After all that Daryl is put through at the Savior’s compound and his guilt, it would be easy for him to give into Negan.

It’s fair to say that Daryl is not in a good place right now on The Walking Dead. Watching this week’s episode, it almost seems like Daryl has given up. He doesn’t fight back, even as he’s dragged around the Sanctuary, fed dog food sandwiches, and left naked in a dark cell.

Broken But Not Gone

Despite his broken spirit, Daryl still refuses to submit to Negan though. And he has a good reason. “First off, in that first scene, even being in that jail cell, Daryl’s thinking he deserves it,” says actor Norman Reedus. “Like, whatever happens to him, he deserves it, but he can’t say he’s Negan because it would give up all of the hope that Glenn had. Glenn was this optimistic guy. He was his friend. He’s done so much, and that’s the last thread of humanity that he has left, is saving face for his friend. It’s as much for Glenn as it is for Daryl, you know? That’s the last thing he has left.”

Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon in The Walking Dead episode 'The Cell'Image Credit: AMC Dixon

If he won’t submit to Negan but also won’t fight back, is Daryl just waiting to die? “No, Daryl’s a fighter,” says Reedus. “He fights to the end, but in saying out loud his name instead of Negan’s name — it’s the last shred of himself that he has and for his friends. I assume he thinks he’s going to get killed right there when he says he’s not Negan. He’s signing up for more torture, but he’s doing it for the love of his friend.

“He can’t say that he’s Negan. He’ll never do that. He’ll fight, but matters of the heart to Daryl are hard. They mean more. Hit him in the face with the bat. String him up. Feed him dog food. Whatever. He can handle that, but when it comes to matters of the heart, they’re hard for him, and he’s learning, and those are the things that give him faith and hope, and he can’t let go of that because that’s the last thing he has left.”

The Emotional Knife’s Edge

Near the end of the episode, Dwight leaves a Polaroid photo of Glenn’s remains in Daryl’s cell. It’s at that point that Daryl finally breaks down emotionally. “I think part of me’s always teetering on that edge every single day, to be honest, but you just go back. You just feel it,” says Reedus. “You get in the fetal position, and you just go there. I think early on in this show, I would play a song, and I would get it in my head.

“I think being on the show this long, there’s just a switch. You just hit a switch, and you go there. It’s always stored in the back of your head, and it’s not hard to go there. It’s harder to stop. It’s harder to come back than it is to go there sometimes. It’s not a trick or anything like that. You go there at 1 p.m., and you just kind of snap out of it at about 6. Just stay like that, pretty much.”

Bringing Pain to Life

Shooting scenes like that may not be fun, but the crew makes it easier for Reedus. “It sucks. I’m not kidding; it’s no fun, but I’m not that kind of an actor that can get up and have a Coke and talk to people and just go back,” he says. “I mean, I’m not Meryl Streep. You know what I mean? I just have to go suffer until it’s over and then leave. I’m not that good turning it on and off.

“I do have to give a shout-out to the crew, because it’s such a comfortable set, and everybody trusts each other there, that they allow you to do stuff like that. They don’t talk and crack jokes in the jail cell. It’s a very serious set, and everybody wants the best thing to end up on the TV show. So they allow you to go there, and it’s almost like this sort of support group. They’re very respectful of all the actors on the set, and so I don’t think it would be as easy with a different crew.”