The Walking Dead franchise ended its flagship series last year and will put long-running spinoff Fear The Walking Dead through the rest of its final reinvention soon. In the meantime, a trio of spinoffs promises to keep this undead world alive without going overboard or full MCU. That’s a positive thing, too. We don’t need too much of this gang, and semi-regular Sunday installments are the right amount. So far, I enjoyed the Dead City spinoff with Semi-Old Negan and Maggie, and eventually, Rick Grimes and Michonne will appear in their joint series. If we do want to make an MCU comparison, though, TWD‘s appeal seems to be outlasting that of Marvel Studios. Also, Mr. Daryl Dixon’s spinoff appears to be kind-of my Loki.
That is to say, Daryl is an underdog and favorite of many TWD fans. That’s the case despite him not appearing in the original comics (the character was created for Norman Reedus) and despite his unimpressive series debut. He begins as “the hillbilly little brother” but emerges as someone who you’d always want to have your back.
Also, those still waters do run deep when Daryl allows that to happen. We will talk more about who Daryl became by the end of TWD when his Daryl Dixon spinoff — or Daryl In Paris, because I’ll never tire of my dumb joke — grows closer to premiere time. First, one must acknowledge that AMC is serious about the Daryl spinoff because Reedus’ crossbow-wielder has already received a second-season renewal. Also, if one wishes to adequately prepare for more Daryl, no one has time to rewatch eleven full seasons, but is there (as with Justified), one essential episode?
I gotta admit that it took some whittling to get there. After all, there are plenty of badass Daryl moments, like when he whipped out a rocket launcher on a group of Negan’s Saviors (S6 E9, “No Way Out”). There’s his troubled relationship with big brother Merle and the tearful scene when he had to put Walker Merle down (in S3 E15, “This Sorrowful Life”). There are endless explorations of his friendship with Carol and one of his first gestures (giving her a flower during that represented strength during S2 E4, “Cherokee Rose”) that touched her. There’s the moment when he first met Dog (S10 E18, “Find Me”) and the time when he ridiculed the Jesus nickname during a Rick-Daryl buddy comedy episode (S6 E10, “The Next World”). And don’t forget when Daryl led a Walker horde on his motorcycle (S6 E1, “First Time Again”)
Lots of pivotal moments add up to Daryl as a whole, but there is one episode that fully captures my unwashed boo’s essence.
First, it must be noted that Norman Reedus is talking about his new show in an unexpected light: “We’re making art, and there’s moving dialogue.” He added, “I feel like we’re not cranking it out for numbers on a Sunday night.” Whereas it’s fair to say that most Daryl moments were not filled with moving dialogue. He kept much close to his sleeve, but the inner workings of Daryl did emerge from time to time. That will be my overriding reason for naming S4 E 12, “Still,” as the most crucial rewatch before The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon.
“Still” is an episode that lays Daryl Dixon’s rawness out for the audience to see. We saw hints of his emotional pain before this time, particularly in S2 E5, “Chupacabra,” when he hallucinated Merle taunting him. We also saw his inner compassion through his dogged efforts to find Carol’s daughter. In “Still,” however, we gain a fuller picture of both of these sides. Overall, it’s a terrifying but also life-affirming two-person play between Daryl and Maggie’s younger sister, Beth (Emily Kinney).
To set the stage, The Governor’s siege on Rick Grimes’ group scattered the survivors living in the prison. Somehow, Daryl and Beth ended up escaping together. This was a fairly silent endeavor until Beth decided to start pressing Daryl while he only wanted to enjoy his rattlesnake dinner.
At this point, Beth is tired of Daryl acting mute and simply surviving. She’s desperate to feel a bit “normal” and like someone her age would feel in non-apocalyptic surroundings. So, she convinces Daryl to go on a search for booze, and he emotionlessly relents. This leads to a nightmarish jaunt through the remains of a country club and, eventually, Beth breaking down at a bar before she takes her first-ever drink. Daryl, in his own way, acknowledges her emotional state: “If you’re gonna have your first drink, it ain’t gonna be no damn peach schnapps.”
This decision takes them to a house that very much resembles the “home” where Daryl grew up. This is where a moonshine-fueled drinking game leads to the feeling that Daryl is holding a lot back. We learn that he’s never gone on vacation or had frozen yogurt or “gotten anything from Santa Claus.” He’s offended at her suggestion that he may have been in prison before, either as a criminal or as a guard. This leads to something that we seldom see from Daryl: a total loss of cool and control. He takes a swipe at her prior suicide attempt and commences crossbow antics with a Walker.
Through this defense mechanism, one the the strongest members of Rick’s bunch shows us his weakness. And in contrast, the physically weak Beth shows her emotional strength. She calls bullsh*t on Daryl for pretending like nothing matters and that those who were lost meant nothing: “Now god forbid you let anybody get too close.” He, in turn, confesses that he feels like he didn’t do enough to stop The Governor and save Beth’s dad. It’s a powerful exchange, and that includes this embrace, something that Daryl does not resist but certainly wasn’t used to experiencing.
Their bond grows from this moment forward, and thank goodness it stayed platonic and sibling-like, unlike what some ‘shippers wanted, because there’s quite an age gap here.
In retrospect, this episode makes Beth’s future death hit much harder when it arrives in Season 5. That’s especially the case after — during the heat of their argument — Beth goaded, “You’re gonna miss me so bad when I’m gone, Daryl Dixon.” When Daryl carried Beth’s dead body out of a hospital, he might have been recalling the time when they decided to burn down the moonshiner’s house and give it the finger.
With this gesture, Beth helped Daryl leave his past behind, and it’s not that Daryl necessarily became more sociable in the post-Beth era. He did, however, gain more outward shades of his personality, some that might be of use to him when he suddenly washes ashore in France with no idea how he got there. He won’t know the language of the people that he meets, and he might need to open up again during a quest to return to his (new) home, The Commonwealth.
‘The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon’ will ride on September 10. On a related note, ‘Ride With Norman Reedus’ will return with Keanu Reeves on the same night.