To celebrate the Oct. 22 Season 8 premiere of The Walking Dead — the series’ 100th episode — Yahoo TV will be posting a new TWD-related story every day through the season opener.
Remember that time, in Season 3, when Daryl was rubbing Carol’s sore shoulder and she asked him if he wanted to screw around? And how they laughed it off? And then he said he would go down first — meaning jump down off the bus they were using as a lookout platform at the prison — and Carol turned that into a dirty joke?
But it’s also the closest the two beloved characters (seriously, they were the top two vote-getters in our recent vote-for-your-favorite-TWD character-of-all time poll) have come to a romantic hookup. Despite fans slapping them with the “Caryl” portmanteau pretty early on and shipping the bejesus out of them, and the writers deepening their friendship throughout the seasons, Carol and Daryl have yet to cross any major lines that would take that friendship in the direction of sexy times.
So … will they or won’t they ever? Though maybe the better question is, should they or shouldn’t they?
A brief history of their bonding: In Season 1, Daryl looked on (in awe … and a bit of fear?) as Carol took a pickax repeatedly to the head of her abusive dead husband, Ed. In Season 2, he made repeated efforts to help find her missing daughter, Sophia, and comforted her when Sophia was revealed to be a walker in Hershel’s barn.
Later in Season 2, he struck out verbally at Carol, blaming her for Sophia’s death because she wasn’t watching her closely enough, but the harsh outburst was one of the duo’s most pivotal moments. Carol didn’t get angry at his comments; she recognized them as the words of someone dealing with his own painful experiences of being abused and neglected.
Season 3: That aforementioned backrub/flirtation scene, and he found her alive in the prison tombs after mistakenly assuming she’d been killed. Season 4: She called him by an affectionate nickname — “Pookie” — and, in Season 5, following Rick’s banishment of her from the prison in Season 4, Carol and Daryl were reunited after she saved everyone’s bacon from the cannibals at Terminus.
Also in Season 5: Daryl and Carol bond even more deeply about their shared pasts of abuse while on a quest to find kidnapped Beth, but in Season 6, Carol’s heroics, which have included many deaths, start to catch up with her and cause her great pain and guilt. So that she doesn’t have to kill anyone else, or experience the loss of any more loved ones, she banishes herself from Alexandria.
In Season 7, unaware of Negan’s brutal, murderous run against her group, she continued to live away from her friends. But an emotional reunion with Daryl — in which he lied to her about Glenn and Abraham’s deaths to spare her further heartbreak — led her to find out the truth about the Saviors, and she’s poised to begin Season 8 fully reengaged with her friends, including Mr. Dixon.
So, that wasn’t all that brief a flashback, but it’s a necessary trip down memory lane to understand where “Caryl” started and how the relationship has evolved. Here’s my take: Carol and Daryl already are more than friends; they’re family.
During their reunion in Season 7’s “New Best Friends,” Daryl’s voice cracked when he asked her, “Where’d you go?” But it wasn’t a query with any romantic subtext.
“It’s more like a little kid whose mom left. More like that, but not that,” Norman Reedus told Yahoo Entertainment after the episode. And he agreed that the friends have been through so much together, have meant so much to each other, that their relationship transcends any simple label.
“It’s deeper than [romance],” Reedus said. “It’s hard to find and show that it’s deeper than just that, but it is. And it’s the deep ones that stick, you know what I mean? It’s not a flighty … it’s deeper than that, their relationship. It has been from the beginning, and it’s just gotten deeper, and deeper, and deeper. You can’t deny that connection … especially in this world that we’re living in, this end of the world, there’s nothing else left.”
Carol portrayer Melissa McBride agreed, and added that she sees part of the friends’ bond stemming not only from their shared history as victims of abuse, but from the fact that they can, together, safely revel in being survivors.
“[Daryl] was antagonistic in the beginning, but … to me, they’ve been teammates. I don’t see her lecturing him or anything. I don’t see her doting on him, I don’t see that motherly thing,” McBride said. “I see a protective thing, and the same thing he gives to Carol, that protection. I see them, if anything, transgress to [be] kids together.”
Which leads to another interesting point about Daryl, one that may factor into whether or not Caryl, or any other romantic pairing involving Daryl, is imminent: Daryl has evolved in big ways as a friend, certainly as a leader, in his relationships with everyone. But his emotional maturity in terms of romance? He quickly changed the subject when Carol made her “going down” innuendo in Season 3. He was protective with Beth during their post-prison adventure together, and they certainly bonded, but nothing happened between them that indicated they were physically attracted to each other (though you might argue their “white trash brunch” in Season 4’s “Alone” was the closest Daryl Dixon has ever come to a formal date). And he bonded with another female, Denise, in Season 6, but: (a) she had a girlfriend; and (b) he reminded her of her brother. As this is not Game of Thrones, there was zero romantic chemistry between them.
When we left Daryl at the end of Season 7, and where we’ll pick up with him in Season 8, his focus is on one thing: revenge. He doesn’t just want to stop Negan and the Saviors and their tyrannical rule over Alexandria and the other local communities. He doesn’t just want to open up the possibility for #TeamRick and King Ezekiel and Maggie to arrange a new world order for the future. He’s ticked off, and he wants people to suffer and die for what they did to Denise and Glenn and Abraham and Olivia (and maybe Spencer, but let’s be honest, they were never friends).
Point is, Daryl Dixon has come a long way since we first met him. Without the drain of big brother Merle’s hateful, insecure influence, Daryl became a respected leader, whose pre-apocalypse skills are among the most valuable post-apocalypse. He’s more open to being open to more people. And the former loner embraces and takes deadly seriously his role as a member of the Alexandria community.
But romance? Probably not, at least not anytime soon, not even with Carol.
The Walking Dead Season 8 premieres Oct. 22 at 9 p.m. on AMC.
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