Never in my years of watching The Walking Dead would I have guessed that the fate of an international conflict in the zombie apocalypse would rest on the shoulders of Daryl Dixon. Is The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon saying “au revoir” or “a bientôt” to France? Is he officially over the crossbow and in his medieval flail era? The spin-off has come to an end that’s begging to be a beginning. The finale wrapped things up for the friends Daryl made along the way, Isabelle and Laurent, while leaving things open for the titular anti-hero.
The episode also includes a history lesson, both in the world and personal to Daryl Dixon sense. I should have seen this coming. I’ve come close to referencing Normandy several times over the six-episode season. (I couldn’t figure out how to make D-Day into a pun. That one’s on me. “Daryl Day” just isn’t it.) From Daryl washing up on a beach in France at the very beginning to the ways the show kept pointing out various ways the United States and France have aided each other over the years, I could tell that Normandy was on their mind.
Yet I was quite surprised when Daryl revealed in the season finale that his family was directly involved. His grandfather died on the beach during the D-Day invasion. I can’t say I had him visiting William T. Dixon’s grave on my TWD BINGO card. In Daryl’s mind, his grandfather’s death was the inciting incident that led to his father’s and his troubled childhoods. He resents him for abandoning the family to fight in someone else’s war. To die overseas would be a failure, he thinks. But seeing the grave changes his perspective. He has roots in France, both of the blood and found family variety. His grandfather never made it off the beach, but he did!
Back to the finale proper. Picking up where the penultimate episode left off, Daryl takes out the uber zombie in the arena using a French flag as a makeshift weapon. Madame Genet then has her men bring in Quinn, chain them together, and presents Daryl and Quinn with a handful of new beasties. The lighting design in the arena is impeccable. Each new zombie is introduced, one by one, with a spotlight. Say what you will about the French, but even the totalitarians working at Pouvoir Du Vivant have an eye for aesthetics. The zombies they’re experimenting on, however, have a major design flaw. They start eating each other! Daryl has won the battle and the control of the crowd and manages to escape with Quinn in tow.
Unfortunately, Laurent’s deadbeat daddy dearest isn’t long for this world, and he knows it. He slowly succumbs to a zombie bite while ruminating on how kidnapping Isabelle wasn’t the most romantic of gestures. Too little too late, bud! Daryl convinces him to run, bitten and bleeding, into the Guerriers to buy them time. It’s kind of a clumsy plan if you ask me because even though Daryl reunites Isabelle and Laurent, a zombified Quinn is waiting for them in the tunnels. Does it count as a noble sacrifice if you then become the threat? I don’t think so!
It only works out because, when Isabelle is within biting distance of her former beau, little Laurent is forced to step up and kill an undead. It’s a tale as old as post-apocalyptic time: get comfortable with killing zombies quickly, or the emotional weight of killing your estranged father will be that much stronger. I’m genuinely sad to see Quinn go, though! He was a good foil to Daryl and Isabelle and could have had an interesting redemption arc if and when this show goes on to have more seasons.
I suppose the potential redemption arc on The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon belongs to Codron. He catches up to Daryl, Isabelle, Laurent, and Sylvie — who changed her mind about staying in Paris and joined them after the fight — on the road and then dramatically lets them go. All Laurent has to say to him is, “God loves you,” and Codron turns his gun on his fellow Guerriers. When Codron returns to Madame Genet, she locks him up and reveals her intent to snuff out the Union of Hope for good.
Finally, finally, the heroes make it to The Nest, located on the real island commune at Normandy called Mont-Saint-Michel. The isolated castle community inspired Minas Tirith in Peter Jackson’s Return of the King, as well as the royal architecture in Tangled. The Mont is gorgeous, and the episode actually can’t help itself from including sweeping shots of the beach outside every few minutes. As a safe haven, The Nest is exactly what it’s cracked up to be. It’s not a “bunch of Amish people,” as Daryl tells Isabelle he assumed. Isabelle, Laurent, Daryl, and Sylvie are greeted with open arms, flower necklaces, and even a round of applause. The leader, an American expat named Losang, is kind and patient. He discusses rationality with Laurent. He asks Daryl to stay but arranges safe passage for him to Newfoundland. First, Daryl takes the time to rest and recuperate. He trains soldiers, hangs out with Laurent, observes Losang’s Unitarian-ish lectures, and finally speaks a single word of French: “santé,” a toast to your health. If it weren’t for the looming threat of Madame Genet and her uber zombies, I would stay there without question and send a pigeon to the Commonwealth, letting them know I’m okay.
And did I spy Daryl and Isabelle giving each other significant glances during this sequence? It’s very romantic, almost out of nowhere, but ultimately goes nowhere as well — even when Daryl sponges off Issa’s wounds. That’s kind of the Daryl Dixon way. Despite the legions of thirsty fans the character has garnered over the years, Daryl doesn’t really do sex or romance. He had one relationship with a woman named Leah over the original series run, and it mostly happened between episodes. When Sylvie asked if he’d ever been in love en route to the nest, he answered by switching gears. He didn’t even smile. His eyebrows raised slightly.
For better or for worse, Daryl’s sexuality has been fodder for speculation since the beginning of The Walking Dead. (Alas, that’s why I perked up at the Demimonde.) Reedus said in an interview with GQ in 2014 that Frank Darabont, TWD’s original showrunner, had the idea that Daryl could be “prison gay” — which, by Darabont’s description, essentially meant a mess of self-hating, internalized homophobia and toxic masculinity. Aren’t we glad they didn’t go that route?? Geez Louise. Later in 2014, on The Talking Dead, Robert Kirkman said Daryl was both “straight” and “somewhat asexual.” While I don’t want to tell The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon what to do in a potential season two, the asexuality spectrum — which includes identities like demisexual and greysexual — is vastly underrepresented on screen. It might be time to explore that more concretely. Maybe someone at The Nest studied gender and sexuality studies.
Daryl dips without saying good-bye to Laurent and journeys alone on the beach to meet his ride. It’s peaceful. He genuinely seems happy alone. Daryl is a true introvert. Any community that wants him should know that he’s going to need his recharge time. It’s there that he finds his grandfather’s grave. He told Isabelle that his drunk, absent father was “repeating history” because his grandfather left to die in World War II. Daryl’s choice to stay or go presents him with an interesting take on repeating history. He could leave and abandon Laurent when he needs a father figure most. Or he could stay and risk dying in France with the family he made in America left behind.
All Laurent has to do is wave from a dune in the distance, and Daryl pauses. We don’t know if he gets on the boat or stays to help The Nest fight the war that’s certainly coming to them. We won’t know until season two.
That’s fine and dandy because it looks like America is coming to Daryl. At the end of the episode, Carol appears. She’s tracked her best friend to Freeport, Maine. Carol chases down a man riding Daryl’s motorcycle. For a second, I thought Judith or one of the other TWD survivors would be hiding in the car with her, but it’s just Carol. Silly me because I know Carol is just as much of a loner as Daryl. It’s why they love each other and might not necessarily make sense together. After learning Daryl’s last known whereabouts, she rides off on the hog. Hell yeah, sister! If I’m being totally transparent, I bumped up my rating an entire star for the extra bolt of energy that Carol infused into the episode. She made me forget all about the uber zombies for a brief moment.
With an ending that is that confident, it makes sense that AMC is granting Daryl Dixon a second season and that Melissa McBride will be a part of it. I’m game! I’m still not convinced that Daryl is a good protagonist for a television show. He has the opposite of main character syndrome, and not even in a faux reluctant, don’t-make-me-sing type of way. But there are more stories you could tell with Isabelle, Laurent, Fallou, Emile, Sylvie, Losang, and even the baddies in France. Daryl has a way of collecting interesting people and people who are interested in him. That includes me! I’m interested.
Un Petit Plus
• Why did Sylvie and Emile break up???? I was counting on those crazy kids! Someone has to kiss on this show.
• I genuinely loved the shot at the beginning of the episode of all the dead World War II soldiers. It’s not fancy. It looks low-budget in a way that’s intimate and creative. More of this, please! Not to keep harping on the uber zombies, but The Walking Dead learned a long time ago that it doesn’t need to do the most with special effects to keep audiences interested. Stick to the human characters. Both Dead City and Daryl Dixon could use that reminder, though I do think the latter was ultimately more successful.
• Genet’s story about how studying portraits while working nights at the Louvre taught her how to tell honest eyes from lying eyes sounds like the type of bull I’d bring up in a job interview to convince a hiring manager that tech theater was requisite experience.
• Has The Walking Dead franchise really made it through so many seasons and spin-offs without a graffitied welcome sign reading “Population: Dead” before? I loved it. I’m corny, and I loved it.