Episode 21 of the extended The Walking Dead season 10, “Diverged,” is in some ways the direct sequel to episode 18, which I consider an all-time great episode. This one doesn’t clear that high bar, but despite some early annoyances, it comes together by the end to highlight once more the authentic — and lately, melancholic — relationship between the show’s two best and longest-surviving characters.
A second Daryl and Carol episode in this half-dozen run may seem a bit odd when you consider how many characters could’ve been given some extra screen time during this pandemic run, but if there’s any pair that deserves a third of the bonus episodes all to themselves, it’s these two.
“Diverged” gets off to a bumpy start though. As Carol and Daryl are coming back from their spat as seen in “Find Me,” the pair split at a literal fork in the road. It seems the storytellers didn’t mind being so on the nose with a physical and emotional divergence.
Carol heads home and promises Jerry soup, clearly desperate to stay busy before her idle hands find a way to strangle her. Daryl, as he often does, works through his feelings by stomping around in the woods alone. Even Dog ditches him and heads to Alexandria with Carol.
A few scenes with Carol bordered on comedy, which the writers recently used with some effectiveness in the Aaron and Gabriel episode, “One More.” Here, instead of drunken escapades, it’s Carol’s obsession with a rat in the kitchen that has her eventually smashing up drywall and destroying a small part of the shared living space all to take out the rat.
Like Walter White’s fly, Carol’s obsession is less about the rodent and more about her mindset. If she could just get rid of the rat, at least something would be fixed, even if it’s not her friendship with Daryl. Initially, I found her performance to be too silly at times, though I admit I always prefer my Walking Dead with a more serious tone. But by the end, Melissa McBride’s enchanting acting reclaims the episode’s story as she depends on Jerry as an improvised relationship therapist, asking saddening questions about broken friendships and when they might be irreparable. To his credit, Jerry cites his beloved king, Ezekiel, for words of wisdom.
Like Carol, Daryl finds only disarray and misfortune on his solo adventure. His bike breaks down, the tool he needs to fix it left with Carol, and he’s run upon by a small horde. I love when the show reminds us how these folks have all seen too much to be bothered by a small number of walkers, and yet as Daryl slips and nearly succumbs to a biter clad in US military garb, you must also acknowledge that even the most veteran survivors can have a bad day that costs them everything.
However, the zombie drama doesn’t work in “Diverged” because AMC has already excitedly touted its Daryl and Carol spinoff. As a result, any life-or-death situations they may fall into in this episode or any of the next 25 can only go one way, so that’s surely a problem that will keep rearing its head as we approach the series finale.
The still chilly performances from Reedus and McBride in “Diverged,” whose characters seem to be reconciling but haven’t quite gotten past the awkwardness of their argument yet, salvage what was looking like another comedy episode much too soon after we had one two weeks ago.
Thankfully, Carol’s rat-catching craze and Daryl’s troubles fixing his bike on an aimless expedition provide a necessary level of poignancy. With newfound trust in the audience, the writers employ a welcome dose of “show, don’t tell.” The whole episode depicts both characters experiencing perhaps their unluckiest days of their lives, and in-universe it comes just a day or so after Carol posited that their luck together “had run out” back in episode 18. As we get to see, the opposite is closer to true.
Had Carol and Daryl only been side by side, neither would’ve suffered through their frustrations. Daryl wouldn’t have nearly died, and Carol would not have driven herself crazy fixating on everything going so wrong between them right now. Apart, they have always been strong, but together, they’re unbeatable. And as the viewer, it’s impossible not to root for them to patch up their problems. I’m looking forward to their eventual reconciliation, but selfishly, I wouldn’t mind seeing them at odds just a bit longer — it’s been some quality tear-jerking drama.