Daryl Dixon Walking Wounded
Doesn’t Daryl get to grieve?
There are so many people incensed by the fact that Daryl will be grieving for Beth. I’m not talking about Beth fans or Bethylers being happy (as happy as can be in this situation) with the idea that Daryl is feeling Beth’s loss, illustrating her worth and showing how much he loved her. It is other factions and people being all outraged by the idea that Daryl might be shedding a tear for Beth or mourning his loss of Beth, the woman he let in and bonded with. It seems like this belligerence is getting worse and worse as we move forward towards the coming episodes where Daryl’s devastation in regards to Beth becomes evident, but this general attitude was around just following the mid season finale as well. Whether it was members of a different ship or even some media outlets that disliked Beth or had other biases, people were asking “When is Daryl going to get over what happened to Beth”, “How long is it going to take for Daryl to get back to normal”, or even “What are the chances of Daryl and Carol getting together?”
I understand that not all people who watch The Walking Dead liked Beth. I understand that not everyone liked the idea of Daryl and Beth being together. Some people hate the bond that developed between Beth and Daryl. I understand all of this, but the thing is, if these people are asking questions about when Daryl will get over Beth, that means they are interested in Daryl and therefore have to care about his character. Daryl has evolved dramatically as a person over the course of the series, and Beth brought him to the height of his humanity. Viewers seemed to like Daryl’s evolution, but there are those individuals who only liked his character growth until Beth became an integral part of it. As soon as Beth affected Daryl and his emotions, helped him believe and hope, he was out of character. I diverge. The point is, if you like Daryl’s character and plan to continue to like Daryl’s character if Beth is dead, you can’t erase all the moments Daryl and Beth had together, the impact she had on him, and the loss and pain he is feeling because of her death. For the sake of the character and the love you bear towards him, whether or not you hated Beth and the love he had for her, you have to acknowledge that Daryl, as he has become, is going to grieve and mourn for her. Beth is a part of Daryl’s story now whether she is dead or alive. Beth is part of who he is. She is inseparable from Daryl. Wanting Daryl to move on mitigates what Daryl has become. It is a disservice to Daryl and is journey. Just give him a chance to feel…to be sad…to mourn…to grieve.
All of this outrage and belligerence over the idea that Daryl is mourning Beth and the fact that it might take a long time for Daryl to get over her, if he ever does, made me start to think about how Daryl handles grief…how he has responded to loss in the past. Just to start off, I thought about Daryl and Beth, how Daryl responds to having Beth stolen from him at the end of “Alone”, how shattering and heartbreaking that was to watch. He was completely and totally physically, mentally, and emotionally broken, and she wasn’t even dead…just taken. I think that Daryl is pretty adept at handling physical pain, and he probably prefers physical pain to emotional pain. Physical pain is something that just he has to deal with. It doesn’t involve anyone except himself, and Daryl’s past has been painful; he’s just used to it. Emotional pain, on the other hand, involves something bad happening to or hurting someone he cares about, perhaps even something he can’t prevent or alter, like Beth’s kidnapping or Hershel’s death. Okay, that is a discussion for another time, We have seen from all the way back to Season 1, that despite Daryl’s rough, tough exterior, when he experiences something emotionally painful, he gets emotional himself, but there have been differences in how he responds to emotional pain as it relates to other characters he shares relationships with.
Even though Daryl’s character was pretty surly in Season 1, we get a good grasp on how he processes pain with the events surrounding Merle. When Daryl first finds out that Merle was left handcuffed on the rooftop in Atlanta, he gets confrontational to say the least. At that point, the audience doesn’t know the complexities of the relationship between Merle and Daryl; they have only seen Merle and Daryl independently, never interacting, but there is clearly a strong sense of loyalty that Daryl feels towards his brother because of their blood tie. Daryl initially reacts in a manner that the viewers would assume a character like Daryl would after finding out that his brother was left to die. He throws his string of squirrels and pretty quickly goes into fight mode, pulling his knife.
Once Rick and Shane get Daryl sufficiently settled down and Shane lets him out of the choke hold, it is as if Daryl actually processed what has happened, the knowledge has set in. He shifts into “get it done” mode, demanding that Rick tell him where Merle is so he can go and retrieve his brother. In that moment, at the end of his demand, Daryl’s voice breaks. It may be insignificant if the small stumble had been from another character, but for a character like Daryl, first being introduced into the series, that moment of emotionality gives insight into the part of Daryl that the other characters rarely get to see…what he is feeling inside. Daryl’s attachment to Merle and what he perceives as an extreme loss is further illustrate by Daryl’s emotional episode (not a true falling to the ground crying Daryl breakdown, but still…) in front of Rick, T-Dog, and Glenn when he finds Merle’s severed hand on the roof. I may be wrong, but I think this is the only time that Daryl has an emotional episode in front of the group…an emotional episode, not a purely angry episode driven by emotion (until Beth).
Moving on to Season 2, Daryl has two extreme losses, Sophia and Dale. I would consider Sophia’s death as having more impact on Daryl because of the parallels that exist between Sophia being lost an Daryl having been lost when he was little. Searching for Sophia wasn’t for Carol; it was for Sophia because she was an innocent, a child, and Daryl didn’t want her to be like him, having no one looking for her or caring about what happened to her. On a deeper level, I think that it was for himself too, so Daryl could reconcile himself with what happened in his past and somehow make it right. After Sophia is put down at the barn, despite the fact that Daryl looked for her, he was unable to save her. This sends him into shutdown mode. He removes himself from the community, lashes out at Carol when she comes to talk to him, and refuses Lori’s request to go after Rick, Glenn, and Hershel. He is angry, he is shut down, but he doesn’t break down the way he broke down with Merle. I am not saying that the loss of Sophia didn’t have a huge impact on Daryl, just that his responses, were for some reason, very different.
I think Daryl carrying out a mercy killing on Dale was something entirely separate, but still, it was a loss for him. I don’t doubt that Daryl was torn up about what he had to do, but I think that he handled this moment differently because, 1. Dale’s situation was entirely and absolutely out of his control. Dale was a grown man who Daryl had no responsibility to protect. 2. Dale was in a situation where there was no choice. He knew he was dying. The choice was either die quickly or suffer. Dale asked for the mercy of a quick death, and Rick was going to carry it out. Daryl was perceptive enough to know how affected Rick was, and he put aside his own feelings and personal well being to accept the responsibility of Dale’s death to spare Rick. He made a sacrifice, something Daryl is willing to do.
Dale’s death did a lot to pull the group together, and for Daryl especially, it seemed to be the act that really solidified his place beside Rick. We don’t get any private moments with Daryl after Dale’s death to see how he reacts, but we do see him with Shane, Andrea, and T-Dog when they find the walkers on the farm and go ballistic on them while Rick’s eulogy for Dale is being voiced over. In this moment of release, we see that Daryl once again is responding to loss with anger and violence.
In Season 3, several scenes are shown were Daryl actually thinks Carol is dead. When they are going through the tombs after the walkers invade the prison, Daryl finds Carol’s scarf, picking it up, and accepting it as proof of her death. He didn’t have a strong reaction in that moment, but they had all suffered so much loss. In another scene, we see Daryl alone, putting a Cherokee Rose on Carol’s “grave”, and while he looks sad, I would interpret his countenance as accepting. While I found this a beautiful tribute, Daryl putting the Cherokee Rose on the grave in remembrance, I didn’t feel Daryl in extreme pain being broken by Carol’s death.
The only moment where I interpret Daryl as having a strong reaction to Carol’s fate in Season 3 is when Daryl, Carl, and Oscar are clearing the tombs, and after Oscar and Carl go back, he sits beside the door Carol is behind, driving the knife into the concrete floor. Although we never really know if Daryl assumed that Carol was a walker waiting behind that door, the viewers were supposed to infer that. That moment had to be disturbing for Daryl, the thought of having to put down a member of his group, his friend. Despite what Daryl must be feeling, it does not culminate in an emotional breakdown before he opens the door and finds Carol alive.
Also in Season 3, Daryl is faced with one of the most difficult losses that he had probably ever faced up until that point. He finds Merle turned, and is forced to put down his own brother. Merle was his last blood relative alive. Even though Merle subjugated and was abusive to Daryl his entire life, they were still brothers, there was still that bond. Daryl realized that Merle died trying to save him and the people Daryl now saw as his family, and essentially sacrificed himself for his brother and the possibility of the life Daryl could have with them. Merle died doing the most decent, selfless thing he had ever done, and Daryl was left to put him down. The scene was heartbreaking and devastating, Daryl stabbing Merle over and over and over again, lost in grief, anger, pain, the entire gamut of emotions he was feeling as a result of Merle’s death. In that scene, the viewers are given Daryl’s first complete emotional breakdown. Daryl is actually falling down and crying in despair, and I think it was powerful, a testament to what Daryl was capable of feeling.
The second half of Season 4 saw Daryl at one of his lowest points ever. He lost everything, everything except Beth. He felt personally responsible for everything that was lost, everyone he thought was dead, and he only had one person to remind him of what life had been before, that one reality that he had to protect and hold onto. Before the later events in “Still”, after the prison fell, Daryl is just in angry shutdown mode, noncommunicative and aggressive, very similar to the way he was after Sophia died. He didn’t want to track. He didn’t want to do anything except survive, and, in extension, keep Beth alive. Keeping Beth alive didn’t, however, mean keeping her happy.
Daryl’s breakdown concerning the loss of the prison and his perceived responsibility for Hershel’s death began with anger and Daryl lashing out at Beth, the only other person who was there with him.
But Beth stood up to Daryl, and Daryl let go.
He had another complete emotional breakdown, crying and all.
The difference between this breakdown and the first total emotional breakdown that the audience saw at Merle’s death was that Beth was there to see it. Beth was there to comfort Daryl, to be strong for him as he let go, to hold him and let him know it was okay to feel, no one was judging him.
That is an extreme emotional journey in and of itself. He allowed someone else to witness him at his weakest point…see his weakness in a world where weakness gets you killed. Daryl allowed himself to find comfort in someone else’s strength, and Daryl didn’t once try to pull away after Beth embraced him. Daryl let Beth in.
For Daryl, the most devastating loss comes when Beth is stolen from him. After he let someone in completely, shared himself and all his flaws with Beth entirely, let her see him at his lowest, formed a bond that he has never shared with someone, his world was turned upside down when she was taken. Daryl’s reaction to Beth’s kidnapping was comparable to his reaction to Merle’s death. Daryl chases after a car that he has no hope of being able to keep up with or even track.
Even after he loses sight of the car, Daryl keeps running until he literally comes to a crossroads and has no idea which way to go. He chases Beth because he can’t not chase her…he can’t give up on her, she means too much to him…everything. When Daryl can literally run no more, he falls down and breaks down just as he did with Merle.
He shows the same type of emotion towards losing Beth as he did towards his brother’s death…Merle…his blood. That shows just how strongly Daryl feels for Beth, and that was just after her kidnapping.
The images above are comparable to Daryl’s reaction to Merle’s death after he stabbed Merle, put him down, and realized the reality of what happened. Merle died, and he fell down, broken.
Once again, the above state Daryl is in was prompted by Beth’s kidnapping, not a final death even though the outlook would have been dire. Daryl was completely broken. If we look at the other person in his life that Daryl thought died, Carol, and the moment that he showed the most emotion towards Carol’s “death”, we get something closer to Daryl’s shutdown angry survival mode which he exhibited after the prison fell.
Daryl’s grief towards Merle’s Death/Beth’s kidnapping is strikingly different from his initial reaction to the fall of the prison and to Carol’s “death” in season 3.
Even though Daryl can no longer look for Beth, her loss weighs heavily on him. When Joe’s group finds him collapsed in the road, Daryl goes into reckless abandon mode, sucker punches Joe while entirely surrounded by the Marauders because, in that moment, he doesn’t care. He literally has nothing left to lose.
After being accepted into Joe’s group, we are reminded just how much Daryl is still thinking about Beth and the influence she has on him in several scenes:
1. Len provoking Daryl: Len taunts Daryl about a girl having him messed up in the head, and even just at that comment, Daryl looks like he is about to snap, but he starts to walk away. Then when Len continues to provoke, telling Daryl that the “little ones” never make it very long…Daryl goes for his knife, and I am very sure that Len would have met a horrific end if Joe hadn’t shown up and intervened.
2. Len’s Death: After Len was killed by the Marauders and Daryl stopped by his body on the way out of the building, Beth’s influence was felt in that moment where Daryl almost covered up Len’s body. I don’t think that Daryl shows a character flaw in that he didn’t cover up Len in the end because he didn’t deserve that act of humanity, but just the fact that he considered the gesture is testament to the impact Beth has on him.
Daryl’s heartbreaking conversation with Rick about being with Beth for “awhile” and when he says “she’s just gone” reminds the viewers just how much Daryl is missing her. Daryl isn’t one to talk about people or things he has lost. He doesn’t open up like that often. Daryl could have easily left Beth out of his discussion with Rick in “A”, but instead he said Beth’s name, shared a small moment of grief with Rick instead of internalizing what he was feeling.
Accepting what happened to Beth wasn’t an option. He accepted what happened to Carol when he thought she died in the tombs at the prison. He was sad, but he accepted it. He was forced to accept what happened to Merle, putting down his own brother, but he quickly got over the loss of his last blood relative. He couldn’t accept what happened to Beth. Beth’s influence was to great, the loss to severe for him just to write it off and not be affected by all the things that reminded him of Beth, hit a nerve regarding his relationship with her, or sharing even a small amount of his emotions with Rick.
When I first considered the idea of Daryl’s response to grief in the course of the series and how he responded to Beth being kidnapped (all of these considerations being before “Coda”), I was so excited to see how Beth and Daryl’s storyline played out in Season 5…what I knew was going to be a beautiful reunion. If the writers were so intent on showing Beth’s impact on Daryl while she was with him and focused so clearly on how her loss tore Daryl apart, I knew that the point from where Daryl continued to process her loss to the point where Beth and Daryl were reunited was going to be monumental. I guess from that standpoint, what I expected was partially delivered. Daryl’s first line of the season was about Beth: “Black car with a white cross painted on it. I tried to follow it…I tried…She’s alive.”
Daryl was broken when he saw Rick and Carl reuniting with Judith, knowing that the only person from their group who hadn’t reunited was Beth…the girl he loved and the one person he completely and entirely opened up to…his person.
At the church, all he needed to remind him of losing Beth was the sound of a car speeding by on the road, running out on blind faith, rewarded by a sign that could lead him to Beth.
He took off in the middle of the night, dropping everything, not even thinking about who and what he was leaving behind because it didn’t matter…it was Beth.
Daryl was driven by faith and hope…all of which were broken in the end…Daryl was broken. Daryl’s response to Beth's death was beyond heartbreaking from the moment he instinctively blew Dawn’s brains out…
…to the seconds after when he fully and truly realized what happened…that he’d lost his life…
The only person Daryl ever cried in front of was Beth after the fall of the prison. But he cried for Beth in front of everyone. He broke for Beth. He carried Beth out of Grady Memorial a defeated shell of a soul. She gave him the start of a life he never imagined for himself, maybe something he never even knew he wanted.
With Beth gone, part of Daryl is gone too…it’s going to be darkness. He lost his life…what is he fighting for?
With the devastation of the midseason finale, moving forward, right now, as depressing as it may be (if Beth is really dead), I think seeing how Daryl grieves, how he works through or doesn’t work through losing Beth is what I am going to be watching for, just more validation in regards to how much Daryl felt for Beth…how much he loves her. Despite the fact that I am finding it hard to have faith in TPTB if Beth is dead dead, who chose to set up Daryl and Beth only to have a devastatingly tragic end to throw Daryl back into darkness, I think they are fully aware that they can’t take back all of the beautiful moments that happened between Daryl and Beth. The events and emotion that were established between them cannot be erased, and therefore Daryl’s actions and responses to losing Beth have to play out accordingly.
Beth’s comment to Daryl in Season 4B, “It wouldn’t kill you to have a little faith,” is now so sad and ironic. Daryl, the most hopeless and arguably most cynical character with the least reason for hope at the start series allowed Beth to teach him about hope and faith. He came to have hope and faith for a future with Beth. He had hope and faith she was alive, and she was…she was just gone too soon. Daryl’s faith and hope killed him in the end…on the inside.
I am not going to speculate on the clips that we have seen of Daryl from the previews for this half of the season even though he looks despondent because what they show can be deceptive. There are some things we do know that hint at what Daryl might be going through-feeling. At the end of episode 5 x 9, the only shot we got of Daryl in the episode directly following Beth’s death is of Daryl at Tyreese’s funeral when he gives the shovel to Sasha. For some reason, TPTB decided to only show us a short glimpse of Daryl’s profile, but that, his body language, and in the way he is presented, Daryl seems despondent…shut down. From the funeral scene, we know Daryl is broken, and I don’t think anyone can really say at this point that his state is brought on by Tyreese’s death.
I thought that it was suspicions that so little was shown of Daryl and his emotional state in 5 x 9, but I think this is just teasing what is to come for Daryl. For whatever reason TPTB put off giving the audience Daryl’s grief, but it’s coming…like winter.
There is another aspect of episode 5 x 9 that may be even more indicative of Daryl’s grief, clearly pointing to his current state. That is his lack of presence with Rick and the group members who went to Noah’s home. I don’t expect Daryl to be by Rick’s side 24/7, and it actually makes sense that Rick and Daryl, if there were two separate groups functioning at different levels, would be separated. Daryl has been Rick’s second since the end of Season 2. Logically, Rick would be heading one group while Daryl would be leading the other. The thing was, Rick was communicating with Carol via radio in this episode. I know that Rick has a newfound respect for Carol since he thinks that he owes Carol his life for helping them escape from Terminus, but I do not think that would change the entire leadership schema of the group. The only reason Daryl wouldn’t be in charge of the other half of the group, answering Rick on the radio, is because he is incapable of functioning at that level because of losing Beth. Now, whether that means Daryl is in total shutdown mode not functioning at all, or he is out in the woods alone, distancing himself from the group, crying, grieving, taking his aggression out in other ways, his life is being dictated by Beth’s loss. According to Greg Nicotero on The Talking Dead, there is a very concrete amount of time that has passed since Beth’s death…17 days. I don’t know if there is any significance to 17 days or if it is just a number they came up with regarding how much time has passed, but it has been 17 days and Daryl is still grieving. In their world, the portion of The Walking Dead world that the audience gets to see, 17 days can be the entirety of the season. I think it is safe to say that Daryl isn’t getting over Beth anytime soon at all.
People who hated Beth and hated that Daryl and Beth bonded want to know when Daryl is moving on…when he will get over Beth’s death…trying to mitigate Beth’s importance to Daryl. That is one of my fears. The sooner Daryl gets over Beth, the easier it will be for people to say that Beth meant nothing to him even though I know that isn’t true and won’t ever be. I think the people that hated Beth and Daryl and Beth together are afraid too. They are afraid to see just how important Beth is to Daryl. I don’t think the question should be “When will Daryl move on?” or “How long will it take Daryl to get over Beth?” Anybody with a heart and insight on what it is to be human and love should be wondering “Will Daryl ever get over Beth?” or even “Will Daryl be able to make it?”
Daryl isn’t just walking wounded…he’s walking dead…on the inside…