The time-jump midway through The Walking Dead's ninth season back in 2018 made room for a lot of interesting storytelling possibilities. Yes, there's the opportunity for the show to reinvent its present with new characters, new circumstances, and a new take on post-apocalyptic civilization, but there are also plenty of interesting wrinkles within the time jump itself that give the show room to run.
Last night's episode, "Find Me," explored one of those wrinkles, and gave fan-favorite character Daryl Dixon something he's never had on the show before: A girlfriend.
**Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers for The Walking Dead episode "Find Me" below.**
Everyone dealt with the aftermath of Rick Grimes' disappearance differently, and the show's time jump has only partially filled us in on how the various stars of the show dealt with the the ensuing five-year gap. We've known for a long time that Daryl went into a kind of self-exile, living out in the woods, before finally returning to his friends with a new canine companion he calls simply "Dog." In "Find Me," we learn that Daryl spent all that time in the wilderness doing two things: Looking for Rick and keeping track of all the places he'd searched, and forming a bond with a woman named Leah (Lynn Collins) who lived in a cabin near his shelter.
Leah, who it turns out was Dog's previous owner, reacted to Daryl's presence with suspicion at first, but the episode shows how their connection goes from tentative to intimate over the course of several years out in the woods together. It's a particularly noteworthy development because, while Daryl has formed extremely close bonds with other survivors over the show's run, this marks the first time viewers have ever seen him in a definitively romantic relationship.
"It was interesting, because I've been fighting having something like this happen since day one," star Norman Reedus told Entertainment Weekly. "And I was like, 'Please don't hook me up with anybody. Everyone's going to yell at me about it!'"
Still, the show's writers went ahead with the connection, and the episode ended up feeling like much more than a hook-up, particularly when Daryl and Leah began talking about where Daryl's heart truly lay. After years of solitude, the constant survivor was asked to make a devastating choice, and decide where he really belonged.
"We had a little talk about it. I was super nervous," Reedus said of the romantic scenes. "And you never know what to expect with those things. So I just wanted to stay true to Daryl, and depending on what happens next, you kind of have to play it a certain way or otherwise something else might not work later. So I tiptoed around them as much as possible."
In terms of what happens next, though the episode is largely framed around a flashback, it does provide a couple of intriguing avenues forward. In the past, the show reveals that Daryl's relationship with Leah ended abruptly when he found her cabin deserted (except for Dog, who stuck with Daryl). Her disappearance remains unexplained, but Daryl did leave her a note which read simply "I belong with you. Find me." Sadly, present-day Daryl also discovered the note is still in the cabin, so maybe Leah's gone for good, but that's not what Reedus seems to be telling fans who aren't too happy about his relationship.
"I woke up this morning to a lot of messages being like, 'How could you be with her? What's wrong with you?' And I'm like, 'Well, it's not really what it seems to be,'" Reedus said.
So, what does that mean? The episode ends with Carol and Daryl on the rocks, as his revelations about Leah seem to be bringing up concerns about the future of their own relationship, so perhaps the upcoming Carol/Daryl spinoff will address all of this as part of one ongoing story. Or, perhaps Leah will show up again soon on The Walking Dead itself, paving the way for a resolution. Or, perhaps this all just one long story about how a man with a motorcycle and a crossbow got the best dog he's ever had.
Either way, as is always the case with The Walking Dead, there's more to the story out there somewhere.