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The Walking Dead Season 8 was unlike any before it, wholly centered on the big All Out War between Rick's crew and Negan's Saviors, which was ultimately less of a war than a series of randomly successful sneak attacks. Season 9 will change things up even more, what with the big time jump, the rapidly evolved settlements, and the casting alterations. Exiting star Andrew Lincoln and Lauren Cohan are both confirmed to appear in only six episodes each in Season 9, and AMC has already thrown a bunch of money at Norman Reedus to stay on and make Daryl Dixon an even more prominent main character.
But even though Norman Reedus and Daryl have millions upon millions of fans who would gladly riot if the crossbow-wielding protagonist got killed off, turning him into the show's central figure probably isn't the best move for The Walking Dead's creative team to run with. So let's break down the reasons why the zombie drama needs to look for someone else to lead the action.
Daryl isn't a leader. Throughout all eight seasons of The Walking Dead, Daryl has consistently been an independently minded survivor rarely put in the position where he's responsible for the lives of dozens, if not hundreds, of other people. And I'm pretty sure every character who's ever met him has come away with the same first impression, which definitely isn't "This surly gentleman is capable of commanding his own army." Daryl isn't a guy who spends much time formulating plans and strategies, and his rare schemes usually backfire in one way or another. Plus, it's wholly unclear if he's capable of recognizing strengths and weakness in people he's not trying to kill. And while The Walking Dead wouldn't necessarily need to center on a community leader, Daryl's weaknesses in that area can be expounded upon to support the argument that he can't lead the show, either.
Daryl doesn't have very many meaningful relationships. If you look at all the best shows on TV throughout the ages, the lead characters are always partially identified by their connections to other characters, both seen and unseen. Rick, for instance, started off with a complicated love triangle between Shane and Lori, compounded by Carl's presence and, later, Lori's pregnancy. Rick kept making new relationships, too, and similar things can be said for Maggie. But Daryl? He's got genuinely strong ties with Carol, and a bro-ship with Rick that's padded by genial moments with other leads. Other than that, he's basically just had combative back-and-forths with Merle during their time together and the "will they/won't they" with Beth that made Daryl's sexuality a hot topic. Plus the weird Dwight parallels. Things could (and probably will) change in Season 9 on that front, but that doesn't change the past.
Daryl can't always be trusted. There are always times when one can expect a superior-in-charge to make decisions that go against the grain, Daryl is much more transparently self-concerned than lead characters and leaders should be. Most recently, his vengeful efforts against the Saviors (to counter his awful stint within the Sanctuary) took him away from Team Family's central mission, which he ended up completely botching anyway. No, Rick hasn't always been the most honorable person in charge, but at least he's earned everyone else's trust time and again by putting others ahead of himself. And yes, there have been plenty of TV shows centered on unreliable characters, but Daryl isn't in the same situation as someone like Walter White or Tony Soprano. The Walking Dead's team dynamic shouldn't be anchored on, to mix metaphors, such a lone wolf in sheep's clothing.
Head to the next page to see the other reasons why Daryl shouldn't lead the show, and to let us know in our poll what you guys think.
We still don't even know that much about Daryl. Sure, Walking Dead fans know enough about Daryl to justify the fan adoration, and we definitely don't need an origin story about his motorcycle or his crossbow skills in order to appreciate them. But after eight years, my general sense of Daryl's past is that Merle was always a dickhead, and that he was around a lot of pro-level addicts and drunks...and that's about it. Meanwhile, I can formulate layered histories for quite a few other Walking Dead characters, and not even just the main leads. Not everyone needs to be so wholly rounded, to be sure, but Daryl would need a lot more emotional backstory baggage to justify taking up a larger chunk of the narrative arcs in future seasons.
He's so damned quiet. While Rick is guilty of being a tad too loquacious when addressing his fellow survivors, Daryl has the opposite kinds of issues. His go-to maneuver is to brood with smoldering intensity, and he tends to only speak when he's spoken to. That's perfectly natural behavior for a co-lead who lets his weapons and fight skills speak for him an average of once or twice an episode, but not for a lead character who is meant to carry many different and important scenes week in and week out. And though The Walking Dead often works well when dialogue is at a minimum, that's usually due to a variety of reasons and techniques being used, as opposed to "Daryl just doesn't talk much."
Daryl probably wouldn't want the gig anyway. Considering Daryl is more known for walking off the beaten path than for following entire rulesets, it makes a certain amount of sense to assume that the character wouldn't even want to be the center of anyone's attention for any long stretches. And he almost definitely wouldn't want the responsibility of actually leading Alexandria or Hilltop or any other sizable communities. As said earlier, The Walking Dead can obviously change Daryl's personality and history up to make him more suitable for an increase in storylines and screen time, but I'm not sure what would be convincing enough. Maybe if there was a golden rule that the leader got to horde all the scavenged booze and cigarettes...
Putting aside sheer fandom and applying some practicality to the situation, what do you guys think? Would Daryl still make a good leader despite the topics mentioned above? Let us know in the poll, and stay tuned for The Walking Dead Season 9, which will shamble its way onto AMC at some point this fall. Until then, head to our summer premiere schedule to see all the new and returning shows hitting primetime soon.