After a Season 1 marathon last weekend and a replay of Seasons 2 and 3 this weekend, The Walking Dead will return to AMC with a new episode on Sunday, February 10th. It’ll be a great relief for fans. The hardships of winter and the disappointments of the holiday season double suck when you can’t even get your zombie fix.
The Season 1 marathon on Super Bowl Sunday featured a lengthy teaser from the upcoming Governor-ordered fight to the death between brothers Merle and Daryl Dixon. Not since the Civil War have Americans been so interested in brother-against-brother conflict. The outcome of the fight is sure to be one of the highlights of the mid-season premiere. The producers of The Walking Dead have promised us repeatedly that no character is safe, so there is fan anxiety attached to the fight. We stand to lose yet another main character. If Merle dies, nobody will care. If Daryl dies, there is a Facebook group that proposes we riot.
The death of T-Dog bothered fans of The Walking Dead, but the mourning was brief. Folk hero T-Dog was damned near scenery, truth be told. He had five minutes of lines in Season 2, even less in Season 1. Daryl’s death would impact the show in a much bigger way. Fans don’t like Daryl just because they like him. Daryl has become the heart and soul of The Walking Dead.
I didn’t really understand how it was that Daryl had wormed his crossbow-wielding, white-trash, man-of-few-words way into our hearts until I watched the Season 1 marathon this past Sunday. In the early days of the show, Rick took pleasure in his family. Glenn seemed to enjoy his transformation from pizza delivery guy to zombie slayer. Everybody hopped on the chance to get drunk. The group had reasons to survive.
By Season 3, not so much. Rick could barely look at Lori before her death. He has glanced at his new baby maybe twice, and he gives his son, Carl, orders and not much else. Carl struggles to take on adult responsibilities because there isn’t anything else for him to do. Glenn has acquired the ultimate hot farmer’s daughter love interest in Maggie, but their love is earnest and dutiful and doesn’t look like it’s any fun at all. Carol, eh, she’s still cleaning up the other character’s messes. With the joy gone from life, people have started doing everything they do on the show because they have no other choice. It’s backwards evolution. The original characters from Season 1 who’ve made it to the prison aren’t getting more complex. They are turning into mice.
In the middle of these miserable, desperate people, we have Daryl Dixon. Before the walker virus, the best Daryl could hope for in life was a trailer home and a live-in girlfriend to knock up. The zombie apocalypse has given Daryl a place of trust in a group that wouldn’t have admitted him in the pre-walker world. His nothin’-to-lose bravery and his got-nothin’-better-to-do tenacity allow the character to take on lost causes (the search for Sophia) and to spend time worrying about what really matters. Daryl is often the only character to acknowledge the other survivors’ grief, and his “Little Ass Kicker” greeting of dead Lori’s baby allowed the other characters to feel something better than despair over her arrival.
Daryl Dixon is the anti-mouse of The Walking Dead. With the other characters running around on a wheel, doing things because they have to, Daryl does things because he wants to. He has grown, not dimished.
The character of Rick Grimes gets the most camera time on the show, but, make no mistake about it, Daryl Dixon is the hero of The Walking Dead. I really hope that the producers won’t kill him off just to prove that they can.