Spoiler warning for anyone who hasn't yet watched The Walking Dead's "Time for After."
The Walking Dead's fanbase is a loud and vocal one, and perhaps the loudest chants to be heard are centered on the fate of one Daryl Dixon. The rebellious redneck has long appeared to be as unkillable as Rick Grimes, but it's entirely possible that tide has turned, with Daryl's vengeful Savior-offing mission providing him none of the justice we expected. Instead, The Walking Dead has cast Daryl in the same villainous light as it casts some of the Saviors, and we're wondering if that's the show's way of easing viewers into Daryl actually getting killed off.
It's perhaps easy to shrug that kind of speculation off, but less so when one considers how unfortunately long it's been since The Walking Dead has given Daryl some kind of big, heroic arc to latch onto to keep those riot-themed chants going. As soon as the Saviors arrived, Daryl become less of a clear protagonist, and his parallels with Dwight have remained strong since their first encounter. But while Dwight has become more of an asset for Rick and Team Family, Daryl has become the opposite. Not only did he get into a physical scuffle with Rick after several episodes of heightened tension, but Daryl's rabble-rousing ambitions put himself and others in danger, and his improvised audible seemingly put a literal hole in Rick's plan to make the Saviors surrender. He's quickly becoming the good guys' biggest liability by actively causing harm and chaos, which probably isn't what fans want to see with this character.
The episode ends with Rick looking about as hopeless as we've ever seen him, and it's all because Daryl threw an unexpected wrench into the walker-swamp at the center of Rick's plan. And Rick is not going to be a happy camper when it's revealed that Daryl was partly responsible for the mass exodus, even if Eugene was likely the reason why the zombies were directed away. Considering Rick's plan has been what this entire first half of Season 8 has been about, Daryl's renegade moves won't go without some form of punishment, one would think.
Why would The Walking Dead be doing all this? On the one hand, the show might be bringing Daryl down a dark rabbit hole just so he can earn his way back to the audience's collective good side in some way. (Though that probably won't happen if he ends up getting Dwight killed anytime soon.) The flip side is that the creative team has been pulling a long-game by making Daryl as loathsome as possible over the past two years so that we'd eventually get to a point where killing him off becomes the obvious solution. Should Daryl be responsible for ruining Rick's big plot and getting more protagonists killed, what will be the point where viewers agree that Daryl's death is justified? I'm admittedly interested to find out, but not necessarily at the expense of tarnishing the character's reputation. (Yes, I know how silly that sounds.)
One of Daryl's last big cheer-worthy moments came when he got all handy with an RPG in blowing some Saviors to smithereens, but what would this narrative have turned into had he not done that? It all likely still would have ended with much blood being shed, but even the slightest change might have shaken up all the events that came afterward. Perhaps we wouldn't have gotten to the point where Daryl's impulsive rage got Glenn killed off, and he wouldn't have been kidnapped and taken to the Sanctuary, where his hatred and rage hardened to stone inside him. And then Morales wouldn't have gotten killed, maybe. In any case, Daryl probably wouldn't be so damned angry and solemn, and he wouldn't have turned against Rick time and again.
If that all is, in fact, what The Walking Dead is planning with Daryl, it's going to be a frustrating thing to watch. I think there's a certain amount of logic in spinning Daryl into a villain in order to give audiences another gigantic death, but this series could do that same thing with almost any other character without fear of fans' avalanche of blowback crushing everything beneath it. Ideally, Daryl should go off into the metaphorical sunset in a selfless way that allows for another character to live on. But this isn't a universe where ideals are given the proper amount of attention. So all expectations are now moot.
Find out what happens next on The Walking Dead when its midseason finale airs on AMC next Sunday night at 9:00 p.m. ET. Check out a theory we have about Season 8, and then to see what other new and returning shows are on the way when this series heads on hiatus, jump to our fall TV premiere schedule and our 2018 midseason premiere schedule.