“Diverged” emphasises the emotional distance between Daryl and Carol by creating a physical one, leading to an odd, tonally-confused episode.
This recap of The Walking Dead season 10, episode 21, “Diverged”, contains spoilers.
I can totally see the intention of an episode like “Diverged”, the first of the 10C chapters to directly follow on from another. I understand it from a functional perspective, as a way to set up the planned Daryl and Carol spin-off, and from a storytelling one, as a way to emphasize the growing emotional distance between them by creating a physical one, having them go about their business separately. But it didn’t work for me for two reasons. The first is a weird, fluctuating tone, which we’ll get into later. The second is that the script rests on both characters returning to the archetypal versions of themselves. Daryl enters full cool, stoic outdoorsman mode for what is essentially just a supply run, and Carol embraces her worst impulses as manic grieving widow/mother in an attempt to make soup.
After years of development, both of these things feel like a bit of a cop-out, a way to bide time until all this can be properly addressed — and presumably reconciled — in the final season and the spin-off. When The Walking Dead season 10, episode 21 opened with the two of them literally taking different paths at a fork in the road, I knew subtlety wasn’t going to be on the agenda, but even so “Diverged” never stopped being more on-the-nose than years of character development should require.
Daryl spends the entirety of the episode roaming the forests, antagonizing walkers, rooting around in the pockets of corpses wearing military fatigues — are these more Reapers? — and fixing his motorcycle with a torch in his mouth. He gets a couple of action scenes and a lot of “walking coolly towards the camera” moments, but nothing of any substance. His only interaction with anyone, actually, is when he parts ways with Carol at the beginning and when he reunites with her at the end. Even Dog isn’t with him.
The focus, then, is on Carol, who returns to Alexandria to find it in predictable disarray, with no power, a rat infestation, and a starving populace. One of the first things she does is passive-aggressively complain to Dog about Daryl, explaining how he meant what he said and that she doesn’t want an apology from him since “an apology is just a truce”. I like that line; I wish she’d said it to a human character, honestly. But when she goes outside and regales Jerry with a story about stone soup, a European folk tale meant to extoll the virtues of sharing (a man who only has a stone convinces the people of a town that he can make a delicious soup with it providing they each add a small ingredient of their own, thus creating a soup from all the contributions — it’s more a parable about the virtues of deception than sharing, really) I knew we were in for it. We’ve had a lot of “Carol tries to mother everyone but isn’t stable enough to do it” storytelling in this show, and it felt weird that she was pretty explicitly presented as a kooky eccentric in this scene. It pays off later, just, but there’s a fair amount of filler in the middle.
The hook of the filler in “Diverged”, at least as I saw it, was whether or not Carol was going to use a captured rat to feed everyone. When she was setting up a homemade trap it certainly looked that way, and we know that Carol is prone to making bonkers decisions for the greater good without much discussion beforehand. But that idea isn’t given much weight, and what we get instead is a lot of her taking out her frustrations on walkers and drywall. There’s one scene in which she almost catches a rat, loses it, and has to chase it around the kitchen that is flat-out slapstick, and I have no idea why they bothered to include it beyond reiterating that Carol is having a bad day. We know — she has scarcely had any good ones for ten seasons.
By my count, there are only two scenes of value in The Walking Dead season 10, episode 21. The first is when Jerry comes to visit Carol the next morning and has a touching exchange with her, letting her know that he’s checking in because he’s concerned and that Ezekiel would be too if he were there. It’s a nice moment of friendship, especially coming from gentle giant Jerry. The second is when Daryl finally returns to Alexandria, and Melissa McBride totally sells the anguish of realizing that he’s just as frosty with her now as he was when they parted ways. She and Norman Reedus have great, understated chemistry, and it’s at its best when they’re saying very little. That final scene was a reminder of how interesting the relationship between these two can be at its best. The rest of “Diverged” was anything but.