This The Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead Season 10 Episode 18
As far as episodes of The Walking Dead go, “Home Sweet Home” will not be considered one of the brighter lights of the vastly improved season 10, thought it was very far from the nadir of the series. This show has been better and it has also been much worse. Overall, The Walking Dead is trending up under the direction of show runner Angela Kang, thanks to a focus on improved writing over twists, spectacle, and cliffhangers on a show that has never needed them. Generally, that has paid off, and no episode exemplifies that new focus more than “Find Me” does this week.
Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) has become the heart of The Walking Dead, and fans are always going to want more of him, especially when he pairs off with his platonic soul mate Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride). The two characters have ten seasons of history together, with their relationship really cementing into place during season two’s hunt for Sophia and continuing on through other relationships, moving halfway up the Atlantic seaboard, battling off hundreds of armed men and thousands of zombies, and any number of emotional break-downs. Through all seasons, Carol and Daryl have had each other, even if it has never been in the romantic way that Caryl shippers have written reams of pages of fan-fic about.
It seems that longtime friendship has about run its course. Fittingly, the straw that broke the camel’s back was a poorly timed day trip. A hunting and fishing expedition takes Daryl to his former camp during his years-long search for the missing Rick Grimes, and that brings back a lot of flashbacks and memories for Daryl to have to deal with. Memories that have many parallels to Carol’s current behavior.
It’s really well-written stuff, courtesy of Nicole Mirante-Matthews’s script. Throughout both the storylines involving Daryl and Carol and Daryl and Leah (the excellent Lynn Collins), the same conversations happen from different angles. Even something as innocent as Carol going spearfishing reminds Daryl of the woman who, one assumes, has disappeared from his life for good and left him nothing but memories, a dilapidated cabin, and Dog. He was running then, using Rick being missing as an excuse to avoid his friends, his family, and anyone else who might entangle him. Similar to the situation Carol was in when Daryl dragged her off of the boat and forced her to dry out and return to society (and further back still to when Carol was staying just outside of the Kingdom to avoid her feelings for Ezekiel).
Every line that feels weighted comes back later on in the episode, in a touching way, with Daryl parroting back life lessons learned from Leah when dealing with Carol. She touched him, rescued him in a way, and he’s trying to use the same conversations, the same bits of wisdom, the same lessons he had to learn the hard way on Carol, only to find limited to no success in reaching her. She’s been through a hard life, just like Daryl and Leah, and she’s turned herself into someone strong and capable and smart, but at a cost to herself. She’s on the same self-destructive path Daryl had to be dragged off of, and Carol doesn’t have a Leah around who can save her. Carol and Daryl have too long of a history together for him to be able to do that for her; she’s been around him too long and weathered too many similar moody spells from him to be able to looks past his former actions to hear the wisdom in his current words.
The Leah relationship works thanks in no small part to the performances of Norman Reedus and Lynn Collins, who go from adversarial to intimate over the course of multiple jumps in time. I can’t actually follow along with the timeline to any degree, even with the onscreen prompts, so far as where it intersects with the main series. The flow of the Daryl and Leah-centric events is easy to track, both in how their relationship changes and with the time stamps, but I’m not entirely sure where in the greater narrative this gap takes place, aside during the Kingdom’s time of struggle.
Then again, the actual timing of the relationship doesn’t matter, aside from showing the influence of passing time and loneliness on the two main characters involved. Daryl and Leah’s relationship grows economically, and director David Boyd makes good enough use of the time jumps to fill in the gaps of development from their initial adversarial meeting, with Leah holding Daryl at gunpoint, to their disagreement over land that devolves into fish-throwing and snapping at one another like a couple of five-year-olds raised on screwball comedies. It’s clever and cute, and even without any implied physical intimacy, both Reedus and Collins are able to get across emotional intimacy in the forming, honeymoon, and dissolution of their relationship as it plays out in crucial scenes before blowing up. The story is told in the details, from the aging of Dog to the state of the cabin between when Daryl storms out and then returns to go back to the place, and the person, he belongs with.
Collins, in particular, does a masterful job of presenting a fully formed character in a handful of scenes. The chemistry between her and Norman Reedus is solid, if secondary to his chemistry with Melissa McBride. That she can even approach Caryl in that regard is a testament to her skill and Boyd’s ability to guide actors. What didn’t necessarily work in Maggie’s return episode works really well here, and the sense of injury and finality in the final moments of the episode, in which Carol decides the their luck as a friend pairing has run out, palpably hurts for both characters, but doesn’t feel artificial.
Carol and Daryl might be on the outs now, but it won’t last forever. They’re too much alike to get along perfectly forever, but they’ve been through too much to let one another down now. Daryl was asked by Leah to decide where he belonged, and he came to that decision too late to salvage their relationship. Carol won’t make that same mistake. And even if she does, mistakes only catch up with you if you let them, and Carol’s not that type.