The allure of Daryl is as complex as his story. We have watched him evolve since the third episode back in 2010. Lovers of the show would not be surprised to see Daryl in the next episode emerging from the woods with his signature crossbow and a bounty of dead squirrels as he did in “Tell It to the Frogs” but the man behind that rugged façade has drastically changed.
Daryl was early on seen as an outsider, a loner, or a loose cannon (though not as much as his brother) but he is now standing side by side with Rick as a leader of the group. Daryl has shown an overall level of resourcefulness coupled with his selfless and heroic gestures such as going to find Sophia supports his reliable nature to the group and to the viewer. Initially, both the group and the viewer were likely unsure of how to “read” Daryl and questioned his motivations and role in the story. This makes his transformation even more enjoyable for the viewer as it can seem so starkly different to reflect upon Daryl between Season 1 and Season 5. We love to watch characters who are imperfect and we love to see them grow. This makes them relatable but more than that, it gives us hope for our own journeys.
For the purpose of this blog post, I will focus on the recent episode “Consumed” which aired on November 16th, 2014 which was a unique look at how Daryl is transforming. In the episode and in the entire series, fire can be considered thematic. Specifically, it seems that anywhere the group goes to find safety and security such as the CDC, the farm, the prison, Terminus, the cottage Beth and Daryl stayed at, all burned. This is even more significant for Daryl’s story as his mother died in a house fire when he was a young child. Daryl has never truly had a home or a safe space to call his own as it is also discussed in previous episodes that he spent most of his young adulthood as a drifter with Merle. Daryl likely felt that nowhere was safe long before the walkers came around and is actually somewhat more comfortable with the lack of security than most characters.
Throughout the episode, Daryl interacted with fire several times. He light paper on fire and threw it in a dumpster to lure walkers away. He created a funeral pyre for the walkers in the shelter. He lit a cigarette. These references speak to Daryl’s progress in his hero journey. He is still walking through the fire. He is still changing and exploring who he is as a person and as a member of the group.
Specifically in this episode, he can be seen seeking to understand more about himself and how to continue to grow as evidenced by his taking the book “Treating Survivors of Childhood Abuse” from the shelter. However, he still hides the book even from Carol. Daryl is seeking to understand himself, but still struggling with the juxtaposition of who he was and who he is trying to be. This is also something most viewers can relate to on some level; we often do not show our true selves even to the ones we love for fear or rejection or for fear that acknowledging our pain somehow makes it more real.
In the episode, Daryl tells Carol, “We ain’t ashes.” Daryl is not someone who has not been consumed or used up by the zombie apocalypse, but rather one is walking through the fire, negotiating and shedding his past self, and will come out changed on the other side. Daryl has always been a survivor. He was able to make it through physical abuse, the death of a parent, homelessness but it took the zombie apocalypse to teach Daryl what it truly means to live. As a lover of the show, Daryl Dixon as a character, and Norman Reedus as an actor, I am eager to continue to watch and to discuss Daryl’s transformative journey and how themes from geek culture such as Daryl can be used in growing in our own lives.
Supportive materials for this post include The Walking Dead Wiki (http://walkingdead.wikia.com/wiki/The_Walking_Dead_Wiki) and the article 5 Things You Might Have Missed in The Walking Dead “Consumed” (http://moviepilot.com/posts/2014/11/17/5-things-you-might-have-missed-in-the-walking-dead-consumed-2441898?lt_source=external,manual).