How The Walking Dead's Daryl And Leah Story Was Originally Meant To Play Out

Spoilers below for anyone who hasn't yet watched The Walking Dead's fourth episode of Season 11, so be warned!

With the episode "Rendition," The Walking Dead paid off on both Daryl's previously introduced relationship with Lynn Collins' Leah, and on the Season 11 trailer that hinted at Leah's return. Unfortunately, the characters' reconnection wasn't quite as loving as their initial courtship was, and it involved Daryl once again being held prisoner in a miserable situation, as well as the first appearance from Ritchie Coster's villainous leader Pope. As it turns out, the creative team's original ideas for this storyline were quite different from what viewers saw.

It turns out the first threads of Leah's existence were birthed back in Season 9, the same season where Andrew Lincoln's Rick, Lauren Cohan's Maggie, and Danai Gurira's Michonne made their big exits. Here's how showrunner Angela Kang explained it to EW:

We actually started with the idea that during the middle of the time jump that we did in Season 9, Daryl got this dog. And we'd always thought in the writer's room that it might've come from some Prairie woman that was out there that he had a complicated relationship with, but we never get anything with that story. And then we wanted to do the story of the Reapers. And so we did start with the idea that maybe whoever this person is was part of the Reapers.

It's interesting to think about what The Walking Dead's current situation would be like had Angela Kang & Co. went forward with introducing Leah into the main story during Season 9. It would have made just about every one of Daryl and Carol's interactions that much more interesting to witness, for one, since we might have seen Norman Reedus' emotionally stunted character in a few more heartwarming situations. It's not clear if the Reapers storyline might have been seeded into the narrative earlier on, even before Lauren Cohan's return to the show, but that's obviously something to consider as well.

That wasn't the only change-up, either. Once showrunner Angela Kang and the writing staff figured out most of the story mechanics for how Leah and Daryl's story would actually play out on the show, the original plan was to have everything we've seen so far play out in one fell swoop. In Kang's words:

This is kind of a piece of trivia, I guess — the origin story of the cabin and the episode where he meets her, which is this one, was all one story. There were flashbacks and the current story all mixed together. But then while we were in the middle of doing Season 11, we had to sort of backtrack and do an extension [of Season 10], so we separated the love story piece out. There are fans that have very mixed feelings about that, and others who thought the story was really interesting and loved it. But we'd always known she was a Reaper. And so in some ways I was like, 'Well, if people don't like her, that's okay, because she is actually a villain and there's a toxic element to that relationship.'

I kind of love the idea that everyone's moral-based opinions about Lynn Collins' Leah were basically moot from the get-go, because that introduction was always guaranteed to be followed by the Reaper reveal. I was on her side simply for being the one person in The Walking Dead's universe that was able to fully pierce Daryl's built-up emotional armor, though I definitely had suspicions after she went missing. Not that Daryl was exactly on the right side of things for not offering a straight answer to her ultimatum, but still. Things are definitely more complicated now than they would have been then, that's for sure. But obviously still with all the weird sexual energy that would come with such a relationship.

With a return to the Commonwealth coming in the next episode, which will hopefully give us some answers about Eugene and faux-Stephanie, The Walking Dead airs Sunday nights on AMC, with episodes airing a full week early for AMC+ subscribers. While waiting for the next episode, be sure to stay updated on all the big shows heading to the small screen soon with our 2021 Fall TV schedule.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.