This Review contains spoilers for episode 1018.

In one of the most cinematic episodes of The Walking Dead, Carol and Daryl spend the day together and pick at the scab of their friendship.  We learn the origins of Dog, and we see what Daryl did in the years after Rick blew himself off of a bridge.

A Day In The Country

Friendship can be difficult in even the best of times. That is especially true when that friend knows you well, knows your secrets, knows your faults, and expects more from you than you expect from yourself. A friend has not only seen your wounds, but sometimes they have been the ones that have inflicted those wounds on you. Sometimes our truest friends are the ones that say what we need to hear,  no matter how much we don’t want to hear it. Carol and Daryl have been through a lot together. Both are survivors.  Both were underestimated by the people in their lives before the apocalypse.  The two have relied on one another more than almost anyone else in this walker world.  

However, mistakes in this world can have severe consequences.  Carol has made choices that have cost lives, and Daryl takes the loss of every life as a burden he has to bear.  This is not a healthy mix for Carol and Daryl’s friendship.  With Connie still missing because of Carol’s actions, the rift between Carol and Daryl is deeper than ever.  The Whisperers have been dispatched, so Carol now has the time to focus on anything but Alpha.  Carol slips into her old playful banter with Daryl to test the waters, but it is clear that Daryl is not ready to be her buddy again.  Will Daryl ever be ready?  This episode gives us some clues.

The Hunt

Carol (Melissa McBride) and Daryl (Norman Reedus) spend the day on a hunt.
Carol joins Daryl on a hunt, and she tests their friendship.
(Photo: AMC / The Walking Dead)

On the hunt for deer, Daryl and Carol take a detour down by the river.  It is clear from the shared look between Carol and Daryl that neither has been down in that area lately.  This episode explores why the area holds such discomfort for their friendship still.  Daryl and Carol decide to attempt fishing, and there is some gentle ribbing.  It seems that Carol’s plan to force Daryl to spend the day with her to remind him of their friendship, might be working.

Leave it to Carol to take a light moment and dash it on the rocks, much like the fish she ran through with a spear.  Carol says, “You think our luck’s run out?”  Daryl disagrees, but Carol adds that it feels like all that is good in the world is no longer on their side.  Though both have been the strongest survivors in the series, their world views have always been at odds.  Carol is a pragmatist, and she rarely has hope for the future.  Carol just wants to get through the day.  Daryl’s survival is keyed into the hope that a future is possible if you can live long enough to see it.

Out of nowhere, Dog takes off.  Carol and Daryl pursue him through the woods, and they find a cabin.  While Daryl hangs back at the edge of the clearing, Carol marches up to the door.  Dog is already inside, whining and sniffing each empty room.  While Carol is eager to fortify the dilapidated building for the night, Daryl’s face shows that this place holds ill memories for him.

Dog! An Origin Story

Five years ago, Daryl split from the group.  Obsessed with the thought of tracking down Rick, Daryl left Alexandria to spend his time living in the woods by the river, doing a grid search.  In flashbacks, we see all the ways that Daryl’s day to day was more like a punishment than a life.  It is no wonder that Daryl carried some guilt about the loss of Rick after what had happened between them just before Rick’s disappearance.  Carol visited Daryl in the woods to deliver him supplies and updates about the group.  As Daryl’s friend, Carol occasionally pushed Daryl to return home, but she knew he needed time.

While in the woods, a puppy ran up to Daryl.  After a brief hello, Daryl walks on and does not chase after the most adorable and apparently only puppy left in the world.  Further proof that Daryl is made of much stronger stuff than most of us.  When the dog returns as an adult dog a year later, a worried Daryl follows the barking dog to a cabin.  This is the same cabin from the present day, but it is clear that someone lived there then.  Daryl ran in the house when he heard walkers, and he was quickly rebuffed by the living inhabitant and her 12 gauge shotgun.  The woman briefly detained Daryl in ropes, but after a little light conversation, she let him go.  And so began a budding friendship between two lonely people and their rooms full of baggage about their found families.

A Courting We Will Go

Leah holds Daryl at gunpoint
After Rick’s disappearance, Daryl encounters a woman named Leah in the woods.
(Photo: AMC / The Walking Dead)

It is clear that the mystery woman and Daryl have stubbornness in common after we witness a few friendly encounters between Leah and Daryl.  In the colder months, Leah noticed Daryl’s flirtation with frostbite, and she invited him to stay with her for a bit.  Overnight, Daryl heard a crash.  In the main room, Leah cleaned up the pieces of a smashed frame that had a picture of her with a little boy.  Leah shared the story of her son Matthew and the family she had found after the apocalypse.  After the loss of everyone she knew but Dog, Leah has been without any contact with another soul until Daryl stumbled onto her cabin.

Sensing a shared story, Leah asked Daryl who he had lost.  “My brother,” Daryl says.  We may think of Merle, but it is clear that Daryl meant his found family.  Daryl said he had not yet found a body.  “I’m not gonna stop till I find out [what happened to him],” Daryl said.  With a smirk, Leah said, “Always the hero, huh?”  And while Leah is absolutely right, she does not understand the amount of guilt tied up in Daryl’s search for his brother that was paired with his hero complex.

Friends to Lovers?

Over time, Leah and Daryl’s relationship blossomed.  The episode hints that they were lovers, but whatever affection was there, Daryl abandoned it in favor of returning to the river.  Frustrated, Leah told Daryl that he belonged in one of three places: searching for Rick, returning to his found family, or staying with Leah.  Though Daryl said he did not know where he belonged, Leah knew better.  “Yeah you do.  Now choose,” Leah said.

Unable to make that decision, Daryl returned to his search.  Carol checked in on Daryl, and Daryl told Carol that she did not need his permission to move on with her life.

“I want you to find some peace, I don’t want to lose you out here, okay?  I don’t want to lose you because you can’t figure out when to stop”

Carol to Daryl

Daryl promised Carol she would not lose him.  But this was before Connie, and we don’t know if he can still keep that promise.

After Carol left, Daryl returned to the cabin.  Daryl told Leah that he would return in a few days, but when he does, she is gone.  There are no clues as to what happened, but Daryl sprang into hero mode.  Daryl dashed off a note that read, “I belong with you.  Find me.”  With the note stashed under the floorboards in Leah’s hiding place, Daryl ran out in search of Leah.

No Time for Friendship Bracelets

In the present day, Daryl laments that he had not been there to protect Leah.  “I could have  helped her,” Daryl says.  Carol asks Daryl if Leah had left on her own, but Daryl chaffs at the idea.  Daryl wants to blame himself for another death, and as his friend, Carol clocks this.  “Stop thinking that every time you lose someone it’s because of you.  Something you did wrong,” Carol says.  “I made a mistake,” Daryl argues.  “We all make mistakes,” Carol counters.

Carol tells Daryl not to blame himself for the loss of Leah, Rick, or Connie, and now the floodgates are open.  “No.  It’s on you.  Because you never know when to stop,” Daryl complains.  Carol looks surprised, but it is clear that she has wanted Daryl to open up to her.  Carol apologizes for Connie’s disappearance, but she adds that she is not sorry for dealing with the horde or Alpha.

“That’s all that matters?  Being right?” Daryl says.  Daryl lashes out and yells that Carol’s answer for everything is to run and he is tired of running after her.  “I don’t need a savior, Daryl, and I don’t need a martyr.  I just need a friend,” Carol says.  Furious, Daryl yells back, “Friends don’t have the same damn conversation over and over again.”  Though Carol seems surprised, the viewer knows it is true.  Daryl has time and again shown his disapproval of Carol’s actions while supporting her.  Daryl has been that friend that Carol says she wants.  But Carol has not done the same for him.  More than that, her actions have cost him Connie.

Carol gets it now though.  There is no going back to the way things were.  Carol suggests that Daryl should have left her on the boat and let her keep running away.  Daryl stresses that he will not stop Carol any more.  “I know where I’m supposed to be,” Daryl says.  Carol’s instinct may be to run, but Daryl’s instinct is still to be the caretaker.  Daryl was her friend and savior, but he may be done with both.

“I was right,” Carol says.  As Daryl scoffs, Carol explains that she was right about their luck running out.  Carol clarifies that she had been referring to their friendship and not their future.  With it all out in the open, Carol and Daryl know where one another stand.  Will their friendship mend now?  Or will this drive them further apart?  Well they have their own series coming up after the end of this season of The Walking Dead, so they certainly will still be sharing something together.

Worth Watching?

This episode was one of the most cinematically beautiful episodes of the whole series.  Several shots would have made a gorgeous painting.  For that alone, the episode is worth watching.  If you are a fan of Carol and Daryl and their friendship, then the episode is essential viewing.  And if you are a fan or Daryl and Dog, then this fills in the blanks a bit on their stories.

As an episode, the dialogue was fairly plain.  There isn’t much plot since this is basically filling in the blanks and maybe a setup for a return of Leah in the future.  Though it was nice to see the gruff courtship between Leah and Daryl, it also felt a bit been there, done that.  Still, it really was a beautiful episode to look at, so I recommend a viewing for that if nothing else.

Odds and Eggs

  • How does poor Dog keep up with Daryl’s motorcycle?  Doesn’t it tire the poor thing out?
  • Daryl is an expert tracker yet in all his searches, he has found no evidence of the military people that extracted Rick from the river bank?
  • Daryl is only half right when he says Carol runs away – Carol remains close by so a more accurate description might be that Carol puts physical boundaries between her and her family
  • Why did Daryl dump his bike in the muddy forest?  There is literally a WALL of trees to lean it against
  • Did Daryl give up on his search for Leah when he rejoined Alexandria to deal with the Whisperers?  And does this mean the search resumes?

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