Pilgrim’s Progress: And it’s D-Day for Daryl Dixon and friends…

Coming Home? Norman hits Normandy as the Walking Dead spin-off reaches its season finale...

Over seventy years ago, a soldier lies dead on Normandy beach, one of many who stormed the beaches to defeat a global terror. Now: Daryl is trapped in a gladiatorial arena with almost no chance of survival – though he ends up having some unexpected allies who are about to crash the party. Even if he can make it out alive, there are still forces at work that want him – and his friends – dead… or undead.¬†

And at the coast, the Nest awaits with more decisions to be made about futures individual and collective… and who yet may might be waiting many shores away?

 

*spoilers*

And so… we get to the end of the first season of Daryl Dixon which has arguably done more in six continental episodes than the mothership series did in its final few seasons combined.

We start where we left of, with Daryl in a gladiatorial arena facing one of those super-charged, super-angry zombies. Though it wouldn’t be much of a show if our hero bought the big one (or if the big one bit him), there’s still a certain amount of kinetic tension as Daryl ducks and weaves and finally gains the upper hand. That’s not the end of his problems – apparently it’s only Round One. For the second, Daryl is joined by Quinn, who is also thrown into the pit. Though the two men don’t like each other, they manage to combine forces long enough to take the next wave down, helped by the fact that the drug that Genet’s doctor is using isn’t quite as reliable as planned and two of the four new opponents essentially self-destruct. An intervention from some of Isabelle’s allies also leads to a grand escape.

Quinn, unfortunately, doesn’t get out unscathed. He initially claims his injury is one of the acidic burns rather than a bite, but it becomes obvious it’s more. The two men are still chained together and the only way to separate them (from the ‘unbreakable’ chains) is to sever Quinn’s arm at the wrist. Realising he doesn’t have a lot to lose, he agrees and asks only that Daryl tell Isabelle that he was at least trying to do the right thing at the end – to which Daryl agrees. It might have been interesting to have Quinn’s actual fate left up in the air, perhaps surviving the injury, but it’s not long before his animated cadaver comes looking for lunch and it’s up to Laurent to make the choice between his no-kill policy and saving Isabelle by killing Quinn. Eventually he chooses the latter.

The landscape continues to be the supporting player that it’s been all season. Making good time and despite their injuries, Daryl, Isabelle, Laurent and Sylvie (though you could be forgiven for forgetting that last name as she’s been the character/fellow nun with almost no arc or memorable scenes so far) finally make it to the coast and the site of the ‘Nest’… and it’s got a familiar profile against the sky and horizon. No amount of CGI stagecraft could really duplicate the sheer visual impact of Mont-Saint-Michel and its famous tidal causeway (making it an island at high-tide and so defensible that the ‘island’ and its abbey have been both a stronghold and destination of pilgrims in the real world for over a thousand years). The production gets us there in enough time to appreciate its (in-universe) multi-denominational commune, real streets and abbey and make us wonder how we’re going to leave things by the time the credits roll.

Is Daryl going to leave – after all, that was always the plan and he has people counting on him back in Atlanta. He’s clearly grown close to Isabelle (and there’s a moment with a bare-shouldered Isabelle that’s clearly intended to simmer) and is something of a substitute father-figure to Laurent) and they certainly pile on enough emotional blackmail to make him consider staying. But, in the end, he realises he needs to return to the US and is told a boat will pick him up several miles along the coats and will get him some of the way back. He sets out through glorious, sun-lit gallic countryside and it really looks like he’s going to follow through. Acting as a book-ending balance to the opening scene, there’s a touching moment when he finds a cemetery on the cliffs overlooking the ocean and finally (if stretching credibility a little) sees the grave of his grandfather who died storming Normandy, the one that may have been brave but continued a cycle of hurt and abandonment for his family by never making it home.

Daryl makes it to the shore and just as he’s about to leave, he sees Laurent waving to him and a group of the undead heading towards him. It’s fight-or-flight time but what will Daryl chose? We’ll have to wait to find out! Grrr. Argggh!

There’s a lot of other things we don’t get resolved. Genet clearly exits stage left pursued by a severed head but she’s still intact to cause trouble down the line. Laurent’s complex messiah issues are still a mystery – is he a hope for humanity, a messiah or is her perhaps immune to the zombie virus? Or just a introspective kid? We don’t know yet.¬† Also, in a move that really doesn’t make a lot of sense, Romain Levi’s Codron disobeys orders and spares Laurent’s life (he doesn’t like being told to execute a boy who may be the Messiah – fair enough), but he also spares Daryl, which seems somewhat nonsensical and almost cartoonish in the way he says he won’t be so merciful next time. If there is a next time, as Genet ultimately doesn’t believe his cover story.

And then… there’s the epilogue. Some may claim it as a big surprise but ever since Melissa McBride was reportedly seen on set, the idea that the actor might end up still being part of the show that she was originally planned to co-lead always seemed somewhat inevitable. The minute we realise that we’ve cut back to the US and we see a man on a bike being chased by a car, it’s fairly obvious who the driver must be. Yes, it’s Carol and when Melissa McBride steps out to confront the biker, it’s still a punch-the-sky moment. She wants to know where the biker got Daryl’s bike and after she wins over the biker (the hard but effective way that ends up with him the car trunk), the image of Carol riding off on Daryl’s bike to continue her look for her friend is all immensely satisfying. (That being said, it’s still not exactly clear if this is happening in parallel to Daryl’s adventures at St. Michael’s Mount. The suggestion that the biker talks of events a few months before, suggests it is, but there’s no official confirmation.

The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon: The Book of Carol, as the next season of the show will be called, may be a mouthful but it will answer a lot of those questions, though the major one will likely be when that will arrive. The WGA (Writers’ Guild of America) strike is done, but the ongoing SAG (Screen Actors’ Guild) strike is still ongoing and until both are back in alignment no new episodes are likely to be filmed.

'Daryl Dixon  S01  EP06 - Coming Home'  (AMC review)
8.8
'Daryl Dixon S01 EP06 - Coming Home' (AMC review)
  • Story
    8
  • Acting
    9
  • Directing
    9
  • Production Design / VFX
    9
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AMC REVIEW

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