Team Daryl… for squirrel lovers only

He can toss, shoot and gut pretty much any animal with the flick of a knife. He can even turn squirrel sushi into a finger-lickin’ meal. Like the animals this survivor is known to hunt, he is natural, untamed and fierce. But unlike his prey—which instinctively know their place in the food chain, and the world—he is searching, taking emotional bumps and bruises in the quest to become the person he is meant to be.

That this struggle takes place against the backdrop of a make believe zombiepocalypse doesn’t make Daryl Dixon’s journey any less enthralling to watch.

Who is Daryl Dixon? He is a character from The Walking Dead—a series of graphic novels by Robert Kirkman turned into one of the world’s hottest cable television shows by AMC and an insanely talented production crew. And like the tormented character of Shane Walsh for whom I’ve already expressed great affection, Daryl Dixon has an uncanny ability to pull at my heartstrings.

If you aren’t watching the show you should be. From the moment the show begins viewers are taken on the undead ride of a lifetime, watching a cast of beleaguered humans fight not only to survive, but to retain that which makes us most human.

Like many of the characters within the main survivor group Daryl—played by Norman Reedus—is changing as a result of circumstances surrounding the arrival of the age of zombie. He may not be the most educated or well-spoken survivor left on the planet, but the zombiepocalypse has afforded Daryl the opportunity to demonstrate his worth—to others, but also…to himself—while swinging his crossbow in intoxicating style.

Daryl is the everyman. The character almost every viewer can identify with.

He is battling the “nuture” he has experienced in his life to honor the “nature” that is within. The age of zombie has given Daryl what so many of us would like (though, obviously, without the zombie part)—a chance to emerge from the hurt, disappointment and mistakes of the past to become the man he never really dared hope was within.

He trips. He falls…spectacularly. And yet, every time he does, Daryl picks himself up and finds a way to battle on. Some of the stumbles are more painful than others, some may not actually be hurts Daryl can overcome.

(***Warning: Spoilers ahead***)

Defining his self-worth in his own eyes and the eyes of others matters…a lot (even if Daryl himself would probably throw something at me for saying it). I believe Carol had it right when she said Daryl is every bit as good as Rick and Shane. He is…but he just can’t quite believe it yet. There is darkness in Daryl’s past—we’ve all seen the sledgehammer hints of the kind of childhood Daryl survived. Bigotry. Distrust. Criminal activity. Emotionally abusive family members. All have left their scars. Left him unable to truly trust himself or others, even though it’s obvious he wants to.

Daryl is brave, thoughtful and capable. Three characteristics his despicable older brother Merle overshadowed, and would probably disagree with, especially when used to help defend pansies, ni**ers and democrats. With Merle out of the picture Daryl is able to use his innate personality traits and survival skills the way he wants to—as a force for good.

Daryl put his soul into the search for Sophia. In a very real way, the opportunity to find and save Sophia became a vehicle through which Daryl could do for another what no one did for him; a way to take a profound hurt that had followed him into adulthood and turn it into a powerful positive. He did everything anyone could have possibly asked of him, …and more. The search nearly cost him his life, and he would have kept at it no matter the cost. That he neither found, nor saved her—and that she came to such a gruesome end—is like a blow from Thor’s hammer.

Daryl needs Carol. She is damaged but a survivor…and one who is able to love and demonstrate affection without true fear despite what experience has taught her of love. She is the polar opposite of Merle, the nurturing force Daryl has been missing in his life. In this regard she is what Daryl could be if he continues down the path he has chosen.

Daryl suffers for his brother’s love. Daryl both loves and loathes Merle. Merle’s brand of love is harsh, demanding…abusive. But when the chips are down and there’s almost nothing left to cling to it is to Merle that Daryl’s subconscious turns to help him survive. Merle may very well be the only love Daryl has ever really known—he helped mold Daryl into the survivor that he is, but he also stunted his baby brother’s development. Somewhere deep inside Daryl knows Merle kept him from being the man he could be…a truth he’d take a swing at you for voicing, but a reality he is working very hard to change.

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