The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon TV Show
Against all expectations, AMC's latest addition to their Walking Dead (TWD) universe is top tier. The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon delivers some of the best TWD content I've ever seen.
When the original Walking Dead series premiered in 2010 it quickly became one of the most popular shows on TV. While its ghoulish zombies showcased the talents of AMC's makeup artists, depraved souls like the whisperers and Terminus cannibals served up gruesome set pieces and a reminder of humanity's darker side. Such was the show's appeal that it even survived the lows of seasons 7-8.
Various spinoffs followed but none captured the vitality of their elder sibling. To be fair, parts of Fear the Walking Dead were watchable (season 3 was actually very good), and the recent Dead City was a passable attempt at injecting some much-needed originality.
The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon
This latest, shot-in-France spinoff kicked off in September 2023. Norman Reedus reprised his role as Daryl Dixon, who we first meet as he washes ashore on a beach in Sainte Croix (shown below), a small town not far from Marseille.
Back on his feet and heading inland, Daryl meets a young girl and her grandfather, and is accosted by a pair of bad guys. He stabs one and is wounded by the other, but help is at hand in the form of a rifle-toting nun, Isabelle, who saves his life and takes him to a nearby convent, the Abbey of Montmajour in Arles.
These early scenes set the tone for much of what follows. The show has a look and feel that's very different to standard TWD fare. Dialogue is kept to a minimum and the scenery is elevated to center stage. Just minutes into this first episode, for example, we see Daryl crossing the Pont du Gard, one of France's most picturesque archaeological sites.
I think with doing a show as long as The Walking Dead for that many years, whether you know it or not, you fall into a rhythm of repeating things that work. I found myself saying some of the same lines over and over, and did all the other sorts of storylines that we had done before, maybe with another character or whatever. Now, we're not following anything.
At the convent we meet Isabelle's nephew, Laurent, a young boy who the nuns believe is the "new Messiah" and humanity's last hope. Daryl's mission, Isabelle informs him, is to escort Laurent to Mont St Michel, a commune in Normandy where he can be properly raised and nurtured.
Daryl Dixon: En Route to Paris
Only a couple of minor adventures befall Daryl, Isabelle and Laurent as they head up to Paris. Soon after entering the city there's an interesting scene in Pere Lachaise cemetery where they stumble upon Jim Morrison's tomb, adorned with freshly-laid flowers. The backing track at this point is a French cover of Morrison's People Are Strange.
Moments later they hook up with their local contacts who will arrange for a guide to take Laurent to Mont St Michel. There's a nice touch of humor when Daryl learns that these Parisiennes communicate not by radio but with homing pigeons. He's barely able to contain his disgust.
Before they leave, Daryl and friends journey through the catacombs to an underground nightclub, replete with transsexuals, punks, a drag queen and low-key con artists. Set decoration includes vivid red and turquoise neons, graffitied walls and, among other works of art, Monet's Water Lilies, saved from the Musée D'orsay.
Next, their guide to Mont St Michel arrives and they depart Paris on a river boat. But by now news of Laurent's presence in the city has spread and the show's main villains are after him. Inevitably he and Daryl are captured and brought back, and episode 5 ends with Daryl in a Spartacus-style arena, preparing to face an adrenalized zombie that's oozing menace and about to charge.
Daryl Dixon: Mont St Michel
The season finale starts with a gladiatorial set piece that's straight out of Hollywood. Daryl triumphs in both bouts and, thanks to some mayhem engineered by his French colleagues, escapes the arena and once again heads off to Mont St Michel with Isabelle and Laurent. This time they make it all the way, which sets the scene for some great cinematography and beautifully-lit interiors.
At this point I didn't have a problem with Laurent. He did a couple of stupid things, but nothing that couldn't be forgiven or seen as an accident. Some reviewers thought otherwise.
The major weak spot is Laurent himself, mostly because he's one of the most egregious examples of the kid in peril tropes these stories traffic in – he's wise beyond his years but also makes one dumb decision after another. If he's the savior of mankind, we're in trouble, folks.Roger Ebert, September 2023
The season ends on a note of uncertainty. Daryl has made his way from Mont St Michel to Omaha Beach (where his grandfather died during the D-Day landings in 1944) and a boat bound for England is approaching. Will Daryl cross the channel and take another boat back to America, or will he stay in France with Isabelle and help be a father to Laurent?
If you're a TWD fan and in the market for a cinematic journey across France, The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon delivers in style. It's easily the best season of TWD I've seen. The only downside is we don't get to see more of the sights between Arles and Paris. A side trip to one of the chateaux in the Loire Valley would've been nice, for example. Then again, this isn't a travel show.
A second season is now on the way and, according to an AMC announcement, will bring back Melissa McBride in her role as Carol.