I will be the first to tell you that I LOATHE the ascertain some make that Rick only needs Daryl as a blunt instrument, someone to do his dirty work, and not much more. I love this scene because not only is it as far removed from that notion as possible, but it shows us, the viewers, exactly how Rick needs Daryl.
When the prison comes under attack from within due to a fast acting flu-like virus, they lose many of their own and have to act quickly to put down the dead so they do not turn. Rick has removed himself so far from any form of violence for the last few months that he struggles with this, even knowing he has to do his part. And it results in him hesitating at the entrance of a cell where someone died.
Rick, at that moment, needs emotional support more than anything. He turns to his side and the first person he sees is Glenn. Glenn acknowledges Rick’s presence, but walks past to continue down to the lower level. Still unable to go inside, he’s stalled at the curtain when Daryl exits a cell. And Daryl’s reaction is so different from Glenn’s that it begs us to directly compare the two.
Daryl sees the hesitation in Rick and when Rick turns to him, rather than continuing on his way, Daryl stops. He doesn’t say anything, he doesn’t have to. Daryl has effectively opened himself up to act as either support or an option for Rick to escape. Seeing Daryl is there and he has a choice to make, Rick is finally able to move into the cell.
Instead of leaving after Rick does go inside, Daryl waits for Rick to come out, making sure that he’s okay, because he appreciates what an important moment it is for him. When Rick does come out, he looks to Daryl and sees that he’s still there for him. Daryl only goes on his way after they nod to each other in acknowledgement.
What’s incredible to me is that all of this is conveyed entirely through body language. There is no dialogue exchanged between the two at this point. It all comes down to Daryl reading what Rick needs in that moment, emotional support, and giving it to him.
So next time somebody implies that Rick only needs Daryl as a henchman, you can tell them to go to hell.