And, of course, Daryl Dixon, “The Walking Dead’s” zombie-slayer extraordinaire. Portrayed by Norman Reedus, Dixon is an anti-hero — a good ol’ boy with a chip on his shoulder, a problem with authority, a torn shirt and a slim-fitting pair of blue jeans.
The Redneck Jedi is more than just prime-time eye candy. In a culturally divided television world where viewers can pick and choose programming to fit their politics, Dixon and his goatee-sporting brethren bridge a gap in American culture: They allow blue America to stealthily embrace — and even worship — red America.
As a Redneck Jedi, Dixon has no peer. It helps that he’s the only consistently interesting character on“The Walking Dead”; he’s part of a story arc blessedly light on tedious, zombie-free exposition. But he also perfectly exemplifies key Redneck Jedi traits. A Redneck Jedi’s rural upbringing makes him familiar with nature’s mystical ways. He knows how to hunt. He knows how to fish. He knows how to track criminals, slay vampires and the undead, and outsmart drug lords. He struggles to transcend a hardscrabble past — in Dixon’s case, one spent carousing with his dirtbag brother, who appears to him as an apparition, like Ben Kenobi in “Star Wars.”
Most important, Dixon acts decisively, setting aside moral hand-wringing to kick butt. While “The Walking Dead’s” sophisticates debate the ethics of killing the undead, this lovable rube rolls up his sleeves to get the necessary zombie-butchering done. In promo posters, Dixon’s portrayed as a cartoon yokel. He wears a sweat-stained undershirt, cradles a crossbow and has a dead squirrel slung over his shoulder (you know, for eatin’). He insists on riding a motorcycle or, better still, riding a horse. He cuts off zombies’ ears to keep a body count. Like many unlikely small-town heroes and jovial meatheads — Bo and Luke Duke of “The Dukes of Hazzard” among them — he drawls.
Yet, the show’s writers go to great lengths to imbue Dixon with depth. When the dead walk the Earth, his stereotypically red-state hobbies (bow hunting, off-road racing) cease to be joke-worthy to urbanites and become necessary for survival. Dixon decapitates reanimated “walkers,” but he’s also sensitive and capable of serious reflection. He’s the Johnny Cash of prime-time cable — a classically rustic dude whom Americans can get behind regardless of their politics and background.