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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Walking Dead tries to recapture that ol' Daryl magic with a messy flashback

Norman Reedus in The Walking Dead
Norman Reedus in The Walking Dead
Photo: Eli Ade/AMC

When The Walking Dead goes into flashback mode, it’s usually for one of two reasons: To offer up a meditative character study that lends weight and depth to the current state of mind for the person or persons highlighted, or to quickly add some new information as a means of driving a present-day plotline forward without making their choices seem as random or unexplained as they might otherwise be. (The former is usually preferable to the latter, for hopefully obvious reasons.) “Find Me” obviously wants to be the former, but ends up a bit of both, and doing neither one particularly well. Some excellent Carol/Daryl conversations bookend this episode, but all the sodden stuff in between never feels like anything more than rushed backstory, doing a disservice to both Daryl’s motivations and to the methodical way the character has been shaped. Everybody’s favorite crossbow aficionado deserves better.

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One of the best things about Daryl as a character is that, thanks to his naturally taciturn state, the writers rarely try and force words into his mouth that don’t belong there. There’s a reason he’s been a fan favorite for so long: Norman Reedus plays him just right, and no creative team has ever gone broke overestimating audience desire for a stoic, brooding type. Daryl’s the classic antisocial ass-kicker with a heart of gold, and despite having softened considerably in recent seasons, he’s still best deployed as part of a long game, relying on his natural mistrust and misanthropy to pay off slow developments in plotting and relationships. The Carol-Daryl pairing works so well because it was earned, patiently, over the course of multiple seasons. This episode tries to steamroll through a traditional “Daryl warms up to someone” arc in the span of about 30 minutes, and the results predictably fail. We don’t know Leah, we never really see Daryl get to know Leah, and with abrupt time jump after abrupt time jump onscreen (6 months later, 8 months later, et. al), it plays like the show doesn’t want to do the hard work of earning this relationship, or its effect on Daryl when Leah inevitably disappears. That’s not efficient storytelling; it’s lazy.

After a pre-credits opening that features some of the best banter between Carol and Daryl that we’ve seen in quite awhile, we get into the meat of this narrative. While out hunting, the two take refuge in a cabin that turns out to be the place where, five years ago during his years-long walkabout after Rick vanished, Daryl met a similarly stoic and taciturn woman named Leah—oh, and her little puppy, Dog. (That’s right: Daryl’s not the one who named his dog “Dog.”) Flashing back, we watch as he breaks in with his new canine companion and offs a walker inside, only to be taken hostage by Leah, who ties him up just long enough to decide, “Eh, whatever, he’s cool,” and lets him go. Thus begins the multiple time jumps through the next couple of years, as the pair slowly dance around wanting to hang out (read: hook up), trading insults and bickering, before she invites him over—mainly, it seems, so she can have an emotional breakdown about the death of her child from a walker bite, leading to this solitary existence.

Lynn Collins in The Walking Dead
Lynn Collins in The Walking Dead
Photo: Eli Ade/AMC

Before you can say, “This doesn’t feel earned at all,” we skip right past whatever honeymoon phase existed during their 10-month affair, to the part where she demands he choose between her and being alone out searching for Rick. He chooses Rick/alone/not having sex with Leah, only to quickly realize he wants to be with his new beau after all; but when he gets back to the cabin, she’s gone. He writes a note, telling her to find him. It ends back in the present, with an intense argument between Carol and Daryl, in which his bottled-up anger over her choice to run away ends with their friendship fractured, Carol proclaiming “our luck’s run out—you and me,” and cut to black. The episode seems to think the Leah And Daryl Montage Show would give that final fight meaning. It didn’t.

Guest star Lynn Collins played Leah just fine, but nothing about the material really works. The closest comparison is something like Lost’s season-three episode, “Stranger In A Strange Land,” which squandered an episode by having Matthew Fox’s Jack flit off to Thailand in a flashback, all for the exciting reveal that he had a brief fling with the woman who gave him a tattoo. Suddenly giving us a romantic history that has meant seemingly nothing, only to try and inject it into the blowup of Carol and Daryl’s long-simmering argument—especially as an addition to a season that already spent a lot of time addressing their situation—feels like a wasted opportunity.

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Illustration for article titled The Walking Dead tries to recapture that ol' Daryl magic with a messy flashback
Photo: Eli Ade/AMC

It’s especially unfortunate because the present-day scenes with the two of them are quite good. They’re funny, affectionate, and engaging in the opening act before we flash back; and at the end, when Carol tries to deliver the “it’s not your fault” speech, only to have Daryl lash out by turning it around to blame her for Connie’s disappearance (ouch), the resulting words feel painfully honest. He’s pissed at her for leaving him after Henry’s death, though his anger seems as much about the fact that he was forced to step up and be responsible for the community without her presence as it was the simple fact of her disappearance. “You wanna run? Run...I won’t stop you this time.” He’s trying to hurt her, because he’s hurt. And it works. It’s too bad the rest of this episode wasted time with a poorly executed flashback; here, finally, is something really worth digging into.

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Stray observations

  • More clever COVID-related cutting around walker attacks: We never actually see up close the walkers Daryl takes out to get to the boat; it’s all just implied by the editing. I would love it if one of these episodes used that trick to show a bunch of walker attacks that turned out to be in someone’s mind, or some such.
  • Pet peeve alert: For the love of god, can we be done with the playing of ominous music when someone pulls out a knife and the main character is tied up, to try and suggest they might actually be getting ready to stab or cut them? It. Never. Happens. It’s always to cut them free. Stop trying to make that moment happen. Put it away with “Fetch.”
  • Really liked the opening banter—Carol needling Daryl, him being a grouch about it. Melissa McBride was funny as always, but Reedus had a good moment too, when she tries spearfishing and he communicates with Dog about it: “Watch this disaster right here.”
  • There’s one nice moment in the flashbacks, when Daryl tells Leah that he lost a brother, and you immediately realize he’s talking about Rick.
  • There was an interesting, almost Greek Chorus-like approach to the way Carol would periodically check in on Daryl in the past. It helped leaven those otherwise milquetoast sequences.
  • It’s starting to look like they’re really not going to take the opportunity of these bonus episodes to do anything different, structure or story-wise, from the norm. What a waste.
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Alex McLevy is a writer and editor at The A.V. Club, and would kindly appreciate additional videos of robots failing to accomplish basic tasks.