I do not mean to be glib when I say this because I genuinely do like The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon, but the show has a The Walking Dead problem. Put another way, there’s a reason why it took nearly 45 years after Night of the Living Dead for someone to produce a zombie television series. There are a number of limitations, and very few — The Returned, In the Flesh, iZombie, Santa Clarita Diet — have endeavored to move beyond those limitations (and that mostly includes The Last of Us).
Having watched 11 seasons of The Walking Dead, 7 seasons of Fear the Walking Dead, two seasons of that other one, and even one season of the one with Negan and Maggie, the series’ formula is predictable: There’s a season-long arc, there’s a villain, and within the arc, there are numerous road trips and supply runs. I’d guess that 70 percent of the 22 seasons of the The Walking Dead universe involve finding gas, finding food, finding medicine, or finding a new location. People used to complain during the Frank Darabont era that The Walking Dead is just characters walking through the woods. Things haven’t changed much. The whole series is set up like a video game: There’s an arc, and within that arc, there are missions. It’s basically a procedural at this point.
Two episodes into Daryl Dixon, and the series has already fallen into old patterns, albeit in a different country. In the premiere, the series established the arc: Daryl has to get the “messiah” boy, Laurent, to where he needs to go, and he himself has to get to the port at Le Havre. Road trip! There’s also a villain: Codron, the leader of The Cause.
In this week’s episode, the road trip begins! En route, they lose their mule and encounter a new group made up of children whose parent figure is dying. The mission: Find a new mule and get some medicine!
Granted, the setting in France at least introduces a new game map: These supplies exist in a castle, and the castle has a moat full of zombies. That’s fun! The castle inhabitant also has a kooky redneck American protecting it. Obviously, Daryl and the children neutralize the American, obviously the zombie moat comes into play, and obviously the mule and medicine are retrieved. It’s a fun sequence, but also: it doesn’t matter how many race courses you play Mario Kart on, at the end of the day it’s still Mario Kart. Daryl Dixon is still The Walking Dead, just on a different course.
In a series of flashbacks, the episode did add an interesting new wrinkle or, rather, completely stole from The Last Of Us: Laurent, the messiah child, is special — and we may find out even holds a clue to a cure — because he was born to a zombie mother (his mother turned during childbirth). So, Daryl has to get the special child to a special place? Sounds familiar. I suppose if you’re going to steal, steal from the best.