Last week’s episode of AMC’s The Walking Dead, “Claimed,” was all about looking towards the future. We were introduced to a trio of new characters—Abraham, Rosita, and Eugene—who will continue shape the show for the foreseeable future and beyond. At the same time, we learned that they were on a mission to get to Washington DC, and could possibly hold the key to ending the walker apocalypse once and for all. “Still,” tonight’s installment of the hit zombie drama, however, looks into the past, specifically into the earlier life of fan-favorite Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus).
“Still” keeps up the pattern The Walking Dead has followed since returning from its annual mid-season hiatus. After the disaster at the prison, the group of survivors was forced to split up and go their separate ways in order to survive. Thus far, the series has taken its sweet time getting the gang back together, a smart move, and one that allows for each episode to check in with one splinter, or at the most a couple. This strategy has worked well, providing the time and space to actually dig into the characters. This week is the most limited yet, and aside from Daryl and Beth (Emily Kinney), the only other people who appear in the episode are heavily made up and zombified.
I’ve done a lot for a drink, but it’s usually limited to digging in the couch cushions for loose change or pawning some CDs, but what these two do for a taste is so far beyond that. And that’s the narrative impetus for this episode. Sick of camping out, eating snakes, and hiding from walkers in the trunk of a car, Beth decides that it’s high time the she have the first drink of her teenage life. This seemingly simple task is not so easy to accomplish in this world; you just know the booze was the first thing people went for when the shit went down. Along the way, the two bicker and fight and do their level best to wound each other. But at the same time they also bond in a way that they never have, break through some sturdy emotional walls, and learn much more about each other.
Their journey takes them to a country club golf course, where Daryl adds a sturdy iron to his arsenal—not a bad zombie-whacking tool at all. As it turns out, they’re not the first folks to check this place out. Everyone who sought refuge there has passed from this mortal coil, including the creepy trio who hung themselves, and still dangle and writhe at the end of their respective ropes.
It takes a while, but Beth finally finds the last bottle in the place: peach schnapps. The peach schnapps is always the last thing left in liquor cabinet. Daryl, being the consummate gentleman, isn’t about to let a teenage girl’s first drink be this garbage, that’s way, way too much of a stupid college girl cliché. He’s got a plan. It seems some time ago, when he and Michonne were still on the hunt for the Governor, they came across a ramshackle cabin with it’s very own still. So, lucky Beth, her first taste of booze is good old-fashioned moonshine.
As you can imagine, drinking as they do, some things they’ve kept hidden start to come out. Beth wishes she could feel like this all the time, and Daryl is something of a mean drunk. Beth pushes and pushes—including an awkward game of “I Never”—trying to get any piece of Daryl’s past. When she finally pushes too much, he breaks. She gets more than she ever bargained for, and he in turn shares more than he ever thought possible.
You get much more than just a bare, raw examination of Daryl’s past. You can guess the physical mechanics and the details of his background. He hung out with drunks, users, and outlaws of all sorts, was never able to rely on anyone for anything, and it wasn’t a particularly pleasant or happy way to grow up. It did, however, prepare him in a unique way for the life he sparse life he leads now. The most important part is the look into his psyche, and the things that shaped and formed him.
Walking away from this episode, you have a new perspective on Daryl. He’s always been a badass, and the best character on the show, but the events of “Still” give you a whole new appreciation for him and everything he’s been through, largely suffering in silence. Everyone assumes that he is this cold, unfeeling hard ass, though that couldn’t be further from the truth. He carries an incredible weigh on his shoulders, blaming himself for the debacle at the prison, as well as many other deaths.
As serious and dour as this episode can be—Daryl recounts a Mexican standoff with Merle and a tweaker kid, and Beth recognizes that she’s “just another dead girl”—“Still” ends on a positive note. It would have been so easy to leave the characters mired in an alcoholic depression or overwhelming sadness, but they don’t. This cabin, which is essentially a double for every shithole that Daryl lived in growing up, with its dumpstered easy chair and random spit buckets, can’t hold them captive like you feel like it might. Instead, they douse it with ‘shine, light it up with a burning bundle of cash, and, in a joyous expression of defiance and big old fuck you to their circumstances, they flip it off as it burns.