One of the things that bother me the most when it comes to CARYL scene analysis is the ‘neysayers’ perpetual and completely misinterpreted representation of the little ‘flirty’ moments shared between Carol and Daryl AND this confusing (and borderline offensive at times) insinuation that the flirting is not just one-sided but also something Daryl tries to shake off or even avoid.
YEAH - I am talking about Daryl’s 'STAHP’ line and certain people’s tendency to claim that he uses it to specifically ward off Carol’s romantic advances…
In other words they are interpreting it as showing Daryl rejecting Carol’s attempts to get physically and/or romantically closer to HIM!
Now don’t get me wrong I can see how someone who doesn’t understand the CARYL dynamic and the characters involved in it, could interpret Daryl’s response as a way to end the conversation being had, because I do think that’s what he’s actually doing BUT the context of the exchange and the tension hanging in the air is what changes the line from rejection to a preemptive response to a possible rejection on Carol’s side and not HIS.
Daryl says 'STAHP’ because he literally doesn’t understand and is afraid to predict the direction Carol’s teasing flirtation is going to take.
Is she serious? Is she joking? Is she half-serious? Is he going to embarrass himself if he takes her words the wrong way? Is a mistake going to screw up what they already have?
Those concerns make perfect sense when you consider that Norman Reedus describes Daryl’s romantic inclinations to be severely limited and emotionally stunted because not only does he not understand women but he also has no idea that anyone (including Carol) would even think of him 'that way’ at all.
Daryl is suppose to be awkward and have 'no game’, which means that he is more likely to think that Carol is just messing with him and isn’t actually being serious about her advances.
Heck - he might not even think those are “advances” at all!
Daryl’s life has pre-conditioned him for rejection, ridicule and no self-esteem. His back is a testament of a painful start in life and the scars alone would have discouraged intimacy or willingness to get 'physical’ casually. That kind of closed-off, guarded persona is not ideal for flirting which only makes it more than likely that the kind of banter Carol is approaching him with, is not something he has a lot of experience with.
She teases him, bats her eyelashes and smiles brightly….and he isn’t sure what she is doing, so to preemptively end the situation in his favour he 'STAHP’S’ her first.
Daryl’s 'STAHP’ also comes with some significant body language cues that separate;
'STAHP’ teasing me because I am emotionally constipated and I can’t tell if you are joking or being serious right now and I don’t want to make a fool out of myself…by reciprocating…'
'STAHP’ you know this isn’t happening, right?“
CUE #1 Moment Of Awkwardness + Awareness Of That Moment Of Awkwardness
“Well..this is new"
At some point during the exchange there is usually a few seconds long pause, during which Daryl seems to come to a realization that the tone of the moment has shifted towards something more intense than their usual conversation.