Warning: The Walking Dead season 10 episode 18 spoilers follow.
The Walking Dead is back with six “integral” bonus episodes that have already started to raise a number of questions—namely, who are the Reapers, why doesn’t Maggie just kill Negan, and how is this all going to tie into season 11?
That’s a lot to deal with at any time, let alone during a zombie apocalypse, but thankfully, season 10C is also answering a few questions too.
In the first episode of this extended season, we finally saw who was hiding under the mask worn by Maggie’s new ally. And now the second episode, titled ‘Find Me’, has gone one step further, solving a far bigger mystery that’s shuffled along ever since The Walking Dead first aired back in 2010.
Carol, Connie, Beth, Aaron, Rick and Jesus are just some of the people that fans have shipped Daryl with over the past 10 years. It seems people sure are horny in the end times, but bizarrely enough, Norman Reedus’ character has never actually been romantically or sexually involved with anyone on the show.
This has of course generated a lot of speculation among fans. Is Daryl asexual? Is he queer and hiding it? Or have the writers just deliberately held him back from falling in love with anyone, regardless of who they might be? 149 episodes in, we finally have our answer.
At first, ‘Find Me’ feels like a backdoor pilot for the upcoming Carol and Daryl spin-off. What starts out as a solo hunting trip for Daryl soon becomes a bonding sesh with his long-time bestie who tags along to hunt for food.
Carol reveals some existential musings during their chat, which, while glum, are pretty understandable giving that they’re both struggling to live their best apocalyptic lives. “This world, the dead, it’s going to catch up to us eventually,” Carol ruminates.
And this in turn sets Daryl down memory lane, revealing a key relationship he developed during the six-year time jump.
Once we got over the sight of baby Dog being all adorable, it quickly becomes apparent that Daryl is hurting, and even blames himself still for Rick’s disappearance. At this point, he’s living alone in the wilderness, combing through the area with a map to try and find Rick.
After a harrowing night outside, Daryl encounters a woman living alone in a cabin. This being the apocalypse and all, things don’t go so well, and the stranger proceeds to tie Daryl up. “What are you doing out here on my land?” she demands.
Eventually, the woman releases him, and over the course of many months, flashbacks develop their relationship into something less antagonistic. We soon learn that her name is Leah, and while she resists Daryl at first, the pair eventually become close, and even romantic.
In one particularly heartfelt scene, Leah reveals how she lost her son, Matthew, to walkers the same day Dog was born. “I haven’t seen another soul out here since, not until you came along.”
Daryl in turn opens up about his brother, and we then cut to him and Leah holding hands shortly after. For a while, things seem good for the couple, but Daryl is reluctant to give up his quest, which frustrates Leah. “Where do you belong? Do you belong here with me?”
This friction comes from a place of caring as Leah just wants Daryl to find peace. “I don’t want to lose you because you can’t figure out when to stop.”
But peace is impossible to find, especially when Daryl returns one day to find the cabin wrecked and Leah missing. All that’s left behind is a note which reads, “I belong with you. Find me.”
Cutting back to the present, Carol asks Daryl if he thinks Leah could still be alive. “Maybe somebody took her. Is it possible she just left?”
The answers to this remain unclear, and we don’t even know if Leah will ever return to the show, or by extension, the spin-off. However, these flashbacks do answer another even larger mystery surrounding Daryl’s sexuality.
Back in 2019, showrunner Angela Kang pointed out to Insider that Daryl is “an abused character who does not trust people easily, which makes it pretty hard to get into some relationships.”
This new episode leans heavily into that idea, justifying why Daryl might not have found love before across the previous 10 seasons. With Leah, he found a kindred spirit, one that he could finally open up to and be himself around.
That all makes sense, and it’s gratifying to finally have some answers, but this reveal also feels like a missed opportunity too.
While queer representation continues to improve on screen, most LGBTQ+ romances are characterised by sex and sexual attraction. Although that’s obviously very important, asexual characters are still sidelined all too often, even now in 2021.
Some shows have started to address this imbalance, including Emmerdale, BoJack Horseman and Sex Education, but others like Riverdale go out of their way to erase the asexuality of their characters, proving we still have a long way to go.
After holding Daryl back from sex all these years, The Walking Dead could have easily confirmed him to be asexual, something that remains unheard of on a show this popular.
Even Norman Reedus has acknowledged this possibility. When Insider asked him if he’s ever read the character in this way, he said “Yeah, I have, quite a bit. I’ve gotten a lot of fan mail thanking me for being asexual.”
And that’s exactly why it would have been such a huge step forward if the writers had chosen to push Daryl in this direction. The Walking Dead has been a bit hit-and-miss in the past when it comes to positive LGBTQ+ representation, but by giving asexual viewers a visible role model like this, the show could have made genuine progress, both within itself and also the wider TV landscape.
At this point, it’s worth noting that Daryl doesn’t explicitly have sex in these flashbacks, so there’s still a chance that he may be asexual. However, it doesn’t look like the show is heading in that direction, especially given how intimate he appeared to be with Leah. If he does self-identify as asexual, we imagine that would have come up at some point in these flashbacks, and besides, sex is rarely portrayed on the show anyway.
Whether Daryl and Leah consummated their relationship or not, that also doesn’t mean he’s necessarily straight. Series creator Robert Kirkman said he was back in 2015, but a lot has changed since then and it’s entirely possible that Daryl’s sexuality is more complicated than that still.
Whatever happens with Daryl, expect plenty more answers in The Walking Dead’s final season, along with perhaps the return of Leah at some stage too. Remember, the note asked Daryl to go looking for her, and he’s not one to give up without a fight.
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