“If Daryl dies, we riot”
The phrase is a trademark to fans of The Walking Dead; covering t-shirts, mugs, stickers, hats, etc – no one is shy about voicing their opinion that Daryl Dixon is a critical and important part of TWD and it’s family. Part of the appeal of Daryl is the charisma Norman brings to the character and while fans were worried about the future of both Norman and Daryl at the start of ‘The Cell’, it looks like we all survived another day without that riot – but just barely.
The last time we saw Daryl he was being thrown into the back of a vehicle like old trash after being taunted by Negan and when we thought that was bad; it was only the beginning. For the first time, at the beginning of this episode, Daryl is stripped – not just of his clothes and his weapons but his voice and of his dignity. He spends most of the episode shaking, breathing hard, and feeling so much guilt that viewers carried the weight at home too.
The purpose of this episode was to make it clear that Daryl is coming face to face with someone who threatens to break him, and while he falls into a deeper darkness than we’ve seen him in thus far, he also shines – even covered in dirt – in a way that’s so Daryl it pulled on your heartstrings. We saw him struggle against Negan – and all the other Negans – against Dwight, and against himself.
While Daryl spends most of the episode mute; the first words he says when he does speak are important.
“I ain’t never gonna kneel”
“Yeah I said that too”
“Yeah I know”
“See that’s the thing man, you don’t, but you’re gonna”
While this strength, along with a desperate attempt to break out of his confines – which stood as a set up by Negan and his minions – ends up getting Daryl brutally beaten, he takes it in stride. We find out as the episode progresses that the reasons for his strength are not selfish in nature, they stand for something bigger than himself.
Both Dwight and Negan try to persuade Daryl to give up and give in and in one final attempt, Negan tells him of all the glamor and glory he could have if he just answered one question: “Who are you” and in true Daryl form, he gave the right answer; even if it’s not the one Negan was looking for.
The choice to not break down and refer to himself as Negan stands for more than just Daryl being Daryl, it stands for hope, for purpose, and for courage – all things that Glenn stood for, all things that Daryl hopes he can possess to keep Glenn’s memory alive. He has an exchange with Dwight where he tells him that he understands why Dwight gave in, why he became Negan.
“I get why you did it, why you took it; you were thinking about someone else – it’s why I cant”
During the episode, while fans were tweeting their feelings about a beaten, naked, pained, and broken Daryl, Norman reassured everyone that he was strong, and he still has fire in his heart.
So while Daryl lives another day, as do the hopes and hearts of the fans, it looks like the slogan may change in the future because if there’s another episode like this one, we feel a riot coming on.