I decided to write this after a discussion with my husband when I first began to watch The Walking Dead. That was in the middle of the fifth season. During the mid-season hiatus, I was able to catch up with four years of episodes on Netflix. Over the years, since the beginning that my husband’s watched, he tried to get me into it by telling me the plot storylines each week. I mostly ignored him. I’m not a fan of zombies. I didn’t expect this to be any different. On the other hand, that didn’t stop me from having a favorite character: Daryl, of course. I am a fan of anyone who does archery, and he is the resident bowman. As a proud Sagittarian, I added him to my personal archer list that includes Robin Hood, Merida, Katniss, and The Avenger’s Hawkeye among others. Consequently, my husband regaled me with stories of Daryl and his brother Merle, even more so after seeing Michael Rooker [the actor who plays Merle] in Guardians of the Galaxy. I knew about the barn. I knew about the bar. I liked and understood Shane’s motivation, which made my husband crazy. I was not a fan of Carol’s, which also made my husband crazy.
What brought me on the meta train, however, was his talking about Daryl and Beth and Carol, and the fan response; the shippers. Who would he get with? Or was he gay? Is Rick more his game?
Are you sure those are his only options? His only mother figure and the kid sister he never wanted? Or he likes boys? One or the other?
Yeah. No. I don’t think so.
By way of an author’s note, I’m going to assume that if you’re reading this meta, you are a fan or at least a watcher of The Walking Dead. You know the characters, and are up to date with spoilers. This is your only spoiler warning for seasons 1-5, not to mention the sexual content included.
It’s hard to pull one aspect of Daryl’s personality out to write a focused meta just on his sexuality. His sexuality, like all other aspects of his personality stem from his life and experiences. Anyone who reads my longer Daryl meta will find this repeated there, so I guess this is a pre-excerpt.
Let’s begin with the first option, shall we? Not related to his orientation, is it possible that Daryl has shown no interest in either gender because he’s a virgin? There are times when he acts unknowledgable, but there is also his teasing Glenn and Maggie in the guard tower, asking if they were “coming” and sniggering at the others.
I’m also leaning against his being a virgin by the simple fact that he is Merle’s younger brother and he would have seen the example he and his father would have shown him by their sexual exploits.
In Save the Last One, Daryl tells Andrea that he was lost for nine days; Merle was in juvi, and his dad was at his girlfriend’s. He said his dad was on a bender with some waitress. It didn’t sound like the first time. I think he might have said juvi again. He’s either had to find his own way or follow in Merle’s footsteps.
Merle being Merle, I imagine that Daryl lost his virginity when he was quite young. He would have wanted to impress his big brother (and friends) who was often calling him a pussy or otherwise questioning his manhood. He says it outright in Daryl’s subconscious: All them years I spent tryin’ to make a man of you. [2.5] He would have sex a few times to please Merle, but judging by how Merle acts the times we meet him, he might tell Merle more than he’s actually doing.
Another reason I think he lost his virginity at a young age is because of his own age (late thirties, early forties) when we meet him. If he hadn’t, I’m sure there would have been unmerciless teasing on Merle’s part. He would have had to fit in with Merles’s friends and Merle’s expectation of Daryl becoming a man and what that means. Even if he was a different orientation, he would have faked straight for Merle and his father. Daryl would have played the role laid out for him; it’s the only role he’s ever known. He wouldn’t necessarily need to be homophobic to go stealth, but he knows his family would almost certainly be, and Daryl wouldn’t have wanted that kind of abuse. He had enough already with just the beatings from his father. So if he wasn’t homophobic himself, he would have played that role, and that includes having sex with girls.
Even if he were asexual or demisexual [more on those later], he would have continued to have sex to put off any suspicion from Merle that he might be gay or any other stereotyped softy. When we see Merle together with Daryl, he gets on him about following Rick, thinking things through and/or having a different opinion than attacking and stealing. [Example: the Spanish speaking family on the bridge that he wants to help.] [3.10]
The more I watched the early episodes, the more I noticed that Daryl doesn’t flirt or hit on anyone, men or women. Any of the times that Carol hits on him, he takes it as a joke or tells her to stop. It’s not until their friendship is solidly friendship and platonic that he lets her call him pookie [4.1], but even then he shrugs it off as an eyeroll moment. He’s still not used to that affection; any kind of affection. Another moment of discomfort is when Beth hugs him after Zack’s death [4.1]. He’s surprised and doesn’t know what to do with his own hands. Hugging her back never occurs to him.
Let’s put straight, gay and bi away for the moment.
Is Daryl demisexual? Demisexuals fall under the asexual umbrella. For demisexuals, they are not attracted sexually to people until they become emotionally involved and/or attached to them. As for Daryl, I don’t know. He hasn’t shown an interest in anyone romantically or sexually. It’s possible that he’s waiting for that one person to make a connection with. We won’t be able to judge this until we see any of his relationships. FYI, orientation is fluid. It changes over time for some people. it is possible for Daryl to have had a string of sex partners when he was younger and realize that he’s demisexual in his later years. Or knew all along that he was demi, and chose to ignore it to fit in like many young people do without all the Dixon family baggage.
I actually think Daryl might be asexual. Someone who is asexual doesn’t feel sexual desire or doesn’t engage in sexual behavior. He doesn’t strike me as interested in sex at all. He’s not looking to pair off with anyone. He never flirts; that could very well be because of his childhood, and having to hide his emotions. Although, he also doesn’t seem interested in domesticity and/or romance. It would certainly be possible for him to have sexual thoughts and drives without looking for romance or partners, but there is no evidence that he’s done even that. In the first season, Merle goes on the supply run with the group – what’s Daryl doing? Is he spending his time without Merle hanging out in the arms of one of the young women in the camp? Is he hitting on the pretty girls? Nope. He’s spending those last three days hunting.
When he brings the squirrels back for the group to eat, he’s not trying to impress the girls with his manliness, bringing back the food that almost no one else in that group can get, having the skills that they don’t; he’s looking for approval from his brother.
If you watch him in later seasons, he’s the same way. He doesn’t flirt, he doesn’t come on. I’m pretty sure I remember some of the girls checking him out, and he was oblivious to it. It happens that he thinks he’s redneck trash [2.5], he expects none of these upper class girls and women are going to be interested in him. But you’ll notice – he’s not interested in them either. He’s not even trying to have sex with them like Merle and Andrea [3.4]
Canonically, he’s never had sex since he’s joined the group in the first season. He never mentions it, and except for that one instance with Glenn and Maggie, he doesn’t tease anyone about it or make jokes of a sexual nature.
In episode 2.2, T-Dog has the massive infection in his arm and they need antibiotics. Daryl goes right to Merle’s bike, and says he has Merle’s stash. He goes through the drugs until he finds the antibiotics for Merle’s clap. He was very forthcoming about his brother’s venereal disease, and I don’t think that if he’s ever had something like that, that he would be afraid or embarrassed to mention it. Remember watching him eat the snake [4.12] or the spaghetti [5.13]? He has no filter, and doesn’t embarrass easy. Granted, I’d say he is smarter than Merle so it is possible for him to have sex and not get an STD, just like millions of other people.
But unless something drastically changes in season 6, I’m going to continue to lean towards asexual or demisexual.
Moving briefly into the production of the show, we know it’s not simply that TPTB haven’t shown us any of Daryl’s sex scenes. The show itself doesn’t shy away from romantic and/or sexual relationships, both implied and visual. I’m not going to list all of the episodes that have sexual content, but I will list all of the couples/pairings that we’ve seen off the top of my head:
Shane and Lori.
Shane and Andrea.
Andrea and the Governor.
The Governor and Lily.
Tara and her girlfriend.
Rick and Lori.
Maggie and Glenn.
Beth and Jimmy.
Beth and Zack.
Carol and Axel’s implied forthcoming relationship before he’s killed.
Tyrese and Karen.
Rick and Jessie (at least in the comics).
Merle and his implication that if he wasn’t a douchecanoe he’d have hooked up with Andrea.
Sasha and Bob.
Ron and Enid.
Carl and Enid’s puppy/first love.
Abraham and Rosita.
Eugene watching them have sex and hitting on Tara, who’s a lesbian.
Have I missed anyone?
One last thought. Daryl is still finding himself, not only sexually but as a person. He connects first, and adopts the characteristics of the people he lives with and cares for. He’s grown immensely over the last five years and unless he’s asexual I would expect him to find someone eventually. I also think it’s a mistake to label Daryl as either straight or gay only because he hasn’t found a partner he finds compatible as if those are his only options.
Note: Originally, when I began to write this, I thought that Daryl was sexually abused by his father, and I included that in my analysis for why he’s not interested in sex. His family is most definitely not the kind to go in for therapy or talking about your feelings. There is no canonical proof that he was abused sexually. I misread a scene between Merle and Daryl [3.10], and I took what they were talking about to be about Daryl’s sexual abuse. After rewatching it, I’ve realized that there was no indication that it was sexual, only physical and emotional. One of the reasons this has taken me so long to complete is that I wanted to continue to watch that scene and others related to Daryl’s sexuality so that I was sure that my judgment wasn’t clouded by my mistake.