Part 1 of this meta can be found here.
Reminder that this contains spoilers for seasons 1 – 7, including trailers for 7.3 The Cell.
The tail end of the sixth season began many events that will, and have already started to be catalysts into changes that we will see in season 7 for Daryl.
As we’ve seen over six seasons, he’s found his way from brooding, impulsive redneck to a strong, moral compass, the kind protector and thoughtful leader while still maintaining his gruff personality. He’s grown from grumbling and following to readily offering his opinion; he challenges Rick when he thinks he’s wrong, he does what the group needs no matter how difficult, and had really found his place in Alexandria and within the group.
His spiral down began in 6.6 Always Accountable. He did the right thing. He returned the insulin despite being held captive, he helped Dwight and Sheri escape from Wade’s group [The Saviors]. He offered them a safe community to join, a chance at a somewhat normal life in this abnormal world. Then they robbed him of his bike and crossbow. It wasn’t the stuff, as much as that did hurt, but it was his trust mistakenly placed. He’s always relied on his instinct and in this case he was wrong.
We saw how wrong and the ramifications of that mislaid trust in 6.14 Twice as Far.
He and Denise have grown closer in their own way. They’ve had a couple of encounters prior to their run to the pharmacy with Rosita where they weren’t quite getting each other. She had trouble meeting his eyes, and the way she talks is apologetically, questioning herself. While she was awkwardly telling him about her list of requests, he was awkwardly saying okay, but thinking ‘yeah, I don’t care.’ He’s a simple man. Tell him the instructions. He really doesn’t care about why or for whom.
In another episode, she gives him an oatmeal bar which he says looks like shit, but she lets his opinion, his derision, go and he puts it into his front pocket. He’s disparaging it but at the same time he appreciates it.
The trip to Edison’s has many similar types of moments. He grinds the gears on the truck and she offers him some advice for driving a stick. She explains cautiously how she knows and innocently wants to help him. He looks directly at her, and not the road, while continuing to grind the gears. He’s challenging her, and continues to do it wrong. We know he can drive a stick from 4.2 Infected when he and Rick got rid of the infected walkers by hobbling the piglets at the prison. He’s just playing with her. On the way back, they talk about their brothers. “Sounds like we had the same brother.”
The look on Daryl’s face when the arrow comes through Denise’s eye is the same look the audience has when it happens. He’s stunned but he still catches her and lays her down so she won’t fall. Stunned is the best description, but he recovers enough to aim his gun towards where the store came from. When he sees Dwight and sees his crossbow, his stunned, saddened face turns to undisguised anger and hate. “I shoulda killed you.” It is more than a regret; it is a promise.
When the firefight is over and Dwight’s group escapes, Daryl darts across the tracks to go after him. It is only Rosita calling his name that brings him back, both mentally and physically. They need him to help carry a wounded Eugene back.
Again, his instinct is lagging. He wanted to avoid the tracks earlier; he should have avoided them on the way back also. These lapses will be unforgiven. Not by the others, but he will never forgive himself for this lapse. He doesn’t know what’s yet to come.
As he’s digging Denise’s grave, his guilt is already beginning to eat him up, and affect his judgment. He downs the mini bottle of alcohol that Rosita found in the backpack on the way to Edison’s. We know he probably has more than that one little bottle. I believe the last time we saw him drink was in the first season at what was a reprieve, a happier time. [1.6 TS-19]
As I mentioned, his anger is taking over his judgment. He leaves Alexandria. Alone. His vengeance is taking over. He’s not thinking straight. In his anger, he let himself be distracted in not tracking, not watching to “see what we see” like he always recommends (with the Governor, outside of Terminus, with Aaron watching the red poncho buy, and at the office building with Carol, watching Grady Memorial.)
He did the exact opposite going after Dwight. His caution disappeared under his rage and it was one of the first times we’ve seen him more like Merle than ever before. Comparing this to when he was upset about Hershel (Still), he was upset, crying and mourning, and blaming himself. Yes, angry, but that wasn’t his primary emotion. This upset was much more visceral, much more angry, taking his vengeance regardless of the consequences.
And that made him sloppy.
When Rosita, Glenn, and Michonne catch up to him just beyond the tracks, in the woods , we can see he’s trying to keep it together. He’s angry. He won’t let them dissuade him. When Glenn steps in front of him, he’s pacing like a caged tiger, he’s biting his lip, his nostrils are flaring. He won’t punch Glenn or push him out of the way, but it’s taking all of his self-control, and even with that, he’s still violently moving around. He becomes upset. He’s near tears, but he pulls them back in.
This is his fault. He can’t just leave it.
They didn’t kill the Governor. He let the Governor go, and he came back and killed Hershel. They didn’t kill Gareth and Bob died.
He’s done letting people hurt them.
We see it less in 6.16 [Last Day on Earth] and more in 7.1 [The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be] but had Daryl gone back to Alexandria with them, Glenn, Michonne, and Rosita wouldn’t have have been taken prisoner by Dwight. They may have gone with Rick to get Maggie to the Hilltop; Glenn and Daryl definitely would have gone. Daryl didn’t and won’t see it that way. They wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him.
What happens to them, whatever it is, is on him and him alone.
If he wasn’t so angry…
If he wasn’t so hotheaded…
If he’d listened to reason…
Lined up, kneeling, not knowing what they’re waiting for, he’s afraid. Not as afraid as at other times (5.1 No Sanctuary for one example) but not knowing is a real worry for him. He can’t plan for something he doesn’t expect and I imagine Negan is the last thing any of them expect.
He’s not as scared when Negan chooses his victim based on eeny meeny miney mo. He’s lost a lot of his will. He’s not suicidal but Dwight has surprised him twice. He’s used his own weapon against him. He wants to stand up to him but between getting shot and losing hope in the last two episodes, he just can’t manage it. He feels weak.
In 7.1, when Abraham gets beaten, they’re all in shock. Daryl’s eyes are full of tears, but he’s tired in that way where you can’t see a way out; it a way back. He’s withdrawn. His eyes are dark. He’s kneeling but he’s slumping. He’s been shot. He’s got his friends captured and beaten. He’s losing all hope. He figures he’s a marked man; Dwight certainly has it in for him. He’s beginning to think he deserves the abuse. After so much growth he’s regressing to the abused child he began the series as.
Tramping through the woods like a bull in a china shop. Underestimating the strength of Dwight’s group. Assuming that Dwight wouldn’t be on alert. Of course, not knowing that Glenn and Michonne had already been taken.
His attempt to rescue them is predictable. He got them into this mess; he will get them out. He doesn’t hear Dwight come up behind him, and not just Dwight, but the second man behind Rosita.
Being pulled out of the van in 6.16, he’s struggling, but he’s resigned. There’s surprise that the rest of the group is there, and the bright lights throw his balance off. He’s still got fight in him, but the pain and bullet in his shoulder is keeping him stiff and under control.
He’s horrified watching Abraham get his head knocked in. When Negan torments Rosita, yelling at her, and she just can’t look at the bat. She’s not trying to be defiant, and that abuse was simply too much for Daryl to keep it together any longer.
He jumps up. He punches Negan in the face. When they get him down on the ground in front of Negan and he grabs a handful of Daryl’s hair, Daryl is certain it’s over for him. He flinches in defiance, but he’s resolved to his fate. He doesn’t care. He’ll be killed. The group will go on. The last thing he expects is for Negan to slam his bat on the top of Glenn’s head.
Daryl startles, and he’s shocked. He never intended, but how could he have let this happen, and then Negan starts beating Glenn. Every connection between the bat and Glenn’s head affects Daryl dramatically. He blinks his eyes tightly and uncontrollably with each slam. It is reminiscent of 3.1 Seed when Rick violently throws the dog food at the fireplace. It is a regression to his childhood of beatings and fear of what will happen next. What will set off his father?
And then the threat of chopping off Carl’s arm, and Negan showing Rick not only who’s boss, but who’s G-d, straight out of Genesis .
He does fight back a little when they’re loading him into the van. He knows if he’s being taken back to Negan’s community, camp, or whatever, it’s not for an easy death. He’ll probably be tortured or turned, and either prospect is not something Daryl is interested in.
When he’s finally in the van, there is a moment of caged animal, his moving sideways, looking for a way through the men at the back, by the doors before they close, but then it’s over.
Daryl’s exhausted. And he’s done. And he doesn’t care.
This is the lowest he’s been. When they found Merle’s hand; when he found Merle had been turned by the Governor into a walker, he was affected, but he wasn’t this low.
The worst part is he thinks he deserves this. None of this would have happened if he’d gone back to Alexandria with Glenn and Michonne. If he hadn’t punched Negan, maybe Glenn would still be alive. It’s hard for us to say, but for Daryl it’s a definite correlation. Glenn is dead because of his actions. He’s going to spend a lot of time blaming himself, second guessing himself, being afraid of causing someone else’s death and he won’t care what happens to him.
He’s gong to be paralyzed with second thoughts and fear.
I see him not eating; letting himself be beaten, thinking he deserves it because in his mind, he does. He’s in a dark, lost place. I’m not sure he will come back as the same man at the beginning of season 6.
And that’s where we’ll find him in tonight’s episode