[This story contains spoilers for The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon season finale.] "You're going to drop this redneck in Paris?" Norman Reedus said of his reaction to AMC's latest Walking Dead spin-off that finds Daryl Dixon washing ashore in post-apocalyptic France. By way of "a bunch of bad decisions" revealed through a series of flashbacks, the six-episode first season answered fans' oft-asked question: "Why is Daryl Dixon in France?" As it turns out, that was also the question put to showrunner and executive producer David Zabel, the Humanitas Prize-winning ER veteran who was asked to pitch Scott M. Gimple, Chief Content Officer of AMC's Walking Dead Universe, on the long-living franchise's first international setting.
Plans for the Walking Dead spin-off started forming in 2018, with Gimple and then-showrunner Angela Kang developing a Daryl & Carol spin-off starring Reedus and Melissa McBride. Daryl and Carol "would take off and we'd come back and check in and we would take off," Reedus revealed in 2020, the same year that AMC announced The Walking Dead would end after 11 seasons.
Ultimately, Reedus and McBride remained with the flagship through the 2022 series finale, but plans changed again when McBride and Kang dropped out of the Europe-set spin-off in April 2022. Zabel, a first-time TWD showrunner, replaced Kang, who serves as executive producer on what became the #1 premiere of all time and the #1 most-viewed season of any show in the history of AMC+.
"I can't talk to the changes too much, because I wasn't there for any of that. When I came on, basically they said, 'Hey David, will you come in and tell us a story about Daryl Dixon in France?' And that's where I started," Zabel exclusively told ComicBook in an interview about the Oct. 15 "Coming Home" season finale. "So I wasn't there when they went through some of those conversations about other iterations that the show might have been or was expected to be. So it's a question outside of my wheelhouse in terms of knowing what the details were, and it was a long period of time that they were talking about it, I know, and I think things changed over the course of that period."
Zabel added, "I just know when I came on, it was like, 'They want you to sit down with Norman and tell him a story about Daryl Dixon in France.' And that's what I did. That was the first thing I did. And then a little bit later, we were all talking about — even though there were circumstances making it a little bit difficult for Melissa — we wanted to see if she would be willing to do some part of the show in season 1. And that's when I started talking to Melissa about the radio call in [episode] five and the scene in six that the audience saw."
McBride makes a cameo in a final coda sequence ending the first season of Daryl Dixon, which will open its next chapter as The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon — The Book of Carol in 2024 on AMC and AMC+. The second season, which filmed in Europe, sees Carol set off to track down Daryl after following his trail to Freeport, Maine, where Daryl disappeared after making a pit stop to gather fuel.
"It was always the hope and the desire that we would get Melissa onto the show in season one, in whatever version she was ready to do. That was always what I wanted to do and what everybody wanted," Zabel said. "Norman wanted it, Scott wanted it, we all wanted it. So it was just a matter of working out what the show was going to be and then seeing how we could include her. Because we love the character, and we love Melissa, and we love the dynamic of Daryl and Carol together. So from the point where I started participating on the show, that was always the conversation."
After spending six episodes trekking across zombie-plagued France to get home to America, "Coming Home" ends with Daryl seconds away from boarding a boat to England after delivering Laurent (Louis Puech Scigliuzzi) — believed by the faithful members of Union de L'Espoir to be the new messiah who will lead the revival of humanity — and his aunt Isabelle (Clémence Poésy) to The Nest, a sanctuary at the Mont-Saint-Michel. But when Laurent follows him to the beach teeming with les affamés ("the hungry ones"), episode director Daniel Percival ends on a shot of Daryl caught in the middle of returning to The Nest or returning home.
"Without spoiling anything on Daryl's side of the story, we leave him with this conundrum, this dilemma about a guy who's trying to get home to the family that he's always had back home — with Judith and RJ and Carol and Connie — but a guy who, in the meantime, has also formed this other family and bond in France that needs him and wants him there and where he has developed a certain sense of belonging. So we certainly continue that narrative. That dilemma that we set up at the end of [episode] six is a big part of the early going of when we come back. We don't just drop that and we don't skip it. We continue telling that story in various ways and we continue telling the story of the threat of the Ampers, the amped-up walkers that Genet is cultivating as an army."
Along with the brûlant — or "burners," walkers with acidic blood — Daryl Dixon unleashes the Ampers, super-strong walkers engineered by Dr. Lafleur (François Delaive). These man-made mutant zombie variants are made possible through research funded by Madame Genet (Anne Charrier), the shadowy leader of Pouvoir des Vivants ("Power of the Living"), a French movement out to establish France's Sixth Republic. The Ampers, as Zabel officially labels them, continues a major story thread first put into motion in a final coda sequence ending The Walking Dead: World Beyond. That limited series, co-created and executive produced by Gimple, ended inside a French lab where graffiti reading "Les morts sont nes icl" (the dead are born here) could be seen with cryptic talk of the Primrose and Violet teams who "started this" and then "made it worse."
That's a thread left to pull in season 2. With McBride back on board as a series regular, The Book of Carol will also reveal the details about that mysterious exchange between Daryl and Carol in episode 5. Before losing connection, Carol told Daryl through radio static that "...came back," sparking theories that the long-missing Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) or Michonne (Danai Gurira), who will return in The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live in 2024, made it home to Alexandria.
"I think one way or another, what she meant on that radio call will be explored in our story. It will be addressed in our story, it will be clarified," Zabel confirmed. "But it is interesting to see all the theories. I've seen a lot of theories and it's amazing how that one little moment caught people's attention a lot. I think that's cool. It's cool about working in The Walking Dead Universe, is that something like that catches fire a little bit. So we're not going to drop it. It's not just thrown away, but we will address it in our show. And obviously, there's also the Rick and Michonne show coming up before we will be back."
Asked if Daryl Dixon might connect with The Ones Who Live or reunite Daryl with Rick and Michonne — after all, Daryl did promise the Grimes children he would keep an eye out for their parents to bring them home — Zabel said, "That is more of a Scott Gimple question. I mean, I know the fans would love that. I would love that, too. We haven't gotten into anything like that specifically. So I think that's a Gimple question."
For now, the last episode of Daryl Dixon's first season suggests a more imminent reunion: with Laurent, who makes the two-day trek following Daryl from Mont-Saint-Michel to the north coast after Daryl leaves The Nest. Daryl is seconds away from getting on the boat home when Laurent, standing on the shore teeming with walkers, calls out to him as U2's "Seconds" plays. ("It takes a second to say goodbye / say goodbye, oh, oh, oh, say bye bye / Where you going to now?") Asked what Daryl's decision looks like if Laurent doesn't follow him at the end, Zabel said, "I think he probably gets on the boat, to be honest with you."
"It takes that kid showing up and demonstrating the depth of his connection to Daryl, his need. I mean, that's what happens at the end is that kid needs Daryl and loves Daryl so much and needs that parental figure that Daryl has come to represent to him," Zabel explained. "He needs that so much that he follows Daryl to the beach all the way across, a couple days from where they started and tracks him down there. And I think Daryl sees that and has a reaction to that, and I think that's what causes the hesitation. I think if it wasn't for that, he would get on the boat."
The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon — The Book of Carol, starring Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride as Daryl and Carol, is scheduled to premiere in 2024 on AMC and AMC+.0comments