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The brothers Dixon

Updated on May 8, 2013

***Warning: This Hub contains spoilers***

The Walking Dead television series has become one of the greatest shows to ever grace the little screen. Based on the phenomenal comic book series, creator Robert Kirkman adapted the story for television in a unique manner. The comic book had already outlined an unfolding story that would have been well-suited for television, yet Kir kman opted to take the show down a different road. Storylines changed, characters were omitted and characters were added. It was as if the television show resides in a parallel universe from the comic book, with “what if?” scenarios at every turn.

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While a risky move for Kirkman, the changes to the story made for compelling television. It also allowed comic book fans to watch without knowing every move of the characters. The show has been made so beautifully, with empathetic characters, gorgeous sets, amazing writing and nail-biting plot twists, that it stands alone as a creation. What no one could foresee is that two of the most loved (and love-to-hate) characters were ones that did not exist in the original comic book series.

Merle and Daryl Dixon

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Character synopsis

When viewers first meet Merle Dixon (played by the incomparable Michael Rooker), he is on top of a roof in downtown Atlanta in the middle of a racist tirade against the lovable T-Dog. Merle is a lowly guy, one that most would not want to associate with in real life. The dirty, greasy redneck has an air of superiority that he carried with him into the zombie apocalypse. The current state of the world made for people just like him. He was not humbled into change by the threat of imminent death; instead he allowed his ego to grow as if he was in a world-wide game of king of the hill. While Merle’s verbal abuse turned into an all-out physical assault, Officer Rick Grimes quickly subdued him and handcuffed him to a pipe on the roof. When the zombies overrun the building, T-Dog goes to remove the handcuffs and accidentally drops the key, forever losing it. He leaves Merle behind, but secures the door the best he could so zombies could not get through.

Rick, T-Dog and crew go back to the camp on the outskirts of town, where viewers first learn of Merle’s brother, Daryl (played by Norman Reedus of The Boondock Saints fame). The group mentions Daryl by name only, with a threatening tone that he will not be happy to learn his brother has been left behind on the roof of a building. The warnings are accurate: when Daryl first appears he is highly upset by the circumstances of his brother’s situation. Just as scruffy as his older brother, Daryl heads back to town with a group of survivors to save Merle. They head to the roof of the building, only to discover that Merle has used a hacksaw to remove his hand and escape the cuffs.

Merle is not seen again until season two. In the meantime, Daryl’s character evolves into a reluctant hero. He is somewhat shy in his newfound life, wanting true acceptance for the first time in his life while not wanting to admit to needing love. Daryl does fine with his new position in his family of survivors, until the episode in season two when Merle resurfaces in a dream, followed by a hallucination. In the aptly titled episode “Chupacabra”, Daryl falls unconscious and sees his brother looming over him, calling him all sorts of foul names to make him feel guilty for caring for the rest of his camp. Following this revelation from his hidden dark side, Daryl withdraws from the group, but makes his way back around to good guy status.

In season three, Merle surfaces again, this time not in a dream. Viewers find Merle residing in Woodbury as the top henchman to the evil Governor. Eventually Merle and Daryl reunite in a fighting ring surrounded by zombies as the Governor commands them to fight to the death. Merle and Daryl escape and are rescued by Rick and the gang. Merle’s poisonous influence on Daryl becomes immediately apparent as he has an argument with Rick on the way back to the prison (where they had been living). He and Merle decide to separate from the group. It does not take long for Daryl to realize that Merle was indeed not good for him, and they return to the prison seeking refuge. When the prison group decides to take vengeance on Woodbury, Merle makes a noble attempt to kill the Governor. He takes out quite a few of his former henchmen co-workers before the Governor kills him in cold blood. Daryl discovers his brother has become a zombie, and is forced to end his undead life.

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Blood is thicker than water

Despite not being in a scene together until partway through season two (and that being a dream), the relationship between Merle and Daryl is so well developed that even apart from each other one can see the ironclad bond between the siblings. Though we did not know the brothers prior to the zombie apocalypse, viewers get a true sense of their brotherhood through the years. One can almost envision Merle as a bully older brother, pushing Daryl around and using him to do his dirty work. This type of emotional and physical abuse that Daryl suffered could very well have made him a bully to others, as well as innately subservient to Merle for life. Daryl probably would have felt superior to others around him (“Yeah, Merle’s my older brother and he’s gonna hurt you!”), while at the same time making him inferior to Merle and even scared of him.

Once Merle was no longer under the spell of the Governor, he found himself lost without a position of power. Rick (aka, Officer Friendly) was in charge, and Merle had to take his cues from others. Daryl for the first time held the power, and Merle recognized that Daryl was accepted by this new family, even if he didn’t like it. As they resided in the prison together, plotting for the Governor’s demise, Merle learned that Daryl actually flourished without his presence and a conscience started to bloom. His final act of sacrificing himself in an attempt to help the group left viewers wondering how his relationship with Daryl would have changed had he been successful in assassinating the Governor and returning to the group.

Walker Merle

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Fast-forward several years to the zombie apocalypse. Daryl would still look to Merle to solve all of his problems, and remain afraid of his older brother and any wrath he might incur should he not do Merle’s bidding. Once Daryl learned he was “free” of Merle after finding his hand on the roof, it allowed Daryl to build a life and personality outside of Merle’s constant control. He learned that he could be a functioning and contributing member of society, providing support to Rick as his right-hand man. He built a relationship with Carol, with whom he shares the bond of both being in abusive relationships (Daryl with Merle and Carol with her now-deceased husband, Ed). But Merle’s influence remained strong over Daryl. As we saw in season three, Carol recognized the abusive nature of the brothers’ relationship far more than Daryl ever did.

Behind the brothers

Much has been written on the brothers and their incredible presence in the television show. A video game about the two, Survival Instincts, was also recently released to further delve into their relationship.

It is worth noting, however, the outstanding job done by both Michael Rooker and Norman Reedus of communicating who the brothers were onscreen. The success of the two characters is truly indicative of the amazing acting abilities of both Michael Rooker and Norman Reedus.

Throughout season one and most of season two, viewers never saw the two in a scene together. Yet their relationship was well cemented by the time Daryl had a vision of Merle, that viewers understood the influence of Merle well enough that Daryl’s transformation in character to a reclusive shell of his former self made sense.

To create a sound relationship between the brothers when they were never seen together and the actors never worked together outside of a short scene in season two is an incredible feat. Reedus relayed onscreen how Daryl was permanently scarred by his upbringing under Merle’s shadow, and Rooker portrayed a sociopathic character that while completely unhinged, was fun to watch and get to know. By the time the brothers were reunited in season three, there was no doubt they were brothers with a complex history.

Daryl with potential love interest, Carol

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The uncertain future

Though viewers will sorely miss the overpowering presence of Merle and the amazing talent of Michael Rooker, Daryl’s character has been opened up with limitless possibilities. With Merle’s sacrifice, Daryl can finally begin to heal from his childhood and grow into something we have yet to see on the show. The loss of Merle will also allow for the possibility of a healthy relationship with Carol…well, as healthy as a relationship can be during the zombie apocalypse. Daryl may also be prime for stepping up into more of a leadership role alongside Rick, making sound decisions for the good of the group. No matter what the future holds for Daryl, one thing is certain. Merle and Daryl Dixon will reign in the halls of television history as the greatest brothers ever.

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