The season premiere of The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon left me cold. I didn’t like it at all, other than the cool new setting (however implausible) and Norman Reedus, who is always compelling as Daryl in his gruff, shaggy way.
This week was better in almost every single way. Maybe I just had to swallow my disbelief with the French setting and the preposterousness of Daryl making his way across the Atlantic ocean, apparently aboard an ocean freight hauler—a ship that can use tens of thousands of gallons of gas per day.
I was also a bit shocked at how closely the basic premise was to The Last Of Us, since we now have Daryl escorting the wunderkind, Laurent (Louis Puech Scigliuzzi) across France in a bid to save the world, much like Joel and Ellie’s trek across the United States. Of course, that’s not a plot unique to either show, but given the zombified, post-apocalyptic settings they each share, it’s hard not to make comparisons.
But Episode 2, ‘Alouette’, was much more compelling. In fact, it’s one of the best episodes of The Walking Dead I’ve ever seen, and certainly one of the best since the earliest days of the main show. I did not expect to type that sentence, but here we are.
For one thing, we get to see the very beginning of the zombie outbreak, which began in France in The Walking Dead universe, through the eyes of Isabelle (Clémence Poésy) who is quickly becoming one of my favorite female TWD characters.
The Beginning Of The End Of The World
In opening scene we get a flashback to the very beginning of the zombie apocalypse in Paris, though this flashback segment continues throughout the episode, weaving between present and past timelines.
Isabelle is out clubbing, popping pills, dancing, smoking cigarettes. Far from the nun we meet, she’s more like a party girl. When she leaves the club, she hears screaming in the distance. She goes outside and smokes with the shimmering lights of the Eiffel Tower in the background. She heads to the subway but when the train pulls up, people are screaming inside. She goes back up to the street, but the violence is everywhere now. Zombies are tearing people apart. She’s dazed and confused.
As a zombie shuffles after her a black car pulls up, knocking it to the ground. A man leaps out and tells her to get into the car. This is Quinn (Adam Nagaitis) who appears to be her lover. He tells her that Paris has gone mad and they need to get out of the city. She makes him go to her flat first, where she packs some things and tells her sister, Lily, that they all need to leave. Lily doesn’t want to go but Isabelle makes her, and soon it becomes clear that not all is well.
They pull over and Lily gets out and throws up. She reveals that she’s pregnant, a small detail she’s kept hidden from Isabelle all this time. Quinn tells Isabelle that they need to drop her off at a clinic because they can’t take her in her condition along with them. Isabelle pickpockets the car keys and she and her sister leave Quinn stranded—something that will almost certainly come up later in the show. That decision will undoubtedly come back to haunt Isabelle down the road.
They drive off but later pull over next to an ambulance where you just know zombies are lurking. Sure enough, they have to beat a hasty retreat. They make their way to the convent where we meet Isabelle many years later and what follows is one of the most harrowing deaths in all of The Walking Dead, as Lily—in the middle of giving birth to the baby, Laurent—dies and turns into a zombie.
Oddly enough, this is exactly the same backstory Ellie has in The Last Of Us, when her mother is bitten and gives birth, though she doesn’t turn. This is what gives Ellie her immunity to the fungus. I wonder if Laurent is also immune. Either way, we learn more about his and Isabelle’s relationship. It’s important to note that the Ellie backstory stuff wasn’t in the game, either, but only in the show. The writing team behind Daryl Dixon wouldn’t have had any idea they’d come up with something so similar.
The Lost Boys (And Girls)
In the present timeline, Daryl has joined up with Isabelle, Laurent and Sylvie (Laïka Blanc-Francard) on their holy quest. He helps them get to the Nest, they help him get back to America—somehow.
They’ve taken a donkey and a cart filled with supplies but their plans are quickly foiled by an incoming pack of zombies. Daryl’s clever idea is to release the braying donkey and have it lure off the undead. It works, though given Daryl’s zombie-killing prowess he might have tried fighting instead of losing their means of transportation. Laurent is distraught, but Isabelle and Sylvie shelter him from the truth and tell him that the donkey is probably just eating apples somewhere.
“Why not just tell him the truth?” Daryl asks. “The truth can wait,” Isabelle replies—words he’ll use back on her later in the episode.
On foot now, our intrepid explorers are ambushed and taken prisoner by mysterious bandits who end up being children of various ages who all live at an orphanage of sorts. When they learn that the women are nuns—testing them by asking them to recite a Catholic prayer—they welcome them in for dinner.
Isabelle lies and tells the children that Daryl is a priest. “Father Daryl” is one of the funniest lines in all of The Walking Dead, and this episode in general blends humor in with all the dark, gritty stuff so well I’m honestly kind of shocked. Humor has never been a strong point in this franchise, but it’s always nice to get some comic relief.
When they ask Daryl to say the prayer, I thought it might be more humor, but what we got was a surprisingly well-spoken prayer from a character you’d never really associate with religion. He says:
“Um, Lord. I’m sure you have your reasons for turning the whole world upside down. Maybe we deserve it. For being so mean to each other. We probably do deserve it. But not tonight. No. Tonight is good. And if this isn’t good enough for you, I don’t know what is. Amen.”
Lovely! I’m honestly shocked at how well-written this entire episode is. It’s strikingly better than the first.
I should note also that the production values are wonderful. This is the best-looking show in The Walking Dead—period. The cinematography is excellent. The costume design is impeccable. After years of disappointment with Fear The Walking Dead, to have a show in the TWDU that has such top-notch production values is a breath of fresh air. Add the apparently much better writing and some excellent acting and this show is suddenly poised to be the best spin-off of them all, even with the somewhat goofy premise. I say this all the time, but you can get away with a lot of silly stuff if you just do it well. I can suspend my disbelief if the execution is on point, and this episode really delivers.
From here, Daryl agrees to help the orphans get back supplies that were stolen by a bad man who turns out to be a very annoying Texan who Daryl outsmarts and ends up accidentally killing by way of rope and zombie.
No tears are shed for the man—Gaines—who was a pretty sadistic guy. Daryl rescues one of the young men from the orphanage (Herisson, which means Hedgehog, which is what Daryl refers to him as) but another—the older brother of one of the kids—is among the zombies below the bridge.
They have a memorial for the boy and then Daryl and company say their farewells. Laurent doesn’t want to leave his new friends, and while I find his character annoying still I couldn’t help but feel bad for him. He’s been raised by nuns his whole life—so sheltered that he’s genuinely confused when a kid finds him playing hide-and-seek so quickly. “The nuns could never find me,” he says, perhaps finally realizing that they did so on purpose. When he tells the kids the story of his parents, his dad is a hero and freedom fighter with medals and all sorts of grand backstory. The other kids laugh. They don’t believe a word of it—but Laurent does.
It’s not the only shocking revelation for the boy. He finds the dead donkey, eaten by zombies, and realizes that Isabelle and Sylvie were lying about what would happen to the pour creature. He isn’t happy about any of this, though you can’t really blame his protectors for trying to protect him, even if it has left me utterly unprepared for the real world.
All told, a really terrific episode. I’m a little shocked at how much more I liked this one than last week, but it hit all the right notes for me with the two different timelines. The pre-apocalypse stuff was especially great, but the present timeline has really grown on me also.
- Sorry this review was late. I’m behind on a lot of stuff. I’ve been struggling with some writer’s block and depression and I just need to get my head on straight! My apologies!
- When Daryl locks the orphanage leader, Lou, up and tells her he’s better on his own you just know that he won’t actually be better on his own, and sure enough he’s not. Strength in numbers, Daryl! You can still be a lone wolf and accept help!
- They watched Mork and Mindy after dinner! How awesome is that? I think the howling and Lost Boys nature of the group, combined with Robbin Williams, is a subtle nod to Hook, one of my favorite movies! Between this and the dinner scene, this might be the most feel-good, charming, cozy segment in all of The Walking Dead. I loved it!
- Combine that with the opening flashback and other flashback scenes, which was some of the best TWD scenes ever, plus the stellar production values, and you have quite literally one of the best episodes of the entire franchise in ‘Alouette.’ Hot damn. I didn’t expect this.
- Alouette is a song often associated with Quebec. It’s about finding a songbird or lark (alouette in French), plucking it and eating it. It’s a fitting title for an episode about orphans.
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