Senoia—“seh-noy” in the local parlance—is a small town about 45 minutes south of Atlanta, with a Main Street so perfect it often stars as the quaint, idyllic small town in movies and TV shows. To date, it’s been featured in 24 different projects, most famously this one, The Walking Dead, in which it stood in for the fictional third-season outpost of Woodbury—and actually had to scruff itself up for the role. Residents were asked to let their lawns grow unruly, and, along Main Street, newspapers were plastered over store windows while life went on inside.
Most scenes, though, are filmed on a leafy patch outside town, here at Raleigh Studios. The bulk of the lot has been made over to look like the abandoned prison where Daryl and the rest of the gang of scrappy survivors have been holed up since last season. All four soundstages have been claimed by the show. It’s not uncommon to hear explosions and gunshots ringing out in these Georgia woods, as the cast and crew stage their daily Armageddon. But on this muggy September afternoon, things are eerily quiet as Reedus points his crossbow at a stand of trees that fans of the show would recognize as the site of Michonne’s winter campsite, and pulls the trigger. There’s a thwock when it fires and a crack as the arrow sinks into the bark. “This has a much different twang,” he proclaims, and hands it to a stranger.
The Horton Scout, as die-hard fans know, is actually Daryl’s old bow. Last year it was replaced with a Stryker StrykeZone, a more fearsome weapon that fires an arrow at a velocity of 380 feet per second, compared with just 125 for the Horton. As a souvenir, Reedus takes a crossbow home at the end of every season, so he’s now got four in his Manhattan apartment. “No, make that six. And a Japanese longbow,” he says. “People send them to me as gifts.”
Along with just about anything else you can imagine. “I get so much shit,” he says, smiling. He’s wearing on his head a “Dixon Training Camp” trucker hat printed up by a fan. His iPhone case depicts the Mona Lisa wearing a necklace of human ears—another gift—and his motorcycle helmet is plastered in stickers made by fans, including one from a club that calls itself “Reedus Sluts.” (Other groupie collectives include Norman’s Nymphos, Dixon’s Vixens, and the Boondock Betties, inspired by the cult indie hit The Boondock Saints, where Reedus first learned to handle weapons.)
Women have powerful feelings for Reedus—who’s modeled for Prada, among other brands—and after the episode in which Daryl cradled a newborn, he nearly crashed Twitter and received a flood of strange gifts in the mail, including a pillow shaped like a uterus, several round objects said to be ovaries (but, thankfully, only toy versions), and even a silicone breast implant a woman had apparently had removed for him because she thought he seemed a little depressed in an interview. “It’s now the iPhone cradle in my trailer,” he says. The strangest present so far, he says, is probably the “plastic bag of meat” in an oily yellow sauce given to him by a woman with a “real sincere smile on her face.” She handed it to him and said, “It’s squirrel. I hunted it with a shovel.”
The memory amuses him. “The first thing I thought was, ‘Wow, you’re so fast! How did you hunt a squirrel with a shovel?’”
Reedus has never actually hunted or killed an animal himself. He tried fishing, once, with his son, but used bacon as bait, because, he thought, “everything loves bacon.” He didn’t get a single nibble. When he shared that news on the set, everyone laughed at him. “Apparently fish don’t eat bacon.”
Which isn’t to say Reedus is uncomfortable around animals that are already dead. To ensure verisimilitude during one famous scene, the producers dispatched him to a southern Georgia taxidermist to learn how to “properly fillet a squirrel.” (The technique, if you’re curious: “You cut it from the neck down and peel it like a very tough banana.”) And, last August, an art gallery in New York City staged a show of Reedus’ photography, offering 30 oversize, six-foot prints for sale for charity. The subject: roadkill.
“I take grotesque images and make them beautiful,” Reedus explains. “That’s my thing. I don’t know why.”
Reedus is actually a photographer of some renown. A book of his images, titled The Sun’s Coming Up Like a Big Bald Head, went on sale in November. But when the art show’s organizers heard what he planned to display, they blanched. The audience, they told him, was going to be tourists shopping in Times Square; they didn’t want to see cats with their eyeballs popped out! To which Reedus replied, “That’s all I got. That’s what we’re going with.” And when the show opened, the photos sold out in 20 minutes.
Reedus fits comfortably into both New York, where he lives, and the rural South, where he works. Recently, he says, he and Melissa McBride, the actress who plays Daryl’s close friend and possible nonsexual love interest, Carol, were joking about a possible spinoff called Carol and Daryl in Central Park that would have the two “squatting in the bushes somewhere.” Carol would be knitting and there’d be moonshine bubbling. “Mayor Bloomberg would have a press conference and announce that the squirrels of Central Park have gone missing.
“We even wrote a song,” he says, and sings its opening lines, somewhat awkwardly: “Carol is sterile and Daryl is feral/They’re a match made in hell…” And then he fires another arrow into the tree.