Former The Walking Dead actor Michael Rooker said one of the reasons Merle Dixon was written off the show was AMC didn't know "what to do" with the character. The veteran actor sat down for an interview with SyFy Wire on Friday ahead of his virtual appearance at GalaxyCon and talked about several roles he's taken over the course of his career. Rooker said producers and then-showrunner Frank Darabont knew they wanted Merle to be a part of the show but "held off" because they couldn't figure out how to use him.
Merle first appeared in Season 1, Episode 2 of The Walking Dead when Rick Grimes attempted to get in the middle of a fight between Merle and a Black character named T-dog. Merle was unapologetically racist during his short run in that first season, and Rooker believes that's one of the reasons he didn't get much screen time early on. He appeared twice in Season 1 and just once in Season 2. His Season 2 appearance was as a hallucination by his brother, Daryl (Norman Reedus).
"It's basically three years of work, and they held off on the second season. I'm not sure AMC knew what to do with the character," Rooker said. "They held off and they held off, and the moment I came back in the sequence when Norman's character has fallen down into the ravine and I end up being his guardian angel who comes to him and antagonizes him enough to force him to get up and climb. It was just a gorgeous way to bring the character back."
Rooker became a series regular in Season 3 of The Walking Dead. Merle hooked up with The Governor and his crew as a kind of right-hand man. The character was finally killed off in that season.
When The Walking Dead began its run, Rooker was one of the more well-known faces in the cast. Earlier this year, the actor surmised one of the reasons AMC allowed his character to be killed off so early in the series was his relative fame which led to an asking price the network wasn't willing to pay. He said he thought the producers were "cheap" and wanted to save money by killing him off.
Rooker seems to have a sense of humor about his time with the show these days, however. Asked during the interview whether or not he was surprised The Walking Dead is still going, he joked about it.
"Yeah, I thought they'd just close it up after I died."