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The Walking Dead's Daryl Dixon

The emotional arc of Daryl Dixon has transformed him into a fan favorite.

By Stephen HamiltonPublished 8 years ago 10 min read

Adapted from the hit comic series, The Walking Dead hit AMC like a hurricane with a tidal wave of zombies and gore. But, surprisingly enough, one of the most iconic things to come out of the series was the breakout success of one of the original characters created exclusively for the TV series. That was Daryl Dixon, played by Norman Reedus. Daryl Dixon was created by writers Frank Darabont, Jack LoGiudice, and Charles H. Eglee especially for Norman Reedus, who they discovered during his reading for the role of Merle Dixon. While he wasn’t right to play Merle, they loved his audition so much they created Daryl.

Photo via comicbook

A Dangerous Vagabond

In the first season of the Walking Dead, Daryl Dixon was depicted as a southern, skilled tracker who constantly lived in the shadow of his older brother named Merle. Despite his unfriendly and rough demeanor, he became an indispensable member of the core group due to his skills in hunting and trapping animals and his peerless skill in dispatching walkers. Daryl Dixon made his first appearance in The Walking Dead in the third episode, entitled "Tell It to the Frogs." Daryl Dixon made such a great impression in season one that he went from becoming a recurring character to getting a leading cast credit in season two.

What worked so well to endear him to audiences and earned him that leading cast role was that, despite the audience's assumption in Season 1 that Daryl shares his brother's racist beliefs, further observation reveals that he does not share his brother's unlikeable traits. However, he still maintains a fierce loyalty to his brother. Reedus was worried about how his character might be perceived and even asked the producers and writers if he could have a scene where Daryl played with a dog to show his softer side. Instead they gave him something better. He got his crossbow, which has now become his character’s iconic series weapon.

Photo via Vixen Varsity

Earning Fan Devotion

While Norman Reedus managed to capture the audience's curiosity in the first season, it was the second where he earned their interest and lasting devotion. Over the course of the season Daryl grew more friendly and cooperative. He also began to develop a special bond with the abused survivor Carol. He utilized his tracking sills to try to help her locate her lost daughter, forming a bond between the two. While it was revealed that she was already dead and inside Hershel's barn, everything Daryl sacrificed in his attempt to try and find her served to further endear himself tot he audience. Daryl begins to grow, becoming more responsible and, having been an outsider for most of his life, grows into a trusted and loyal member of the increasingly tight knit group. He even goes as far as to contribute Merle’s bag of drugs and painkillers to the group to aid in Carl’s recovery after being shot. But he regresses after the death of Sophia, going back to becoming withdrawn and reverting back to his original, more hostile personality, becoming emotionally detached from the group.

Carol tries bring him back from his depressing stupor, but Daryl regresses back to his loner state. But he gets brought back into the fold. He eventually snaps out of it by helping Rick and Shane handle Randall, the person from an unseen group who could potentially threaten the safe haven they’ve managed to build for themselves. They ultimately lose the safe haven of Hershel's farm to a huge herd of zombies, forcing Daryl to leave the group with Carol as they make their way towards the highway. Carol tries to convince him they should go on their own, but now Daryl’s come to appreciate being apart of a larger group and has a new-found sense of respect for Rick. He is dedicated to keeping their group safe and together.

Daryl proves himself to be invaluable at the beginning of Season 3, helping Rick and the rest of his crew clear out a prison so they can turn it into a new home. He helps defend the prison from a walker invasion and, as Rick suffers a nervous breakdown with the death of his wife, Daryl steps up and saves baby Judith by leading an expedition to find baby formula. Daryl also demonstrates his leadership skills by holding the group together after Rick's mental breakdown. Daryl’s affection for the group grows when he learns that he thinks Carol is dead and places a single Cherokee Rose on her grave, which was the same rose he gave her to give her hope that she would find her daughter.

via Forbes

Carol's Survival

Daryl's faith is affirmed when he finds Carol managed to survive, further cementing his attachment and faith in the larger group. These people have become a second family, one’s he’s willing to die for. It should come as no surprise that, once he learns about Glenn and Maggie being held by the Governor in Woodbury, Daryl is one of the first to volunteer to go with Rick and infiltrate Woodbury to get their people back. But Daryl is captured by the Governor and forced into a gladiatorial arena. The Governor orders the brothers to fight to the death in the Woodbury arena, with its citizens surrounding them and screaming with bloodlust. They both manage to escape and make their way back to Rick’s group, who refuse to let Merle in with them after how he treated Glenn. Merle leaves, and Daryl is forced to make a choice between his old family and his new one. He ultimately decides to go with his brother.

Photo via Criminal Element

A Changed Daryl

Rick and his group have changed Daryl. This becomes apparent when they both stumble across a Mexican family that’s threatened to be overtaken by a swarm of walkers. Daryl shows his more altruistic mindset by jumping in to save the family, while Merle mostly ignores them. After being saved, Merle tries to loot the family's car, but Daryl puts a stop to this. Their philosophical disagreement reaches a climax as Daryl decides to leave his brother behind and return to the prison, given that he can already see the terrible influence being around his brother was for him. Merle, with nowhere else to go, follows him back to the prison. Daryl quickly saves Rick from a herd of walkers that were unleashed by the Governor, earning his way back into the group. The two of them go to broker a peace talk with the Governor. Merle ultimately sacrifices himself to try and kill the Governor. Daryl finds his zombified brother and his conflicted emotions regarding his troublesome older brother come to a head as he has a difficult time putting him down, but then unleashes a torrent of frustration and rage upon Merle’s undead body.

He ultimately plays a crucial role in defending the prison from the attack by Woodbury and helps bring in the surviving citizens of Woodbury to come join the prison community. The explosive popularity of the character of Daryl Dixon gave Norman Reedus second place billing in The Walking Dead opening credits from Season 4 going forward just behind Andrew Lincoln. As The Walking Dead’s popularity continued to grow, many fans began to debate what Daryl’s sexuality might be given the fact that he seems to largely reject the sexual advances from Carol. Some argue that he’s actually gay, while others think here’s merely asexual or potentially bisexual.

Photo via IGN

Rise to Glory

In the fourth season his role in the group is further elevated. He is a part of the ruling council responsible for ruling the prison and is one of the key group members. But their haven in the prison does not last long as the Governor leads a new group that succeeds in destroying the prison. Daryl succeeds in keeping the group together through the extremely difficult journey to find a new safe haven after the prison. When the group is invited into Alexandria Daryl becomes a recruiter responsible for scouting out new recruits as well as getting necessary provisions and supplies and becomes a paragon of Rick’s group. The ultimate survivalist and soldier capable of handling the rigors of the zombie apocalypse. Daryl’s position as the ultimate zombie survivor became even more apparent when faced with the saviors. He merely blew them away using a rocket launcher. But the tide has turned on Daryl. He’s lost his bike and iconic crossbow to the saviors and now he’s wounded and at the mercy of a madman threatening to bash in his head with a bat.

Image via Fangirls Are We

The Bond with Beth

Daryl is not about to go down without a fight though. Not by a long shot. The group makes improvised weapons in their cargo train prison, but are incapacitated and led to a slaughtering trough. They face certain death, but an explosion outside distracts their captors just long enough for them to gain the advantage and escape the slaughterhouse. Turns out, it was Carol who had caused the explosion. When the group reunites outside the ruined Terminus, Daryl and Carol tearfully embrace. For the next few episodes Daryl and Carol bond again, but Carol is very quiet about what her experience was like when she was banished from the prison. Daryl finds a new survivor, Father Gabriel, who appears to be, for all intents and purposes, a coward. Abraham declares his desire to go to Washington D.C. to make a cure of the zombie virus and Daryl agrees that it is the best course of action in their currently sticky situation.

But Daryl hasn’t forgotten about Beth. Not by a long shot. They head into the city, following the car that Daryl saw her kidnapped in. The city has now seemingly become completely deserted, but many a walker populates its long dead streets. Strangest of all, the driver of the car that took Beth seems to be a cop. The two stay in a small apartment for the night. Daryl kills a child walker, sparing Carol the agony. These two are bonding faster than a survivor and a pile of walker guts when faced with a horde.

Up a tall building, the pair spot a white van that looks like it may have had something to do with the kidnapping of Beth. However, as the pair head down the building to investigate, Noah appears and holds the pair hostage. They manage to break free, but Daryl stops Carol from shooting Noah who is, as he says, "just a kid." We’re five seasons into the show and we’re finally seeing some major character development. Carol gets captured by the mysterious forces that took Beth, but Daryl escapes, heading back to the church vowing revenge.

Infographic via Pinterest

Daryl returns to the hospital with the crew. Rick suggests a hostile takeover of the hospital, but upon seeing Daryl back up Tyrese’s plan of conducting a trade he relents and enters with peaceful intentions. This is The Walking Dead after all, so things do not go well. Negotiations break down and Beth ends up with a bullet in her head. Daryl retaliates in pure rage, killing all of her captors. He carries her lifeless body out of the hospital a new man.

The group leaves the church and looks for a new home in the wake of further walker troubles. Eventually they find a homely barn and make camp there, but man called Aaron appears and wants them to come to a small town called Alexandria.

Daryl doesn’t adjust well to Alexandria life. When being interviewed he refuses to sit down and he’ll be damned before he gives over his crossbow. He initially doesn’t fit in with the group, but soon after hunting with Aaron he is assigned as a recruiter for Alexandria due to his highly adaptable skills.

Image via Moviepilot

The Savior of Alexandria

For the first half of Season 6, Daryl isn’t particularly active in the plot. He helps relocate the massive walker herd away from the quarry by leading them with his chopper, but events soon transpire that make the whole plan go sideways. Then perhaps in the most badass Daryl moment ever to hit the screen occurs. Daryl blows up a convoy of bikers who threaten to shoot Abraham and Sasha with a RPG, blowing them to smithereens.

Back at Alexandria, Darryl manages to fight the walker herd by setting the lake on fire, serving as a distraction for the walkers as he helps the entire crew slaughter as many zombies as he can. While out and about a few days later Rick and Daryl bump into The Walking Dead’s best character (in my book), Jesus. Jesus tricks the pair but they find him again and subdue him. They decide to bring him back to Alexandria where he could be helpful to the community.

Jesus bring the group to a community called Hilltop. Rick’s group wants to trade with Hilltop, but in order to do so they’ll have to take out a rival community called the saviors. Daryl pulls out all the badass stealth maneuvers he can manage and helps the group clear out the camp. The saviors are not a group to be tangled with though, and where Season 6 ended, the fate of Daryl is certainly… uncertain.

Norman Reedus has given us one of the most impressive arcs in television, and surely his legend will continue to grow with the TV show beginning to adapt the comics famous "All Out War" storyline. One thing we know is that if there’s one character who keeps us coming back to the Walking Dead week after week year after year it’s most definitely Daryl Dixon.

Become Daryl Dixon with Daryl's signature weapon, the crossbow. You've seen the journey, now experience the life of everyone's favorite roaming vagabond from The Walking Dead.

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About the Creator

Stephen Hamilton

Definitive movie buff. Quickly realized that it was more financially prudent to write about film than trying to beg for millions of dollars to make his own.

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