Another week, another awesome episode of The Walking Dead, another chat with creator Robert Kirkman! Let’s jump to it. Let’s set the way-back machine for before existed, do you remember the beginnings of Daryl as a character in the writers’ room?

Robert Kirkman: The Daryl Dixon character actually came about because we had always pictured Michael Rooker as Merle, but AMC wanted us to test other actors for the role just in case, which is something they traditionally do, and Norman Reedus ended up being one of the actors that came in to read for Merle. After he did his test, we were still dead set on Michael Rooker for that role, but we all loved Norman so much and thought he’d be a great addition to the show, so suddenly Merle Dixon had a brother. So Daryl was created for the show specifically so we could have something for Norman to do.

If you watch those first few episodes, the Daryl Dixon character was pretty much a blank slate, so I like to give the lion’s share of the credit for defining that character to Norman. Being in the writers’ room for season 1, we really didn’t know what the plan was for this character and what we wanted to do with him exactly. It was really seeing Norman’s portrayal of that character that ended up helping us craft the character in the room while we were working. It was a fairly unique creation story for a Walking Dead character.

TWD: In last nights’ episode, Beth says she thinks Daryl will be the last man standing. Do you think Daryl would be the last man standing in an apocalypse? What do you think it would take for someone to be that last surviving person?

Kirkman: Well look, if I had to put my money on someone, I think the odds would be in Daryl Dixon’s favor. I think the thing to take note of when it comes to who survives in this world and who thrives in this world are characters like Daryl who had incredibly harsh, miserable lives before this world came about. He’s someone who has survived in the woods on his own and is largely prepared for the kind of emotional turmoil you have to go through in this world, and so he’s uniquely suited to thrive in this environment since he’s lived through so much trauma before. I’ve often said that his situation actually improved with the end of the world. He didn’t really have friends before, he didn’t really have a mission—he was just drifting through life. Building a relationship with someone like Carol or Beth is something he’s never really been able to do before.

TWD: Speaking of his backstory, what made you and the writers decide it was time to delve into his past?

Kirkman: These last eight episodes are meant to get down to the nut and bolts of who these characters are. You’re going to find out a lot more about Beth, and Michonne, and Daryl—we wanted to take a breath and dig deep and reveal more about who these people are. All of these episodes focus on that to a certain extent.

TWD: One of the things we see this episode is the country club, which wasn’t in the comics. As they explored it, the setting told its own story with the hanging walkers and the looted store—can you talk a little about how you guys came up with that new location?

Kirkman: For the most part, I have to give the credit to Scott Gimple, as he’s the one who’s always pushing us to have the locations tell a story and to visually present what has happened since the beginning of the zombie apocalypse. Showing snippets of interesting locations gives us a sense of what goes on in this world when our characters aren’t around and fleshes out the world. There are things happening in other corners of the area that we don’t necessarily see happening, and these locations give us an opportunity to tell more of the story.

TWD: Sure. Locations can tell stories that you don’t necessarily have time to explore with new characters or side stories.

Kirkman: Exactly. And there are other pockets of civilization out there, it’s just that they’re dropping like flies. Rather than showing that there are tons of people here and there and everywhere, it’s better to show how these people didn’t survive. It really just makes [Rick’s] group much more unique because we seeing that other people aren’t making it. And that also makes it that much more important that our group stay alive.

TWD: This episode ends with another strong musical montage (“Up the Wolves” by The Mountain Goats). What’s the process for choosing music on TWD?

Kirkman: It’s a collaborative process. Scott Gimple and our music supervisor Thomas Golubić are always looking for cool songs to work in, but overall it’s a team process.

TWD: The episode ends with Daryl burning down the house, and with it, his past. Is it important to give Daryl this closure before moving to Season 5?

Kirkman: To a certain extent, I think this episode was all about Daryl finding a reason to carry on and not give up. By the end, he’s burning that despair he was feeling at the beginning of the episode and celebrating the companionship he’s found with Beth, which is going to give him a new reason to survive.

Thanks as always to Robert for taking the time to chat! And we’ll see you knuckleheads next week!