Directed by David Boyd and written by Heather Bellson, this weekend's episode of AMC's The Walking Dead "Diverged" turned the focus back on the deteriorating friendship between Carol (Melissa McBride) and Daryl (Norman Reedus), picking up the storyline threads from earlier in the tenth season as well as from "Find Me." Facing a literal fork in the road, the two choose different paths- a metaphor come to situational life for what how things were last left between the two. In the interest of full disclosure, after four home runs in a row, I was a bit concerned about this episode because I wasn't really sure where I stood with Carol as well as her dynamic with Daryl. Much of that had to do with a portion of the "Caryl" fanbase (to be clear, not all or even most) who tend to go over the top in their desire to get the two characters together romantically.
I'm happy to report that none of that mattered because "Diverged" is the episode that fans of the two should embrace, making probably the best argument yet why they should be together as two people who care about each other and should be in each other's worlds- whether or not that's a romantic relationship or one that's a more family-bond one. In an episode in which few words are spoken yet each one has meaning to hold onto, Bellson leaves you rooting for them and feeling for what Carol's been through without excusing it- so much so that I might've yelled at the screen for Daryl o invite her over to play dominoes or fetch with Dog.
Okay, from this point forward? We're throwing on the "MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!" sign because we will be throwing out some details (though nothing Commonwealth-level shocking this week). Here's your spoiler image buffer- and we'll meet you on the other side.
It would be easy to view this episode as making an argument for Carol and Daryl actually going their separate ways. After parting ways, we watch as both go from initial moments of doubt (like when Carol says to Cooper Andrews' Jerry in a lost voice that she "just wants to take care of something- why not?") and stress to falling back into the practices and habits that attracted viewers to them in the first place. For Carol, it's showing that her skills as someone who can contribute to the community (soup, solar panels) who can also be the "stone-cold badass" like the Carol we knew back during the "Prison' eps (the way she walks upon the field of walkers, calls her shots, and then sings a happy tune walking from the field of battle. But with Dog by her side and Jerry attempting to not make it look obvious that he's checking in on her, Carol processes the choice of staying or leaving through the most interesting of ways- looking to capture a pesky rat. But by the time we find ourselves watching Carol go Mike Tyson on that wall, it's clear that the rat is a symbol for something much larger. And while there's clearly some road of self-appreciation and value she still needs to journey down, with left with a Carol who's turned a corner- with the hope that there's a brighter new future waiting for her there.
With Daryl, we have a broken line on his motorcycle turning into a masterclass in what makes him who he is. As we've seen, Daryl can be the team player and leader when he needs to be but this time we get to revisit Daryl the effective loner. The one who can take a bad situation and turn it into a profit- and by "profit," I mean tools, supplies, weapons, etc. And when things take a twist, we also see that he's a master of the "Plan B"- probably best shown by how he used kicking a car to keep from being crushed by it due to a rambling walker. So you see what we mean, right? Both of them actually appeared to be thriving in a way- so why shouldn't they just keep it that way?
Because of the Swiss Army knife.
The way director Boyd kept that knife the linking device between the two parallel narratives reminded us one basic thing about Carol and Daryl that sometimes we forget. They're best friends who love and care for each other- even in times when it seems like all's lost. There's always that something… that one thing… that even when they're apart, they're still together. And while I could list off a number of examples of real and situational reminders, having Daryl's Swiss Army knife be the linking device drives the point home the strongest. Even when Daryl's not there for her, he's still there for her- even if he's still figuring out what being there for her means. So when Daryl tells her to keep it at the end, a part of me saw it as a peace offering- as in, she'll have a part of him with her.
But what ties Boyd and Bellson's work together is the way it leaves viewers with a realistic, questionable ending. Was Daryl letting Carol keep the knife a real peace offering- or a "something to remember him by" gift? We don't know and we shouldn't know- even in a series about a zombie apocalypse, it's nice to be offered a little slice of reality over a "happily ever after"- even if it's a bitter taste. Ad for our main actors, Reedus was impressive as always- adding a little of the "new Daryl" into the mix even while in "old Daryl" mode. But this episode was all Carol and all McBride, offering new and complex layers to a character that's been with her for ten seasons- one we keep thinking we know yet continue to learn new things about. "Diverged" is Carol's "redemption song"- but not to be redeemed in the eyes of Daryl, Jerry, or any of the others. No, this was about Carol redeeming herself in her own eyes and remembering that having some "cracks" along the way isn't the same as being broken. When you see a performance like McBride's- like many we've seen during this mini-season- you can't help but wonder what award nomination committees have against "genre" programming. Because with one episode left in the extended 10th season of The Walking Dead, this run has lived up to and gone beyond the promises they offered viewers and the expectations that they had.