Few things are certain in the world of The Walking Dead, but there’s absolutely no doubt that Daryl Dixon was built for the zombie apocalypse. The crossbow-wielding biker has adapted far more quickly and organically to the dangers of the reanimated dead than any other character. He is also unequivocally one of The Walking Dead‘s good guys; the lengths he goes to in the name of protecting his friends, his heart-warming relationships with Beth and Carol and the multiple emotional reunions with Rick have all endeared Daryl to the Alexandria faithful. Daryl is also arguably the most popular figure on the entire show and this can largely be attributed to his insecure, no-nonsense and fiercely loyal personality.
And yet, Norman Reedus’ character is not without a darker side. Of all the lead protagonists, Daryl is the most likely to shoot first and ask questions later. He’s also the one you’d be most wary of getting on the wrong side of. This attitude may be appropriate during times of conflict but with Rick, Maggie et al striving to maintain the moral high ground and envisioning a brighter world once the Saviors are dealt with, can the younger Dixon brother ever live peacefully alongside his fellow survivors?
The third episode of The Walking Dead season 8 – appropriately titled “Monsters” – introduced an interesting new subplot bubbling beneath the surface: genuine tension between brothers-in-arms Rick and Daryl. The first difference of opinion came when Daryl brutally killed Morales, despite knowing he used to be a member of their own group. Rick was visibly upset at this act but Morales was holding a gun to the Alexandrian leader’s head and showed no sign of backing down – perhaps Daryl’s actions were justified in this instance.
Alas, Daryl went even further towards the end of the episode, gunning down an enemy who had surrendered, handed over intelligence and been promised a way out by Rick. If the Morales incident could be chalked up to self-defense, this act certainly couldn’t and moments like this make it hard to differentiate between the morality of Rick’s group and Negan’s group.
Clearly then, trouble is a-brewing between Rick Grimes and his right hand man, Daryl. “Monsters” emphasized that the leader of Alexandria was desperately trying to maintain some kind of ethical code against the Saviors, despite being at war, and this is surely due to Rick’s idealistic “Old Man Rick” vision of a potential future seen in the season premiere.
Readers of the The Walking Dead comic series will be fully aware what the future holds for Rick and Alexandria but the AMC adaptation has at least given viewers a glimpse at the kind of community Rick wants his settlement to become once the war with the Saviors is over. Consequently, watching one of his closest friends gun down every Savior in sight must have rung a few alarm bells for Rick.
Daryl has always been somewhat of a loner and a recluse who rarely lets his emotional walls down, but the complete lack of mercy he has shown of late would be cause for concern for anyone looking to restore a sense of normality and morality into the world. If Rick seeks to create his fair and prosperous future, he needs to maintain moral superiority over Negan and prove to both sides that his way is the right way. Of course, it’ll be difficult to achieve that when one of his most trusted Lieutenants is showing little regard for anyone who isn’t a friendly.
Some might argue that the motivation behind Daryl’s current bloodlust is pure revenge. After all, the Saviors were responsible for locking him away, treating him like an animal and forcing him to listen to possibly the most infuriatingly annoying song in the history of music on repeat. Surely anyone who had escaped such a situation would find themselves lacking mercy for their former captors.
While that may be true, there could be a deeper level to Daryl’s inability to fit into Rick’s vision of a peaceful world. When the leading band of survivors were first brought to Alexandria by Aaron in season 5, some found the transition harder than others and Daryl arguably struggled the most. From snagging an opossum on the way into the community to being the only person not assigned a job by former leader Deanna, Daryl simply could not adjust to Alexandria’s more civilized way of life. Of course, the Saviors soon reared their ugly heads and gave Reedus’ character something to fight against but the question still remains, what happens once peace returns to the community and Daryl has to face his most formidable challenge yet – taking a shower and fitting into a society?
If Daryl Dixon is a man who came into his own once the zombie apocalypse hit, it stands to reason that he would not be compatible with a community that strives to recreate the normality of the pre-apocalypse world. Whether that means Daryl could meet his end before the war against Negan is over or that Rick might take the extreme step of banishing his longtime friend for the good of his community remains to be seen but one thing is certain, it’s hard to imagine Daryl Dixon settling down in a cozy little Alexandrian house and growing vegetables in his front yard while his crossbow gathers dust in the kitchen cupboard.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9pm on AMC.
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