When fans describe Daryl Dixon, an array of words come to mind, words like strong and fearless and loyal. When he first met the group he was an untouchable figure, scoffing at their naivety and inexperience and hidden behind layers of personality and anger formed to keep people at a distance. As the seasons went on, however, Daryl began to form bonds with the people around him and we saw his layers begin to peel away to expose an almost vulnerable, but still incredibly strong character. It seemed that Daryl saw emotion as a sign of weakness but as the strangers from the beginning became his family, he realized that sometimes a sign of strength is caring about other people.
In the season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead, the vulnerability of Daryl is the thing that changes him forever as he can no longer take the taunting from Negan and strikes him after he teases Rosita. In the moment, Daryl wasn’t thinking “Glenn is going to die if I protect Rosita” – the truth is, no one knew what would happen with Negan; this is his ballgame now. What Daryl did know is that he needed to protect his family and to stand up for Abraham, and in that moment, it seemed like his only option.
Entertainment Weekly did an interview with Norman Reedus about what that life changing scene means for Daryl in the future and about the way this season stands to shake up everything we’ve experienced on this journey so far.
EW: After watching Daryl’s role in what happened to Glenn in the premiere, I’m really worried for that dude’s psyche going forward. Knowing him, he’s gonna blame himself for what went down, right?
Norman Reedus: He goes into a very dark place. He completely takes the weight of that and just carries that with him. He never forgives himself and he takes full responsibility. Although the thing is, Daryl didn’t say “Oh if I do this, they’ll kill Glenn.” Nobody knows what’s going to happen with that guy with the bat. Nobody knows anything. But what he was doing was protecting Rosita. Negan had that bloody bat, waving it in her face, yelling at her, and it’s right in front of my face too. We were right next to each other. And he was picking on Rosita and Daryl stood up for her and he stood up for Abraham. The outcome of that, nobody knew that was going to happen.
In the moments that follow his strike at Negan, you see Daryl lose what strength he was clinging to as he’s pulled down to the ground before being taunted himself and then thrown in the back of a van like nothing more than discarded trash. Negan is relentless, in a bad way, and stops at nothing to make the group kneeling at his feet feel worthless; he strips away everything about them that made them who they were – no one will ever be the same.
The hardest part of this for Daryl’s character is how his transformation into being a man who allowed emotion and compassion into his heart is seemingly what got him to where he is now, like in some twisted way he’s being punished for caring about these people. Even more heartbreaking than that is that he thinks he deserves it. Guilt is written all over his face as he’s seen before being tossed into the van and it’s evident in the preview for episode 3 airing this Sunday; he’s a shell of a person now.
Norman: So he was kind of apologizing for it. But the truth is that whole group on that show would have done anything to protect any of us, and that guy’s crazy with the bat. The weight of Glenn’s death is going to weigh on Daryl heavily, I know it does. He gives up, he loses the fight, he’s keeping to himself, whatever’s happening to him, he thinks he deserves it. He’s going to let it happen, which is crushing. To take somebody wild like that — a wild, pure, honest fighter like that — and just strip him of his desire to fight back or fight for anything, it’s crushing.
Norman does go on to shine a little bit of light in a hopeful situation towards the conclusion of the interview with EW as he talks about heroes and how they become bigger heroes.
Norman: It’s a different season now. We’ve never not been in control or at least thought we were in control. You have to break down heroes to see them turn into bigger heroes. Hopefully, those heroes make it and hopefully those heroes find their way back to the type of people that fight for freedom and fight for their friends. It’s just a different season. It’s uplifting and it’s heartbreaking all at the same time, it’s a very emotional ride this year. It’s a very bold move, but the payoff is really big.
While the fan reaction to Daryl’s move has been mixed, this interview, as well as statements made since the premiere, just prove that Daryl wasn’t thinking of making things worse as he struck Negan, in fact, he probably wasn’t thinking much at all. In the moment his mind and heart cried out for vengeance and season 7 seems to be a power struggle as to who is capable – or rather violent enough – to make sure their vengeance is met.
While at the moment the words that would be used to describe Daryl are reflective of a man struggling with inner turmoil and self-doubt, his strength – even while tested – has always been larger than sometimes he was even aware of and we hope that strength reigns powerful once again.