Why Daryl Didn’t Kill That Walking Dead Character: What It Really Means

Warning: spoilers ahead for The Walking Dead season 11, episode 20.Lance Hornsby finds mercy coming from an unexpected source in The Walking Dead – why doesn’t Daryl Dixon kill his Commonwealth nemesis? Since The Walking Dead season 11 first stepped foot into the Commonwealth, Norman Reedus’ Daryl Dixon has been at odds with Josh Hamilton’s Lance Hornsby. The former is a down-n-dirty champion of the people; the latter is a self-serving sycophant for the rich and powerful. After Lance forcibly took control of Alexandria and her allied Virginia communities, the hints that Daryl would eventually be the character to kill Lance came thick and fast. Daryl’s opportunity finally comes in The Walking Dead season 11’s « What’s Been Lost. »

The captured Lance leads Daryl and Carol to where their friends will be transported via train, thus expending his usefulness. The two heroes must then decide what to do with their now-expendable tour guide. Despite Daryl’s desperation to kill Lance earlier in The Walking Dead season 11 (such as the tense sewer scene back in « A New Deal »), he and Carol set their prisoner free, giving him a shot at survival. Though Daryl’s decision demonstrates character growth – even at this late stage – letting Lance go has more to do with learning from Rick Grimes, and trying to uphold the values Rick instilled within his group. It’s certainly hard to imagine Daryl Dixon making the same choice pre-The Walking Dead season 9.

Rick’s values may ultimately explain why Daryl shows leniency toward Lance, but those values haven’t changed throughout The Walking Dead season 11. How did Daryl go from bloodthirsty to benevolent in the space of three episodes? The real answer may lie with Judith Grimes. Back in « A New Deal, » Daryl offered Judith her father’s famous gun, but she refused, stating, « If I keep that, things go back to how they were. But they should be better. » Judith then spoke of her parents saving Alexandria and Hilltop in their mission to forge a less awful world, which led to an argument (and subsequent emotional reconciliation) between her and Uncle Daryl.

Judith’s youthful optimism perhaps reminded Daryl of what Rick Grimes truly stood for. Andrew Lincoln’s Rick knew violence was sometimes necessary to bring villains down a peg or two, but Rick also realized that making a « better world » for his children meant a civilized line had to be drawn. Setting an example for how to move forward, Rick let Negan live after All Out War, despite the intense hatred he felt toward the Saviors’ leader. Daryl doesn’t have a jail he can throw Lance into, but giving his enemy a chance to walk away shows the exact same attitude.

Judith influencing the outcome of Daryl Dixon’s feud against Lance Hornsby closely mirrors Carl’s impact upon Rick in The Walking Dead season 8. Similar to Daryl and Lance (worse, let’s be honest), Rick hated Negan’s guts and swore to kill him once the opportunity arose. Moreover, Negan was viewed by many as a dark influence too dangerous to keep alive. Daryl’s distaste for Lance Hornsby burns just as intensely, and the Commonwealth fixer echoes Negan in that his mere presence poses a threat. Despite the risks, Rick kept Negan alive to honor the vision of his late son, Carl, who implored his father to show the Saviors mercy.

The Walking Dead season 11 pays homage to the Rick-Carl-Negan storyline by having Judith play her brother’s role – envisioning a fairer world while the adults keep trying to kill each other. Just like Carl’s dream changed Rick’s thinking, « What’s Been Lost » proves Judith’s vision of a fairer world changed Daryl’s, and he’s willing to forgo the satisfaction of ending Lance. Sadly, Lance didn’t get the memo. Instead of taking his punishment and reforming like Negan did, Lance cannot fathom life outside the Commonwealth, and makes a rash decision that leaves Carol no choice but to withdraw the mercy she and Daryl offered.

The Walking Dead continues Sunday on AMC.