I make a point of steering the fuck clear of my non-ship tags, but seeing a certain scene get blatantly misread drives me up a wall and makes me want to scream.
So. 3x01 “Seed” and infamous ‘Carol flirts with Daryl’ scene. Please keep in mind that while I am not a Caryler-er that I am; A massive Daryl fan and a massive Carol fan. I am not making this argument in an attempt to bolster a different ship or attack Caryl shippers. What I’m doing is correcting a misconception about a scene that is so backwards that it makes the angels cry.
For those who want to avoid my on-coming word vomit, I’ll simplify the entire thing right here: This scene was classic one-sided flirting. Key phrasing here being one-sided.
For those who haven’t seen that episode in awhile, I’ll remind them that this was the season 3 premiere. We’re coming into it knowing that about 6-7 months have taken place off screen, and the changes in relationships and interpersonal dynamics are being established in this episode.
Fun fact: I left season 2 convinced that something romantic was going to build between Carol ad Daryl. This episode? This exact scene? This was what made me go “Whoops. Nope. That is not going to be a thing.”
And it all boils down to the fact that Daryl is blatantly uncomfortable for this entire exchange.
Read that again. Absorb it. Blatantly uncomfortable. If you watch this and see him as flirting, I’m genuinely worried about your understanding of human interaction and by proxy, your understanding of consent. (Which is an admittedly big jump, but still relevant.)
Let it be said that I love both sides of this interaction. Carol has finally shed that meek little bird shell she was stuck in after well over a decade in an abusive relationship, and recovering from losing her child. She’s more open and relaxed and playful than we’ve ever seen her. There’s a subtle suggestion in this interaction that this probably isn’t the first time she’s made a pass at Daryl. And hell, who can blame her? She respects and admires him, he’s attractive, and she’s a woman who is reclaiming her personal agency for the first time in years. She’s at a point in her life where she can look at and admire a man without fear of repercussion from her abuser. She’s allowing herself to be selfish and pursue something (or in this case, someone) she wants and do so freely. So during that missing winter, I get the impression she’s made suggestions and flirtations in Daryl’s direction. To the point where it’s almost an in-joke between them, but with that open invitation for him to reciprocate.
But in this scene we see very clearly that Daryl isn’t going to.
When their eyes meet during the shoulder-rub, there’s two kinds of tension. One from Carol that is suggestive, and one from Daryl that is uncomfortable. He immediately drops his hands and backs away. He tries to diffuse the situation before it can head in a direction he’s not looking for. But then Carol makes that totally-joking-unless-you-want-to proposition and you can pretty much see that moment he goes ‘Ah fuck, I was trying to avoid this.’ Still though, he laughs it off and she laughs with him. She’s ready to tease him but not push.
And she does tease him. He gets exasperated but not angry. Hell, if it had been daylight I’m sure he would have been blushing scarlet. Once again it’s been reduced to a joke. Making it into a joke makes it easier for Daryl to handle than having to outright tell her that he isn’t interested. And Carol, who I have no doubt was very interested at the time, was willing to concede to that.
Note that after that scene? She doesn’t flirt with him anymore. She teases him and is affectionate and every wonderful thing, but she stops directly flirting with him. That scene was a taste of the relationship we didn’t see during the missing winter and it was a closure to it. They were wrapping that part of the relationship up and leaving it behind. Basically Carol gave it one last go, probably because they had genuine safety for the first time, and it was the last attempt to see if he’d reciprocate her interest. And he didn’t.
Honestly I think that’s why we later saw Axel’s crush on her. Whether or not Carol had any interest in reciprocating we will never know, but it was obvious she enjoyed the attention. It was a direct contrast to her relationship with Daryl, where we got to see the flip side. Carol got to feel sexy and interesting and desirable from a man who genuinely was interested in her even if she might not have felt anything more than friendship towards him.
So yeah. Please don’t disservice the scene by trying to claim it was mutually flirtatious. It wasn’t. Even as an at the time wanna-be shipper I recognized that immediately, and if you do think it is, I really think you need to re-watch it without shipper goggles on. Sexualizing and using a character’s discomfort as ship-fodder is just gross.