Merle Dixon, the tough, complex, bad guy-turned-good who Michael Rooker played in AMC’s hit series, “The Walking Dead,” survived the show’s zombie apocalypse until he sacrificed himself to save his younger brother, the crossbow-wielding Daryl.
Rooker and two of his “The Walking Dead” co-stars, Norman Reedus (Daryl Dixon) and Steven Yeun (Glenn Rhee), are appearing at this weekend’s New Orleans Comic Con at Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.
Other featured Comic Con guests include Matt Smith (“Doctor Who”), “Spider-Man,” “X-Men” and “Avengers” creator Stan Lee, Robert Englund, Linda Hamilton, Dean Cain, Pam Grier and many more.
Rooker’s Merle both menaced and brightened storylines in 17 “The Walking Dead” episodes. Like other significant characters in such limited-run cable series as “True Blood” and “American Horror Story,” Merle was killed off. His human death and return as a zombie is among the show’s dramatic peaks.
Although Merle met his horrible fate last year in season three, fans of the show haven’t stopped grieving.
“They’re still saddened,” Rooker said last week from Los Angeles. “There are people who don’t even watch the show anymore. And there are people who still watch the show but they feel a bit disenfranchised. When a character is developed and imbued with hope and feeling but then taken away, people don’t like that.”
Rooker was surprised, too, when he was told that Merle’s days were numbered.
“I understand that’s the thing these days,” he said. “No one is safe.”
On the other hand, the actor is grateful for the character and the show.
“From the beginning, when Merle showed up on that rooftop,” he said, “all the way to the end, when he gives himself up for the love of his brother, this character’s arc was so beautifully orchestrated.”
Rooker has been a busy, popular actor since his film debut, 1986’s “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.” His projects include the New Orleans-filmed “JFK,” “Mississippi Burning,” “Sea of Love,” “Days of Thunder,” “Cliffhanger,” “Rosewood,” “The 6th Day” and “Jumper.”
Despite having done much film and television work, Rooker knows better than to expect a project to be good or successful. That’s true of “The Walking Dead,” too.
“From the caterers to the security to the actors, the cinematographers, directors, producers, everybody’s doing their job,” he reflected. “Everybody wants to have it be a beautiful piece that everyone can be proud of — but you never know. You truly never know what the audience is going to hook into and enjoy and believe.”
Knock on wood, Rooker has two as yet unreleased projects he’s thrilled about: the Marvel Comics-based sci-fi-superhero adventure “Guardians of the Galaxy” and, another New Orleans-shot film, “Bolden!”, a film inspired by jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden.
Getting the role of Yondu in “Guardians” was a great consolation prize after losing Merle Dixon to the apocalypse.
“It couldn’t have happened at a sweeter time,” he said. “My friend, James Gunn, wrote Yondu with me in mind. To go from the best TV show on TV to one of the best films out there this summer was an amazing coup for me. I was speechless.”
The “Guardians” cast also features Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Vin Diesel, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Benicio Del Toro, Djimon Hounsou and Glenn Close.
“I’ve been in this business a long time,” he said. “I’m reluctant to say, before I’ve seen something, before something’s come out, no matter who’s made the movie, that it’s going to be good. But ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ is going to be so crazy good.”