He’s a bad-tempered, foulmouthed redneck. He rides a hog, frequently has dead squirrels hanging from his belt, and isn’t afraid to get his hands bloody. And he happens to have a very vocal bunch of fans—most of them ladies.
Daryl Dixon has become an unlikely hero and stand-out addition to The Walking Dead TV series. For a guy that never bathes, there are certainly a lot of women who’d like to throw themselves into his arms. And in many ways, he illustrates the power a fanbase has over entertainment today.
Just what makes Daryl so darn appealing? I’ll readily admit that out of the cast of characters, he’d be my number one choice for a survival partner. There’s his vast well of useful knowledge—Daryl grew up poor in a rural area, and often had to hunt for his own food, which is handy in a world without refrigeration. He’s the sort of tracker that would put Prince Humperdinck of The Princess Bride to shame, and no mean fighter, either. There’s the Harley, the jacket, and the antisocial air for those who enjoy a bad boy. Not to mention the crossbow, for those stealth shots in the nick of time.
And we can’t ignore that beneath the gruff demeanor he frequently affects, Daryl has shown he has a caring heart. In the initial story arc of season 2, he was the most invested in finding the lost Sophia, and went out of his way to be kind to her grieving mother, Carol. A capable hard case with a heart of gold: what more could we want?
It may be a strange concept for many horror fans—a group that is predominantly male—to wrap their heads around. But Daryl Dixon is essentially the heartthrob of The Walking Dead. He’s the little something for the ladies, yet is competent and badass enough for the guys to enjoy.
Okay, so you’ve watched the show. You’re familiar with Norman Reedus, the actor who plays Daryl. And you’re scoffing at my assessment. Don’t be quite so hasty; perhaps Reedus isn’t what you picture when you think “heartthrob,” but he has a very devoted legion of fans who would throw down with you over that.
From his indie films to the cult classic Boondock Saints, Reedus has always treated his fans well—and they’ve showered him with love in return. He’s a working actor; he may not be a household name, but he’s managed to consistently make a living in a cutthroat industry. And as is evidenced by his filmography, he likes to take meaty, controversial roles.
You can’t get much meatier than Daryl. At first glance he’s little more than an uneducated redneck. He hurls racial insults, shouts when offered emotional support, and doesn’t hesitate to rough someone up. But it’s all about the nuances. Reedus adds some rather subtle layers to Daryl that only deepen as the show progresses.
Watch him step into the farmhouse in the episode “Judge, Jury, and Executioner”: his hair is slicked back like a boy in church, his hunched shoulders make him physically smaller, he looks up hesitantly at the others as if afraid of what they think of him. Outside in the woods, in his domain, he practically swaggers and barks out his words—inside, in the presence of people that he considers his betters, he does everything he can to seem unthreatening.
This is what makes Daryl such an interesting character. One of the faults of The Walking Dead adaptation is that it’s somewhat lacking in complex characters. Most are reduced to mere caricatures or stereotypes: there’s the nerdy Asian boy, the loose cannon, the token black guy who only gets one line an episode (sorry, T-Dog).
Even Rick, the lead protagonist, is very shallow. Sure, he’s frequently struggling with a moral crisis. But he inevitably chooses the strictly “good guy” route before offering up a speech full of platitudes. Hopefully now that Shane—who was essentially the embodiment of Rick’s darker, more pragmatic side—is dead and gone, this will change.
But for my money, Daryl remains the most interesting guy in this bunch of frequently helpless survivors. And to think: he wasn’t even in the comics!
I was already a fan of Robert Kirkman’s series before AMC announced they would be producing the show. And I was more than excited when I sat down with my best friends and tuned in for the premiere. At first, it seemed the show would be incredibly faithful to the source material.
And then episode 3 aired, and there was Daryl, shooting zombies with his crossbow and getting into fights with Rick. I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve been a fan of Norman Reedus for years, and thought a brand new character would add an interesting element of surprise to the show.
Of course, it wasn’t long before the show writers made it clear that they weren’t going to stick exactly to the original comics. But Daryl is still an exciting blank slate, and with his addition the entire show could deviate in a radically new way.
At the beginning, he was intended to be just another supporting character whose skills would sometimes come in handy. But as the fans grew more vocal, demanding more and more screen time for Daryl, the writers began bumping him up to the forefront. The entire search for Sophia in season 2 can really be seen as an excuse to develop his character beyond a stereotypical redneck.
The fans aren’t just influencing the show, though, and here’s where the true power of the audience comes into play. Robert Kirkman, not only the series’ creator/writer but also an executive producer of the show, made an announcement preceding the season 2 finale: Daryl Dixon will be entering the comic series in the next run.
This is pretty damn impressive. It’s one thing for the fans to influence a television show, where it comes down to pleasing the audience in order to secure the big bucks. And it’s another thing entirely for them to influence a comic series that’s been established for nearly a decade. After all, a lot of the show’s fans have never read the comics; and many have no wish to, preferring to watch their zombie carnage rather than read it in a static graphic novel.
This cross-media impact is on the rise, and it could revolutionize the entertainment business. With sites like Twitter and Facebook interconnecting fans, celebrities, and creative teams, speaking out loudly can sometimes be enough. Today, the average viewer has a lot more say over what they consume than ever before.
Not to say that the character of Daryl Dixon, or even his human counterpart Norman Reedus, is a figurehead for a new revolution in entertainment. It’s simply that he’s yet another notch on the belt, another tiny victory for the ardent fans.
And for those of us who enjoy seeing a true survivor competently carve his way through the zombie apocalypse, he’s a breath of fresh air. There have been far too many useless people in the horror genre over the years, mere zombie bait for the gory payoffs. When we see Daryl ride in on his hog, crossbow loaded and ready, we know we’re in good hands.
Related: Is it inevitable we’ll see Daryl with Carol next season? Christopher Morgan has his opinions. Share yours!
Angie Barry wrote her thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films. Meeting George Romero is high on her bucket list, and she has spent hours putting together her zombie apocalypse survival plan. She also writes horror and fantasy in her spare time, and watches far too much Doctor Who. You can find her at Livejournal.com under the handle “zombres.”
Read all posts by Angie Barry on Criminal Element.