‘The Walking Dead’ Needs to Stop Tiptoeing Around Daryl’s Love Life

Daryl Carol The Walking Dead
Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

Throughout the years on The Walking Dead, Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) has been ‘shipped with just about everyone. Fans have wanted to see him with Michonne (Danai Gurira), Aaron (Ross Marquand), Beth (Emily Kinney), Rosita (Christian Serratos), Carol (Melissa McBride), Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and, now, Connie (Lauren Ridloff).

Precedent for these pairings varies wildly. Some were all but destined never to go canon — after all, who would want to break up the true soulmates that are “Richonne”? But the show itself deserves some of the blame for the Daryl ‘shipping bonanza, considering it has refused to clarify who Daryl does and doesn’t have romantic feelings for… or if he has feelings for anyone at all.

Here’s why we think it’s time that TWD gave a conclusive answer to the question.

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It’s Been 10 Long Seasons…

Seriously. Speculation regarding who Daryl might end up with was fun around Seasons 4 and 5, when he’d been a main character for a little more than 32 episodes and “If Daryl Dies, We Riot” was a fan rallying cry, because there was a chance he might die. Now, we know Beth’s words were prophetic: He’ll be the last man standing.

Yet, over the past five seasons, speculating about who Daryl’s going to get with has started to feel like a chore. There are very, very few characters on dramas that have reached double-digit seasons who’ve never had a love interest. On a major network show, it’d be unheard of. What if Meredith didn’t show an interest in anyone for 10 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy?

Granted, Daryl is not Meredith. He does have a reason to be cautious. His abusive past makes him reluctant to open up to anyone as a friend, let alone more, and in the context of the story, that’s a good explanation. But for viewers who’ve been watching since 2010, the show’s continual refusal to address the subject in any meaningful way is starting to feel exhausting.

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A Refusal to Be Conclusive

There have been so many mixed messages regarding who Daryl is and isn’t into that it’s hard to keep them all straight (no pun intended). Creator Robert Kirkman discussed the possibility of making Daryl gay, but that was dropped, likely because he ended up having such a huge female fanbase. Kirkman has clarified that Daryl is straight. Norman Reedus gets fanmail from folks who read Daryl as asexual, although Reedus wouldn’t say whether that’s show canon.

Kirkman once said that if there was a time where Daryl wasn’t “consistently distracted with crossbowing,” that the show would tackle the issue of his love life. Presumably, this means that if a time came when Daryl wasn’t constantly fighting for his life, the show would go there. Except that time period — the six-year time jump after Rick’s “death” — came and went, and there was no concrete clarification regarding Daryl’s romantic affections, but he did get a dog, so that was cool. Fans have been told by Kirkman, Scott Gimple and Angela Kang that discussions have been had, but when will those discussions play out on-screen?

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The Great Carol-Daryl Debate

It’s impossible to separate the Carol-Daryl pairing from Daryl’s love life as a whole. Throughout the seasons it’s seemed they’ve gotten inches from getting together multiple times, only to take giant steps backward when the plot demands it. There’s no denying that she is his closest companion, and he is hers. Angela Kang has referred to them as “soulmates.” Melissa McBride and Norman Reedus have oodles of chemistry, and there’s a poetry to a pairing in which two survivors of abuse help each other heal, grow and learn to love again. When Daryl’s father-figure relationship with Lydia is factored in, they’re a sweet, brokenly beautiful family. And yet… It’s been 10 seasons. Nothing’s happened.

Well, not nothing — there have been scenes that seem designed to string fans of the pairing along. There was Daryl putting a Cherokee rose on her grave at the prison, only to find her alive and well. There was the whole “Pookie” thing. There was Daryl panicking and raging at Rick when she was banished. There was the lengthy, emotional reunion hug at Terminus. There was Daryl’s breakdown and threatening Richard when he thought she might have been hurt. There was the whole “reunion dinner” episode, where Daryl visits her, is emotional around her and hugs her multiple times.

There was Daryl’s not-super-pleased reaction to finding out about Carol’s engagement to Ezekiel (Khary Payton), and Daryl’s long, lingering look at her when he was forced to leave with Alpha during the pikes episode. On the subject of the pikes, it was Daryl with Carol when she saw Henry’s head, not Ezekiel — why? It’s not like the composition of that group was sticking to the comics. Then at the end of the season, there was the head-scratcher of a bookend in which Zeke makes it clear that he doesn’t want Daryl around as he tries to patch things up with his wife. If that doesn’t scream “romantic-coded,” what does? Why would the writers highlight Zeke’s jealousy if there was no in-story basis for it?

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And more recently, there was all the time Daryl spent with Carol in the first half of Season 10; in the woods when she came back from the boat when he told her he “needed her to stay,” when he wiped a tear from her cheek and told her about their future. She’s wearing his friendship bracelet, dreaming about a life where they’re married and going to his old hideout when she needs to be alone. She’s begging him not to hate her when she practically orders everyone else to do so. On almost any other show, these things would be clear-cut romantic indicators. On The Walking Dead, it’s more of the same, with zero indication of where the story is going.

A Daryl-Connie Clarification

The other character Daryl’s being widely ‘shipped with at the moment is Connie, and there’s precedent for that, too — she just hasn’t been around as long as Carol, so there’s fewer “stringing along” scenes. He learned ASL to communicate with her and her sister, and his dog is a fan. She’s probably on good terms with Lydia, considering she was part of the mission to rescue her in Season 9. He did hold her hand for a second or two in the woods when they were going to rescue Kelly (Angel Theory), and he was pretty devastated by the cave collapsing with her trapped inside. All of these things could be going somewhere, although it’s hard not to wonder why they didn’t talk to each other in the cave if TWD was trying to build up their relationship.

And in terms of clarifying relationships and the possibility of Daryl and Connie being a thing, it’s hard not to wonder why the Daryl-Carol relationship hasn’t been clarified in undeniable terms up until this point. If TWD is indeed planning for a Daryl-Connie romance, then what’s the harm in plainly saying Daryl and Carol are only ever going to be best friends and ushering the metaphorical elephant out of the room? Backlash is going to be inevitable; some fans who’ve wanted Daryl and Carol together would likely leave regardless whether the catalyst for egress is an interview quote or a scene on the show. For those who are hoping to see Daryl and Carol end up together, if that’s not part of the show’s plan, it’d be nice if that was made apparent.

Final Thoughts

None of this is to say Daryl has to end up with Carol. He very well might not. But even if he doesn’t, it’s time that The Walking Dead brings up the long-standing, lingering issue of Daryl’s love life and addresses it in no uncertain terms.

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Let’s talk about one of the most important aspects of 'TWD': Daryl Dixon’s (Norman Reedus) love life.

After 10 years, enough murky interview quotes to fill a small notebook and romantic-coded scenes with no follow-through, it’s no wonder that those invested in that aspect of Daryl’s character are tired. Please, Walking Dead. You gave Daryl a dog. You gave him a rocket launcher. You gave him shades. You gave him multiple motorcycles. You can find him someone to love.

The Walking Dead, Sundays, 9/8c, AMC