In a world in which violence and death have become the norm, how do we hold onto the values that make us human? Is it possible to retain any sense of self once accepting the terrifying regime of a madman? What can any one person do by maintaining his principles? Is the moral high ground worth the inflicted retribution of brutality? Seclusion? Death?
For Daryl, the answer is yes. He is not Negan and he is willing to sacrifice himself in order to preserve that distinction. Daryl remembers where he came from–he has never had it easy, he was never upper class or well-to-do. He may not have been loved very well by mommy and daddy, his brother Merle was a dick, and Daryl probably hasn’t always done the right thing. Still, he made a choice on that roof, when he left his violent, racist, misogynistic brother so many years ago, to find value in community and the greater good and to live his life for himself and what he believes in. Instead of falling for the gilded words of a bully, a psychopath, a violent and hateful person, Daryl decided to be brave and to follow his heart, a trait that has blossomed and helped Daryl grow into a well-rounded and, at times, happy, Tribe member.
With Carol, Daryl allowed himself to fall a little bit in love; to develop a friendship that weathered the heartache and despair of post-apocalyptic life and that brought him true moments of joy. He found a brother in Rick, someone Daryl could not only look up to as a moral center, but also assist with the skills he acquired before his time with the Tribe. He has shown time and time again that he is loyal and good at heart, regardless of where he was brought up or the values of those around him. So, when we find out that Negan has asked his followers to give themselves up, to turn away from their values in order to survive comfortably in a society built on savagery, it is easy to see how fear can lead a large group of people to denounce individuality in favor of the hive mind the Saviours seem to share. How much can a person take; how many of his loved ones can he see killed; how far can he actually run before Negan finds him and hurts him or the people he loves? These are the questions that Daryl’s captor, Dwight–who tried to escape and failed, who tried to turn against Negan and failed–has had to ask himself. For Dwight, the answers came easy. In order to save his wife’s life–who offered herself up to Negan in order to save him–Dwight has conformed to Negan’s status quo. While Daryl understands his choices, he refuses to normalize Negan’s hate crimes, his brutality, his dark morality–and so he takes his punishment and he lives as long as he can as himself. Really, isn’t that all we can each hope to do?
The Walking Dead airs on AMC Sundays at 9pm.