SPOILERS for seasons 5 and 6 of The Walking Dead. Preview of my WIP Daryl meta)
I noticed something in the most recent episode of The Walking Dead. I do that; a lot. I love exploring the story arcs, making my own predictions and speculations despite my poor track record this season. I love exploring the behind the scenes, how the writing gets done, how the stunts get done (I loved the fire lake – it was spectacular how it was done), the meta: why they do the things they do, whether it’s story driven or behind the scenes driven. I love that stuff!
My behind the scenes is to finish my Daryl meta before the end of the season, ideally in the penultimate week, you know just in case Daryl doesn’t make it out of this season.
The last episode, The Same Boat, was a really nice look at Carol and Maggie’s characters while pushing the story forward. We got to see a brilliant side of Melissa McBride’s acting as well as Carol’s. For some moments, I wasn’t sure which Carol was the one acting/faking it. I know it sounds like I might be softening towards Carol’s character; after six seasons, I actually might be.
Note to self: kidnapping Carol and Maggie is suicide. Rethink it.
As the end approached and rescue was imminent, Rick and the cavalry arrived just as Maggie and Carol were leaving. I thought that was a nice touch, the ladies getting themselves out, not waiting on rescue. I love the strong women characters of this show as well as their three dimensionality. They are not cardboard cutouts, they are not stereotypical, they are real and we can identify with them on some level.
(Disclaimer: I don’t ship Carol and Daryl. I think of them more as mother-son, best friends, not romantic. I just don’t see it. They have a very different kind of chemistry than a romantic one.)
Watching Carol and Daryl’s reunion moment, I was reminded of their reunion after Terminus when Daryl thought he was going to die. We’ve never seen Daryl so panicked, so frightened as in those moments at the trough when the Termites were practicing their swings and slashing throats. I don’t think he’s ever been that scared, not that we’ve seen at least.
If you can rewatch the reunion scene in 5.1, No Sanctuary try and do it, and then compare it to their reunion scene in 6.13, The Same Boat.
In the first one, Daryl is terrified; absolutely terrified. He’s just escaped, barely, he’s catching his breath, barely, and then he sees Carol. He runs to her, hugs her, picks her up, hugs her some more, he won’t let go; It brought tears to my eyes. She lets him go, and he puts his head on her shoulder. We think he’s going to break down. She takes his head in her hands, lifts it up and looks at him. He truly is about to lose it completely, but he doesn’t, probably because of her presence. She comforted him. She calmed him. She mothered him.
That was the most out of control that things had gotten for him. He was scared to the point that instinct kicked in. He was the scared little boy, probably before his abuse when he trusted people, before he shut himself down. He needed to absorb Carol’s affection, the parenting he didn’t get, and he didn’t want to let go of it. He only did move aside to let Rick thank her and hug her. He moved aside in deference to his father figure, his older brother if you will. Rick does have that parental vibe.
When they reunite with Tyrese and Judith he almost has a smile on his face, definitely more emotion than when he was looking at Maggie’s sonogram in the earlier episode. His emotions are contained in a way that brings a palpable sadness in thinking about his childhood with his abusive father.
Contrast that little boy lost with the reunion in The Same Boat. He starts by asking her if she’s okay. He grabs Carol’s shoulder getting information, not comforting her in the same way she comforted him in No Sanctuary. He states that she left a trail, started a fire, and she nods her head. Then he asks if she’s good. Her response is that no, no, she is not. Come here are his words to her. He hugs her. He cups the back of her head (much in the same way Rick does in No Sanctuary) and she leans her chin on his shoulder, but while she was still in shock and perhaps looking for more comfort, he steps back. He doesn’t push her away; he simply steps back because the moment’s over for him. He has almost no physical contact with her, which is consistent with his physicality with the rest of the group – a pat on the back perhaps, but not much more. He’s not there for her in that same way. He’s never learned how to express that empathy. He wants to comfort her – that’s obvious by his focus on her and his asking her how she is, hugging her when she says she’s not, but he can’t take that emotional step further. In this moment, you can see the amount of caring he has; that he doesn’t show to anyone. With Denise and the oatmeal bar, he’s flip, he’s dismissive. I’m sure he appreciates it (even if he doesn’t agree with her about his hunts), but he can’t express that in any way that polite company is used to.
Back to Carol’s reaction to her ordeal, I suspect she’ll find her way into Tobin’s arms before the next episode is over (which logically puts both she and Tobin on the possible hit list for the season finale). We saw Carol kissing Tobin, and they both seemed to want that to go further (if it hasn’t already happened off camera). With Tobin, we’re shown a side of Carol that we’ve never seen before. It’s not a softening as in a weakness, but a softening in her character, an evening out, balancing while offering her the possibility of a life that she never had with Ed or before. She’s taking charge of her own character development by keeping her list of who she’s murdered and being proactive instead of following the survival instinct. While that’s what’s kept her alive, it might be possible to balance it with a post-apocalyptic “normal” life, like Maggie’s done, like Michonne has been trying to do. Thinking about it, she’s much more similar to Michonne who also lost a child and a husband/boyfriend. Hers wasn’t abusive, but he lost all trust and sympathy when he let their child be killed.
This has been an exceptional season. It is perhaps more exceptional than it might have been by turning me around from five season of dislike for Carol, and if possible giving Daryl even more depth in his characterization. Perhaps there will be a similar turnaround for him in trusting more and relying on his next world family like he could never rely on his biological family.