My very first article on this site, many months and miles ago, was a fan girl love fest called Five Reason Why Daryl is My Favorite. After Season 2’s finale, Beside the Dying Fire, I have found that I just gotta’ go there again. Even though I’ve been down this road before, Daryl was, as a character, still in its infancy. He is more of an adolescent now. He’s grown and matured a bit; he’s learned from some of his mistakes; he seems on his way to becoming a responsible, respected member of society. (We only wish we could say this about all REAL children, don’t we?)
My previous reasons for liking this character so much were:
Daryl is a wild card;
Daryl is Mr. Practical;
Daryl calls it like he sees it;
Daryl is decisive;
Daryl has feelings, but he doesn’t let them control him.
Most of those still stand, with slight adjustment. Although he is less of a wild card and his actions are not as unpredictable, he still surprises us frequently. He is still very practical. He still calls things like he sees them. Decisiveness is still a key part of his character, although he is now somewhat less likely to shoot first and ask questions later. He also still keeps control of his emotions, well mostly. He still has some issues with that anger thing. But having now seen Daryl in a variety of situations and been given clues to his budding friendships with the others, we have a better picture of the man he truly is. So, I now give you Five Reasons Why Daryl is STILL My Favorite.
1) Daryl’s observation skills are exceptional. Several scenes in Season 2 have shown that Daryl notices damn near everything, even if he doesn’t feel the need to share. The perfect example is when he deduced that Shane killed Otis. Daryl told Dale in Judge, Jury, Executioner that he knew Shane had probably killed Otis because Shane “showed up with a dead guy’s gun” after the expedition to the high school. My husband, Jeff, with his own brilliant observation skills, quickly pointed out that detail when Save the Last One aired. As Shane wrenched Rick’s Colt Python from Otis’s hand, Jeff commented “So how is he going to explain having the gun?” We were both disappointed that no one in the group seemed to notice. Indeed, if events had played out the way Shane claimed, there’s no way he would’ve had the Python. It would still be in the undead claw of walker Otis. But the writers were only biding their time and we eventually had a payoff: someone HAD noticed. I’m very glad it was Daryl, because it added an air of intelligence that wasn’t apparent when the character was first introduced.
Although he seems by nature to be a suspicious guy, more than that makes Daryl’s observation skills so keen. His ability to see what others overlook comes in large part from his skills as a hunter. (Granted, he must be some kind of super tracker if he can notice – in pitch darkness – two sets of tracks, blood on a tree, and that “a little dust up occurred here,” but this is what suspension of disbelief is all about. If you can accept Andrea as an instant sharpshooter, you can accept that Daryl has freaky tracking skills.) Hunters must quietly observe their prey as they stalk it; to make the kill, they must pay attention to minutiae others would miss. It was nice to see Daryl’s tracking skills translated into his catching details about Shane’s story that the others didn’t catch. Both his ability to track things – be they escaped prisoners, missing little girls, or game animals for dinner – and his habit of noticing things about people that others don’t, Daryl’s skills of observation are HIGHLY valuable to the group.
2) Daryl’s ability to read people and situations is almost uncanny. This goes hand in hand with his observation skills. If you pay close attention to someone’s body language or improbable details in a story someone tells, you will often be able to figure out what people are really thinking or that there are things they aren’t telling you that they should be. In the conversation mentioned above, Daryl tells Dale something that shows he easily identified Rick’s inability to see clearly things about Shane. Regarding Rick’s not picking up on the likelihood that Shane killed Otis, Daryl says “Rick ain’t stupid. If he didn’t figure it out, it was cuz he didn’t wanna.’” Wow… a pretty damn good call on how Rick viewed Shane. Rick, so blinded by what Shane used to be, could not see what Shane had become. Daryl saw that Rick’s long held feelings clouded his perception of his best friend. Daryl also saw that it was Rick’s own fault if he couldn’t or wouldn’t adjust his view of Shane. Daryl just didn’t feel the need to point this out to Rick.
He was not shy however about making it known that he thought Shane was lying in Better Angels. When he asked Shane how Randall was able to get the jump on the former deputy despite only weighing “a buck twenty-five,” it was pretty obvious he could read Shane and the situation for what it really was. Didn’t mean he knew what Shane was up to, only that something didn’t smell right about Shane’s description of events. It also reinforced the fact he calls it like he sees it and he called “bullshit” on Shane’s story.
3) Daryl is willing to help Rick with the “heavy lifting.” In both interrogating Randall and shooting Dale, Daryl showed he is capable of carrying out unpleasant tasks if they need to be done. This is something that others – and yes, I’m talking about Shane here – have not been either willing or able to do. I suspect that even if Shane had remained alive, Daryl would still have become Rick’s wingman and Shane’s role in the group’s leadership would have diminished significantly.
I’ve seen many comments online recently describing Daryl as “Rick’s enforcer,” but I disagree with that assessment. Daryl is not an enforcer by the classic definition of the word. According to Miriam Webster, my favorite dictionary, “enforcer” is defined as “1.) one that enforces 2.) a: a violent criminal employed by a crime syndicate; b: a player known for rough play and fighting.” (There are other definitions, but only one of the 10 or so I could find would fit Daryl’s role as “one whose job it is to execute unpleasant tasks for a superior” and to me, that is a definition by usage, not a meaning that comes from the actual word history. It’s a minor academic point, but I am a minor academic!) An enforcer’s role is to ensure compliance with rules or help maintain rule over a group. Daryl does neither. An enforcer’s role is to be a violent man. Daryl is not. He is simply a man capable of violence. There is a difference. Daryl doesn’t necessarily LIKE violence; he is however very good at it, when he has to be.
4) Daryl gets some of the best lines. If it is smart-assed or sarcastic and delivered dead-pan with a dash of piss and vinegar, chances are Daryl is the one saying it. My favorites in Season 2 include:
“Climb out of my ass, old man!” to Dale when he ask asks if Daryl let Lori go with Maggie in Triggerfinger.
“It ain’t the mountains of Tibet; it’s Georgia!” to Andrea when she asks if Daryl thinks they’ll find Sophia in Save the Last One.
“Look at him. Hanging up there like a big piñata.” To Andrea when they find the tree walker in Save the Last One.
“That’s the third time you’ve pointed that thing at my head. You gonna’ shoot me or what?” to Rick in Chupacabra, followed of course by “I didn’t think you’d do it” when Andrea actually takes a shot at him.
“Shoot me again, you best pray I’m dead” to Andrea in Secrets.
“It’s as good a night as any” to Herschel in Beside the Dying Fire when Herschel tells him “It’s my farm; I’ll die here.”
5) Daryl is part of the group, again. Early in Season 2, he accepted direction from Rick in the search for Sophia. As he put so much of himself into that search, we could see Daryl slowly becoming more a part of the group. He opened up a bit to Andrea and Carol. He defended Rick to his hallucination of Merle. But let’s face it; if they planned to keep Daryl in the series, the writers had to give him greater depth and more back story. They had to give him more emotional ties to the group. (Sadly, they have yet to do the same things for T-Dog, but that’s another article!) To say Daryl withdrew emotionally and physically from the others after Sophia was discovered in the barn would be a huge understatement. Daryl got the bitterness and pain out of his system the only way he knew how: he got mad; he yelled at people; he blamed the innocent; and he stalked off to pout and cool down. But, eventually, he dealt with the situation and his anger about it lessened.
Daryl was still standoffish, but he slowly reintegrated. For example, he told Dale in Judge, Jury, Executioner that the group was “broken” and that he was better off fending for himself, but he didn’t leave. Daryl was also willing to accompany Rick to remove Randall from the farm in Better Angels, even though he was unconcerned with Randall’s fate. His only voiced thought on the situation was that once they were done “this whole pain in the ass will be a distant memory,” adding “good riddance.” A moment later, when Rick specifically asks if he’s “good with this,” Daryl replies “I don’t see us tradin’ haymakers at the side of the road; nobody wins that fight.” This provides a subtle reminder that Daryl, unlike Shane, won’t question Rick’s decisions or challenge Rick’s authority. He showed that despite being a loner who was perfectly capable of surviving without the group he was willing to be a team player. When the group comes back together on the highway after the farm is overrun in Beside the Dying Fire, it was especially heartening to see Rick and Daryl lock hands like they did. To me, that action showed Daryl’s growing connection to Rick as did his defense of Rick to Carol later beside the campfire when Carol appeared to be trying to talk him into either taking control of the group or leaving it. Daryl isn’t interested in her suggestion. Now that it is now longer a democracy, maybe Daryl will become Rick’s enforcer instead of just Rick’s doer of difficult and dirty deeds.
This last point brings me to a very important question: What happens when Merle returns? Merle is said to be returning at some point in Season 3. Daryl, in his new position as Rick’s wingman, you know, the position that Shane, uh, vacated, will undoubtedly be torn between his brother and the group. Yes, Merle is kin, but the group is becoming more of a “family” to Daryl then I think the older Dixon boy was ever capable of being, shared DNA be damned. Hell yes, there will be fireworks between the brothers, that goes without saying. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: watching Michael Rooker and Norman Reedus on screen together is well worth the price of admission. Hell, it’s worth the cost of two tickets!
As the writers explored Daryl’s character over the course of Season 2, Reedus continued to use body language to provide his own clues about Daryl’s personality. At times, Daryl’s inner struggle with being a part of the group versus keeping himself on its periphery – a key element for the character’s development – was almost painfully obvious. We often saw him off to the side of the group, unengaged, which showed us two things: 1.) he was still a loner and not comfortable connecting with people or forming close friendships; and 2.) he was always watching and evaluating his fellow survivors, trying to determine if they were worth his time and effort.
His mannerisms and facial expressions also provided insight into Daryl’s thoughts. Sometimes that vision was cloudy; other times it was as clear as an August morning in Georgia after the haze of dawn has burned away. As Shane told the story about Otis’s last moments, we saw Daryl in the background, saying nothing, just squinting as he listened. Was he skeptical of Shane’s tale or just bored and ready to get the whole affair over with so he could continue the search for Sophia? As the story played out, it appeared to have been both. But when he questioned Shane about his story regarding Randall, there was no confusion over what Daryl was really thinking. His wrinkled brow and “that just don’t make no sense” expression emphasized the fact he wasn’t buying what the other man was trying to sell.
Finally, another important element for the character’s development, the amount of anger he displayed changed minutely. Daryl still had a couple of verbal explosions, but all in all, he seemed to have mellowed somewhat, perhaps because he is more distanced by time from Merle. In Season 2 there were no squirrels thrown at anyone, no knives pulled, fewer veiled threats and angry, arms-folded-across-his-chest stances, and much less glaring. Okay, so there was still a LOT of glaring, but for the most part, it felt less… hostile. Which brings to mind a comment that I once heard Reedus make; he said that giving people dirty looks “kind of turned into a career” for him. Good thing too, because trust me, dude, we fan girls LOVE those dirty looks! Keep ‘em coming.
I know many of you were hoping for another Daryl-centric blog post. Until the second half of this season begins, however, I feel like there isn’t much to say about Daryl that I haven’t already said. So for this entry I decided to focus on the character I have come to view as the “anti-Daryl”: Shane. I call him that because of the obvious contrasts between the two characters during the first half of the second season. Daryl became (for the most part) calmer while Shane lost control. Daryl began to find himself while Shane began to lose himself. Daryl’s actions allowed him to connect with others while Shane’s actions further isolated him. Daryl became a better man while Shane became a lesser man.
I doubt Shane ever saw this coming. Sure, we could see that he was probably always a little hot-tempered, but we thought and he knew that he was a good guy; he took every step he could to keep safe those whom he was charged with protecting. His sole mission once the world went to hell was to save his best friend’s wife and son from the horrors that surrounded them. But circumstances got the better of Shane and he started doing things that maybe a “good guy” wouldn’t do.
From the beginning, Shane’s comfort level as a big fish in his small pond stood out. Prior to the outbreak, he’d been a figure of authority in his community. Of course he should lead this band of survivors. He held no doubt in his mind about that fact. When Rick returned, however, he replaced Shane as top dog. The group immediately turned to Rick and rejected Shane as a leader. More importantly to Shane, Lori also rejected him as her mate.
Had Shane really fallen in love with Lori in the, oh, four or five weeks that passed since the outbreak? Perhaps he cared deeply for Lori for years but knew, as his best friend’s girl, she was unobtainable. More likely, the intensity of the situation and his deep desire to protect her and Carl caused Shane to feel what he thought was a deeper connection to Lori, obviously much more than she felt to him. Yet it was obvious once her husband showed up, that Lori was 100% Rick’s.
Shane’s veiled hostility grew as rejections by the group and Lori continued to pile up. We saw red-tinged anger cross his face when Rick’s back was turned. Although Rick was his best friend, Rick also invaded his territory and took away his power. Lori’s rejection? Just icing on the proverbial cake. Every time Shane was rejected in one form or another, particularly by Lori, we saw a little more of the darkness in his soul creeping toward the surface.
Unable or unwilling to lash out at Lori after she told him that her family was “off-limits,” Shane instead beat Ed to a bloody pulp after Ed struck Carol. As a lawman, Shane would have been trained to keep a cool head in such situations, but he threw his training to the wind and took out his frustration over the situation with Lori on Ed.
Shane tried unsuccessfully to convince Lori to back his plan to go to Fort Benning instead of Rick’s plan to go to the CDC. Not long after their discussion, Shane sights his rifle on Rick in the woods and we wondered if he would have taken the shot were it not for Dale’s interference.
While at the CDC, Lori rejects Shane’s advances and we all remember his reaction. Forcing himself on her was the action of a desperate, lonely, and drunken man who would do anything – even sexual violence – to get what he wanted. It gave us foreshadowing for other repulsive acts Shane would also willingly commit. This scene was also the turning point for many fans and their opinion of Shane’s character, because it showed what he was capable of doing and made us realize just how dangerous he truly was.
Shane’s acrimony toward Rick’s leadership increased as the first half of Season 2 progressed. He argued about every decision – particularly the one to continue searching for Sophia – and in doing so challenged Rick as the alpha male. It was never clear to me whether Shane’s growing contentiousness was simply because he genuinely disagreed with Rick, because everyone else looked to Rick instead of him for leadership, or because he couldn’t have Lori.
Shane bounced back when Carl was injured, being a true friend to Rick when he needed one most and a good guy again, but this was short-lived. Shooting Otis to ensure his own escape from the walkers showed a man who’d lost his humanity. Fans view this act in two distinctly different ways: 1) “He did what had to be done” or; 2) ”How could he do that?” I suppose including that example here makes it obvious I lean toward the second view. I understand that people will do anything to save someone they love – especially a child. I still view Shane’s action as nothing less than cold-blooded murder. At the point he choose to shoot Otis he lost, to me at least, the last shred of what made him human to begin with.
As Season 2 continued, Shane’s leadership continued to be rejected by the group. Although there are no direct examples of this, when Carol told Lori that she was, as Rick’s wife, the de facto “first lady” of the group, it indicated the general feeling among the others as well. Shane would have picked up on these feelings, even if no one directly spoke the words to him. Lori openly rejected both his leadership skills and feelings for her when she asked if he would willingly leave behind a lost little girl in order to keep her and Carl safe. His silence on the matter spoke volumes. These were additional blows to Shane’s fragile ego.
After discovering that Lori is pregnant in Pretty Much Dead Already, Shane tried to convince her that she should be with him instead of Rick. He implied he was better suited to protect her and her unborn baby than Rick, saying that Rick wasn’t cut out for their new world and he, Shane, was the one who saved her life repeatedly. He finally told her he knew he fathered her baby. When Lori replied “Even if it is yours, it’s not gonna’ be yours. It is never gonna’ be yours,” she delivered what should have been the death blow to Shane ego. By denying even the possibility that Shane fathered her child, Lori rejected Shane totally and completely.
Later, after Shane returned with the guns that he found Dale hiding in the swamp, Lori again delivered a swift kick to Shane’s ego and reinforced his place in the leadership pecking order when she told him “Rick said no guns. This is not your call. This is not your decision to make.”
During his drill sergeant routine at the barn doors, as he stomped and screamed “If you wanna’ live, you gotta’ fight for it,” questions about his motivations flew through my mind. Did Shane feel compelled to force this confrontation with Herschel right then and there in order to openly defy and challenge Rick? Was Shane’s lack of concern for the consequences his behavior would have on the rest of the group because Lori wouldn’t acknowledge her baby could be his? Or was he just utterly convinced that his way of handling the situation was the best way.
Motivations aside, Shane’s actions put everyone in danger when he busted open the doors and let the walkers out. I will leave the debate about whether or not Shane did the right thing to others. Suffice it to say my thought on the subject is that although Shane may have been right in demanding the barn walkers be put down, it should have been handled in a more controlled manner. As Shane did it, the entire group was put in a position of unnecessary risk. Those with dark souls seldom care how their actions affect others.
Yes, Shane took charge of the barn situation, but in the end all he really did was show his inability to truly lead and just how little of a hero he really was. When Sophia stumbled out of the barn, now a walker herself, he just stood there. A real leader, as Rick showed in this scene, would have done what needed to be done and put down Sophia. Shane was only able to make easy choices – as Lori pointed out previously – such as simply abandoning Sophia, but he was incapable of making the truly hard ones. Has he never been capable of hard choices or has he become unable to do so because of his slipping sanity and inability to see beyond his own wants?
Shane is the character we most love to hate and actor Jon Bernthal does an excellent job making us do so. He seems to effortless display the physical mannerisms of someone on the edge of losing control, his body language painting a frighteningly clear picture of Shane’s mental state. The modulation in his voice and emphasis on just the right words makes us believe that he will snap at any moment. And like Norman Reedus’s portrayal of Daryl Dixon, Bernthal’s facial expressions often tell us more than his dialogue in many scenes. He makes us believe that yes, Shane is one dangerous dude.
Will Shane ever leave the group or will he remain and continue wrestling with Rick for leadership? I suspect in the second half of Season 2 we will see Shane continue challenging Rick’s status as alpha of the group. Too much has happened for Shane to back off now. He will still no doubt think that he – not Rick – was right about everything. The bigger question, the answer for which I can’t predict: Will anyone other than Dale – whom Shane on two separate occasions not so subtly threatened – ever see the growing darkness in Shane?
An apology is defined by Merriam-Webster as “an as admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret.” Dictionary.com provides a more detailed definition: “a written or spoken expression of one’s regret, remorse, or sorrow for having insulted, failed, injured, or wronged another.” The act of apologizing, however, goes far beyond these barebones definitions. In their book The Five Languages of Apology, authors Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas call apologizing “a cry for reconciliation restoration of the relationship.” Dr. Claude Steiner, Ph.D. offers an expanded explanation of this concept in his paper Apology; The Transactional Analysis of a Fundamental Exchange. Steiner writes “When, in the course of everyday life, one person injures another in minor or major ways, almost always in the form of some sort of violence – emotional or physical, subtle or crude – an apology, with amends if necessary, is a powerful transaction which can deliver peace of mind and healing for all parties involved.”
Both theories share a common element: We don’t apologize so much because we feel regret; we apologize because we know we have damaged our relationship with the other person and we wish to repair it. I view such a reconciliation motive as Daryl’s primary reason for apologizing to Carol. Daryl isn’t exactly the kind of guy who regrets any of his actions or words; he’d have to apologize in every other sentence if he did. Apologizing to Carol demonstrated that he cared about the connection between them.
In interviews, actor Norman Reedus has often explained that connection as an example of how “damaged people are drawn to other damaged people.” There is no doubt both characters are deeply damaged. Daryl has just begun to build relationships of ANY kind and when his outburst undermined the first one in which he has invested, an apology was imperative to saving it. If Daryl had not done so, the delicate link between these two damaged souls may have been irreparably severed. That he would make such an effort to preserve that bond shows how important it is to him.
We’ve seen many small examples this season of Daryl’s tentative steps toward bonding with others in the group. Yet the final scene of Pretty Much Dead Already demonstrated the depth of his bond to Carol. Just as Rick had to be the one that put down Sophia, Daryl had to be the one that held Carol back. No one else had earned to the right. Daryl held out hope for Sophia the longest and he was the only one who could protect Carol from herself and truly comfort her when the hope they shared dissipated like mist in the morning sun. And it was a move of comfort as much as protection. He held onto her long after she stopped struggling. Perhaps in the face of lost hope, he needed the human contact as much as Carol did. This scene draws me back to the same question I always ask myself when analyzing this character: would the Daryl of Season One have done the same thing?
Some fans have viewed his growing tendency toward bonding as somehow a violation of Daryl’s badassedness. (Yes, I made up that word.) But as the writers have written him and Reedus has portrayed him, being a badass is only part of why Daryl charms us. From the beginning we’ve seen his obvious tough exterior, but we’ve starting to see a gentler side of Daryl. We’ve seen that he’s not just fending for himself; he’s also capable of expressing himself and connecting with others in the group. A friend tells me that he thinks Daryl has always been capable of these things, they were just things he’d never done because of Merle. This is very possible, but without more back story we’ll never be able to say how much Daryl held his true personality in check because of Merle and how much was an actual change in Daryl’s personality.
Looking forward to the second half of Season Two, how will Daryl react to Sophia being lost forever? Any theory I may have was negated when Reedus said in a recent MTV interview that losing Sophia pulls Daryl back into himself and away from his developing relationships with the others: “It sets him back in certain ways, in that the hope’s gone. That little girl that he’s looking for, if she’s one of them, he doesn’t really give a crap anymore…So you find out that Daryl sort of separates himself a little bit. He reacts violently to anything emotional revolving around that story line.” It appears the kinder, gentler, Daryl is going bye-bye and there will be a return to the angry country boy full of piss and vinegar.
Daryl’s return to pure badassery (yes, I made up that word, too) will be welcomed by many viewers. I’m somewhat torn. I love the badass Daryl, but I also see his giving up hope as a huge step backward for the character. I’ll accept it though, because it is believable for Daryl. As much as I want my characters to experience growth and change for the better, I want even more for them to react like real people would if they were in the same situations. (As consumers of fiction, we can only truly suspend our disbelief about bigger things like the dead walking the earth because the characters still act in believable ways.) It’s good that the writers are doing this, especially since I’ve openly complained that they were not doing so with other characters. It will undoubtedly be entertaining to watch and I’m confident the best part will be watching Reedus show Daryl’s regression while still giving us the small hints of his humanity that still lie beneath it.
So why exactly did Daryl fly off the handle and call Carol a “stupid bitch?” I got into a silly, but rather heated, conversation on Twitter about the subject just after Pretty Much Dead Already aired on 11/27/11. That exchange sparked me to look more closely at the causes of anger and examine why Daryl became so angry at someone who was expressing concern for his well-being.
Dr. Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.d. writes a blog for Psychology Today called “Evolution of the Self.” In his July 2008 entry, What Your Anger May Be Hiding, he describes anger as a “double-edged sword: terribly detrimental to relationships but nonetheless crucial in enabling many vulnerable people to emotionally survive in them.” Selzer goes on to discuss Stephen Stosny’s book Treating Attachment Abuse, writing “symptomatic anger covers up the pain of our ‘core hurts.’ These key distressful emotions include feeling ignored, unimportant, accused, guilty, untrustworthy, devalued, rejected, powerless, unlovable—or even unfit for human contact.
”Stosny describes anger as a self-soothing emotion because of the chemical process of the human brain. Anger releases the amphetamine-like epinephrine, the hormone that creates the “adrenaline rush” in a fight or flight situation. But it also releases the analgesic-like norepinephrine, which numbs the anger. This combination of hormones is seductive to the human brain, Seltzer says. “A person or situation somehow makes us feel defeated or powerless, and reactively transforming these helpless feelings into anger instantly provides us with a heightened sense of control.“ (Read Seltzer’s full blog entry at http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolution-the-self/200807/what-your-anger-may-be-hiding.)
Many interpersonal relationship experts believe anger is the result of a myriad of core causes and deflected emotions. Those most relevant to a character study of Daryl include fear, frustration, pain (emotional or physical), and bruised pride, all demonstrated by him in multiple ways.
The most basic of these causes for Daryl’s anger was that he was compromised by injury and in physical pain. Pain alone is enough to make anyone cranky. For guys like Daryl – guys who grew up having to prove their toughness – injury and pain create not just physical issues, but also emotional ones centered on feeling powerless. Feeling “useless” or “damaged” makes them feel lesser than everyone else. They get pissed off when people tell them they need to slow down or take it easy because they see the need to do such things as signs of weakness. (It’s that damned “John Wayne gene” that most men seem to have.)
Daryl, as we saw during his ordeal in the woods, also feels as if the others don’t respect him or the skills he brings to their survival; he feels devalued. Shane’s rant at Daryl near the barn at the beginning of this episode did nothing except reinforce this view. Finding Sophia was a way to prove his worthiness and value to the group. In the first episode this season, when Sophia went missing, Rick publicly put his trust in Daryl when he told the group that he’d asked Daryl to head up the search. Giving up that search would’ve been admitting he had failed at the task he took on, that he was unworthy of Rick’s trust.
Guilt and fear are other possible factors. Sophia was Daryl’s substitute for Merle. He looked for her because he couldn’t look for Merle. Daryl never really got the chance and, as his hallucinations in the woods showed, he felt guilty about that. As much as he spouted off about how Merle would shit nails if you fed him a hammer, deep down Daryl likely feared his brother was dead. Finding Sophia alive would’ve quieted that guilt and reinforced his faith that Merle was still alive. Giving up the search for Sophia would be the equivalent of giving into his fears about Merle.
Another significant factor in his meltdown with Carol is his hope. Daryl – a man who would not easily or quickly do so – let himself hope Sophia was still alive. Early in the search he was focused on the task at hand; he wanted to stop talking and start searching. His comment that “hopin’ and prayin’ is a waste of time” illustrated that he was a man of action, not of hope. But as the search went on and he found what he thought were clues indicating she may still be alive, he began to experience hope. When Sophia’s mother – the woman who should have held out hope the longest- told him that continuing to hope was misguided, it would have made him doubt himself and feel foolish. Was he wrong to ever have had hope? Did he miss something what other people saw? Just as physical injury is seen by men like Daryl to be a sign of weakness, so is being wrong. If Daryl was wrong about being able to find Sophia, if he had to admit that fact, he feels weak and therefore powerless. If he was wrong in this hope, how bruised is his pride?
The combination of these factors would lead to frustration and be enough to set off many people; such an outburst makes perfect sense for Daryl’s character. We’ve seen it before. In previous blog posts, I’ve discussed that the Daryls of the world often use anger as their coping mechanism. Moments after Daryl’s first appearance, when he heard Merle may be dead, he stifled his tears and quickly shifted his pain to rage and attacked Rick. Later, when returning to Atlanta to free Merle, Daryl doesn’t tell T-Dog “I hope Merle’s still alive up there; I’m afraid he’s dead.” Instead, with a menacing voice and a veiled threat he tells the other man “He best still be there. That’s my only word on the matter.”
Where does this sort of emotional disconnect come from? Why do other emotions often manifest themselves as anger? Conditioning. It is an idea first researched by Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov in the 1890s when he conducted his famous experiments involving dogs, food, bells, and salivation. In 1938, psychologist B.F. Skinner expanded on Pavlov’s work and coined the term “operant conditioning.” Basically, this is a way of changing behavior by using reinforcements for the desired response. Skinner’s research involved reinforcements given to animals, but the concept is often applied to reinforcements – physical and emotional, negative or positive – given to humans as a reward for a desired behavior. Imagine a young Daryl being picked on at school and coming home in tears. Even if Mr. Dixon didn’t do it, surely Merle would slap him upside the head and call him a pussy. So what does young Daryl do the next time a bully taunts him or someone calls him poor white trash? He becomes angry and violent, stomping the offender into the schoolyard dirt. This time, Merle is proud of him for being such a little badass. It is easy to see how the repetition this kind of event would lead Daryl into responding to most situations with anger over all other emotions, no matter what emotion he was truly feeling.
As we’ve watched Daryl grow as a character, we’ve seen Norman Reedus continue using subtle cues to reinforce Daryl’s development. Leading up to the verbal outburst at Carol, his expression was flat, impossible to read. In that instant, as he stepped toward Carol, I wondered exactly what Daryl was going to do. Would he reach out to Carol? Offer her words of comfort or encouragement? Would he tell her there was still hope for Sophia? For a split second, I actually wondered if he would kiss her. But the writers kept Daryl’s sharp edges that I love so much and Daryl did what Daryl does best: he exploded. He threw the saddle off its stand, called Carol a stupid bitch, and stormed out of the stable.
So…we’ve come full circle and I have to ask: how much of his angry outburst came from Daryl simply not knowing how to express his other emotions? We’ve seen tremendous growth in Daryl’s character this season, but no matter how much growth there has been, he is still struggling with the ideas that he is worthy, appreciated, and valued by the group. We saw Daryl apologize in this episode, something many would never have thought him capable of doing. In my next blog post, I’ll talk more about this and other events of the episode that illustrate his character development and what the loss of Sophia may do to undermine his growth.