It’s hard to imagine The Walking Dead without either Daryl Dixon or Carol Peletier — and as far as the future of the greater franchise, you don’t have to consider the unimaginable.
When AMC ends its flagship zombie series after season 11, the world of The Walking Dead will walk on with both Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride continuing their roles as Daryl and Carol in a new spinoff, helmed by showrunner Angela Kang. It’s not a surprise that the only two characters from the first season still lurking within the Walking Dead story will survive through the end, but it does still tell us something about what the ending might look like.
Spoilers for Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard’s Walking Dead comic books are ahead.
The final issue of Kirkman and Adlard’s The Walking Dead takes place several years down the line, long after the time of Rick Grimes. Assassinated in the dead of night, Rick’s death catalyzed the folks who survived him toward a renewed focus on civilization. The world of the dead in the final issue is a very different one than the world of the dead in all previous issues: functional trade outposts, a court system complete with Michonne as a veritable Supreme Court justice, Maggie as President of the Commonwealth, a developing railroad designed to connect the east and west coasts for the first time in decades… the list goes on.
Absent from this bright future: Daryl and Carol. The reason for their absence is simple: they don’t exist in the comic books. In Daryl’s case, he’s completely absent from the paneled page version of events. In Carol’s case, she’s long since dead, killed during the prison days, and even then, an entirely unrecognizable character from the one McBride has played since season one. Slotting them into the comic book’s ending, should the comic book’s ending come to light for television, was always going to be a bit of a puzzle. Unless the Daryl and Carol spinoff will take place in the far future with Reedus and McBride in aged-up makeup, then, it’s likely they won’t be deeply entrenched in the return of civilization.
There are plenty of points to consider in that regard; let’s focus on two of them. The first directly correlates with Daryl and Carol as far as their next steps. Both are outsiders within the greater group, having both gone through their share of heartaches before and during the apocalypse. It makes sense, the idea that they would want to leave the Alexandria Safe-Zone and all their friends behind. What’s more, in the past, Reedus has indicated his desire to see Daryl live on past The Walking Dead, riding off for parts unknown; a cowboy on wheels, essentially. The Daryl and Carol spinoff feeds into that idea, opening the possibility for both survivors to hit the open road after feeling like they’ve done all they can for the folks they’re leaving behind.
Of course, Daryl and Carol heading off for parts unknown is a frightening prospect for three fan-favorites: Ezekiel, Lydia and Judith Grimes. Ezekiel is currently ill, and has survived past the point of his death from the comics; his death on the show feels inevitable, to some extent. Lydia does not die in the comics; if she links up with Negan rather than Daryl, perhaps there’s less reason to be concerned. But Daryl is currently in charge of Judith’s well-being, as well as her baby brother RJ; are they hitting the road with Daryl and Carol, or are they no longer factors by the end of the Walking Dead run? Worth noting that the very end of The Walking Dead comics focus on the death of one member of the Grimes family and the eventual adult life of another: Rick and Carl, respectively. Could the television series be building toward something similar with Judith and RJ? It’s not a pleasant thought, but then again, few thoughts are pleasant when it comes to Walking Dead.
Which brings us to the second point: the comic book’s ending, and how it may translate to the small screen. Forget the Grimes of it all. In the comics, Kirkman and Adlard paint a picture of a post-apocalyptic world on the edge of transformation, bending toward something more civil, but still fraught with in-fighting and posturing. It’s rich with storytelling possibilities, to the point that the ending feels like a new beginning for the series — the start of a brand new show, almost.
While The Walking Dead television series is ending, The Walking Dead franchise is not. Daryl and Carol riding off into the sunset for their own adventures is simultaneously possible with a new show that is set some decades down the line, focusing on the survivors of the Grimes days, with adult versions of some of these children: grown-up Judith (should she be alive) and RJ, Glenn and Maggie’s son Hershel, just to name a few. It could even feature brand new actors in the roles of Maggie and Michonne, as both characters play a role in the comic book finale, albeit decades older; it’s a great opportunity for some veteran actors to put new spins on comic book favorites.
In other words, the Daryl and Carol spinoff isn’t just telling us that these two characters are going to live past the end of The Walking Dead. It’s also providing AMC with an opportunity to end the main Walking Dead series and start something brand new that takes place far into the future, leaning on a brand new cast that honors the show’s legacy. While it’s only the Daryl and Carol spinoff that’s currently announced (as well as the Tales of the Walking Dead anthology series), I’m going to place this prediction here now for future reference: another Walking Dead series, set several decades down the line and focusing on the descendants of the Grimes group, is another announcement waiting in the wings — it’s just a matter of when.
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