The mission of The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon is simple. Our adult hero is asked to escort a child seen as the savior of humanity on a perilous trek across the zombie-infested countryside while also dealing with threats of the more human variety. Sound familiar? It also looked familiar to Daryl Dixon executive producer Greg Nicotero. "I remember watching the first episode of The Last of Us and going, 'Ummm… guys?'" Nicotero tells EW.
Of course, at that point there wasn't a whole lot to be done about the mirror-like qualities. "We were already deep into production when The Last Of Us came out," Nicotero notes of the video game adaptation, while also adding that "I enjoyed The Last of Us tremendously."
AMC; Liane Hentscher/HBO 'The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon' and 'The Last of Us'
But while the big-picture missions of each show may share a striking similarity, Nicotero is quick to point out that the differences are in the details, and there are indeed differences. "It's really a continuation of Daryl's story," Nicotero says of The Walking Dead spin-off starring Norman Reedus. "He's willing to deliver this kid, but that's not his sole purpose. His purpose is he has people at home he has to get back to. He needs to get back to Judith, and Carol, and the people at the Commonwealth."
Nicotero continues: "He kind of got hoodwinked into this detour to France. I think the idea that he connects with this kid feels a little like The Last of Us, but once you get into the journey, it doesn't feel quite as similar to me. They're different enough that you can enjoy both."
Indeed, the genesis of Daryl Dixon goes back six years, but the show was originally going to take place on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. "It was going to be Daryl going across the country like through New Mexico or the Midwest," Nicotero explains. "And it was kind of like a Then Came Bronson or The Fugitive or Kung Fu — a stranger in a strange land. In every episode, he would come in contact with people that would change his life, and he would change their life. And that was where this whole show stemmed from. It was something that Norman was super passionate about."
Emmanuel Guimier/AMC The cast of 'The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon'
It's a passion that Reedus still feels as the series nears its Sept. 10 premiere date. "I'm so proud of what we're doing," the star told EW before the SAG-AFTRA strike. "And it just gets better and better with every episode."
The key for Reedus and Nicotero — who have both been with the franchise since it began in 2010 — was using this same character to tell a very different story. "None of us were interested in doing it if it was just more of the same," Nicotero says. "Norman didn't want to do that. I didn't want to do that."
Even though the look, feel, and even sound of the series is different from what fans experienced on The Walking Dead, the spin-off is, thematically, something of a throwback to how the original show began. "It goes back to our roots of Rick looking for his family," Nicotero says. "And now Daryl has this mission, and he's given this goal to deliver young Laurent."
There will no doubt be obstacles along the way, but — not unlike the skills Joel finds himself in need of in The Last Of Us — at least Daryl already knows how to survive a group of cannibals!
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