Last week’s return of The Walking Dead kicked off with Maggie coming back, some brief awkwardness with Negan, and a new group of homicidal weirdos to antagonize our survivors.
This week, we go in a completely different direction and explore the time Daryl spent looking for Rick after he disappeared. As always, there will be spoilers in the recap.
Days Gone By
The episode opens with Daryl struggling to get his motorcycle started. Carol shows up and gives him crap about it for a bit before inviting herself to go hunting and gathering with him and Dog. She also finds a partially torn/folded map on the ground and sneaks it into his backpack, which I’m guessing will be important at some point.
After striking out on finding live deer, Carol manages to spear some fish in a nearby river. As the pair clean and filet the catch, their playful banter begins to turn serious. Carol wonders aloud if losing both Hilltop and Alexandria means that their group’s luck has officially run out. Daryl reminds her that they didn’t “lose” Alexandria, but that does little to assuage Carol’s frustration at the constant cycle of rebuilds after defeating a new group of psychos.
*Side Note: Same here, Carol.
When she expresses her belief that the awfulness of the world will eventually catch up to them, Daryl counters that their defeat will only happen if they allow it.
As the pair get ready to leave, Dog hears something in the woods and bolts toward it. Daryl and Carol follow him to an abandoned cabin that Daryl clearly has some strong history with. After he walks a through the dilapidated building, we flash back to five years earlier when he was still looking for Rick. Daryl is solemnly strolling through the same forest when Dog as a puppy comes running up to him. Daryl picks up and little guy and nuzzles him as puppy Dog licks his face.
Yes, it’s as adorable as it sounds (and then some).
He puts Dog down and allows him to run back into the woods before returning to his camp, where he tacks up and marks the same map we saw Carol find at the beginning of the episode.
Later, Carol comes by and tells him that Maggie took Hershel and left Hilltop. It would have been great if she gave us some more insight into the rift between Maggie and Michonne, but that doesn’t happen. Instead, she tells Daryl that she understands why he feels the need to keep looking for Rick even though he’s isolated himself out in the wilderness for years to do it.
Despite expressing her wish that he would come back, Carol tosses him a bag of supplies before departing. Daryl thanks her and resumes his search, which leads him to a walker trapped under an overturned rowboat. He’s grateful when it turns out not to be Rick, but the continued lack of closure still angers him.
That evening, it storms so badly that his shelter is breached and rain destroys most of Daryl’s map, causing him to scream in anger.
We then jump ahead to one year later. Daryl is walking in the woods when a fully grown Dog appears and leads him to the cabin from the beginning of the episode, which is surrounded by zombies.
Daryl barrels inside and takes down one of the walkers with his crossbow like a total boss. Unfortunately, he’s completely taken by surprise when a woman (Leah) bursts out of another room and holds up a shotgun. When she asks who he is, Daryl tries to leave. She responds by blocking his path and informing him that he won’t be going anywhere.
Back in the present, Dog proves to have quite the nose for plot devices by digging up a floorboard concealing something that identifies Leah as the cabin’s former occupant. Carol immediately picks up whatever these documents/items are (of course), then looks at Daryl and asks “She lived here?” Daryl says that it was “a long time ago” in his best sexy rasp. Carol responds by coaxing him into telling her whatever he’d not yet revealed about meeting this mysterious woman in the woods.
This leads us to another flashback with Daryl bound to a chair in the cabin. He notices a picture of the woman with a son who’s not there, but this does little to humanize her–especially when she points the rifle at him again when he tries to break free of his restraints.
Daryl tries to explain that he entered her cabin because he was trying to help. Leah points out that considering the position he finds himself in, it’s pretty clear that she doesn’t need his or anyone else’s assistance. Just when it looks like she may shoot Daryl, Dog begins to cry (ugh), which helps convince her to let him go.
Six months later, Daryl is hanging out at his rebuilt shelter when Dog pops in for a visit. He brings the pooch back to Leah, who is actually grateful for his help this time–although she refuses to tell him her name. She does tell him that the dog’s name is Dog, though, which he reacts to the same way most of us did when we first heard it. The pair then share some romantically charged philosophizing about not letting the world get to them before parting ways.
Eight months after that, Daryl is out gathering supplies when a giant horde of walkers somehow manages to sneak up on him. Leah also happens to show up and saves him with her very loud shotgun. She then motions for Daryl to follow her to a hiding spot, which forces the pair to stand very close together and stare suggestively into each other’s eyes. Once the zombies leave, Daryl tells Leah to stay away from his camp. His words sting, but that doesn’t stop her from muttering her name to him before walking away.
Three months later, Daryl tries to make amends by throwing a fish he caught against Leah’s door.
*Side Note: Most of the world’s population may be dead, but romance is very much alive and well.
Leah responds by returning to Daryl’s camp and throwing the fish back at his head. She tells him that she doesn’t need his help or kindness, which leads to the following standard romantic story arc sequence:
- Leah and Daryl angrily declare that that they won’t ever talk to each other again.
- 5-10 seconds of silence and meaningful gazes.
- Ignoring part one to discuss a shared understanding of their loneliness.
Leah then notices that Daryl is suffering from frost nip on his fingers and offers to let him sleep at her cabin.
That night, Daryl is awakened when Leah drops and shatters the frame holding the picture of her and her son. After explaining that today would have been his birthday, she tells him about her military squadron, who were like a family to her until she lost them.
In case that wasn’t tragic enough, Leah also reveals that her son was actually the child of one her squad mates who died shortly after his birth. She was eventually forced to kill him after he was bit on the same day that Dog was born and his mother died.
*Side Note: Yikes.
Leah then tells Daryl that he’s the first person she’s seen since all that awfulness went down. When she asks him who he lost, Daryl tells her about his mission to find out what happened to Rick (who he refers to as his brother).
All this vulnerability makes the pair begin to form a bond. Over the next few days, the pair begin surviving, living, and having basic cable sex together.
Ten months later, the pair’s brief state of domestic bliss has begun to crumble due to Daryl constantly being gone to look for Rick. Leah tells him that he needs to chose between searching for his past or living in the present with her.
Daryl decides he still needs to go looking for Rick’s corpse and heads out. While making a stop by his old camp, Carol shows up and tells him that she’ll need to help out more with the Kingdom and won’t be able to visit him for a long time. She also tells Daryl that she wants him to find peace, which he coldly shrugs off.
After wandering in the woods for a bit, however, Daryl realizes that his peace is being with Leah. Unfortunately, he runs back home only to find that she’s left.
*Side Note: She also left Dog behind, so I’m not sure she was worth sticking around for anyway.
Daryl writes her a note that states “I belong with you. Find me.” and places it under the loose floorboard that Dog and Carol found at the beginning of the episode. He then goes out looking for Leah, but to no avail.
Back in the present, Daryl chastises himself for losing Leah while Carol assures him that he can’t blame himself any time he loses someone.
*Side Note: It was kind of his fault this time, though.
Daryl responds by lashing out at her, both for the mistakes she made going after Alpha and abandoning her people. Before she can point out the ridiculous irony of that last part, Daryl also says that he’s tired of them having the same conversation about how tortured souls are.
*Side Note: Same here, Daryl.
Instead of the usual routine where he implores Carol not to give up, Daryl instead tell her that she should run away from her problems. After holding back the tears his words caused her, Carol suggests that maybe their luck–and their friendship–has finally run out.
On the positive side of things, this episode actually made me consider watching the upcoming Carol and Daryl spinoff that will replace The Walking Dead after it’s eleventh and final season. The chemistry and dialogue between these two is fantastic. The only thing that didn’t connect was their final conversation, which was a little hard to take seriously considering that we know their friendship won’t be over in the long run.
As far as Daryl and Leah are concerned, I’m not sure you could write a more trope-filled romance if you tried. Lynn Collins at least made Leah an interesting character, but you could basically feel every story beat between her and Daryl coming a mile away. The one part that would have been truly interesting to watch — Daryl in a healthy/passionate relationship — was completely glossed over via an implied sex scene followed by a time jump to the end.
You could argue that her deciding to leave was subversive, but we already knew that was coming. Aside from one silent montage scene, we never got to see how Daryl’s grief over Rick’s death chipped away at what he had with her — or how the search for Rick was no longer about finding his friend, but mourning him.
All the best/most interesting aspects of Daryl and Leah’s relationship were either strongly implied or skipped entirely. Meanwhile, we got to see the paint-by-numbers stuff play out with big time jumps substituting for gradual development.
That being said, I did find Collins’ and Norman Reedus’ performances to be extremely compelling. Just like last week, the episode’s subpar narrative was helped greatly by some exceptional acting.
Also, I’ll go ahead and admit that I’m a sucker for any story that features a dog. I still wish we’d gotten to see Dog visiting Daryl as he grew up (if that happened), but I’ll take more of Reedus and his German shepherd companion on screen any day — especially if Melissa McBride/Carol is there, too.
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