Daryl is a very interesting character. He is what is known as an “archetype” character in literature, a character that fills a certain stereotype and role. This is particular done in works in which a main character (in this case Rick) has a “journey” to fulfill, very often in works of fantasy. TWD to me, fills the motifs of a fantasy.
TWD has always been Rick’s journey. In a fantasy work, the protagonist has a journey and a goal (here it is to find safe shelter) and learns lessons along the way. On his journey, he encounters many archetype or stock character, each which fill a role. There’s the wise mentor (Dale, Hershall), the warrior princess (Michonne, Maggie), the sidekicks (Glenn), the personification of evil (the Governor, Gareth, soon to be Nagan) and the roque, who is Daryl. The roque always tends to be a popular character in the work. Think of Hans Solo in Star Wars. Daryl is the post ZA Hans Solo. (feel free to apply these archetype to any work of fantasy from Star Wars to Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter and you’ll see what I mean….I’ll write a separate post truly analyzing it at another time),
The roque has a lot of appeal. He’s the bad boy that every woman loves, and every man wants to secretly be. He’s uncouth, a straight shooter who says what he means, gruff on the surface, but with a heart underneath. That’s Daryl.
There is a problem with the roque, however, in how to handle his development. Typically, the roque has to learn to “care” about someone or something, and his inner heart shines through that tough exterior. Hans Solo needed to care about Luke as a brother and Leia as a love interest to put their needs above his own. Daryl has Rick and his new found family. The thin line writers have is how much to soften him up, while allowing him to maintain that edge that made him so popular. To develop, he has to change, he has to soften up, but if he changes, he looses what made him popular in the first place. Archetypes, by the way, aren’t meant to truly develop. Their character arc is very set – gruff loner, learns to love something, softens up, end of arc. That’s it. If Daryl keeps that arc, it’s fine with me, he’s fulfilling a role and one that is popular to viewers. Not every character has to “grow” in a TV show. But Daryl’s arc, so far, seems to aim towards something more…..
Daryl’s character was destined to be a favorite the minute he threw squirrels at Rick in Season 1 or kicked the dead walker. Norman Reedus is charismatic in the role, and the character is funny, gruff, yet lovable. He’s a softer Merle. In season 2, he still had that edge, but his search for Sophia began to show his heart. Luckily, her death, and the end of his “hope,” was the motivation for him to maintain that gruff exterior and not become a pile of sentimental mush. Season 3, however, he was poorly handled. His reunion with Merle was ill used. It could have been used to show more conflict in Daryl – blood brother or prison brothers – but instead it was glossed over and handled in one episode. Merle’s death also could have been used to again bring Daryl some demons to wrestle, but it too was nearly mentioned and quickly accepted. Daryl had a few fangirl moments – a kidnapping, an ugly cry face, and a holding a baby moment. (On the DVD commentaries, even Nicotero admits it was a moment to endear Daryl to his fan base). Like most characters in season 3, he was led off course and too many missed opportunities stagnated his character.
Season 4 was a shinning time for Daryl. Here he was not, in my opinion, overused. In fact, did nothing but go on a few runs until the prison fell. The only “development” was his obvious discomfort at being hailed as a leader in the prison community. It seemed to me that they purposely wanted to “lay off” Daryl for a while, let him sit and fester, while they focused on other characters like Carol. Finally, when the prison fell, Daryl had his demons to wrestle and his character started to shift away from the the stereotypical archetype. Here now you had a lost soul, battling his upbringing, immature, trying to fit in somewhere, yet afraid to do so. More was revealed about Daryl’s personality and motivations in season 4b than in all of seasons 1-4a combined. I’m not talking about the episode Still; I mean in how he interacts with Beth, Rick, Joe, the Claimers, etc. In my opinion, it was Daryl’s most true development.
The writers still have that thin line – do we keep him as a Hans Solo, or develop him into a richer character? Or can we do both? Either way, Daryl is one of the top 4 characters on that show and he ain’t going anywhere unless Reedus choses to move on, so it will be interesting to see how he is handled from this point on. Gimple is more the “character development” type, so I think we’ll see less of the archetype and more of the character.
To address the “superhero” issue – it’s a comic book, peeps. Michonne can magically retrieve a cat statue, and Carol can materialize in the woods and dispense of two walkers with a baby on her hip. Endless rounds of amo, perfect head shots, and dodging hails of bullets have been done by all the cast members. All the characters have their superhero feats, Daryl is no different