When Daryl’s time-jump connection Leah returned in "Rendition" - The Walking Dead episode 11x04 - it raised a myriad of questions, particularly as Daryl has now joined Leah as part of The Reapers, the villains who have been pursuing Maggie. Does this twist of events mean Daryl will go dark?
The last time Daryl saw Leah, over 2 years ago, they had formed a relationship while both were apart from their families. Daryl was living in the woods, searching for Rick, visited only occasionally by Carol, whilst Leah was living in a cabin having lost her “squad” family at some point in the past.
They bonded in their loneliness and pain and formed a relationship, which came to an abrupt end when Leah issued an ultimatum that Daryl chose his old family or her. Daryl wavered on his choice, and when he finally returned to the cabin (after a visit from Carol telling him she wouldn’t return again anytime soon) Leah was gone.
Now, Leah is back with her “squad”, who - it turns out - are The Reapers who have been slaughtering Maggie’s group. And Daryl has found himself in their midst, where he has convinced Leah that his acquaintance with Maggie is only weeks long, and he was simply a hired hand.
His past relationship with Leah has allowed him leeway with Pope, the leader of The Reapers, and meant that after a trial by fire he has been accepted as a new member of their “family”. So, does this mean Daryl has switched sides?
Very obviously not, and every fan who has watched the past 10 years knows that. Daryl is a good and honorable guy through and through, and his connection with Leah was not so deep as to make him completely overthrow his core being.
In years gone past, it was believable that Daryl might possibly revert back to his pre-apocalypse ways, when under the wrong kind of influence. We saw it with Merle in season 3, and more so with The Claimers in season 4.
Then, Daryl had lost everyone after the prison fell, and he became embroiled with the not-pleasant Claimers whilst on the road. However, as soon as he reconnected with Rick, Michonne and Carl, Daryl’s choice was super easy and he betrayed and killed his Claimer comrades in the blink of an eye.
Now with so many more years of influence from Rick, Glenn, Carol and Aaron under his belt, there is zero doubt that Daryl knows who he is, and what he stands for. He would never betray his family, and the lies he tells Leah in “Rendition” make that clear.
Yet, it is possible that this storyline may offer Daryl a chance to learn that, while he is still a hero, there are times when he doesn’t have to be. And that is a good thing.
In “Find Me”, when Daryl tells Leah that he has been out there in the woods looking for Rick for years, she gently mocks “Always the hero, huh?”
Later, in Carol and Daryl’s big fight, it becomes apparent that Carol feels Daryl’s big problem is his need to be a saviour for everyone. She rightly calls out that every person he has lost, he feels it’s his fault, and that he doesn’t know when to stop.
Daryl Can't Let Go
It’s an accusation that obviously sits with Daryl, as during his conversation with Leah in “Rendition” about how things ended with them, he acknowledges he could not commit to Leah because he is unable to “let go”.
He couldn’t let go of Rick and his guilt over his loss, and then in the years since he has been unable to let go of his guilt over Leah. He feels he made a mistake, left her, let her die. Yet here she is alive and well.
But this second-chance with Leah isn’t some romantic do-over. Daryl has both his family and Carol back, and Leah has her family back too, and it’s blisteringly obvious that they are two very different people than the two who met in that cabin.
Instinctively one might assume Daryl will try to “save” Leah as he has tried to save everyone else, and no doubt he will. He has to always try. But what might be different this time is that Daryl knows when to let go.
In “Find Me” he left Leah a note saying he belonged with her, but by the time he argued with Carol he said he knew where he belonged - and it was very clearly in the bosom of his family. Leah’s return isn’t likely to sway Daryl from that new found, and hard earned, confidence.
So, if as the story progresses it seems as though Leah is not being won to Daryl’s side, it seems vital and significant that Daryl should be able to “let go” and leave her behind - in whatever context that means in the story.
He can let go of the guilt he had from the first time he left, know that he can’t save everyone, and put the people he truly loves, including himself, first.
The foreshadowing for this sequence of events can be seen in “Diverged” - the other season 10 bonus episode that dealt with Carol and Daryl’s rift. At the end of that episode we see Daryl tell Carol to keep the knife he got from Leah (one with the initials F.S. on it, representing The Reaper’s motto Fortitudo Saludis), which he had loaned her earlier in the episode.
On “Talking Dead” Angela Kang spoke about the significance of Daryl being able to let the knife go, and “give it up to [Carol]”, and the importance of the chain that knife passed through. It’s a huge metaphor that something that originated with Leah - something which Daryl was holding onto for a long time - is something he easily and comfortably gives to Carol for keeps.
It indicates that Carol’s words to Daryl about learning to let go will come to fruition, and Leah will not be a burden on his conscience in future.
Photos copyright AMC