And same with the Governor,  he is a little bit over-the-top, he is quite a bit of a bad guy. The choices that he makes, and the things that he lives through, that informs everything he does.

The fans have been clamoring for Merle's come back for a while, what would Merle's coming back to the group be like? 

Michael Rooker: Who says Merle wants to be back in the group? 

It would be interesting, Rick and his gang have bonded...

Michael Rooker: So what? Merle is Merle. He survived by taking care of his own ass, obviously no one else is going to do it for him. They left him on the rooftop cuffed- no food, no water. So, you know the guy is a survivor, he will do whatever it takes or whatever is needed to survive. I have no idea if my brother is even alive, so you heal, you wonder, you move on. So when you see me, and I'm back, and I'm walking around, and I haven't bled out, it's gonna be interesting. you're going to see some different shades, and a lot of changes.

So, has Merle achieved inner peace? 

Michael Rooker: What makes you say that?? Inner peace??

Robert Kirkman:  Listen, calm down, don't make him angry (laughter)

Michael Rooker: How dare you say Merle is all about love and peace! (laughter)


Who does Merle blame more for getting stuck on the roof? Rick, for Cuffing him, or T-dog for losing the keys?

Michael Rooker: I think Merle at first blames God for not answering him right away. He didn't answer, so hell, he'll do it himself- chop off that hand. You know what? at that point in time I think Merle blames everyone, including himself. He's just sort of that kind of person, that's who he was, but maybe that's not necessarily who he is now. These kind of events tend to change one, whether it's to the positive or negative I'm not going to say, you'll discover that during the show. But yeah, Merle's evolved and changed from when he first saw him.

Will we see how Merle gets from point A to point B?

Robert Kirkman: We tend to hint at those things, and handle them in the context of the ongoing story. There's a lot of story to tell, and we prefer to move forward just to get to that story. I've never liked stories that rely too heavily on flashback, I like to have a lot of forward momentum. I think going back and showing those things just slows the momentum. 

In the comic, and in the TV show, there are lots of surprises, but was there anything while filming the show that surprised you seeing it in the flesh?

Robert Kirkman: Yeah, there was a lot, I mean, I work with Glen Mazzara in the writers room, and there's  six other talented individuals who are working to craft stories for the show. I think that each and every one of them has surprised me in a big way. There's always new elements being thrown into the show that are really crazy, and stuff that I feel I could never have thought of on my own, and those are things that really excited me. There is a tremendous amount of really cool shocking things in the third season that I think diehard fans of the comic book series are not going to see coming in any way, and are actually going to love. This is a really cool season of television, people are going to be blown away.

Was there always a master plan for Merle to come back? Or was it due to the love of the character by the fans and the writing staff? Fans really took to Merle and his little brother Darryl...

Robert Kirkman: I think there was always a plan for the character of Merle coming back, and we didn't just want to leave him the way we left him, and ever see him again. I think once Rooker came in and made that role his own, it became much more of an imperative. It was something we really wanted to do to once it made sense in the story. I think the role expanded quite a bit once we saw what Rooker was doing with it... I'm going to pretend that he's not sitting right next to me... (laughter) 

Michael Rooker: I want to know the answer too!

Robert Kirkman: Once we saw what he created with the character, we fell in love with him just the way the audience fell in love with him. And we were able to catch that in advance before the episodes aired, so we were able to bring him back as an actor, which will grow into a much bigger thing in the third season.

Michael Rooker: I came on the show, and I'm thinking maybe one, maybe two episodes, that's it really. I had an inkling after the monologue on the roof, you know, there are hints afterward. We keep bringing the whole idea of Merle back- his bike, his stash of meds... Actually, Merle saved T-dog with his clap medicine, so it was little things like that. It was interesting how the idea of Merle and his brother just kept folding in these moments in the piece.  Because I'm a fan too, I watched the show religiously with my family, I really enjoy the show. And I see these little things and I'm thinking- well that's very cool, the way the writers are weaving things in, I really dug it. And that goes back to talking about flashbacks, and how they fold things In almost without you realizing it. I didn't see everything  the first time, sometimes it wasn't until the second time when it really hit home, it's very cool. 

So the entire group would be doomed if it wasn't for Merle...

Michael Rooker: Hell yeah, you get it- If it wasn't for me my poor brother wouldn't have a means of transportation, he'd be walking, you know?  Of course, T-dog, poor guy, thanks to the meds stashed in my bike, they saved a lot of people, actually. I think they all owe Merle  a debt of gratitude.

The show clearly establishes that anyone can die at any time, if Merle were to die, what would the show lose?

Michael Rooker: Merle!

What does he bring to the show that would be absent?

Michael Rooker: Merle.

Robert Kirkman: There's definitely a danger element with his character, as you seen season three, and I don't want to reveal too much, but you're going to kind of recognize him, and you'll think he's gonna go one way, and he kinda goes another way. He's very unpredictable in the way he handles other people and what his relationships are, and where his allegiances lie  to certain extent, and so I think the unpredictability of his character would be a major loss if that were to happen.

Speaking of dying, somebody major just died in the comic book, and the actor sent you an e-mail about it, what was that like?

Robert Kirkman:  it's.. it's somewhat uncomfortable, I don't want to spoil it for anybody, but yeah- the character that died in Walking Dead #100  is really the first time that somebody has died in the comic book while they were still an actor on the show portraying the character. All the other deaths in the comics happened previous to them being on the show, or died before the show existed. It's kind of an odd thing for me to be writing that story, and knowing that actor, and having to see them again at Comic Con for the first time since the issue came out, and going like  "Oh, hi, how are you? What's going on with you?" It was also just a very gruesome scene and a grisly death, and it was a little like- "Hey, I didn't really mean anything by it."

Michael Rooker: Nothing personal! 

Robert Kirkman: But because the comic and the show are so separate, it's not like we are set on that same path, and it's not necessarily something that's going to happen on the TV show, or anytime soon, so I think they understand... despite the letter that they wrote.

Check out Mania’s Interview with David Morrissey, who plays the Governor, and Danai Gurira, who plays the nomadic, katana wielding Michonne (here).



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JonnyRotten 10/18/2012 9:17:48 AM

 Not sure what to expect from Merle, I can't see him "helping" out Rick and his gang but who knows. Kirkman hinted at "you think he's gonna go one way and he goes another way" hmmmm

InnerSanctum 10/18/2012 2:21:54 PM

 I love it.  Michael in character during the interview.  I love that guy since I saw him in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.  He is even a local lad from my area of the woods.  Can't wait to see what he brings to the show.  

Glad Kirkman isn't about ego.  He writes his book, but is open that the show can go anywhere and that the writers come up with new ideas that take it in other directions.  A lot of creators have a problem with that kind of creavitve license (see King's Shining and Kubrick's interpretation.  For the record, I prefer the movie.)  



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