Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

He's very much alive

Daryl Dixon and his trusty crossbow bring a pulse to THE WALKING DEAD

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When Daryl came to get his breakfast in last week's episode of The Walking Dead, the show finally made explicit what its fans had known all along: that Daryl Dixon is a post-apocalyptic celebrity.

Modern mass media may have shut down, but when the Woodbury survivors spot Daryl, there's a low, excited hum, interspersed with fanboy shout-outs. It's clear that Daryl is the end-of-civilization equivalent of a rock star. Patrick, that new boy with the nice manners, just wants to shake his hand.

As the record-devouring ratings for the AMC series season-opener prove -- 16.1 million people tuned in -- TWD has an immense, intense fan base. And Daryl Dixon lovers are the most intense of all. As we get ready to watch Season 4's zombie-menaced characters facing threats from without and within, let's look at why this shirtsleeve-hating outsider has become the series' kick-ass hero and unlikely heartthrob.


Daryl appeals to the More Zombies faction as well as the It's Not About the Zombies bloc:

The Walking Dead commentariat tends to split into two feuding groups. There are those who want more zombie-killing, more flesh-eating, skull-crushing, gut-spilling mayhem. ("Pots of flowers at the prison!" they say. "The hell?") Then there are those who see the zombies purely as a device that allows the show to examine tricky moral questions of means and ends, utilitarian calculations and abstract ideals.

Daryl can go both ways. Armed with his ever-present crossbow, he gets into all sorts of gory situations. In one episode he falls down a cliff, impales himself on an arrow, pulls the arrow out and kills a zombie with it. He's hardcore.

But he also has an unexpectedly philosophical side. While Daryl himself is not given to speechifying, this brooding loner turned quiet team player often gets involved in situations that test the bonds of family loyalty or explore the costs of protecting the greater good.

He's got that Bad Boy/Good Guy thing going on:

If you look on Tumblr, you'll see that almost all Daryl Dixon pin-up shots involve either Daryl being a bad-ass (killing things with his crossbow and riding his chopper). Or Daryl doing totally sweet stuff (holding Baby Judith and playing with puppies). He doesn't mess with Mr. In-Between.

He doesn't say much. But what he does say is meme-worthy:

He's not what you'd call talkative. When Daryl is really feeling something, he narrows his eyes. Occasionally, when he's completely overcome with emotion, he nods. Once.

But when Daryl does decide to speak, he can be quotable, whether that involves some inspired cussing ("Filthy, disease-bearing, motherless poxy bastard") or a little comic relief after a bad day in the woods ("Am I the only one Zen around here?").

Women want him. Men want to be him. Zombies want to eat him:

Men like Daryl. He was tight with his brother Merle. He can hit a turkey between the eyes from real far away. He rides a motorcycle even though loud noises attract zombies -- hell, maybe because loud noises attract zombies. And he's got, you know, A Code.

Women like Daryl. He's not a standard romantic lead. His idea of a romantic gesture is keeping walkers from eating your arm. But it could be that TWD's subsistence-level environment activates the primal imperatives of evolutionary biology. After The Turn, a mate with backwoods survival skills starts to look pretty damn good. I mean, this is a man who often has dead squirrels hanging from his belt.

Certainly, with his hooded eyes, understated intensity and crack woodchuck-skinning abilities, Daryl is the current favourite of The Walking Dead fan-fiction romance writers. ("Kate thinks she's the only survivor left in the world... when she stumbles across a certain redneck with a crossbow who might just make her realize there's hope left in the world after all.")

Oh, those arms:

Daryl has been called "gas station hot." He's developed the ripped sleeveless shirt into a bicep-showcasing style statement. He works the leather jacket look and has a memorable way with a poncho. And even though he lives in a post-apocalyptic hell, his hair has an almost boy band-like consistency, curving across his forehead in a sexy wet-rat sort of way.

It's like he's wearing the Marc Jacobs redneck collection. Daryl takes poor Southern separates and elevates them to a lean, mean, streamlined new level. (And if you check out the Prada modelling gigs of Norman Reedus, the actor who plays Daryl, you'll see that he also cleans up nicely.)

Kill Daryl and you'd best kill us, too:

These days, serious TV proves its seriousness by being ready to kill off beloved characters in the service of gritty narrative realism. As evidenced by the proliferation of T-shirts, posters and coffee mugs emblazoned with the phrase "If Daryl dies, we riot," this is one gambit The Walking Dead showrunners should probably avoid.

Daryl's death would prove the series' central tenet that no one is safe. It could also break the Internet, cause a global collapse and usher in a new era of darkness.

Uh-oh. Better brush up on our crossbow work.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 19, 2013 D11

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