Daryl Dixon is probably one of the most widely beloved characters on AMC’s The Walking Dead. He’s tough. He’s resourceful. He’s a survivor. But despite his lone wolf personality, he’s protective of his post-apocalyptic tribe. Daryl’s a guy you want to have on your team.
“I’m kind of afraid of horses, with their big eyeballs…” said Reedus. “And they can smell your fear.”
Kind of like a zombie?
Reedus went on to explain that he’d had a not-so-great experience riding a horse in the 2011 Robert Redford film The Conspirator, and he didn’t want a repeat. So he suggested to the writers that Daryl should get a motorcycle instead. Luckily for him, they went for it.
Frankly, if you’ve been watching The Walking Dead, you know that it’s probably best that another equine character was not introduced to that horror. It’s a bad enough universe for humans, but horses have had remarkably poor outcomes in this series.
The Horses of The Walking Dead
Spoilers ahead, in case you haven’t started watching The Walking Dead but intend to in the future. (And if that’s the case and you’ve managed to avoid spoilers this long, welcome to the internet! I assume this is your first time here.)
The first episode featured an unnamed chestnut horse who was found by character Rick Grimes and promptly ridden to a grisly death at the undead hands of a massive horde of zombies.
Michonne shows up with a horse called Flame in season 4. Flame lasts a lot longer than the horse from the pilot, but her (very light) character arc also ends in tragedy. She has an off-screen death during a raid on the central characters’ home base at a prison.
In season 5, Daryl and fellow survivor Aaron observe a stunning black horse that Aaron has named Buttons. The horse has apparently been surviving on his own for some time. Later in that episode, he’s seen being eaten by zombies and is shot by Aaron to end his suffering.
At the end of season 6, a mystery horse appears. In fact, it looks to be a pony, found (fully tacked up and totally chill) by peace-loving Morgan. We don’t know much about this pony yet, but he or she may be partially responsible for linking the central characters up with a new band of allies who seem to be keeping several horses. We’ll see how that plays out.
Fun Easter egg of sorts for you horse nerds: Morgan rides Roanie (I just named him Roanie. This is unofficial) in a bitless bridle. So that’s neat.
The other significant equine character in the series was Nelly, a chestnut owned by the Greene family who appeared in season 2. Daryl—and by necessity, Norman Reedus—did ride Nelly while searching for a young girl who’d wandered away from the group. Nelly is also taken on various errands by Maggie Greene.
Another fun fact: Nelly and the horse Rick rides in the pilot are both played by the same horse, a gelding named Blade who is owned by Tommie Turvey. Turvey is well known for his impressive liberty performances at various horse expos, and also for having been the Clydesdale trainer behind some of Budweiser’s most beloved ads.
Nelly has a unique distinction among TWD horses: She’s (maybe) not dead yet. When the human characters are forced to abandon the farm at the end of season 2, Nelly’s fate is never revealed. Maybe she’s taken up with the aforementioned horseback band of potentially helpful survivors. Or perhaps she’ll reappear at the start of the season 7 premiere, leaping out of the woods and kicking Negan in the head.
Call me, TWD writers. I’m full of great ideas like this one.
Leslie Potter is Managing Editor of HorseChannel.com. She once stayed at the office really late on a Friday writing a post about the horses of The Walking Dead. “The Walking Dead” is also how she refers to her social life. Follow her on Twitter: @LeslieInLex.