“I helped you once. I’m not helping you again.”
Daryl Dixon snarls these words as his lips hug a freshly lit cigarette. It’s his first smoke in ages. He stands over Noah, the man who mounted an escape attempt from Grady Hospital alongside Beth Greene just two weeks ago, but only managed to save himself. Daryl does not know that side of Noah. He only knows Noah as the scrappy kid who stole Daryl’s crossbow and left the younger Dixon brother and pal Carol Pelletier alone for dead, without weapons to defend themselves in the thick of abandoned, apocalyptic Atlanta.
Now, Noah lies trapped beneath a bookshelf, a snarling walker slowly descending upon the scene, gnashing its teeth and waving its limbs in excited hunger. Daryl spared Noah’s life only hours earlier; he stopped Carol from putting a bullet in the man after he stole their weapons and headed for the hills. Daryl is not feeling quite so charitable anymore.
But as Daryl turns his back to allow Noah to become zombie chow, Carol is the one who has a change of heart. The silver-haired saint of Walking Dead badassdom wants Daryl’s help in sparing the boy’s life. It’s an extreme about-face for a woman who has famously crossed line after line after line in the name of self-preservation, and keeping her friends and allies safe.
This is the same person who killed and burned two peers after they came down with a mysterious infection, to prevent further spread of their disease throughout the prison community. The same person who almost single-handedly wiped out an entire society of survivors. (A cannibal society, sure, but a society nonetheless.) The same person who put a bullet in a little girl’s head because, in her eyes, it was the humane choice in an inhuman situation. The same person who, just hours ago, was ready to pop Noah without a second thought. (“I was aiming for his leg,” she justified at the time.) Now, Carol wants Noah to live. Why? Why the change of heart?
Perhaps it’s because Daryl’s words keep ringing in her ears. “We get to start over,” he tells her some hours earlier, about who they are and what they’ve become, and who they get to be, in the world without civilization. Carol knows this line in the sand all too well. She reinvented herself after her abusive husband’s death, then again after her daughter Sophia’s death, and again after her exile from the prison, and again after losing Lizzie and Mika, and again after terminating Terminus.
With all that fire and brimstone under her belt, Carol can no longer ignore the stench of burning flesh. With each and every decision she makes, she feels herself moving further along the road to damnation, without a road map for how to get back. But if she saves one life — if she can help one stranger in the middle of all this madness — perhaps it’s a step in the right direction.
Eventually, Daryl cosigns Carol’s plea for redemption. He puts an arrow in the head of the walker that’s seconds away from lunching on Noah’s face. Good thing, too, as Daryl and Carol quickly learn that Noah not only knows who Beth is, but knows all of the ins and outs of the people holding her hostage.
Saving Noah pays even bigger dividends for Carol. Moments after rescuing the young man, Daryl helplessly watches as one of the Grady Hospital vehicles plows into Carol; its passengers scoop Carol up and bring her back to their lair, her condition unknown. Daryl wants to save Carol then and there, but Noah convinces him to hold off; it’s going to take a lot to save Carol, and Beth, from Grady’s clutches.
“They got guns,” Noah insists, “and people.”
“So do we,” Daryl shoots back, as he hits the road with Noah, heading back for Rick Grimes and the others still at Father Gabriel’s church.
Indeed, Daryl has guns and people. He also has Noah, who knows everything there is to know about Carol and Beth’s captors. He’s the secret weapon, the mission’s saving grace — and he’s only in place because of Carol. In a very real way, Carol may have just saved herself by saving someone else. How’s that for saving yourself?