by Transmute Jun
Warning: this article contains spoilers for Daryl Dixon Season 1.
Daryl Dixon is the second Walking Dead series (after Dead City) to follow on from the main series since its conclusion last February. Like Dead City, Daryl Dixon took viewers to a new location, showing how other environments dealt with the zombie apocalypse. However, Daryl Dixon broke new ground by setting the series entirely in France, focusing on how its titular character, in many ways a stereotypical ‘redneck’, found himself a fish-out-of-water in a completely unfamiliar culture and language.
Series showrunners went out of their way to make the most of this new setting, filming much of the series in France, with French actors. The beauty and culture of France were clearly on display, yet adjusted for the apocalyptic setting. A castle moat filled with walkers, a room full of antique weaponry at a nunnery, the rotting gravesite of Jim Morrison, a secret nightclub within the Parisian Catacombs, and a broken Eiffel Tower acting as a tombstone for military walkers, all served to bring a je ne sais quoi to the series, adding a unique flavor to the Walking Dead universe.
Most significant was the use of the historic and unique town of Mont Saint Michel as The Nest: the main outpost for freedom in the country. The citizens of The Nest are fighting against the authoritarian Pouvoir des Vivantes (The Power of the Living), which seeks to create a system of elites living on the backs of everyday citizens (which should sound familiar to those in the Commonwealth). The Nest sees Laurent as a kind of Messiah who has come to show them the way, while Genet, who runs Pouvoir, sees him only as a threat to her leadership, given that he provides an alternative for those whom she considers ‘her’ citizens.
Amongst all of this, Daryl (Norman Reedus) does not break character. He approaches everyone with his brash, unvarnished attitude, acting no differently than he would amongst the people of the Deep South of the United States. The show plays this off beautifully, with French characters often rolling their eyes (both figuratively and literally) at Daryl’s inability to speak or understand the French language, or to even attempt to do so.
Daryl’s mere presence is a catalyst for disaster, bringing events to a head when he gets roped into escorting Laurent and Isabelle to safety. Yet what surprised me the most was how this offered an opportunity for the character to grow, particularly in the final episode of Season 1. Daryl, whose character had been stagnant for many seasons on The Walking Dead (in part due to a large cast which allowed little airtime for individual characters) seemed to evolve into a person more in touch with his emotions, and able to create a new family for himself even in the most unfamiliar of environments.
Daryl’s emotion at finding his grandfather’s gravesite in the American Cemetery at the Normandy Beaches showed him that perhaps he did have ties to France after all; that his connections with Laurent and Isabelle were something that could possibly keep him in this place. In a world where traveling across an ocean is nearly impossible, it is completely reasonable for Daryl to decide to remain, rather than make his way back to the distant Commonwealth, especially given how much he is needed by the people of The Nest.
I doubt that Daryl’s decision to remain was influenced heavily by his romantic tension with Isabelle (although that may be a small part of it) but likely more by feeling that he was a true father figure to Laurent (rather than just the substitute father he was for Judith and RJ).
In contrast to the new location, culture and character growth, Daryl Dixon still has ties to the original series, specifically, its very early days. Before the series’ cast of characters exploded, it was focused on a very small group of people, with whom the viewers were able to bond. Daryl Dixon has that same feel, its small main cast allowing that same freshness and depth to develop with viewers. Additionally, the entire setting of France is a throwback to Season 1 of The Walking Dead, when Dr. Jenner at the CDC in Atlanta told Rick that the French people were closer to a cure than anyone else before things got so bad that they were beyond repair. This dovetails nicely with Daryl’s discovery (more than a decade later) that the French have been experimenting on walkers, trying to understand their unique chemistry to give them new abilities.
Despite the major story development for Daryl in the season finale, for me, the best part of the episode was the appearance of Carol. This was not the mentally unstable, emotionally lost Carol (who had been frustrating me for a number of seasons), but the competent and driven Carol of old (her return symbolized by her original haircut, and an outfit similar to her iconic clothing). This is the woman who killed the wolves attacking Alexandria and single-handedly took down Terminus. After these scenes, the announcement that Season 2 would be called The Book of Carol was almost anti-climactic. Yet I find myself more excited for Season 2 of Daryl Dixon than I would have thought possible when the first season began.
One nitpick I had during the episode was Laurent’s sudden appearance at the beach. Did he really walk for days unscathed, only to be surrounded by walkers at the beach, forcing Daryl to save him and miss the ship? Or is Laurent actually ‘immune’ to walkers’ notice, given that he was ‘born of a walker’?
At New York Comic Con, AMC previewed the season finale early for fans, then hosted a panel which included Norman Reeds (thanks to an interim agreement signed between AMC and SAG). Reedus, who is also an executive producer on the series, discussed how much he enjoyed filming in France, teasing new action to come in Season 2. Apparently, the show will continue to visit iconic French locations and incorporate more French culture into the series. I only hope that Daryl is able to pick up some French. After all, if he learned sign language for Connie, he can learn a few words of French for Isabelle and Laurent.
As with other Walking Dead series, Walking Dead: No Man’s Land has been providing weekly episode missions for Daryl Dixon, highlighting key scenes or ‘behind the scenes’ moment. This week’s episode shows Daryl and a ‘partner’ fighting their way out of the walker arena.
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