The Walking Dead: Rick’s exit paved the way for a better Daryl Dixon


The absence of Rick Grimes has ushered Daryl Dixon into a new, exciting role on The Walking Dead.

For many years, Rick Grimes and Daryl Dixon have been almost synonymous with each other. Though the pair didn’t exactly get along upon meeting each other way back in The Walking Dead’s first season, the men would eventually form a bond based on Rick’s thoughtful leadership and Daryl’s unwavering loyalty.

Season Two saw Daryl hesitantly taking on a bigger role among the survivors, but it was the third season that opened the door for the ultimate team player that Daryl Dixon could be. The season pitted the character’s past – a tragic life of abuse and loneliness that equipped him with the necessary survival instincts to make it through a zombie-filled world – against his present and future. The outcast life with his older brother, or the family life with Rick and company.

Through thick, thin and more trouble than you could possibly imagine, Daryl and Rick formed a brotherhood. They were as protective over each other as they were for everyone around them. In large part, Daryl’s loyalty allowed Rick to lead. Even when other members of the group were unsure of Rick’s decision-making, Daryl was always there, faith unwavering.

It wasn’t until the series’ eighth season that the relationship between Rick and Daryl became rocky, and the early episodes of Season Nine when we saw a true divide between them. However, even with their opposing ideals and conflict, the pair had much love for each other and a hopefulness to settle their differences. So, it comes as somewhat of a surprise that the absence of Rick Grimes from the series has paved the way for a better Daryl Dixon.

Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 7 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Through no fault of actor Norman Reedus, who has layered Daryl with gruffness, internal pain and a deep emotional connection to other characters and the audience over the last nine years, Daryl’s story had become unfortunately stale the last few seasons. Though typically lovable and an enormous selling point for fans, the character alternated between being underutilized and being entirely predictable. While the first several seasons offered Daryl a great amount of growth, recent years failed to develop the character beyond what we’d grown accustomed to.

Thankfully, under new showrunner Angela Kang, Season Nine has brought Daryl Dixon roaring back to life in a big way. While the character may have disappeared into the woods for six years following Rick’s apparent death (He never found a body, so he never gave up hope that his brother was still alive), the last several episodes have exposed Daryl to something he’s always shied away from: leadership.

The survivors of each individual group – be it Alexandria, Hilltop or The Kingdom – have yet to face a threat as dangerous and deadly as The Whisperers, a vicious antagonistic clan that wears the skin of walkers to blend in among the dead. With that new enemy now out in full force, it’s going to take someone like Daryl to lead the way. A protector with expert survival skills and instincts who doesn’t hesitate to get his hands (or face, or anywhere really) dirty.

Though the three core groups are currently at odds with each other, Daryl Dixon remains the common denominator. He’s the guy that everyone trusts. The guy who would put his life on the line for anyone and everyone if it meant just one person made it home safely. As much as we love and miss Rick, Daryl is the leader that the survivors need right now.

That newfound leadership works well for Daryl because he doesn’t view himself as a leader whatsoever. He just wants to keep good people alive, and he doesn’t hesitate in any decision making that has the potential to do so. He’s not looking for leadership status, but he’s quietly put that responsibility on his own shoulders.

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Daryl’s new direction has made the character infinitely more interesting than in recent years, and we’re loving every second of it. We’re still holding out hope for a reunion between Daryl and Rick somewhere down the road (I need messy crying and a four-minute embrace, damn it), but the absence of Sheriff Grimes has proven one indisputable fact:

Daryl Dixon was a leader all along, he just didn’t know it yet.

Catch new episodes of The Walking Dead at 9 P.M. EST on AMC.

Are you enjoying the Whisperers storyline? Let us know in the comments.