‘The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon’ Review: AMC Spin-Off Could Revive the Stale Franchise

Norman Reedus returns as the zombie saga’s troublemaker, and his latest side quest is a doozy

Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon in "The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon." (Emmanuel Guimier/AMC)

For better or worse, “The Walking Dead” TV world continues to grow. The latest spin-off series aiming to keep the undead dream alive is “The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon,” premiering Sunday, Sept. 10, on AMC and AMC+. The show follows Norman Reedus’ Daryl on a solo trek across the Atlantic Ocean to France. Tightly packed in a polished and engaging six episodes, it seems that Scott Gimple’s universe has finally delivered a follow-up worth a pound of flesh.

“Daryl Dixon,” which was created by seasoned TV producer David Zabel (“E.R.”, “Stumptown”), doesn’t spend much time rehashing old plot points. Instead, Daryl – and the audience – is dropped into the proverbial deep end in unfamiliar territory and expected to swim from there.

It doesn’t take long for Daryl to find himself in trouble – and thanks to a rogue nun named Isabelle (Clémence Poésy), he eventually aligns with a new team of do-gooders. He may be a stranger in a faraway land, without his signature weapon and custom built ride, but the world is small and the struggles thrown at the survivors here aren’t that different from the hurdles The Commonwealth had previously overcome.

All he wants to do is find his way back to his people, but this is Daryl Dixon we’re talking about. The man has a knack for going off on side missions and this one is a doozy. Instead of finding his way out of France, Dixon is tasked with guiding a mysterious boy (who many believe is humanity’s salvation) across the country.

If that sounds similar to the year’s breakout zombie hit “The Last of Us,” that’s because it is. As executive producer Greg Nicotero revealed to EW, “The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon” was already in production when HBO’s hugely popular video game adaptation premiered.

Dig beneath the surface and you’ll find big differences between the two shows. Daryl faces a collection of enemies along his journey, who lead a political movement focused on using the zombie plague to bend the country and its people to their whim.

Louis Puech Scigliuzzi as Laurent, Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, Laïka Blanc-Francard as Sylvie and Clémence Poésy as Isabelle in “The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon.” (Emmanuel Guimier/AMC)

And while the Walkers remain scary, people are the real evil of “The Walking Dead” universe. This is a detail that has long been established. In order for a television narrative to be sustainable, the human drama needs to deliver regularly. “Daryl Dixon” does just that. Since the first season of AMC mothership series, Reedus has finetuned this character into the zombie-wrecking icon he is today. Yet Reedus reveals new layers to Daryl in these six episodes, shedding light on his character’s unspoken past and his internal conflict with concepts like family and faith. Reedus whittles Daryl down to reveal the flawed man behind the rough exterior.

Poésy’s Isabelle steps up as a worthy foil to our lead. Her backstory and enduring struggles provide the emotional stakes necessary to make Daryl’s journey work. She delivers a standout performance throughout the six-episode arc and leaves the audience wanting more.

That said, this is still a show about reanimated dead people who survive on eating human flesh. After what feels like an eternity, the Walkers – who are called Burners in France (for a sizzling reason) – take center stage. Multiple sequences featured in the new spin-off put the undead in a new light, resulting in a collection of riveting scenes that will drop jaws. Even its depiction of Europe’s initial outbreak (an overdone trope in the genre) finds ways to be delightfully terrifying.

Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon fighting some zombies on “The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon.” (Emmanuel Guimier/AMC)

The physical distance created by this show’s trek overseas does a lot of the heavy-lifting here. Shot in France, “Daryl Dixon” may feel purposely foreign to viewers. Nearly half of each episode features characters speaking in French, with subtitles guiding audiences along the way. Iconic shooting locations like the River Seine, the Catacombs and the Louvre, along with the ethereal score and production value, add an unexpected element of historical beauty to the show.

This is a country that has built resilience through unspeakable brutality, bloody skirmishes and political upheaval. While the story pacing may stutter a bit through the first few episodes, the endurance of France’s people is a throughline that can be felt throughout the season. As the French drama unfolds, “Daryl Dixon” finds its feet and shambles out from under “The Walking Dead’s” looming shadow.

Oh, and let’s not forget the gallows humor. “The Walking Dead” universe has become synonymous with heartbreak, grief and an overwhelming sense of dread. This is the end of the world, after all. But the inundation of violence, anxiety and darkness can be off-putting even to the most diehard horror fan.

Levity is important in a show like this, and “The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon” is in on the joke. Tidbits of French humor, in all its absurdity, provide a wink of humor for the audience in just the right spots. Honestly, it’s sort of baffling how fun this show is.

“Fear the Walking Dead,” “The Walking Dead: The World Beyond,” “Tales of the Walking Dead,” and “The Walking Dead: Dead City” have all strived to reinvent the wheel and forge their own identity. “The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon” all but cuts the cord from its predecessor, and succeeds where the other spin-offs falter.

Can it resuscitate a franchise many feel has long-since died? The jury is still out. But as a standalone entry, “The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon” is a surprisingly gorgeous, soul-stirring, and riveting watch. Norman Reedus said they were making art with this show. And you know what? He wasn’t lying.

“The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon” premieres Sunday, Sept. 10 on AMC and AMC+.