Nobody puts baby in a corner, and nobody puts Daryl Dixon in a train car. So how does Daryl feel about the predicament he’s in when season 5 of The Walking Dead kicks off Oct. 12 on AMC? We went and asked the man who plays him, Norman Reedus.
“Wow, he’s trapped in a box, so I think he’s probably pretty feral at the moment,” Reedus told us on a break from shooting his EW Walking Dead cover. “He’s probably a little scared which makes him a little more feral.” So there you have it. A feral Daryl.
But how has current Daryl changed from when we first met the character back in season 1? We asked Reedus that also because…well, he’s sitting right there at our photo shoot just sort of hanging out, so why not? “He’s changed a lot of ways since season 1,” says Reedus. “In season 1 he had such a chip on his shoulder and didn’t think people trusted him and he didn’t trust other people. Everything just kind of came out of the side of his head. This season he’s very much in your face and his shoulders are square to you and he means what he says. He’ll look you in the face. People rely on him now and I think before he thought people would cross the street if he was walking toward you. Now he’s an integral part of the group. People trust him and I think he’s accepted that trust.”
By now you likely know the story of P.T., the interactive demo released for PS4 during Gamescom 2014 that turned out to be a teaser for the next Silent Hill game, entitled Silent Hills. The teaser revealed that the game will be a joint collaboration between Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro, and that it will star Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus. That’s some serious star power, but will a real actor like Reedus be able to live up to the digital performances of Silent Hill’s past?
One could look back at Reedus’s filmography for reference — a selection of minor roles and a cult following thanks to Boondock Saints — but we all know it’s his role as Daryl Dixon that landed him the job as new protagonist of Silent Hill. His troubled but lovable hillbilly character is one of the show’s highlights, and certainly Reedus’s best work by quite a large margin. I wouldn’t call Daryl Silent Hill protag material, though, especially when you compare him to the more muted heroes of the series past.
From Harry Mason in the original game, to James Sunderland in Silent Hill 2, all the way to Murphy Pendleton in Downpour, the leading roles of the series have always been plain, ordinary, soft-spoken guys. They’re everymen with dark issues at their hearts. Daryl certainly has his share of darkness, and he keeps to himself, but placed beside Silent Hill’s men he may as well be a clown on a unicycle juggling flaming chickens. He is a well-defined character, where Silent Hill’s protagonists are boring and ill-defined by design. They’re meant to be ciphers to a certain extent, allowing anyone in the audience to place themselves within the role and suffer alongside them.
Place Daryl directly into Silent Hill’s world and make him the star, and you may run into issues. If your playable character is larger than life, than the scares lose some of their bite. Suddenly his dilemmas are a bit less relatable, and the character is no longer “you” but someone else. That works fine for many games, but the most enjoyable horror protagonists of the past have always been relatable. They’re regular people like you or I, reacting to a terrible situation in the same way you’d expect.
That said, the game industry is maturing at a rapid rate. What passed as a perfect Silent Hill protagonist in the past may come off as “yet another generic white guy” in our more diversified culture. A plain, white, male “cipher” may be relatable for me, a white male, but it isn’t for a bunch of other people. Maybe it’s time the generic cipher role dies altogether.