While Rick Grimes is still nominally the series lead on AMC's "The Walking Dead," the popularity of Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) can present some unique challenges in presenting the show.
For instance, at a time when the showrunners seem to be keen to adapt the comic book source material quite literally, Dixon's character is one who was invented for TV and has never had a role in the comics. This means that since the fall of the prison in 2013's midseason finale, the character's role has been significantly smaller than Rick's or Michonne's, who were the central focus of the comics around this time -- or even Abraham and company, the newcomers who the writers are attempting to establish with the viewers.
No such problems this week, as the entire episode revolved around Daryl and his current traveling companion, Beth Greene (Emily Kinney) who, conveniently enough, was dead at this point in the comic books and so whose story can be told more or less from whole cloth as well.
Check out 17 highlights from the episode "Still," which aired on Sunday, March 2. Warning: Spoilers ahead!
1. Wreck on the highway
What the heck tore the door off of that car? It's not really explored, and probably not important -- at least not in this episode, while it might turn out to be something we wish we'd though of later. The inhabitant of that car didn't appear to have been completely consumed in spite of having been immobilized, so there's a decent chance that the body turned and was killed by a human traveler.
But -- who? And are they the same ones who crashed into the car, or did whatever was done to it to bend it the wrong way?
2. Tunnel of love
That was quite an erotic entrance that Daryl and Beth made, bursting out of the dark of the woods while panting and sweating. It wasn't long before we figured out there was nothing going on -- that they were running from the undead -- but for a moment there we wondered.
And not without reason. Even Chris Hardwick -- who hosts "Talking Dead" and always claims that he knows nothing about future events but then accurately predicts them -- had the prospect of a Daryl-Beth relationship as a topic on the extended, web-only version of the show.
3. Hunter of invisible game
For the second time in as many episodes, our heroes have chosen to hide in the face of a "fight or flight" challenge. In Rick's case, it may come back to haunt him later that he didn't at least kill that guy who saw him hiding under the bed -- but here, it certainly seems like it was the only call.
That said, the show feels much more like a horror movie right now than it has in a long time. With all that's standing between Daryl, Beth and a passing herd of walkers being a zip tie on a car trunk, and the viewer's field of vision engulfed with banging, lightning, jostling and, later, the squinting against the first morning light and a close-up on their knife? It all feels like an old-school horror movie in a way that "The Walking Dead" rarely really does.
4. Jack of all trades
One man's trash is quite literally another man's treasure when you're traveling with Daryl Dixon, who gathers up the rubbish left behind by the dead and undead to assemble what's needed to start a fire, provide security for their encampment and then go hunting.
5. Life itself
It's also an emphasis on the "survival" in "survival horror," since we're literally watching them try and troubleshoot their way through just getting enough to eat without being caught and consumed themselves.
The focus on survival is a key element of this episode, obviously. In the beginning, you start with a simple survival focus: they gather garbage, they hunt, they make food, they just survive; there's no dialogue, and Daryl is eating that snake like some kind of feral beast.
The snake itself represents a Man vs. Nature conflict: it shows up and briefly we're frightened; everyone knows what that rattle is. Then Daryl destroys and consumes it. This is in contrast to the way nature is slowly winning over other elements of their situation; finally, we're starting to see the degradation of his oft-recycled crossbow bolts.
6. My best was never good enough
Daryl blames himself for this world, and while that's been out there in his previous appearances as an implied truth, it's explicitly stated.
It explains why he's kind of drifting through the world as little more than the zombies; of all the people in the prison, you would have expected Daryl to flourish on the road, but all it did was remind him of his time before finding Rick ... and even of his time before the apocalypse.
Back before he was anyone respected, or anything special.
7. Independence Day
Once again, as she did in previous episodes, Beth asserts herself to force Daryl to follow.
Previously, though, she's just kind of led him off for long enough to get him motivated, at which point he took point. This time around, she's firmly in charge of their mission and their direction, and it's worth noting that just before she declares that independence of Daryl -- a theme that will come up later when Daryl talks about never being reliant on anyone else for survival -- she'd been talking about the loss of Hershel.
The mission she sets them off on -- to get her first drink -- is in fact a sly declaration of independence from her late father, an alcoholic who became a teetotaler later in life and forbade Beth from ever having a drink.
Stepping outside of the storytelling for a moment, it's worth noting that this arc has to be great for Emily Kinney. She's pretty, she's talented and a favorite among many of the hardcore fans of the show (in no small part because of how she engages with them at conventions) ... but her character is largely defined by Kinney's music career and the bizarre decision that Glen Mazzara made repeatedly to weave that into the series.
Those scenes are often mocked by the viewers, and even Daryl gets in on the act this episode, during his brutal takedown of Beth. Having her take ownership of her situation and define her own trajectory will ultimately make her more likable and force people to take her more seriously ... assuming she survives, since we all know what tends to happen when minor characters get a bit of development on "The Walking Dead."
8. Mansion on the hill
It seems as though the golf course where Daryl and Beth find themselves while looking for a drink ("Golfers like to booze it up, right?" She asks, in what's likely to be a T-shirt on CafePress) seems to have been a survival shelter for the well-to-do before they were overrun by class warriors -- with or without the undead at their side, but certainly the undead came. Whether they were sicced upon the wealthy for trying to keep the place exclusive or just followed the invasion force in is hard to say from what little we see.
It does seem as though many of the dead were killed by blows or shots to the head, though, as in the room with the hanging zombies, there is a sea of cadavers which haven't reanimated. The fact that "we're all infected" was used to great effect last week, but this week we see quite a few people who, for whatever reason, haven't turned.
Whether it was a mercy killing that culminated in the suicide of those who did the killings, or something more violent, is hard to say. That the hanging walkers are all wearing nice clothes, though, seems to suggest the latter. Could all this have happened before the rabble even made their way in?
Worth noting that when Rick and Carl went into the suburbs, scoped out a cheap diner and then some houses, they were able to come away with an awful lot of food. Here, Daryl and Beth find nearly nothing. Granted, there is a crowd of people lined up dead out there ... but it's equally possible that part of the issue is that wealthy people tend to eat more fresh food, and less that's processed or preserved. That wouldn't have lasted long in this situation, so maybe that's what led to the murder-suicide pact?
In case it wasn't obvious enough that Daryl would have been on a different side from Beth (after all, the whole episode is about how different they are, until it's not anymore), we later get the image of Daryl playing darts with the photos of esteemed old white men of the golf club, while Beth sits at the bar and tries to have a drink.
9. Real world
Whose world are we really living in? While it's always seemed like the Dixons were best-suited for survival in the zombie apocalypse, this week we spent an awful lot of time differentiating between Daryl and Beth -- and it seems that Beth has a better handle on things than Daryl does. Not once but a few times, Daryl goes for useless baubles like cash and jewelry ... implying that while he keeps talking about the hopelessness and futility of it all, something in the back of his brain he thinks there might be an end in sight to all of this.
Could that come into play later with Eugene and his promised cure? Certainly your mind has to drift toward Abraham and company when Beth takes a long, lingering look at that souvenir spoon from The Capitol.
Beth, meanwhile, dresses nicely and wants to have a drink -- but she knows it's all an act; it's something she's doing to feel normal, but normal is not something she'll ever really get.
10. Murder Incorporated
We get to see quickly that Beth has no problem killing the walkers -- she gets one of her first really epic kills of the series here, something that Emily Kinney has said she wanted to do more of this year.
Then she turns around and can't handle the sight of the defiled corpse with the sign hung around its neck. The fact that she wants to take it down and give it some kind of respectful treatment is the same kind of attitude that brings her to later tell Daryl that he's not supposed to enjoy killing the walkers ... and that echoes something that Tara said to Abraham last week.
Abraham, if you'll remember, really enjoyed taking out that crowd of walkers. The violence makes the big lug feel important and powerful and needed in a way he probably didn't get in the old days of computers and machinery. That's a feeling Daryl is familiar with ... but it seems unlikely the pair would hit it off right away, and a lot of things in this episode seem to be pointing in the direction of these two groups crossing paths soon.
11. Straight time
Daryl is the one who rights the "tempus fugit" grandfather clock, which later comes back to haunt them. This again reinforces that he isn't quite as ready to be the leader as one might have expected, and perhaps reiterates what Rick brings to the table for the group.
Fun fact: The phrase "Tempus fugit" -- "time flees," usually translated as "time flies" -- also appeared this week on The CW's "Arrow," another comic book-to-TV adaptation.
12. When you're alone
Daryl finally snaps out of his loner funk when he sees that Beth really isn't as strong as she wants to be; she hasn't grown up completely and isn't really capable of dominating a personality like Daryl's; he simply let her because that's where his head was at.
He's still not prepared to really connect to anyone, though, so he'd rather keep up the illusion of being two people alone, traveling together than admit to her the realization he's come to, and so he has to help her in the jerkiest way he can -- by shattering the bottle she came to drink.
13. My father's house
Was it even really necessary for Daryl to tell us that this was basically his father's house? Wasn't it implied more or less the moment you stepped inside?
In any event, we get to bring the two very different worlds a bit closer together when Daryl gives Beth her first drink -- and it's moonshine. We get a lot of talk about the old days for both of them, setting off how different it used to be while underscoring how much they have in common now ... and then Beth teaches him a drinking game, which is a twist on expectations for sure.
Also: he's never been out of Georgia? Well, that's intriguing considering the subtle, recurring hints that he and Abraham are on parallel tracks.
14. Two faces
Daryl gets ugly fast once he gets a drink in him, and while they don't address it in the episode, it almost seems as though maybe it's not about being a mean drunk as much as it is about saying what he wanted to say to continue distancing himself from Beth emotionally, and getting a couple of sips in him in order to give himself an out later.
Of course, it may just be the way they shot and edited the episode for time and that might be reading too much into it.
In any event, Beth sees through it all; she knows just what to say to make him connect with her, from "I remember" Sophia to "If anyone found my dad..." and abused it the way Daryl had the walker in the woods.
Meanwhile, she's got her own deceptions, as we learn later when it turns out she's "really not a happy drunk."
15. Blood Brothers
Merle continues to haunt Daryl, and to keep him from being content and reaching his potential, even in death. The whole story about getting into a Mexican standoff with a drug addict, culminating in Merle palling around with the tweaker and laughing at Daryl's expense, is just a reminder that the elder Dixon was never really a character stable enough to remain on the show as a regular character, no matter how many fans wanted him to.
We finally get a solid answer on the "What did Daryl do before the apocalypse?" question, something that's been hanging over our characters since "30 Days Without an accident" at the beginning of this season. Last week, then, might be the only episode since the midseason break where we didn't catch an explicit reference to the season premiere. Maybe we should watch that again.
Beth, meanwhile, adores Maggie and her late brother Shawn and misses both of them. It's another way of splitting the two using their backstory, thus uniting them even more in the present.
Beth and Daryl's screaming match and then makeup is the highlight of the episode, and Kinney really impresses, owning a good chunk of the episode, particularly her big speech at the end. Reedus has said this is the episode he's most proud of, but while everyone already expected him to shine, Kinney is an exciting surprise this week.
What's also interesting is that both of them (not just Beth) seemed to really believe that seemingly self-evident nonsense in Beth's diary about living in the prison forever.
16. Last to die
Beth's speech feels like it's foreboding, but the showrunners have said this season ends on a happy ending and it seems impossible for that to be true if Maggie, Glenn and Beth don't reunite, so it's probably a feint.
That said, Reedus has said that he's worried the showrunners will kill Daryl. It seems like an impossibility, but then her "you're gonna be the last man standing" and "you're gonna miss me so bad when I'm gone, Daryl Dixon" seems like it's almost daring the universe -- especially the universe of "The Walking Dead" -- to do something horrible to him (and by extension the viewers).
The happy ending we get this episode, meanwhile, is one that throws some caution to the wind; while the first chunk of the episode was all about survival, the last bit is certainly about life itself, since they do what they want to do rather than what they should. Burning down the house obviously brings a smile to Daryl's face, and it provides a kind of thematic closure to Beth, who never got to go back to Hershel's farm after the fire to see whether there was any of her childhood there to salvage (in the comics, Rick and some of the others briefly returned there after the fall of the prison ... but again, Beth was gone by that point).
... But on the other hand, it attracts walkers from miles around and surely made getting back to some kind of safe haven for sleep pretty difficult, especially with a little liquor in Beth's skinny, 19-year-old system.
Some stray thoughts and theories:
That moonshine shed is someplace that Daryl and Michonne found while they were out scouting? Have the two of them been holding out on the others? Certainly at least Daryl and Beth could have used that shelter sooner. Was it just because he was scared that it might turn out exactly the way it did?
Beth's "if anyone found my dad..." makes us even gladder that Michonne headed back into the prison to put Hershel's head out of its misery. Meanwhile, good on the writers for having Beth refer to Sophia (whom she never met as a living person) as "that girl." What are the odds she'd remember the name of somebody she never met, and only really heard about when she was preoccupied with her own baggage and suicide attempt?
Since you're going to ask, the song that plays during that final montage is "Up the Wolves" by The Mountain Goats. Yes, we Googled it while the song was still playing rather than waiting for the credits or "Talking Dead."