If the first spinoff of “The Walking Dead” following the flagship series finale, “The Walking Dead: Dead City,” marked the commencement of a new era for the franchise, the second installment certainly feels like a continuation — at least in terms of tone, if not chronologically. “The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon,” set to premiere on AMC on Sept. 10, builds upon the tentative goodwill established by “Dead City,” arguably improving on some of its strengths.
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Similar to “Dead City,” “Daryl Dixon” unfolds as a six-episode, largely self-contained narrative featuring a beloved core character navigating a fresh and unfamiliar setting. While “Dead City” saw Maggie and Negan venturing to New York City, this series sends the titular character (portrayed by Norman Reedus) across the Atlantic Ocean to post-zombie-apocalypse France.
In the initial moments of “The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon,” Daryl awakens on a beach in southern France. He eventually finds refuge at a convent, where he encounters a nun named Isabelle (Clémence Poésy) and her ward, a precocious tween named Laurent (Louis Puech Scigliuzzi) whom the nuns believe is destined for greatness. Daryl is recruited to safeguard Laurent and Isabelle as they embark on a journey north to an outpost known as “the Nest” in exchange for assistance in finding a ship back to the United States.
Daryl and his charges traverse checkpoints operated by an ecumenical network of faith-oriented communities, all united in their belief in Laurent’s messianic potential. However, the path is fraught with adversaries. Genet (Anne Charrier), a totalitarian leader, perceives Laurent as a threat to her power and dispatches her guerriers to pursue the group, including Codron (Romain Levi), a battle-hardened soldier nursing a personal vendetta against Daryl. Naturally, there are also zombies, referred to as “the hungry ones,” including the new, super-fast variant hinted at in the final moments of “The Walking Dead: World Beyond.”
Initially unclear is how Daryl ended up in France, a mystery that unfolds gradually. Once the revelation comes to light, the reasons appear not particularly relevant to the plot. Indeed, Daryl himself doesn’t play a central role in the narrative for much of the six-episode run. Nevertheless, his presence adds a certain rugged charm, and a few poignant scenes in the final episode introduce unexpected depth to his character. Primarily, Daryl functions as a catalyst for Isabelle and Laurent’s storyline, even if he amusingly insists, “I don’t speak French!” at the start of each scene, minimizing the need for subtitles for the viewers.
Arguably, Daryl has always excelled in this particular role throughout his tenure on the original “Walking Dead” series. The departure of Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes created a leading-man void that Reedus, and Daryl by extension, often found challenging to fill. Ironically, his own spinoff returns him to the more comfortable co-pilot position — consistently present in the action but not necessarily at its core. The initial pitch for “Daryl Dixon,” featuring Daryl and best friend Carol (Melissa McBride) sharing the spotlight, suggests careful consideration of this dynamic from the outset. Although Carol is not part of the final product, the show ensures that Daryl is not burdened with the sole responsibility of carrying the entire narrative. (Interestingly, fans who miss the Daryl/Carol dynamic might find solace in several indirect hints that Carol could potentially play a role in future seasons.)
In a spinoff, urging viewers to invest in new characters over established ones can be a risky proposition, but Isabelle quickly cements herself as one of the franchise’s standout characters. A complex backstory, unfolded through flashbacks and present-day encounters with a figure from her past, enables the audience to connect with her as deeply as any character from the original series. Poésy, best known to Americans for her role in the Harry Potter films (as Fleur Delacour), brings depth to her nuanced performance. The chemistry between her and Reedus is crucial; Isabelle serves as a compelling foil to Daryl Dixon’s gruff demeanor.
“The Walking Dead: Dead City” set a precedent for the setting acting as a character, a concept that “Daryl Dixon” not only expands upon but also enhances. While “Dead City” occasionally struggled to incorporate uniquely New York elements while filming on a soundstage in New Jersey, “Daryl Dixon,” primarily filmed on location, is brimming with French points of interest akin to a Rick Steves travelogue. Journeys through the Paris Catacombs, Père Lachaise Cemetery, and the beaches of Normandy emphasize the post-apocalyptic nature of this world. The vine-covered facade of Notre Dame and the twisted metal remains of the Eiffel Tower serve as poignant reminders of the pre-apocalyptic times. There’s no doubt that Daryl and his companions are in France, and the story could only unfold in this specific location. Consequently, the series’ overall tone differs markedly from its predecessors.
Beyond the specificity of the setting, the universe’s meticulous attention to detail is remarkable, leaving no visual element unused. Every unique zombie-related set piece encountered by the group eventually ties into the overarching plot. Showrunner David Zabel has thoughtfully considered the surroundings and how they would impact any given scenario in “The Walking Dead.” For example, Daryl wields a medieval flail as a weapon while navigating a castle moat teeming with the undead. In Episode 3’s cold open, a creatively twisted zombie tableau, complemented by Ravel’s “Bolero,” adds a French flair to a classic “Walking Dead” trope.
Despite its intricately shot scenes and strong performances, the series shares some of the same challenges as its predecessor spinoff. Similar to “Dead City,” “Daryl Dixon” takes too long to reach the compelling parts. The atmospheric premiere features prolonged moments of silence, broken by Daryl’s characteristic grunts, and the main arc of the season only fully takes shape in most of the second episode.
With only six episodes to narrate a more or less complete story, there’s no room for a slow burn. Yet, “Daryl Dixon” doesn’t hit its true rhythm until a soap-opera-worthy plot twist midway through the third episode. Although franchise devotees, likely the primary audience, have endured worse from previous “Walking Dead” series, quicker pacing in the early moments could have elevated the series from being merely “enjoyable” to reaching “classic” status.
“The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon” premieres on AMC on Sept. 10, with new episodes airing weekly.