The Walking Dead: Who Is Merle Dixon?

Michael Rooker as Merle Dixon, The Walking Dead - AMC
Michael Rooker as Merle Dixon, The Walking Dead - AMC /

Merle Dixon. Much like Morgan, Merle made quite a lasting impression on fans of The Walking Dead in a short amount of time in the show’s first season. He entered and exited our apocalyptic world quickly not to return for quite a while, but we never forgot about him. Unlike Morgan, the reasons he made such a lasting impression were very different.

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I remember very clearly meeting Merle. Meeting Merle not only told me about Merle, but told me quite a bit about my favorite-show-to-be in general. It told me that it was going to be fearless with its characters and with its dialogue. The characters were not going to be simple and one-dimensional. Yes, Merle appeared to be a loud mouthed bully who used racist language, “Mr Yo,” but he wasn’t a stereotype and he still had a spark of likeability. You could even tell that the others in the group were strangers, but had quickly grown accustomed to just letting his yelling not bother them.

In that first meeting of Merle we are repulsed be his behavior, we laugh at his condescension and arrogance with Andrea and the voting for who’s in charge, we cheer for Rick putting him in his place, and we are horrified and heartbroken for both Tdog and Merle when that key falls in the drain and Merle begs not to be left on the roof. We hope against hope that he will be fine when they return and can’t believe that Lori and Shane are against the trip to go back. 

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The exchange with Tdog telling Merle to try some positivity for a change and listening to Merle just go on and on was a funny preview of times to come when Merle just didn’t know when to shut up! I find that a hilarious personality trait of Merle. He just doesn’t shut up. I think many insecure people have that trait. They bully and pick on others and talk, talk, talk.  I find Merle’s racism a product of his insecurity as well. He’s just finding something to pick at. I don’t think it’s race necessarily that bothers him, it’s a way of feeling superior in any way to a stranger. He liked Shumpert and Martinez. He even liked Michonne after he knew her.

Merle was uncharacteristically submissive with The Governor.  I think The Governor was a few levels more evil than Merle and it threw him as to how to respond. But he was respected and given authority and safety so he shut up a little more than normal. Of course, with Milton, he got cocky and mouthy again.

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People talked quite a bit about redemption when Merle let Michonne go and went to kill the Governor.  I don’t think Merle changed very much at all. He was the same Merle. Michonne may have helped him understand a few things, but Merle was still Merle. Merle was surviving and knew he was not welcome in Woodbury anymore and the Governor would be attacking and he and his brother and the group would not survive. He was working on instinct and adrenaline.  Move in. Attack the Governor and take out as many people as you can. If it goes bad, it goes bad. It could go bad if they attack the prison. But you never go into a battle thinking you’re sacrificing yourself.  You know in the back of your head that it’s possible but you say,

here I go

and hope for the best!

I don’t know the reasons for the things that I do. Never did. I’m a damn mystery to me.

Merle and Daryl had a great and complicated relationship that was interestingly played out on-screen in that much of the time the two characters were not on-screen together. In Daryl’s hallucinations while looking for Sophia, we saw into Merle’s taunting and bullying big brother ways, calling Daryl Derlina and making fun of him and trying to prod and push him into getting back up. Daryl talks quite a bit now about needing other people leading me to believe that Merle’s reaction to whatever abuse and addiction they witnessed and endured as kids prompted Merle to be a big talker and a person who tried not to need anyone. 

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I’m glad that people see Merle as having redeemed himself in some ways and didn’t hate Merle, but I’m also glad that the writers didn’t have Merle completely change in character. Evolving or growing is one thing; many of the characters have changed and evolved, but the core of Merle needed to stay Merle. And it did.

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