SERIES REVIEW – The Walking Dead franchise repositions one of its most popular characters, Daryl Dixon, in a solo outing that aims for emotional depth but often falls into the trap of derivative storytelling. Still, the new series makes strides in keeping the rotting Walking Dead universe fresh, even if it treads a well-trodden path.
Daryl Dixon, the brooding biker with a crossbow, has been a cornerstone of The Walking Dead universe since its inception. Played with rugged charm by Norman Reedus, Daryl has ventured through numerous story arcs, deaths and apocalyptic landscapes. Now, AMC aims to turn the spotlight solely on him in the latest spin-off, ‘The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon’. While the new show offers moments that stand out in the sprawling universe, it can’t quite escape the shadow of its predecessor and the game-to-TV adaptation ‘The Last of Us’, from which it draws significant inspiration.
The fabric of the story
At its core, this new story is about protection and the rediscovery of humanity in a world bereft of it. Daryl is charged with protecting a special child, Laurent, played by newcomer Louis Puech Scigliuzzi, who is as much a mystery to himself as he is to the audience. His previous protector, a nun named Isabelle (Clémence Poésy), is as complex as Daryl and provides some of the show’s best moments. The core of the story revolves around their journey through a zombie-infested France, an environment as beautiful as it is deadly. This narrative expands the geographical scope of the series and adds new layers to the long-established Walking Dead mythos.
But the premise is not unique. Viewers will immediately draw parallels with The Last of Us, and at times the series does little to shake off the comparison. There’s an unmistakable sense of déjà vu as we watch Daryl, the reluctant hero, forge a relationship with Laurent while trying to protect him from a world gone mad. This new entry does enough to set itself apart, but comparisons to the critically acclaimed game and series are inevitable.
The depth of the characters
The strength of The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon lies in its character-driven narrative. For too long, the wider Walking Dead universe seemed to prioritise empty spectacle over substantive storytelling. This new outing, however, aims to rectify that. It’s a refreshing shift that allows Reedus to fully explore the depths of Daryl’s character, something that was lacking in the later seasons of the original series.
Isabelle’s character also takes a similar journey. From mysterious nun to more fleshed out guardian with a dark past, she emerges as a compelling character. Her bond with Laurent, driven by a complex backstory, adds an emotional heft that elevates the series. New characters such as Sylvie (Laïka Blanc-Francard) and Lou (Kim Higelin), who appear during an encounter with survivors in an old preschool, inject fresh energy into the narrative. These younger characters offer a glimmer of hope and innocence that contrasts sharply with the otherwise bleak atmosphere.
Walking the Line of Originality
Episode 1×02, entitled “Alouette”, goes above and beyond in bringing a uniquely French touch to the world of the zombie apocalypse. Set in Paris, the episode explores the backstory of Laurent, a character who seems to embody the cultural essence of the city. Here, viewers are presented with sophisticated storytelling that delves into deeper themes of existentialism and societal collapse. However, it’s hard to shake the feeling that this episode is in many ways reminiscent of The Last of Us.
What’s particularly intriguing is the way the episode portrays Laurent’s personal journey, showing his mother turning into a zombie while giving birth to him. This heartbreaking moment raises ethical and philosophical questions that are both disturbing and compelling. However, it’s not entirely original – it echoes certain story arcs from The Last of Us, such as Sarah’s tragic demise in the opening minutes. This raises concerns about whether the writers are truly innovating or simply iterating on a well-trodden path.
The Walking Dead franchise has always been about subverting clichés and putting new twists on established tropes. In ‘Daryl Dixon’, however, there seems to be an over-reliance on tried-and-tested narratives. This has resulted in a viewing experience that, while engaging, lacks a certain element of freshness. The familiarity of the story begs the question of creative freedom versus the safety of sticking to what has been proven to work.
The Last of The Walking Dead?
Despite these issues, The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon is a solid new chapter in a franchise that has seen its fair share of ups and downs. It may not have the raw emotional power of games like ‘The Last of Us’, but it rekindles the spark that has kept fans hooked for years. Norman Reedus delivers a powerful performance that manages to carry the show on its own, while newcomers add much-needed vitality to a world that was starting to feel stagnant.
This episode may not redefine the zombie genre or shatter our expectations, but it does something just as important – it reacquaints us with the world and characters we’ve come to love. The show takes a step back to focus on character development rather than spectacular set pieces, and it feels like The Walking Dead is regaining its essence.
Daryl Dixon’ may not be the show that changes the game, but it certainly has the potential to remind fans why they became enamoured with The Walking Dead universe in the first place. This back-to-basics approach, with its emphasis on character arcs and nuanced storytelling, bodes well for the show’s future.