'The Walking Dead': How Rick and Daryl went from frienemies to BFFs

Kimberly Potts
Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

To celebrate the Oct. 22 Season 8 premiere of  The Walking Dead — the series’ 100th episode — Yahoo TV will be posting a new TWD-related story every day through the season opener.

“You’re my brother,” Rick Grimes told Daryl Dixon in “A,” as the two downloaded the events of the night before, when Rick had been forced to bite out the jugular of a man who was Daryl’s traveling companion. Claimer Joe and his men had been on the verge of raping and killing Carl and Michonne, then killing Daryl and Rick, when Rick sprang into action. As Daryl blamed himself the next day for being a temporary part of the Claimers crew, Rick assured him the devastating night had been no fault of his.

“You being back with us here, now, that’s everything,” Rick said. “You’re my brother.”

And with that moment of bonding in the Season 4 finale, the Rick and Daryl friendship, one of the most important, enduring, and endearing relationships on The Walking Dead, was officially set in stone.

But it wasn’t always so bromantical between Misters Grimes and Dixon. When the two met in Season 1, their first exchange included Daryl tossing a batch of dead squirrels at Rick and charging at him with a knife. Daryl had just learned Rick, T-Dog and other members of their camp left Daryl’s big brother Merle handcuffed to a pipe on a rooftop in downtown Atlanta, poised to become easy pickings for whatever walkers might spot him.

In the same episode, Rick and Daryl also embarked on their first adventure together — a road trip back to the ATL to save Merle. But with Rick still wearing his cop uniform and the group ambivalent, at best, about saving the likes of racist redneck Merle, Rick and Daryl were still very much at odds.

Rick’s uniform was a symbol of the most blatant differences between him and Daryl, two men on separate sides of the law. The brothers Dixon had dabbled in their share of lawless behaviors; we’d later find out they had even planned to rob the camp before the venture that ended with Merle trapped downtown.

But with Merle gone, we also started to see the true Daryl, a guy who didn’t share Merle’s offensive viewpoints, who risked his own life to search for the missing Sophia, and whose hunting and tracking skills were invaluable to the people who would become his family. In many ways, the apocalypse, and even the sad separation from Merle, were the best things that ever happened to Daryl. His losses have been many, but it’s in this world that what he has to offer is more valuable than money or formal education or even a cop’s uniform and badge. Daryl’s skills help keep his fellow survivors safe, fed, confident that they can survive, and willful that they want to.

Though Rick and Daryl probably wouldn’t have been friends pre-apocalypse, it’s ultimately not a surprise they came to respect and care for each other in the new world. They’re more alike than they might have guessed early on. They’re both brave leaders, Rick in his Ricktatorship way, Daryl in his more lead-by-example way. And they’ve proven again and again that they are a formidable team, from finding the prison and setting up what provided the group with one of its longest homebases yet to planning what is likely to be the battle of all battles when they take on Negan and the Saviors in Season 8.

With each of them open to applicants for new BFFs after the death of Shane and the disappearance of Merle, Rick and Daryl’s relationship strengthened as they took on challenge after challenge at the prison, from constant walker threats and the prisoners who’d been left behind to the virus outbreak and the equally constant and dangerous threat of The Governor and his wicked ways.

(Photo: Gene Page/AMC)

Being separated after the fall of the prison and having encountered more violence that proved walkers are often the least imposing peril they face, Rick and Daryl’s post-Claimers bro-out was, again, the formal beginning of a pact that has continued to see the friends help their group deal with Terminus, the Grady Hospital showdown, life-threatening supply droughts, new Alexandria cohorts who ranged from incompetent to dangerously resentful, and all the tragedy and wreckage that Negan has so far wrought.

In between, there have been a few disagreements – Daryl even went off on his own with Merle for a bit when the senior Dixon wasn’t welcomed to call the prison his home – but Rick and Daryl separations have always ended in happy reunions, with the most recent ones including hugs from the PDA-adverse – the “P” standing for public and private – Daryl.

And the Season 6 gem “The Next World” gave us some lighter friendship moments (as close to a buddy comedy episode as we’re likely to get with TWD) as Andy Lincoln and Norman Reedus’ idea of a “Butch and Sundance” escapade became a Rick and Daryl supply run with rockabilly music, Orange Crush, cat-and-mouse play with a man named Jesus, and the sinking of a truckload of choice provisions.

But fighting and folly timeouts aside, the Rickyl partnership will continue to be among the most important factors going forward, as the Alexandrians lead a new alliance of communities – with the Hilltop and the Kingdom – in an attempted takedown of the Saviors.

Rick’s determination to build a new world for his children and Daryl’s quest for revenge against Negan and a safe place for Baby Rhee to be born will help write the immediate future and long-term direction of life for the friends and all their loved ones in the apocalypse.

The Walking Dead Season 8 premieres Oct. 22 at 9 p.m. on AMC.

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