Daryl (Norman Reedus) washes up on a beach, tied to a capsized boat. Exhausted, he collapses on the sand. He is parched, but half-buried in the sand further up the beach is a child’s plastic bucket. It could be full of saltwater or dog urine, but he gulps its contents without doing so much as a finger test.
Leaving the beach, Daryl figures out he is in France when he sees a French sign. He is unmoved by this discovery, or perhaps so shaken by it that his face is briefly paralyzed. He plods onwards, and likely realizes around the same time as we do that France, like the cast of The Walking Dead,
looks hot even in the apocalypse.
He finds a boat, which helpfully contains some bottled water, a map, and a dictaphone with working batteries, twelve years into the apocalypse. Oh la la
! The British owner of the boat voice-journaled, and we see a montage of Daryl cooking fish and looking at the map as he listens. Tragically, the Brit’s wife died, and he speaks mournfully on the tape of how his daughter wants to go home. Daryl does too. He picks up a stuffed penguin as he contemplates home. Is this a sniggering gesture towards the fact that he will shortly meet a different kind of “penguin,” in the form of a nun? I very much fear it is.
In a further stroke of good fortune, there is a French-English dictionary on the boat. Daryl takes it with him when he leaves and uses the dictaphone to record a little biographical featurette for anyone who finds it, like an IF FOUND PLEASE CALL
label stuck on a toddler’s T-shirt. “I went out looking for something,” he says, and like the audience, he doesn’t seem to know what that was. “If I don’t make it back, I want ‘em to know I tried. Hell, I’m still trying.”
Plangent orchestral music plays, and Daryl walks a considerable distance as the days pass. He still has a bad sunburn, and one wishes there had been some soothing lotion on the boat along with the dictionary, the working dictaphone, the water, and the unexpired batteries. Eventually, he arrives in a town, passing graffiti that says POUVOIR DES ENFANTES
. The music grows ominous as he sees it. Coming upon the local farmers’ market, he goes inside. Of course, instead of juicy fruits and crunchy veg, he finds rot and ruin, and a bunch of walkers, whom he fights with acrobatic skill. During the fight, one of the walkers seizes his forearm, and its flesh burns his: it is an acid walker (mark off “variant walkers” on your Daryl Dixon
bingo card). Afterwards, Daryl hides his face in his hands, perhaps processing, at last, the trauma of having been washed ashore all the way across the Atlantic. Unfortunately, if profound emotion is playing across his features, we can’t see it.
Roll credits: blood, anatomical drawings, old paintings. It’s giving Dan Brown meets Mary Shelley. The title font for this show looks like those magnified split ends of unhealthy hair you see in ads for shampoo, woven into Daryl’s name.
Daryl is still walking once the credits have rolled, and his arm is sore. He stops at an abandoned car and cleans the wound, bandaging it. A woman dressed in brown (Clémence Poésy) watches him from a nearby hill. They stare at each other, and then Daryl turns away and walks on. A poster on a signpole says “Dieu vous aime,” and like any good tourist, Daryl looks it up in his dictionary. “God loves you.” He scoffs. The woman on the hill, meanwhile, is putting up a poster just like the one Daryl saw.
Our lost soul arrives at a ruined chateau, where an old man and a young woman are collecting water. Like a total novice at stealth, famous tracker Daryl sets a string of cans jangling by mistake, and the strangers hear him. The old man is blind. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand you,” Daryl declares when the woman addresses him in French. She assures him of her skill in English, and cries out, “What’s crackin’, noob?,” and if you listen carefully you can hear the squeak of a few hundred thousand viewers’ teeth grinding as they cringe. Daryl approaches cautiously and trades them a medical kit for some apples. This is a good juncture at which to note that his hair is looking super clean and fluffy. Fun fact: seawater is great for softening one’s hair and giving it a bit of a curl. Watch out for those split ends, though.
The woman and the old man want to travel with Daryl, and the old man rambles about the World War II allied powers to try and convince him. A truck pulls up, two men with guns in it. People speak French and there are no subtitles other than [speaks French
], and like Daryl, the viewers are disoriented. This is some smart TV. One thug grabs the girl and Daryl whips out a knife. Violence ensues, and Daryl gets grazed by a bullet. The girl kills both thugs and then the dastardly old man hits Daryl so they can rob him. The audacity
. Dazed, he watches the stranger in brown chase them away.
Hazy montage as a choir of nuns sings in Latin: a monochrome shot of the lake and trees where Daryl sat on a bench with Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride) at the end of the main series; Judith Grimes (Cailey Fleming)’s voice saying “You deserve a happy ending too” over a shot of the road along which Daryl left the Commonwealth; Daryl’s voice saying “I’ll find ‘em. I’ll bring ‘em home;”
a shot of Carol watching him drive away, as his voice says “It’s not like we’re never gonna see each other again.”
In the present, Daryl is in a bed, surrounded by French nuns. They cauterize his arm and he loses consciousness. Later, he wakes up as a nun enters his room. Her name is Isabelle, and she is the woman in brown. Ungratefully, he accuses her of messing up his arm, and she explains that cauterization is necessary to treat wounds from the brûlant –
the “burners.” She checks his wound and tells him this is a small community of nuns, who have survived by farming and scavenging. She has listened to his nifty “All About Me” tape. Departing, she tells “Monsieur Dixon” to wash up to avoid infection.
Someone, we realise when he stands up, has shoehorned Daryl into a tight white pair of long underwear and a billowy, oversized white shirt while he slept. We are briefly transported to the set of a period film, perhaps Pride and Prejudice
. Outside his window, in the garden below, a young boy (Louis Puech Scigliuzzi) plays with a group of nuns.
Daryl gets in the bath and considers an array of multi-faith art and symbols on the wall. He dozes off and dreams of drowning at sea. Waking suddenly, he discovers Isabelle has returned. Somehow the bath water has gone from clear to modestly murky – it’s probably best we don’t ponder how – so when she comes to sit at the tub one assumes she doesn’t get a look at his tackle. Isabelle has a salve of garlic and honey, which she smears on his face, and with immense restraint neither of them comments on what must be its unholy stench. She strokes his hair back tenderly, likely leaving traces of garlic in the strands. While he is naked and unashamed, it seems like a good time to discuss spirituality, and so they do. Isabelle tells Daryl she is part of the Union de L’Espoir
, the union of hope. They are open to all faiths, and believe humanity is enduring a test from which it will soon be delivered (you’ll never guess how and also you won’t find out during this show, because it’s never actually explained).
Isabelle sees the lash scars on Daryl’s back and asks about them. He tells her, in a magnificent non sequitur
, that his daddy was a smoker, although we haven’t seen any cigarette burns and tobacco is not known to incite violent rage. They exchange family information: he tells her he had a brother, Merle (Michel Rooker), and she tells him she had a sister. When she dips the sponge in the water, he grabs her wrist. She has scars too, from an obvious suicide attempt, and is flustered when he comments on them. She should work at being more like Monsieur Dixon: totally comfortable sharing confidences with strangers while stark naked.
Daryl is in suspenders in the next scene, and you’d better get used to them, because there is apparently not a single belt to be found in France during the apocalypse. Isabelle shows him around the abbey. The boy he saw is named Laurent, and he grew up here, an orphan. There is a medieval weapons room, and the nuns have trained themselves to fight. “Killer nuns, huh?”
says Daryl. Iconic line. I hope we hear it again. The priest who oversaw the abbey, Pére Jean, has died; in his office is a radio that Isabelle says Daryl can use when he is better. She locks the office. This nun is up to something, mark my words.
Isabelle leaves Daryl and a young nun, Sylvie (Laïka Blanc
), brings him a tray of food, which he eats while sitting on a low wall in the courtyard. Across the garden, Laurent mirrors all of Daryl’s movements, which is weird and not at all cute. Isabelle converses with an elderly nun who dismisses Daryl as a heathen, but Isabelle believes he is “the one” because of how well he fights. She is referring to his skirmish with the walkers in the market, one assumes, because of course the last
time he got involved in a fight she had to save him.
Laurent comes to speak to Daryl and thunks down a Rubik’s cube, telling Daryl his record is 3 mins 12 secs. This is a spectacularly poor record, in fact, for someone as obsessed with cubing as Laurent appears to be in the series as a whole. Clearly his gifts lie elsewhere. Daryl refuses to attempt the game and listens to Laurent boast about his education before they shake hands. They discuss the challenges of repopulating France. The subject worries Laurent. He asks Daryl whether the American has “children, a wife, parents?,” and Daryl answers “no, nothing like that.” Across the Atlantic, Judith and RJ Grimes (Antony Azor), whom Daryl has been raising for some time, let out a shriek of betrayal. Laurent can see that Daryl is homesick, or more specifically, he can feel it in his stomach. As a parent myself, I wonder whether the nuns have been deworming him regularly. Echoing Judith’s words, he tells Daryl that he deserves a happy ending too. What a magical boy! Pity about his poor cubing skills.
Cut to the blind old man and his granddaughter, who are strolling along a country road learning English from Daryl’s dictionary. A truck pulls up, and an intimidating man with a face tattoo (Romain Levi) climbs out, along with a burly sidekick. They are looking for two men - the soldiers the young woman killed. They beat the old man to death and the young woman tells them she will take them to the place where the soldiers were attacked.
Our intrepid American hero, meanwhile, is trying to break into the priest’s office to phone home, but he is distracted by the sound of a walker. He finds Laurent reading poetry to the deceased priest, Père Jean, whose reanimated corpse is locked in a cell. The boy informs Daryl they are waiting for the priest to rise again, and if you’re hoping to hear more about this aspect of the group’s religious doctrine, I’m afraid you’d better prepare for disappointment. Isabelle arrives and asks Daryl if she can explain, but he strides off muttering about “witchy shit” and packs his bag to depart. A fanatical gleam in her eye, Isabelle follows him and says he can’t leave without them. It turns out he’s a long-awaited “messenger” chosen by God to deliver Laurent to a place called the Nest, where the boy will be trained to lead the world as “the new messiah.” Resistant to the idea that he is some kind of godsend - a rare attitude for a man of his generation - Daryl argues with Isabelle and gives her a sassy “talk to the hand” gesture which I’ve never once seen him use in twelve years of The Walking Dead
They take their argument down to the weapons room, where Daryl finds a tiny crossbow and a tiny flail and chooses them as his weapons. This man doesn’t need to compensate for anything, clearly. Isabelle is telling him about Laurent’s amazing perceptiveness and abilities: “he sees into people.” Daryl is understandably skeptical. He is also armed to the teeth now with miniature weapons, and ready to leave this place behind.
They go into Pére Jean’s office and Daryl tries the radio, forcing Isabelle to admit it has been broken for a month. Daryl is righteously indignant, and she tells him there is a port called Le Havre in the north that might still be active - a way for him to get home. Conveniently, it is right near the route to the Nest, and Isabelle tries to convince Daryl he should travel with them. She has friends along the way and she speaks French. Wordlessly, Daryl points a crooked little finger at her and leaves.
The tattoo-faced man has arrived at the ruined chateau where the two soldiers were killed, and he must put down his brother’s walker. He weeps, and veins pop in his forehead. The girl tells him it was an American man who killed his brother, and he vows revenge, finding one of Isabelle’s posters and heading off to the abbey. Daryl, meanwhile, is departing the abbey, Isabelle at his heels bemoaning Laurent’s lack of a father figure, and if that isn’t a relationship red flag then I don’t know what is. It turns out Laurent knows nothing of his great destiny: Isabelle believes him too young to bear the burden of it. She delivers a brief speech on hope and Daryl growls “It ain’t my problem” and leaves.
He is barely any distance from the abbey when he hears approaching vehicles and hides behind a tree. The soldiers have arrived, brought by the tattoo-faced man, Codron. Daryl undergoes a moment of internal struggle - are the nuns his problem after all? - and we see Codron arrive at the abbey and demand entrance. The nuns admit the men, and the Mother Superior tells the women to hide Laurent and pack some heat from the weapons room. Isabelle makes Laurent lock himself in Pére Jean’s office. The men begin to search for Daryl while the violin section plays the same chord over and over ad nauseum to build tension. Codron is about to find Laurent when there is a shout from outside. The soldiers have discovered Pére Jean, and they are, like Daryl, confused by his imprisonment. The nuns beg Codron not to put the walker down, and he asks them to tell him about Daryl. Suddenly, distressed by the realization that his poetry teacher is about to die a second time, Laurent runs out of his hiding place, yelling “Mon Dieu!
”, which is blasphemy, and ought to be frowned upon by the nuns.
Codron says they will take the boy with them to be a soldier, and Daryl appears just in time to disrupt their plans.
Another fight scene. The killer nuns do their thing and some of them die. Soldiers get stabbed, and people sneak around. Daryl and Codron fight and Daryl gets beaten up, and yet again Isabelle has to save him from certain death. At this point, her claim about his prodigious strength and fighting skill is looking ridiculous, to be honest. You can manage fine on your own, girl, without taking along a man you have to save every twenty minutes. Codron flees, shot by Daryl in some insignificant body part.
The abbey is full of corpses. Daryl finds Isabelle sitting on the stairs inside holding the wounded Mother Superior, and he kneels down and takes her hand like he might be about to propose. “You don’t believe,” she says to him. “Maybe you never saw a reason to. But one thing I know, reasons are everywhere.” Laurent arrives and the Mother Superior tells him he is “the cure for a sick world,” and Laurent gives a saintly simper which is frankly inappropriate for a deathbed scene, but which is doubtless intended to indicate his incredible faith. “Perhaps he is the one,” the Mother Superior says to Isabelle, speaking of Daryl, and then she dies, and everyone hopes she’s right otherwise this is a super awkward way for her to use her last words.
A bonfire burns behind the abbey. The dead nuns have all been buried. Laurent declares that they are with the angels, and then he gets a guitar and Sylvie sings while he plays. They're the kind of duo who would be a hit at art student parties, although their choice of song is a bit of a downer. Daryl and Isabelle sit beside the fire and Daryl agrees to travel with them if they will help him reach Le Havre so he can get home. He explains that he left the Commonwealth looking for something because he “figured there had to be something out there worth finding,” which is honestly not a good reason for a man with responsibilities to drive away from them all, but it’s too late to do anything about that now. Sparks rise into the night and Laurent strums his guitar, and we see Codron climbing into his car and driving away, rage in his eyes.
At Le Havre, the port in question, a ship captain is explaining to an irritated woman, Genet (Anne Charrier), that his prisoners escaped in the Gulf of Cá
diz. Coincidentally, refugees drown in their hundreds every year in that area of the Mediterranean, but Daryl’s white savior plot armor protected him, apparently. Genet addresses a scientist who tells her their research has been largely destroyed, though some of the “test subjects” – walkers – might still be useful. “Whoever did this,” the scientist says, “made a real mess of things for us.” Ominous music plays, and we find out that “one American” man is responsible. Who could it be? Luckily, the captain remembers his name: Rick Grimes. No, just kidding, it’s Daryl Dixon.
Thus, the first episode of The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon
ends. As things stand, the eponymous hero is wanted by two French bosses set on revenge, and he has chosen to accept his role as the one chosen to lead the chosen one to the chosen place. Tune in for next week’s recap to find out what happens next!