The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon Review: French Adventure Brings Fresh Blood To The Franchise

RATING : 7 / 10
  • Refreshing new environment
  • The cast is wonderful, especially Clémence Poésy
  • Some episodes do a fantastic job employing multiple timelines
  • "Walking Dead" fatigue is real

At the end of "The Walking Dead," Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) seemed to be heading off to look for Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Michonne (Danai Gurira). He didn't say this in so many words, but that's where the compass seemed to be pointed, especially with Judith (Cailey Fleming), RJ (Antony Azor), and Carol (Melissa McBride) waiting back at the Commonwealth for him to hear the news. Well, something went terribly wrong with Daryl's search, and he's wound up in France of all places in "The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon." This is bad for him but good for "Walking Dead" fans, as a show that takes us to Europe is about as different as this series gets. Still, there is "Walking Dead" fatigue to contend with, though if they are going to do spin-offs, this show is a good example of how to do one that doesn't step on too many toes.

The plot, of course, centers around Daryl, who washes up on the shores of France in an overturned rowboat completely alone. The first thing he comes across is a warehouse full of walkers, one of whom grabs his arm, dripping acid onto it — an intriguing development in the evolution of walkers. Daryl, however, is too manly to let a little acid slow him down. He pours water over the wound and keeps going until he finds a young woman and her grandfather, who offer to trade with him.

That's why Daryl is there when a couple of guerriers come to inspect. They're members of a group of mercenaries vying for control of the territory, and they have the numbers to make it happen. When Daryl kills one of them and the girl takes care of the other, they anger the larger group these two came from, especially their leader, Codron (Romain Levi), who lost a brother because of Daryl and the girl. This sparks a search for Daryl that leads the soldiers to a convent where Daryl has been taken in by a nun, Sister Isabelle (Clémence Poésy). She wants Daryl to take her nephew, Laurent (Louis Puech Scigliuzzi), whose mother died in childbirth and who she claims is the next Messiah, to a place called the Nest, where he'll supposedly be safe.

Daryl, Isabelle, Laurent, and a second nun, Sylvie (Laïka Blanc-Francard), have a series of adventures that take them across the country while being pursued by Codron, who wants Daryl dead. Putting one lone character in an entirely new environment that's nothing like he knows has something of a renewing effect on "The Walking Dead." This may be Daryl's show, but there are plenty of other characters around to fill in the blanks, especially because, while Daryl can fight, he isn't the one in the know here. For that, he relies on others.

Delicious new cast members

Daryl isn't convinced to take Isabelle and Laurent to the Nest right away. First, the soldiers attack their convent and take out most of the other nuns. Of course, the nuns, having trained themselves to fight, have taken out most of the force too, with Daryl's help. Still, the attack is enough to convince Daryl to set out with the nuns, though his beliefs are very different from theirs. He's also convinced by their promise of providing him with a boat to get back home. None of this setup would work, however, without the work of the stellar cast.

Clémence Poésy, in particular, is intriguing as Sister Isabelle. She plays both the God-fearing nun and the younger, non-believing version of the character with equal aplomb and draws on who she used to be to get what she wants now when necessary. Louis Puech Scigliuzzi is also good as Laurent, the young boy whom both Isabelle and Daryl take care of. Laurent's been raised in a very sheltered world, and Scigliuzzi does a good job of showing how that impacts Laurent, making him more vulnerable in certain situations.

The show also maximizes its episodes by following multiple timelines. For example, the second episode follows both the present-day story as Daryl and Isabelle take Laurent away from the convent, and the past, 12 years prior, of what happened on the eve of the outbreak, how Isabelle escaped, and how her sister gave birth to Laurent. This timeline-hopping makes the episodes more interesting and ups the stakes. The showrunner, David Zabel, has never been a part of a "Walking Dead" series before, and while the usual suspects, like Scott M. Gimple, Greg Nicotero, and Angela Kang, are there as executive producers, Zabel injects fresh blood into the series.

People are the real problem

"The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon" seems to be less about walkers and more about the clashing factions. While this is true for all of "The Walking Dead" shows, it's especially true here. In fact, the zombie action almost always stems directly from something a person has deliberately done. That's because there aren't that many zombies left in France. While there are still plenty around, they aren't as ubiquitous as those in America. 

The series packs enough zombie action to satisfy franchise die-hards and newcomers alike, but that action is usually the product of some very bad people doing very bad things. And that leaves a lot of room for other kinds of viciousness, especially from Anne Charrier as Genet, a woman who is battling for the rule of France and has a problem with Laurent and his followers. The show has set up the perfect clash between believers and non-believers, and putting the gruff and recalcitrant Daryl on the side of the believers is particularly brilliant. He sides with the believers not because he believes in Laurent himself but because the believers are nicer — and they just might make him believe a little bit too.

"The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon" is a much more successful example of a spin-off than "The Walking Dead: Dead City," and that has a lot to do with the fish-out-of-water setting for Daryl and the fact that it relies heavily on Sister Isabelle and Laurent as well. Isabelle is an intriguing new character in "Walking Dead" lore, and she and Laurent just might be enough to make Daryl stay in France a little longer.

"The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon" premieres on AMC and AMC+ on Sunday, September 10 at 9 p.m. ET.

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the series being covered here wouldn't exist.