The next chapter in The Walking Dead Saga begins with The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon, a bold, masterful series that takes the TWD Universe to the next level. What to Watch had a chance to watch the entire six-episode first season and we have our spoiler-free review below.
The first 20 minutes of episode 1 (shown first at San Diego Comic-Con then made available online) make it clear we’re not in Kansas anymore. Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) washes up on the shores of France and must contend with a new landscape, a language barrier and lots of new threats.
After covering The Walking Dead and all of its spinoffs for years and years, I didn't know what to expect going into this new series but I've been craving something new and different. The Walking Dead: Dead City season 1 scratched that itch with a compelling story set in New York. Daryl Dixon takes the franchise to the next level as a bold new story that creatively pushes the boundaries of what's been done previously in the TWD Universe.
Reedus is absolutely in his element in Daryl Dixon, even though his character is the epitome of a fish out of water. Daryl doesn't speak French and given what we know of him, he probably doesn't know much about France, either. Reedus delivers a career-defining performance.
After a series of mishaps, Daryl quickly finds himself in the care of nuns at the Union of Hope convent. There he meets Isabelle (Clémence Poésy, known to Harry Potter fans as Fleur Delacour), who sees in him someone who can help take young Laurent (Louis Puech Scigliuzzi) to safety. Laurent, they believe, holds the key to France's future.
Daryl reluctantly agrees, hoping that through this mission he can find his way home. Of course, nothing goes to plan and he's faced with obstacles that challenge him more than anything he's been through so far. That's saying a lot, considering Daryl has gone through a lot over the years. Along the way, Daryl encounters surprising new friends who inspire him to keep going when things look bleak.
Of course, it wouldn't be a TWD series without villains. Romain Levi's Codron is relentless and driven by revenge, making him a formidable opponent who has the benefit of knowing the landscape better than Daryl. Anne Charrier's Genet will rank among the franchise's most sinister villains. It's worth mentioning the walkers in Daryl Dixon are very different from what fans have come to know over the years. These walkers have evolved (which has been hinted at previously) and they present dangerous new challenges to the survivors.
Showrunner David Zabel and fellow executive producer (and frequent season 1 director) Daniel Percival manage to turn vibrant France into a barren wasteland; the unsettling vibe of the series is a nod to classic French horror movies of old. With sweeping shots of startlingly lifeless countrysides to centuries-old cities and tourist hotspots overrun by the elements, Daryl Dixon's France offers The Walking Dead fans a look at how the apocalypse impacted Europe and it's utterly fascinating what survival looks like across the pond.
Like most of AMC's limited series (i.e., Interview with the Vampire and The Walking Dead: Dead City), Daryl Dixon moves quickly to economize every scene. With so much to establish, the first season could have easily filled upwards of eight episodes. There's a lot to take in right away and viewers, like the titular hero, must follow along closely to understand what's going on and what's at stake.
Thankfully, as the series progresses the gaps are filled in and viewers learn more about what's happening in France and how Daryl ended up there. The answers are satisfying and they absolutely set up what's to come in the previously announced second season.
The use of language is something I enjoyed with Daryl Dixon, particularly as a fan of "El Matadero," the episode of Fear the Walking Dead almost entirely in Spanish. The French characters are authentic; some speak English while many don't. The subtitles will admittedly be distracting for some fans, but as a creative device they help create a sense of imbalance for viewers that mirrors what Daryl is experiencing with the language barrier.
I'm very aware that The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon won't be for everyone. It's nuanced and very different from the original series. The payoff, I believe, is worth it. It's a chance to see a beloved character navigate a new landscape, which provides fans with a firsthand look at what's happening in the rest of the world. There are also hints at how worlds might collide in the future as the TWD saga continues, making Daryl Dixon one of the most exciting new shows in the TWD Universe to date.
The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon premieres Sunday, September 10, at 9 pm ET/PT on AMC and AMC Plus.