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Daryl Dixon's Entire Walking Dead Timeline Explained

When AMC's The Walking Dead debuted in 2010, one character stood out among the rest in a big way — Daryl Dixon.

Not only was Daryl played by Norman Reedus, of Boondock Saints fame, but he had the distinction of being one of the only main characters that wasn't plucked from the pages of Robert Kirkman's popular comic book. Now, a decade later, the show is poised for a conclusion, but the character's popularity remains so immense that the minds behind the show aren't going to let him go off into that good night just yet. After all, both on-screen and off, Daryl's most persistent quality is his ability to survive. So, it only makes sense that the network announced that a spin-off is coming, that will continue the adventures of Dixon and his good friend Carol beyond the confines of the flagship show.

Daryl, arguably, has come the farthest of any figure on The Walking Dead, and stands as a completely different man than he was at the onset of the series, even if his trademark vest and weapon-of-choice remain the same. From his beginnings as a somewhat one-dimensional caricature of a southern survivalist, he has blossomed into a principled leader, a moral compass, and a man who stops at nothing to defend his chosen family, after getting a raw deal with his biological one. So, in light of Daryl's future, it's worth taking a look at how he got from where he was, to where he is.

Daryl had a rough childhood

Prior to the planet's population skewing toward walkers, Daryl grew up in an abusive household, where he was either beaten or neglected by his parents, and had only his older brother, Merle (Michael Rooker), to look up to. However, being that Merle is a bigoted criminal, Daryl didn't exactly have a great upbringing. The brothers lost touch, but reconnected after their father died. By the time the first walker came around, they were drifters operating on the wrong side of the law, and relying on the survivalist skills they learned growing up in the mountains of northern Georgia to get by.

When audiences are first introduced to Daryl, he and his brother had linked up with Shane's (Jon Bernthal) group of survivors, living on the outskirts of Atlanta. While Daryl is out hunting, Merle leads a group of survivors into the city, where they rescue Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) Moments later, Merle gets a little too racist and violent for anyone's liking, forcing Rick to handcuff him to a roof as walkers try to get to him.

When they get back to camp, Daryl returns and demands an expedition be taken to rescue his brother. However, when they do, they realize that Merle managed to escape. Accepting the situation, Daryl sticks around, and accompanies the group to the CDC, for answers about the outbreak. However, all they find out is that the virus is worse than they thought.

Daryl proves he isn't so bad

So far, Daryl has been nothing but the group's most surly member, armed with the smartest weapon. That starts to change in season two, when after being separated from his brother long enough, his empathetic side starts to show.

The group is forced to stop on the highway when a herd of walkers emerges. In the ruckus, Carol's (Melissa McBride) daughter Sophia goes missing in the woods. Daryl spends a good half of the season taking the situation personally, and using his superior tracking skills to try and find the 12-year-old girl. At one point, a fall leads to a near-life threatening injury that puts a stop to his efforts to search (at his own protest). Although the search for Sophia would ultimately end with the realization that she had been turned into a walker shortly after getting lost, his efforts to find her endeared him to both Carol and the rest of the group.

This happened to coincide with Rick losing his faith in his right-hand-man, Shane. The two came to fatal blows and, with Shane dead, Rick begins to lean more heavily on Daryl when it comes to leading the group. Soon afterward, when the farm they are staying at is overrun by a zombie herd, Daryl manages to escape with Carol, who plants the seed in his mind that he should be the one leading. However, Daryl shuts that down and declares his allegiance to Rick.

Daryl becomes embroiled in the first war

This allegiance is almost immediately tested when the group encounters their first human villain, the Governor (David Morrissey).

Season three is a big one for Daryl, as he helps Rick's group take over a prison that becomes one of the better safe havens they've discovered in a while. However, after a tragedy sees Rick's wife, Lori, killed just after giving birth, Rick mentally checks out, forcing Daryl to step up as the de facto leader in a time of crisis. It's also at this time that the group learns of the threat posed by the Governor and his community, Woodbury, and at one point, Daryl leads a rescue mission for Maggie and Glenn

However, his new role in the group is tested, when it turns out Merle has been surviving in Woodbury. It's actually Merle who chooses Daryl over the Governor. The two escape back to the prison ... where, of course, Merle is unwelcome. 

Daryl leaves with his brother, but he's a changed man, and can no longer abide Merle's ways. He returns to the prison just in time to help thwart the Governor's attack. Realizing that he'll never be accepted by his little brother's new group, Merle decides to show them all up by hatching an assassination attempt on the Governor that ultimately fails. Daryl arrives moments too late to save his brother, and is forced to kill him in zombie form — essentially killing his old life in the process.

Daryl — leader of men?

With the death of Merle, Daryl had no choice but to throw himself into the colony at the prison. It wasn't a moment too soon for him to show his lighter side, as the fall of Woodbury meant that all the Governor's people were now moving into the prison, needing to be governed (ironically). Daryl's ability to scavenge enough food and supplies for everyone doesn't go unnoticed by the citizens, who are otherwise unable to take care of themselves. He spends most of his time outside the prison walls, going on runs ... until the Governor  fatefully returns to take vengeance on Rick.

Daryl proves to be one of the strongest combatants in a fight against humans, even managing to cleverly use a grenade to take out a tank. The battle is fierce, leaving the prison in ruins, and the survivors on the run. He absconds with Beth, who has just watched her father, Herschel, get executed — they bond for a bit, but they're eventually separated when Beth is kidnapped.

He then meets a group known as "the Claimers," led by a vicious man named Joe who operates under a high-stakes "finders keepers" mentality. They represent everything that Daryl once was, before the apocalypse, but he travels with them all the same, regressing a bit. However, when the Claimers discover Rick, Michonne and Carl on the road — and threaten to rape and murder them — Daryl remembers who he is, and helps kill the Claimers off.

Domesticated Daryl

So far, Daryl's story has been one of growth, in which he goes from an outlaw to a key member of what's left of the human race. In season five, that all changes. 

He and Rick make their way to Terminus, only to find out, within a day, that it's filled to the brim with murderous cannibals. The group escapes and leaves the false safe haven in ruins. With the prison gone and Terminus being a big, meaty lie, the survivors set off back on the road with limited supplies. While this is par-for-the-course for Daryl, life on the road brings about several hardships. Chief among them is the death of Beth, who Daryl heroically managed to track down after her kidnapping only for her to sacrifice her life to kill the leader of her captors.

Beyond distraught, Daryl and the gang begin walking aimlessly just trying to survive. Fortunately, a put-together man named Aaron (Ross Marquand) finds them and promises them that, despite everything they've been through, he can bring them to a real safe haven, called Alexandria. Reluctantly, the group agrees to check the place out, and they discover a suburban neighborhood that managed to fence itself off at the onset of the apocalypse. 

While the other survivors start to fall back into their pre-apocalypse life, Daryl faces challenges. He refuses to accept his house, shower, or get friendly with anyone. He's not one who will take to the domestic life easily.

Daryl had to find his place

Realizing that Alexandria's newest resident hasn't been clamoring for normalcy like the rest of the group, Aaron asks Daryl to join him as a recruiter for the community. In his new role, he's instrumental in leading a nearby herd away from Alexandria, but at one point, when he's separated from Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) on the road, Daryl encounters a group that includes a man named Dwight (Austin Amelio), who hints that he's on the run from a terrible group called the Saviors. Daryl manages to escape, but stops short of killing Dwight and the women he's with, thanks to his newly discovered empathy. 

That ends up biting him in the butt, when Dwight turns on him again, robbing him of his crossbow, vest and motorcycle. Fortunately, Daryl gets his revenge when he catches up with Sasha and Abraham, and literally blows up a group of Saviors with an RPG.

This marked the first shots fired in what would eventually be an all-out war with the Saviors. Soon, the Alexandrians meet another group from a safe haven known as Hilltop, that's already under the control of the Saviors. Already battle-hardened, the Alexandrians take out a Savior outpost for their new friends. As payback, Dwight returns and kills someone close to Daryl, leading the headstrong tracker into a trap ... that puts him and the group face-to-face with their leader, Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).

Daryl was turned into a caged animal

Although Daryl has taken great strides to no longer be the hothead he once was, a bit of his old ways peeks through during the initial meeting with Negan, that has dire consequences. Basically, after the villain infamously bashes Abraham's head in, he begins to taunt Rosita, prompting Daryl to punch him. While the blow may have been satisfying, Negan retaliates by brutally murdering Glenn, too — and he also takes Daryl as a prisoner to his Sanctuary.

While there, Daryl is kept in a dark room, and fed nothing but dog food sandwiches, while the song "Easy Street" plays on repeat at a high volume, day and night. His main prison guard is Dwight, who takes an almost sadistic pleasure in trying to break Daryl into becoming one of Negan's loyal Saviors.

Eventually, one of the Saviors close to Dwight betrays him, and lets Daryl go while he's away. Daryl beats a guard to death on his way out, then makes his way to Hilltop, and reunites with his friends. From there, he becomes part of a team that goes to broker peace at the Kingdom, where he granted asylum by Ezekiel. However, when it becomes clear that his place is not in diplomacy, but war, he leaves the safe-haven to join the fight at the Hilltop.

Dwight eventually defects from the Saviors, prompting Daryl to return to Alexandria, and join the first battle against Negan.

General Daryl

With the war in full swing, season eight opens with Daryl helping Rick execute a plan to put the Saviors on their toes. While the first part of the plan goes off without a hitch, the rebels soon find themselves evenly matched, thanks to the clever ingenuity of Eugene, who has defected to the Saviors.

Rick hopes to use diplomacy to push for Negan's surrender, but Daryl, lusting for revenge, goes rogue. He leads a team to break a hole in the wall of the Sanctuary, killing several civilians in the process. Unfortunately, it's still not enough to stop Negan and the Saviors. He returns to Alexandria, just in time to help people survive the retaliatory siege.

However, Rick loses his son in the battle, and is briefly unable to lead the Alexandrians to safety, due to his grief. Daryl single-handedly leads the survivors to Hilltop, where they mount an effective defense against the Saviors. While everyone else celebrates, Daryl deals with the reality that these back-to-back conflicts have left them with limited ammo, while Eugene builds more ammo for the Saviors. Moving fast, Daryl leads an unsuccessful attempt at kidnapping Eugene. Luckily, it turns out Eugene was never truly a defector at all, having manufactured bullets that will backfire.

Things come to a head when the survivors are surrounded by Negan, only for his forces to be left unarmed, and injured by the faulty ammo. Just like that, the war was won.

A man and his dog

A year and a half after the war with Negan, tensions are high. Daryl's plan to kill all the Saviors and Negan doesn't jibe with Rick, who is adamant about assimilating them into one cohesive society. During this time, Daryl has been in charge of Negan's old Sanctuary, but he yields control over to Carol, and begins helping Rick with construction projects designed to further unite the remaining colonies.

Unfortunately, their differing ideologies come to a head — just in time for Rick to seemingly die in an explosion, while defending everyone from a walker herd. With the group safe and united, Daryl is forced to grapple with the loss of his best friend.

The show picks up six years later, with Daryl having regressed in a big way. He decided to just live in the woods alone, with a dog he'd found and affectionately named "Dog." Fortunately, he's convinced to return to the world by Carol, just in time to encounter a new threat: The Whisperers, a group that wears the skin of zombies. Daryl ends up feeling some empathy for a girl named Lydia (Cassady McClincy), the daughter of the Whisperer's leader, Alpha (Samantha Morton). Being a victim of abuse himself, he recognizes Lydia's situation, and risks war with the new faction just to keep her safe. The ensuing conflict takes a toll, killing several of the colonies' people, but Daryl finds a daughter figure along the way.

Daryl becomes a reluctant leader

By season 10, Daryl and Carol's relationship becomes the core one of the series ... even if they spend much of the season at odds with one another. This occurs because when Carol returns, after an extended leave of absence, she's still hellbent on getting revenge against Alpha, for killing her adopted son in the previous season. Daryl, meanwhile, is aware that Alpha has a massive walker herd she's wielding over them like a nuke, so does everything he can to keep the peace and maintain their borders.

However, when a satellite crash threatens one of the colonies, and forces the survivors to cross the border to combat it, hostilities emerge. Seeing an opportunity to exact her revenge, Carol betrays Daryl's trust, and frees Negan from a seven-year-long captivity. Negan, for his part, finds his way to the Whisperers and kills Alpha. Daryl comes across Negan in the woods, shortly afterward, and when they're accosted by Whisperers, Negan manages to prove his loyalty to Daryl, by killing them. Daryl realizes, all too late, that he needs to try and take out the horde, not the Whisperers. Meanwhile, driven mad by the death of Alpha, her right-hand man Beta (Ryan Hurst) leads the horde against the remaining survivors. 

With that, the final showdown with the Whisperers is at hand ... as Daryl leads his faction, in a final showdown against their scariest opponents to date.

Daryl finishes it

With the attack from Beta imminent and Daryl at odds with his most trusted ally, things don't look great for the survivors going into the final showdown with the Whisperers.

Fortunately, Daryl is never allowed to be a lone wolf for too long. As he's out scouting the area looking to call out the attack before it happens, he is confronted by Judith Grimes. As he's done since the moment of her birth, Daryl shows her the ropes a little bit before stumbling upon exactly what he was looking for.

Alongside the child, they take out a Whisperer who admits she was setting out on her own in an effort to escape Beta, meaning even someone who wears walker skin on their face admits he's gone a little off his rocker seeking revenge. When the Whisperers surround everyone in the Tower, Beta destroys their plan to lure the herd away with loudspeakers. Daryl then leads the survivors on a mission to murder the remaining Whisperers in the midst of the horde.

Negan stumbles upon Beta and baits him into breaking ranks. Beta is about to finish Negan when Daryl comes out of nowhere and stabs both his eyes. Adding insult to injury, Daryl is audibly unimpressed when Beta's real identity is revealed.

With that, the war with the Whisperers is done and, yet again, Daryl comes out on top. He even makes amends with Carol, which is good because he'll need all the help he can get keeping his people safe for whatever comes next.