The Walking Dead’s Michael Rooker On Playing Merle Dixon


When folks think about Merle Dixon, it is not all positive.  We saw Michael Rooker play this character with an amazing kick butt performance that left us hating him, loving him, and sometimes really mad at his words and actions.  For every time we got to see him as a loving, protective brother to Daryl, we saw him say something racist or do something to unnecessarily put a character in danger.

Recently, Michael Rooker spoke with The San Antonio Current about playing one of the most polarizing figures every to grace The Walking Dead.  Here are some of the best excerpts from the interview:

One of the most interesting things about Merle is the deep fan reaction he elicited. What do you think it was about Merle Dixon, who is definitely not the nicest guy in the world, that made people love him so much?

"I think Merle had a little bit of everybody in him. All of us can be not the nicest people in the world, but we all have this inner core when it comes to family that everybody can relate to, and we all wanna think that we would pay the ultimate price for one of our loved ones. That struck a real chord, and I think because of that this character has become even more popular after his death than he was during his life on The Walking Dead. I notice it in the Comic-Cons, and on the street, and in places like the ArcLight Theater. I was walking down the street, and a lady who does the caramel corn came out from working just to stop me and ask if she could give me a hug. I said, “Of course!” And she almost started weeping. She gave me a hug, and then asked,  “Can I give you something?” She took me back inside and gave me the freshest caramel corn she had finished making — I tell you, that stuff would just melt in your mouth."

You’re talking here about Merle’s racist aggression towards T-Dogg, and his comments to Andrea and the others immediately before and after Rick chains him to the pipe in “Guts” (Season 1, Ep. 2). I remember thinking at the time that he meant those things to a point, but that he was also just trying to see what reaction he could provoke.

"Right. Definitely Merle was raised a certain way, so his sexism and racism is embedded in his upbringing, but you know, it did not matter one bit who ultimately came on top of that rooftop and told him to stop shooting. It did not matter if the person was red, green, yellow, purple or brown. They were about to get a full double barrel load of Merle Dixon. That’s a fact, Jack. And I want you to make sure people realize that Merle Dixon cannot swing the first punch. All he can do is try to get their goat and try to get back at them in some way.So when he’s up on that roof, for the other members of the group to listen to this stranger who’s not been a part of the group, who, you know what, is no longer a cop — the world has ended, buddy, you aren’t a cop any more, we don’t have to listen to you, okay? — and for them to kowtow, to literally kowtow and listen to this guy and let him handcuff his group member like that, no matter who he is — at first, Merle is all high, he’s back to his verbally inflicting ways. But when they don’t unhook him, it really hurts his feelings, and he’s affected."

For more in the excellent interview with The San Antonio Current, visit