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.