Daryl and Carol. Daryl and Beth. Daryl and Connie. It's been more than a decade, but viewers have been shipping Daryl in connection with someone ever since everyone's favorite motorcycle-riding, crossbow-wielding survivalist first burst onto our screens in The Walking Dead. Now that Daryl's crossed the Atlantic in The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon and there's new will they/won't they tension between him and Isabelle, it's time to look back at the special women in his life.
"There's always been a lot of speculation and anticipation about Daryl and when is he going to get a relationship?" Denise Huth, an executive producer of The Walking Dead, said in a 2021 featurette. A lot of that speculation centered on Beth (Emily Kinney). After the prison fell, she and Daryl (Norman Reedus) spent three episodes on their own in Season 4 ("Inmates," "Still," and "Alone") and are "definitely growing close over this time," according to Robert Kirkman, an executive producer and the writer of The Walking Dead graphic novels, in a behind-the-scenes video for "Alone."
In that same video, Kinney pointed out they "definitely have a friendship and a connection that is on a very deep level." For Reedus, speaking in a video for "Still," that connection stemmed from Daryl's admiration of Beth's "naive, hopeful way, and I think it's something that is very un-Daryl-like... For him to find strength in possibly the weakest physical person in the group, but emotionally one of the strongest, I think it's very beautiful and he allows himself to be honest."
Asked directly on a Season 5 episode of Talking Dead whether Beth and Daryl's bond was more brother/sister or romantic, Kinney answered, "I think that they don't know yet. I think that Beth and Daryl were just starting to get to know each other in those episodes where they were off by themselves and then in the funeral home." Referring to one scene between their characters, she added, "I think that that moment is just them going like, 'Huh, what is this? We don't know. We have this special connection. I don't know.'" The two of them never got to explore that rapport any further since Beth died in Season 5 at Grady Memorial Hospital and Daryl was the person who sorrowfully carried her body out of the hospital.
Connie (Lauren Ridloff) showed up in Season 9 and teamed up with Daryl to search for Henry in "Guardians" and "Chokepoint." Speaking on Talking Dead about that unlikely alliance, Ridloff said, "My first thought was, 'Really, how are Daryl and Connie going to communicate? This is going to be crazy because we all know Daryl does not really talk!'"
They made it work, even as Connie displayed her trademark feistiness and a refusal to blindly follow Daryl's lead. In a behind-the-scenes video for "Chokepoint," Reedus described Connie and Daryl's relationship as "kind of cute. There's a tit for tat going back and forth with those two. We're like, 'No, no, we're going this way,' 'No, we're going that way.'... Once the dog ran after her, I was like, 'Fine, we'll go that way.' She kind of earns his respect and, I think, vice versa as well." On Talking Dead, he added that Connie "holds her own. She's super honest. She's a fighter. I think he's got a lot of admiration for her, you know?"
In the "Chokepoint" featurette, Angela Kang, the showrunner for The Walking Dead's final three seasons, discussed Connie wanting to bring Lydia back with them and Daryl wanting to leave her behind. "When Connie insists that the girl stays, we're seeing Connie, who's a little bit of a crusader by nature, sticking up for somebody who is friendless and who needs help. Connie herself has the experience of being a part of a group who felt like outsiders," Kang maintained. "She feels like it's up to them to provide some help and protection when somebody is asking for that. She really is serving as Daryl's conscience here, like, 'You know what the right thing to do is, and we should do it.'"
The depth of Daryl's feelings for Connie was evident in the Season 10 mid-season premiere, "Squeeze," where Carol's reckless pursuit of Alpha led to Magna and Connie getting trapped in a cave. A desperate Daryl, unable to rescue them, blamed Carol. Huth, in a behind-the-scenes video for "Squeeze," declared, "Ultimately the fact that Connie and Magna get left behind is a bridge too far for Daryl, and he doesn't even know how to respond to [Carol] in that moment. She can really see what she's done." Kang affirmed, "To see Daryl's hurt and his anger, [Carol] has a lot to grapple with." He even blamed Carol outright later in Season 10 for what happened to Connie, not knowing that she survived, and they would meet again in Season 11.
Daryl's one actual romantic relationship was with Leah (Lynn Collins). As we learned in Season 10's "Find Me," they met during the six-year period back in Season 9 when he retreated to the woods and searched for Rick. "It's an interesting relationship that they have and it's not necessarily a very simple romantic story," Huth explained in a featurette for "Find Me." "I think they're both coming into it with a lot of grief. They're both coming into it with a lot of heavy weight to them of what they've lost, what they're searching for. And they find in the moment that they can come together and provide each other with a little bit of comfort."
Executive Producer Scott Gimple considered in the same featurette what this development meant for Daryl: "This story, who Daryl is and just how much this experience changed him and opened him up, it was just super important to portray. He hasn't let himself be the way that we see him in these flashbacks. We get to see this other side of Daryl that has always existed. It just never had a chance to come out."
But when Daryl wanted to go away for several days to keep up his hunt for Rick's body, Leah wasn't having it and gave him an ultimatum. He chose to go but then changed his mind, only to find her missing and her cabin ransacked. They encountered each other again in Season 11 when the Reapers captured Daryl and he discovered that Leah was part of this deadly organization, which eventually integrated him into the group. In an interview with amc.com after Season 11's "For Blood," Collins talked about where things stood at that point for Daryl and Leah, saying, "Of course they have feelings for each other. As he is 'becoming one of the Reapers,' it's a conflict for her because where is her allegiance going to lie? And how much can she even express her true feelings and love, when she knows that showing that vulnerability in the community that she's in will make her an outcast? I don't think there's a way for them to be boyfriend and girlfriend in the Reaper world. It's about trying to make sure they don't kill us and trying to stay alive herself."
Once she found out that Daryl lied to her the whole time about Maggie's group, Collins said his deception almost destroyed them. "In my mind, once you love someone, you never stop loving someone, at least in my experience. So how do you live with that?" Collins mused. "I think, for her, of course she still loves him, but he's betrayed her on multiple levels, multiple times now. So, she has to choose something different. She can't choose him." Things had ended for good between them when, later in the season, Daryl killed Leah in "Acts of God" in order to save Maggie.
Fans have wanted to set Daryl up with Carol (Melissa McBride) almost since the beginning of the series. They forged a connection in Season 2 when Daryl did everything he could to find Sophia. In a behind-the-scenes video for "Cherokee Rose," Melissa McBride noted that Daryl and Carol "relate to one another. I think they share some wounds. There's a subconscious familiarity between the two, a reflection of each other." For his part, in a video for "Chupacabra," Reedus characterized their relationship as one of "damaged people connecting with damaged people. They've both been shoved to the ground and put down and been a victim for so long."
McBride told amc.com in a Season 11 Q&A that "Cherokee Rose" was one of her favorite episodes. "Daryl is just so endearing. When he brought the Cherokee Rose and told the story, it reminded me of a little kid doing a class report. It was adorable! The little nerd trying to remember the story and it was really sweet," McBride recalled. "I guess that's kind of the start of it a little bit, yeah? That scene was so beautiful. I'm glad that these two became the team that they did. What I love about the two of them is that they fell into the relationship. It became what it became so organically. It didn't feel like the writers went in there and tried to formulate something."
Carol has been Daryl's most enduring friendship, and each has called the other their "best friend." But that didn't stop the audience from wanting them to take things to the next level. In a Season 8 Talking Dead appearance, Reedus shared that he didn't think Daryl ever dated pre-apocalypse and that he wasn't opposed to a Daryl/Carol romance. "You just never know with this show what they're going to do," he said. "And I love Melissa, more than Daryl loves Carol even, so, you know, never say never."
He expanded on those comments in a Season 9 Q&A, remarking, "I like the direction she and I are going. It’s always about story first. Their bond is such a deep bond. I will say that if you ever read a script and things are going your way, you should watch your ass. [Laughs] This show doesn’t let people be happy for too long. If Carol is happy, Daryl is happy. That’s the bottom line. That’s a mature kind of love."
Who knows what the future holds for Daryl? Perhaps he'll find eternal happiness with a nun in France. Maybe he'll return Stateside and rekindle a friendship that will blur into romance. Or someone completely new will enter his orbit. Whoever it is, rest assured that viewers won't stop hoping that Daryl rides off on that bike into the sunset with someone by his side.
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