The Walking Dead’s Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) started as a wise-cracking backwoods badass pissed at everyone for the abandoning of his brother, Merle (Michael Rooker). In Season 2, he became the most loyal believer in the search for Carol Peletier’s (Melissa McBride) daughter Sophia. In Season 3, he found and re-lost his brother Merle, but established himself as a strong leader of Team Prison.
Daryl started Season 4 as heroic “Mr. Dixon” to Patrick, BFF “Pookie” to Carol, mystery man/detective to Zach, fellow Governor hater to Michonne (Danai Gurira), and no-nonsense booze police to Bob Stookey (Larry Gilliard Jr.). But his story changed dramatically in the second half, and we got deeper into Daryl’s psyche, thanks to his unexpected friendship with Beth Greene (Emily Kinney).
It’s been a long strange journey for Daryl, but a great season of powerful scenes for Norman. Here are three of his best Season 4 moments, in order of appearance:
1. Daryl vs. Rick Over Carol, Episode 8
Norman had very little time to sell us on Daryl’s anger and distrust at Rick Grimes’s (Andrew Lincoln) big confession — he abandoned Carol in the suburbs after Carol admitted she killed Karen and David. Rick defended his decision as Daryl paced back and forth, shooting daggers at his bromance buddy. Rick said she’ll be OK, she’s a survivor, and Daryl snapped at him for saying it like he didn’t believe it. Rick said Carol wasn’t sorry, and Daryl countered that that’s not her. You could see Daryl struggling to understand what was happening, and blaming Rick for not waiting or bringing her back.
The Daryl vs. Rick tiff was tabled when The Governor attacked, but it was a great set-up for the Rickyl reunion in the Season 4 finale. They re-bonded after The Marauders fight, with Daryl feeling guilty for joining a group that ended up trying to kill Rick. Rick said that’s not on him. Daryl also said what Rick did to The Marauders, anyone would’ve done. Rick disagreed that anyone would’ve gone that far. Rick and Daryl ended the season as “brothers,” but we saw how much Carol meant to Daryl in this brief mid-season finale scene, and it almost cost us our favorite bromance. Will the relationships change again once Carol re-enters the fold in Season 5?
2. Daryl Breaks Down in Guilt, Episode 12
“Still” was packed with great Daryl moments — it’s one huge showcase for Norman — but we were especially moved by Daryl’s deep, and surprising, feelings of guilt for the loss of the prison.
At the start of the second half, Daryl was just defeated. He didn’t show any emotion, not even anger, at the presumed deaths of everyone he knew. That really changed during his moonshine run with Beth, which led them to a cabin that reminded Daryl of his ugly past. They played a game of “I Never,” showing the stark contrast in Beth’s more privileged upbringing and Daryl’s pre-apocalypse wasteland. It led him to lash out in a way we’ve never seen from him — like a wild animal. It opened so many ugly wounds on both sides.
He never had a pet pony. Never got to do all the stuff Beth did. “Never relied on anybody for protection before.” Never relied on anyone for anything. “Sure as hell never cut my wrists looking for attention.” He grabbed Beth and dragged her outside the cabin to teach her how to use a crossbow, since she may have had the advantages in the other world but he’s the one prepared for this life.
In response, Beth lashed out at Daryl in a way we’d never seen from her either. She admitted she’s not like Michonne, or Carol. She even brought up Sophia coming out of the barn — and how, now, God forbid Daryl let anybody get too close again. He countered that she lost two boyfriends and can’t even shed a tear. She lost her whole family and all she wants is to drink like “some dumb college bitch.” Everyone is dead. Rick — she’ll never see Maggie again. They came right up to the gates… He segued from fury at Beth to anger at himself for not stopping The Governor, for not continuing to search for him. Daryl finally showed the grief of his huge personal loss. He had nothing before the prison, and he returned to nothing without it. “Your dad. Maybe I could’ve done something...” Beth hugged him from behind as he cried. It was a powerful scene, especially for how much of a believable emotional swing it required from Daryl. And it bonded the two characters for life.
3. Daryl Believes in Good People, Thanks to Beth, Episode 13
Daryl still saw himself as Beth’s protector in “Alone,” carrying her through the graveyard and saying, if the funeral home had people in it, he’d take care of them. Beth responded with her belief that there were still good people in the world. Inside the home, Beth saw that someone was taking care of the dead, acknowledging that walkers used to be people. She found it beautiful, and asked if Dary felt the same. Daryl just looked at her with something like awe, or just appreciation for her kind, hopeful soul.
Later, Beth said she wanted to leave a thank-you note for whoever was living there. Daryl said maybe they could co-exist with that person. Beth teased Daryl for thinking there were good people in the world after all. What changed his mind? “You know,” he said. He gave her a look. He shrugged. Classic awkward Daryl, not able to articulate his feelings. Beth pushed, what changed his mind? He just looked at her, and his look felt so loaded with meaning. It gave “Bethyl” shippers big hope and sent “Caryl” shippers into spin mode. Was it a romantic look or just showing how much Beth has helped to change him, just as a good person and new friend? That’s up to each viewer, but Norman gave us a lot to work with in that little moment. At the very least, it showed how much Beth expanded Daryl’s post-prison Grinch heart. We’ll have to wait for Season 5 to see if there’s more to it than that.
There were other great Daryl moments in Season 4, including bashing the walkers in the country club (fore!), telling off Bob for his selfishness, his standoff with The Marauders at the end of “Alone,” and his bonding with Rick in the finale. What were your favorite scenes?
The Walking Dead Season 5 premieres in October 2014 on AMC.