AMC’s The Walking Dead franchise spinoffs — thus far with Dead City giving us a back-to-basics team-up of Negan and Maggie — are off to a rousing start. Part of that appeal is the focus on solo-ish missions of fan-favorites and leaving behind a sprawling structure and an ensemble cast with a revolving door. The overstuffed nature of those final seasons was perhaps inevitable after the departure of core characters like Rick Grimes and Michonne. The series finale, fortunately, tied itself together with Rosita’s death, which sent the flagship show into the sunset with heart. And Daryl Dixon hopped on his motorcycle and zoomed into the distance to go, where, exactly? He had no idea, and that’s the perfect way to help this franchise find its way home.
Daryl is, quite simply, the mainstay of this franchise. Even when he lived solo in the woods, the show made this happen during a time jump, so we didn’t have to miss Norman Reedus and his crossbow. He is, as I recently wrote while recommending the “Still” episode as an essential Daryl rewatch, also the character who I’d most like to have my back. That isn’t to say that there aren’t other badasses to choose from. Carol’s a pretty close contender, and Michonne can slay Walkers like it ain’t no thing, but she’s also prone to running off and abandoning all responsibilities while looking for Dumbass Rick. Speaking of which, I’m still looking forward to that Rick and Michonne spinoff, and I will riot if there aren’t at least two instances of Rick doing something stupid on a horse and Michonne saving his ass.
We are here today, however, to talk about Daryl Dixon, the only “solo” spinoff. Yes, there have been rumors of an appearance from another key character, and no way in hell will I spoil what happens there, but this is by-and-large Daryl’s story. We find out more about his background, and yes, we do find out how he mysteriously washes ashore in France without knowing how he got there. He aims to fight his way home, a seemingly impossible task, over six episodes, and AMC is already shooting a second season in France. So, you can guess that this is not a conveniently tied-up tale, which is excellent news.
Also promising? This badass-slash-softie, who graced Judith Grimes with the “Lil’ Ass Kicker” nickname, is living up to the “Big Ass Kicker” label that she gave him in return. He’s got no choice. Does Daryl ever get tired and want to visit Nap City? We might never know because the spinoff keeps him busy.
Let’s just say that Walkers have both evolved and devolved in France. We saw some hints of variants in Dead City, but there are apparently several variants in France. We don’t get to see all of them in this handful of episodes, but there’s one “advancement” that knocks Daryl for a loop shortly after arrival.
Beyond the meat-and-potatoes stuff — the gore and heavy action — this is a fitting Daryl character study, too. Obviously, he is the least likely character that you’d ever expect to go on a European “vacation.” He even mentioned in the “Still” episode that he’d never left Georgia (at that point) or been on vacation. He’s the ultimate survivor and incredibly industrious, but France kind-of f*cks up his sh*t at first, yet not for long. He also doesn’t have a religious bone in his “hillbilly” body, something that always reminds me of Rick wondering if they should bring Paul Rovia home and Daryl dismissively remarking, “Nah, guy calls himself Jesus.”
So, there are a number of adjustments for Daryl, and that’s part of the fun. He never does lose track of his desire to return back home to his “family,” but he must first hook up with unlikely allies. And they recognize in him a purpose that takes him on detours, and most of these involve nuns and religious groups, which only amps up the raging irony of this show. Deadpan Daryl gets through it all with (mostly) seriousness, which only makes the playful tone more enjoyable. Dude cannot speak French, he has no idea how to convincingly pray, and perhaps worst of all, he has no motorcycle. He is, in every way, out of his element. This is high dramedy, y’all, and I mean that in the best way.
The new venue also puts a visually stunning stamp on the franchise, and unlike with the claustrophobic atmosphere of Dead City, we get to see survivors navigate everywhere from the quaint French countryside to the devastation of Paris and beyond. Several key scenes take place at iconic locations far beyond the Eiffel Tower, so there’s no taking the lazy “tourist” way out in this series. We also get to see how the apocalypse unfolded in the City of Light, where Isabelle (Clémence Poésy) lived a very different life before becoming a nun. Her history is surprisingly fleshed out, and we get to know a handful of characters, some of whom I’d expect to see in the next season.
The most appealing part of this spinoff — beyond the obligatory Big Ass Kicking — is that we do get to know Daryl even better than during the course of eleven prior seasons. Yes, we saw him sporadically open up throughout The Walking Dead, and those moments (as in “Cherokee Rose”) tended to hit hard. We received tastes of how he interacted with individuals — Merle, Carol, Beth, Rick, Leah, and Dog — and we learned that this loner will open up to those who slowly earn it. Yet in France, he doesn’t have the luxury of time here. He can’t compartmentalize while he adapts. Daryl’s judgment ends up being a life-and-death compass, and that keeps the adrenaline flowing.
Ultimately, this spinoff will please Daryl fans to no end. Yes, the show is at times as silly as a Daryl In Paris adventure, but Daryl also allows the audience inside of him to a degree that we haven’t seen before now. And he morphs yet never loses his essence or abandons his own values in any way. It’s a fascinating shift, and Norman Reedus made a few people chuckle when he called this spinoff “art,” yet sure, I’ll agree with that. It’s a Portrait Of A Crossbow Artist As A Big Ass Kicker, and like Daryl, it will not let you down.
‘The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon’ will ride on September 10. On a related note, ‘Ride With Norman Reedus’ will return with Keanu Reeves on the same night.