"When we started 'The Walking Dead,' no one knew it would become what it would become." That's actor Michael Rooker reflecting on the AMC series during Emerald City Comic-Con alongside co-star Danai Gurira who joined the series in the season two finale as Michonne.
The duo--who'll happily respond to their character names from the show--came ready to talk about Michonne and Merle during their raucous panel where they were joined by a very special guest...
(It was "The Walking dead" artist Charlie Adlard.)
Gurira says that she's fascinated by fan reaction to the show and the way viewers have a sort of "indignant righteousness" about the characters in the series. Both actors agree that the appeal of the series is viewers projecting their own choices onto the characters, in a strange way making the show a family series where everyone gathers around to argue about the hows and whys of the show.
When asked about when he knew Merle would be coming back to the series, he only expected to be in a couple of episodes, not even knowing that he'd get a monologue done as VO over his severed hand. He says that after his final season one episode, he was ready to fly home when he was told to come back for the VO reading and only learned about his return in season three during his second season episode as a fever-induced hallucination for Daryl.
Gurira talked about her lifelong competitiveness inspiring her to play Michonne despite her background in Shakespeare and work as a playwright. She says the the survival scenarios of "The Walking Dead" reminded her of her research into post-war Liberia and the women who were forced to become rebel soldiers (she describes them as "formidable"). When she read Michonne, she realized the character was a woman in a war zone, in line with Black Diamond, one of those women Gurira encountered during her work in Liberia.
"We just see what happens after her trauma," Gurira says of her character's reticence to speak in the series. She's trusted the wrong characters and now she's keeps her thoughts to herself.
Asked about how close Merle is to his own personality, Rooker says he was told by "The Walking Dead" producers that the character was a hunter and fisherman and so close to what they thought of the actor in real life. When he was told about the character's fate, he jumped at the opportunity to play a guy who was such a survivalist that he'd cut his own hand off. He joked that everyone's family has a Merle in it with fans coming up to him saying "Oh my god, you're like my uncle. We don't invite him very much!" Of the fight between Merle and T-Dog on the rooftop, he says that brawl wasn't about race, at that point Merle would have beaten Carl up if the child came up to the roof to tell him to stop shooting at the zombies swarming the Atlanta streets.
On whether Merle has changed or can be trusted, Rooker says that even Daryl--having grown up with Merle--distrusts his brother. Rooker says that for all that, Merle is trying to change. When he tells the group that they're not safe in the prison, it's not to terrorize them, it's to make them aware that the Governor and his group can strike anytime they want. "Look at what they did the first time they did in a raid--[the Governor's people] took out eight guys!" Rooker says at the same time, he's not even really trying to help--he's just speaking matter-of-factly about their increasingly dire situation.
On the recent prison courtyard conversation between Michonne and Andrea, that was about the former trying to get through to the latter, to get Andrea to see how bad things have gotten. She talks about Michonne growing to trust the group of allowing Herscell to tend to her wounds after being assaulted by the Governor and taking his eye. "She knows that there's a community here," Gurira says, adding that her character needs to be a part of a group if she wants to survive.
With Merle, Michonne now no longer sees Dixon as a threat. Gurira says she truly sees the character who now no longer has any place to go and no way to harm the group.
"The Walking Dead" airs Sundays at 9 on AMC.