"I, er, love what you've done with the place. Who's your decorator, Van Gogh?"
I speak, of course of Daryl Dixon of "The Walking Dead" fame. As I've previously mentioned, he caught my attention kind of like Dorothy's house caught the attention of the Wicked Witch of the East during the ode to Daryl that was episode 5 of season 2, "Chupacabra." In the course of one episode, we saw a man obsessed with his heroic quest, then rendered into boyish vulnerability by the spectre of his ogre of a big brother, and finishing in a spectacle of sheer zombie-slaying badassery worthy of the Chuck Norris-style jokes that have since sprung up around the character. Needless to say, I've been a Daryl fan ever since.
Somewhere, Chuck Norris is gnashing his teeth and punching a wall.
Since then, the show's taken care not to neglect the fans' fascination with Daryl Dixon. He doesn't say much, still, but when he does speak, it's worth hearing. And every twitch and glare and reserved glance falls into place like a piece of a puzzle that's just beginning to come together before our very eyes. In our second episode back after the devastating mid-season finale, "Triggerfinger," we saw the above-described camp scene wherein our hero has chosen to stand apart from the others distrustfully and hunker down among his trophies. And consistent with what we saw in "Chupacabra," where you expect to see a lone wolf-type warrior, there's a little boy peeking warily out from his pillow fort in that moment. Far from undermining his authority as a ass-kicking machine, these moments save him from being just a one-dimensional action hero and make him seem like a relatable human being.
"You wanna come play in my fort? I got some dead squirrels!"
But the man-child sweetness wasn't all that this season had in store for Daryl, post-Chupacabra. In "Judge, Jury, and Executioner," we start out with Daryl as an enforcer, torturing their captive, Randall, in an effort to find out if he's a threat to the group. There is something frightening, but judicious in his torment. Calculation flits through his stony-eyed stare, and you can see that he's not just bloodying Randall up because he enjoys it. Still, the brutality scares Carol, and did send a little chill through yours truly. Lest we forget that Mr. Dixon is not just about giving us the warm fuzzies, let those bloody knuckles serve as a reminder...
But later, as Dale endeavors to convince the group to spare Randall and, in doing so, hold on to their humanity, he comes to Daryl not for his brute force, his deadly accuracy with a crossbow, or his creative ways of smashing in zombie heads with nearby sticks. He comes to him as someone who has Rick's ear. (Hopefully not in the literal sense... *eyes ear decor suspiciously.*) Dale speaks to him as a decent man, someone who wanted to save Sophia and searched for her tirelessly, and someone whose opinion is worthy of respect. And suddenly, Daryl pipes up that he knew Shane lied about how Otis died. He points out that Shane claims Otis was covering Shane's retreat from the school, but Shane returned with Otis' gun. Aaaah... Now I didn't put that one together, myself. Well done, redneck ninja. Or shall we call you the redneck Sherlock Holmes now?
"It's elementary, my dear Shane. No, seriously. That's the highest grade I went to. School is for suckers. Everything I need to know, I learned in redneck kindergarten."
Dale's perception of Daryl's worth is vindicated a short time later when Dale is attacked in the field by a walker and has his guts scooped out like a generous serving of gooey butter pecan ice cream. Daryl is the first one to come to his rescue, slamming down onto the walker and smashing its brains in. But it's too late for our dear Dale, who is dying in horrible agony. And in this moment, when there's nothing to do but watch him suffer or help him end it, no one can stand to put him out of his misery. Except for Daryl, who takes the gun from Rick and puts a merciful bullet in Dale's brain with respect and reverence.
Everytime a bell rings, a redneck gets an angel vest.
By the end of season 2, and especially in the wake of Shane's (timely) passing, we can see Daryl stepping forward more and more as second-in-command, the Oats to Rick's Hall. And boy, does this make Rick's dreams come true. He's got to feel thankful that Daryl's shown about as much romantic interest in any of the women in the group as he has in selling Mary Kay products door to door to make a little pocket money during the apocalypse. So Rick can rest easy that his new number 2 won't be sticking it to his wife and then trying to lead him out to a nice dark place with his stabbing knife at the ready. And if he can get the enigmatic redneck to be a bit more forthcoming, we've gotten a smattering of clues that Big D might have quite a lot to contribute.
Still, I'll be very interested to see where they take our guy in the future. We still don't know where he's coming from, not completely. We've had the most fleeting glimpses of his childhood trauma and the bullying relationship he had with big brother Merle. So while I do want to see Daryl as the enforcer, the sleuth, the second-in-command and the brutal warrior, I hope that whatever comes in the action-packed throes of Season 3, we don't lose that glimpse of the wary boy in his fortress of solitude. When he's surrounded by squirrels and ears and that fury that really just hides the fear that all these unlooked for connections might blow up in his face and leave him with still more scars that won't heal, this is what makes me watch his character with such keen fascination. Because I came for the badassery, but I stay for the child-like vulnerability. So may my favorite redneck man-boy ever reign supreme in the coming seasons, but continue to stay true to his roots.