I’m not really sure whether it’s Norman Reedus I’m a little bit in love with or the character, Daryl Dixon, he plays in The Walking Dead. I am rather worried about this infatuation I am going through at the moment; I worry because I suspect he inspires a response in me that challenges the ideas I had about myself as a feminist. Can I be a feminist and quite fancy someone because he’s got big muscles and is adept with a crossbow? Is he appealing to me on a deep previously undiscovered ‘damsel in distress’ level? Is it because I am nearly 50 and the terrors of mortality are beginning to stir and unfold?
Even watching The Walking Dead is out of character for me. I hate horror movies, always have done, and the notion of binge watching a post-apocalyptic series about zombies, despite repeated recommendations from friends and the media, was inconceivable. However, we had a difficult year with my husband away looking after his dying father. Bored, lonely, and with the children in bed, I watched the first episode. That was it. I was hooked. Yes, the zombie bits are disgusting, but as every fan knows – the series is littered with cliff hangers and strong, complex characters. It appeals to those living safe lives, used to modern day comforts; it tells us this could all be ripped away very easily and perhaps The Walking Dead reminds us how lucky we are.
It is a very affecting show. I am sure I am not the only one who, by the time the binge watching has reached season two or three, found themselves eyeing the perimeters of their property wondering how long it could hold off a zombie invasion. Or mentally considering which local shops to scavenge for the best supplies. Between about season three and five I found myself dreaming of The Walking Dead world and it is interesting to see my husband going through the same process now he has started watching it. (I am watching the whole thing again with him.) I’ve already caught him googling Aikido lessons, inspired by the inimitable Morgan.
I didn’t start becoming obsessed with Norman/Daryl until around season five onwards. I don’t really know why. I always liked him, but found myself thinking about the character a great deal. What was it about him? Sure he’s a good looking guy: in his 20’s he was a model and actor and he is very pretty in Bjork’s ‘Violently Happy’ video. But Rick Grimes is pretty too and he never did it for me. Maybe because I remember Andrew Lincoln from the days of Eggy in This Life a 90’s UK TV series, as well as the annoying twat he played in another UK series: Teachers. He is much, much better in ‘Walking Dead’ and pretty sexy (I admit to going a bit weak at the knees when he finally shaved after arriving in Alexandria.) But not as sexy as Norman/Daryl.
First and foremost it’s about strength. Physically of course, Daryl’s a big man. Much is made of his muscular arms which are displayed in various torn costumes, including the famous jacket embellished with wings.
He’s an accomplished tracker, a hunter, and proves time and time again his ability to dispatch zombies and bad guys with his crossbow and a number of guns. Maybe it’s that then? Maybe I am just a cookie-cut-out-female and am violently attracted to the idea of a strong, masculine male – in the stereotypical sense of the word – who can protect me in a dangerous world. I find myself brooding on his strength, calling out ‘oooh, he’d know how to look after you,’ to my increasingly irritated husband.
The producers of The Walking Dead are clever. Daryl is no meat head. He shows great tenderness at times, and every fan will remember those rare moments when Daryl wept. The hints he was abused by his father, something his brother, Merle, discovers to his horror, are delivered with a delicacy of touch surprising in a series which happily shows well-loved characters having their faces pulled off and eaten. He isn’t a leader, but sees leadership in Rick, knowing him to be a good man, and Daryl serves him with loyalty. The impact of the chemistry of their friendship is never more pronounced than the moment when they are reunited in season seven episode 8 ‘Hearts Still Beating’. A moment I defy any fan to watch without swallowing hard the lump in their throats.
These moments are rare, though, in a seven season series we have seen that side of Daryl about five times. Following in the steps of Heathcliff, Mr Darcy and the like he is generally gruff, uncommunicative and a loner. Again! The shame of such a well-worn cliché having such a powerful effect on me – me! Surely my education, my experience, my years as a teacher and leader would have left me loftily unmoved by such an unreconstructed male; am I guilty of letting down The Sisterhood by reinforcing an out-of-date and possibly misogynistic image of the swooning female wanting to be looked after and dominated by a big strong man? I’ll be daydreaming along the lines of ‘all he needs is the love of a good woman’ next. Actually, I think I’ve already started doing that.
I have just reached the mid-season break of Season 9 and it’s disappointing we haven’t seen more of the tender side of Daryl. In fact we haven’t seen much of him at all. I understand that the scope must widen as the series progresses but apart from the brilliant scene with Daryl on his bike blowing things up, and later wrestling with Rick, Daryl has kept a low profile. Also, that decision to break open the Sanctuary with the Garbage truck was pretty foolish – but then I’m worried Rick doesn’t know what he is doing – he really must stop trusting the Scavengers!
So what about Norman the man? In the interests of research (ahem) I have spent a lot of time googling. Things are very different to the early days of Hollywood when a star’s image was curated with great care and above all an air of mystery was maintained. In the world of Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook, stars have a direct link with their fans: posting images of sunbathing on holiday, or news of their latest pregnancy.
It’s an illusion, of course, the image is still constructed, and it is unusual for stars to post selfies of their twitching, paranoid faces following a coke binge for example, though some do; it is easy for a fan to very quickly feel they have a personal connection, and that they know everything about them. In the days of endless promotional interviews it doesn’t take long to discover where an actor grew up, what his parents did, what he likes to eat, favourite colour and so on.
Norman is no exception. In fact he is particularly connected with his fans, even creating a book for charity of his fan’s art work. His Instagram feed is quirky and entertaining and every post is followed by thousands of comments from his followers. He has over five million in total. His Instagram feeds feature photos such as the following:
He really is very well put together, isn’t he? I mean, look at this picture: Christ! Who wouldn’t be tempted to start stalking him on the internet? Type an image search on Norman Reedus and thousands of photos are available for our delectation. After a good hour of this I started to feel uncomfortable for another reason. Daydreaming about this man sweeping me away, saving me from zombies and kissing me until I was dizzy is one thing, but now I’m ogling his curves like a 1950’s film producer rubbing his hands as he prepares his casting couch. I’m objectifying poor Norman, something women have struggled with, and rightfully challenged, for years. But then again, in this picture isn’t he objectifying himself and positively inviting my lascivious gaze?
Casting my modern sensibilities aside I continue to feed my obsession, gathering information about him and feeding them into a variety of imaginary scenarios where we accidentally meet and bond over our mutual love of chocolate bars. I love him for an interview when asked what he thought about his character Daryl being gay and possibly having a relationship with Jesus, his response was ‘I would rock the fuck out of that story line.’ My hero.
My obsession flares with even greater strength and colour when I stumble across this GIF which proves that not only is Norman Reedus gorgeous, strong and loyal, but that he is also an absolutely fantastic kisser.
Look at the delicious way he holds her face with his hands: tender thumbs contrasting with the hunched bulk of his shoulders. Lovely.
This takes my fantasies about Norman/Daryl to another level but they are still striking in their innocence. I haven’t yet had a day dream of being gently overcome in a private place and rogered by a still booted Daryl. No. The furthest I’ve got is dreamily imagining him kissing me the way he kisses that girl in the GIF. Every now and then I get as far as stripping him off and persuading him into a shower. But once there all I want to do is wash his hair – in this day dream he has a wound which renders him temporarily vulnerable – and smooth water over those shoulders. I want to know what they’d feel like under my hand.
I am disappointed by this. Initially I thought it was because I was unadventurous and unimaginative, but I have come to realise that it’s because I am still in love with my husband and, annoyingly, seem unable to be unfaithful to him – even in fantasy. I continue to follow Norman’s (by the way I really don’t like the name Norman, it doesn’t suit him, he should be called Stag or something) trail across the web.
And that’s when the problems start. All of this searching starts throwing up pictures of Norman squiring a number of absolutely stunning women on his arm. All of them beautiful, but in an edgy, cool way. I learn he is currently crazy in love with his co-star Diane Kruger. This is when I realise my obsession is getting out of hand. I am responding to this news as if we are married and I have discovered pictures of him out with a mistress. I have to remind myself I do not know Norman Reedus. I know about him, much more than I should, but I don’t know him. Repeat. I start to understand what he means when he speaks about Instagram and Twitter ‘getting weird’. I bet thousands of women like me are messaging him as if he is their boyfriend, as if they know him.
And then the self-loathing begins… How could I possibly compete with those girlfriends of his? They are so slim, so sexy, so together! The sudden awareness of my middle-age, my excess poundage, my frizzy hair, my boring, humdrum life – the list goes on. What was I thinking!? How stupid I am with my pathetic little fantasies. Yes, Norman is great with his fans, he actively encouraged one –very lucky – middle-aged woman to dry hump his leg, but the chances of him turning up where I work and taking me away from all of this are non-existent. And I refuse to start looking for tickets for Comic Con to at least be in the same room with him. I might end up biting him, like a recent crazed red-headed fan did. He and I are never going to happen and I am an idiot for even beginning to consider it might.
So I think I have come out of my Norman-Reedus-fuelled-rabbit-hole. I have come to my senses. However, I am still a little bit in love with him. I am reconciled to the fact I like big, strong, silent men and that’s fine. I am unashamed of the few favourite images of him I have stored on my phone. Nothing wrong with that. I know he and I will never live happily ever after. However, I have started to notice some things: he is two weeks older than me; his feed is full of references to Nirvana, Blondie, Courtney Love; he was in a band in the 90’s – I was in a band in the 90’s! – we are of the same generation; he is having the time of his life.
Norman Reedus has made me think life doesn’t end at 28 as all my internet feeds seem to suggest. It may be because he’s a man, but he shows me you can still rock it at nearly 50. My children, my pupils and my family may not think I’m cool, but deep down there’s a tattooed rock chick struggling to get out. All my life I’ve written: books, articles, short stories, poems. I have never successfully published any of them. I never thought I was good enough. And now I am over half way through my life – if I’m lucky. If I don’t do it now, then when? Again, I know this is a well-worn cliché, but I am understanding in a very real way this is it, one life. And I’m going to keep writing until someone want to publish it. Even if I set up a blog and only my mum reads it.
So thank you, Norman Reedus, not just for allowing me to objectify you and for supplying me with Instagram posts which positively encourage me to have an ogle (goodness, he really is lovely) but for showing me that you can and must live your life to the full, right up to the end. Fuck everyone who says different, don’t be cowed by the judgement of others. I must take this lesson from him and make my life better.
But, I hasten to add, if he ever reads this, I wouldn’t want him to think I have moved on altogether. So Norman, if you are ever in the UK and fancy kissing a woman until she is dizzy, hit me up, babe.