"Whenever I see Norman do something, it's always in a way that I didn't expect or didn't predict," Gimple said. "He always surprises me, but it's always appropriate to the character."

As the series returns from its mid-season break, Gimple added that Dixon will have beefy story lines ahead.

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"A big part of the first half of the season was seeing Daryl finally find his place," Gimple said. "Before the apocalypse, he was not such a beloved figure, but he had crossed over to the other side. He had a whole new identity, even love, with this established family."

But events in the first half of this season, which included being driven from the relative sanctuary of a prison, changed things for the character.

"Now all of that has been taken away from him in the most brutal way," Gimple said. "All that makes a huge impression on him — he's lost the situation where he had the best identity he had."

Even with his tougher new circumstances, Dixon is a long way from the redneck he was in the show's first season.

"Daryl was destined to become like his brother," Reedus said. "There were some early scripts, especially in the second season, where Daryl was saying racist things and doing Merle-type stuff. I went to the producers and writers and said, 'I don't want to say racist things. I want to have Daryl grow up, as if he's embarrassed by who he is stuck becoming.'"

"They all liked that idea," Reedus said, smiling.

greg.braxton@latimes.com

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'The Walking Dead'

Where: AMC

When: 9 p.m. Sunday

Rating: TV-MA-LV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17 with advisories for coarse language and violence)