The tiger analogy on The Walking Dead: Comparing Daryl and Shiva

Daryl and Shiva - The Walking Dead, AMC via (Uploader: Cass)
Daryl and Shiva - The Walking Dead, AMC via (Uploader: Cass) /

Shiva and Daryl are 2 of the most popular characters on AMC’s The Walking Dead, but do these 2 characters have more in common than many fans may think?

“New Best Friends” (7×10) was, without a doubt, one of the best episodes in season 7 of the Walking Dead: the epic fight between Rick and a walker in spiky armor, Richard’s bold plan to take out the Saviors, and of course the highly emotional reunion between Carol and Daryl… But one of the scenes that got many fans talking on social media was the scene in which Daryl shared a moment with Ezekiel’s “pet tiger”, Shiva.

That scene led to many comments, among which was a rather amusing trend: “Daryl is Shiva”. It became even more amusing once Norman Reedus’s Twitter account (@bigbaldhead) apparently liked and retweeted some social media posts bearing this hashtag.

If you look back at Daryl’s characterization throughout the series, tough, it seems quite obvious that The Walking Dead writers have consistently been distilling elements to support the analogy. And honestly, doesn’t this shot look like Daryl is studying his own reflection in a mirror?

Daryl as a “wild animal”

Daryl has always had this “wild animal” quality to him, even in the early seasons, and indeed, Norman Reedus himself has stated unequivocally that he intended to play him “like a wild animal” (his response to the constant cries from fans instructing Daryl to “have a shower/haircut”, which Norman says only make him want to get dirtier and hairier).

AMC via (Uploader: Cass)
AMC via (Uploader: Cass) /

It is no secret that Daryl is a lot more comfortable outdoors, in the wild, hunting or tracking, than he is indoors. He is specially uncomfortable in anything that remotely resembles a “domestic” setting. Norman Reedus’s body language is extremely efficient at conveying this “caged animal” vibe, especially whenever Daryl is indoors. Daryl is generally very uncomfortable about being locked up: back in season 3, after the group had taken over the prison, Daryl was the only one who refused to sleep safely locked up in a cell, exclaiming: “I ain’t sleeping in no cage!”

When the Governor threw him into a fighting pit together with his brother, Daryl’s face showed an unusual emotion: panic. Daryl, who normally excels at keeping cool in a crisis, suddenly looked like one of those wild animals thrown into the arena in Roman times. The screams of the crowd baying for blood and the feeling of being trapped seemed to overwhelm him.

AMC via (Uploader: Cass)
AMC via (Uploader: Cass) /

This is also why so many fans love Daryl: he is a very authentic character. Like animals, Daryl has instinct but no guile.

This has sometimes led some to claim that Daryl was stupid – especially after the infamous punch in Negan’s face that led to Glenn’s death. This is wrong: Daryl is not stupid. Just re-watch that scene from season 2, in which Dale is completely gobsmacked when he realizes Daryl had also guessed about Shane killing Otis. It is not intelligence Daryl lacks – it is an ability to control his wild impulses. Daryl’s reaction to fear is a very animalistic one: he normally gets immediately in “survival” mode, his senses alert, and his instinct takes over.

Negan, Daryl, and Dwight - The Walking Dead, AMC
Negan, Daryl, and Dwight – The Walking Dead, AMC /

In the same way, Daryl has almost no ability to pretend or lie. Why didn’t Daryl pretend and say “I’m Negan”, so he could get close to Negan and kill him? Not because he is stupid. Because he is fundamentally unable to pull off that kind of act. That is why his lie to Carol in episode 710 was so powerful: if I’m not mistaken, it was the first time we had ever seen Daryl tell a lie in 7 seasons.

Daryl was also the one who was most obviously uncomfortable in Alexandria: while everyone was marveling at the hot showers and pretty houses, he refused to shower and clean up for parties, preferring to gut possums on a porch. Aaron’s suggestion that he work as a “recruiter”, which meant spending most of his time roaming in the forests around Alexandria, seemed like a deliverance. Incidentally, Aaron’s comment that Daryl “can tell a good person from a bad person” also seems to refer to an animal-like instinct: just like dogs, Daryl seems to “feel” it when someone isn’t being genuine.

Just like a wild animal, Daryl is also very reluctant to be touched: for instance, remember how he flinched at Carol’s kiss on the cheek as he was lying in bed, recovering from his wounds in season 2? On the other hand, he has an almost uncanny ability to connect with animals. Whether it is a horse gone wild after the apocalypse, or a tiger, Daryl has absolutely zero difficulty getting close to them.

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During his encounter with the bikers gang (also known as the “Claimers”) in season 4, Daryl was also involved in a rather strange dialogue with their leader, Joe, who drew a not-so-subtle comparison between Daryl and a cat: “Ain’t nothing sadder than an outdoor cat that thinks he’s an indoor cat” – a piece of sarcasm that was probably Joe’s way of telling Daryl that his attempt to tame his own wild nature was futile.

And what is a tiger, if not a big cat? Remember which word of his nursery rhyme Negan uttered when pointing at Daryl? “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe / Catch a tiger by the toe.” Of course, he stopped on Daryl when uttering the word “Tiger”. Just minutes before he decided to lock him up in a truck, explaining to his men: “You don’t kill that”… Notice how he refers to Daryl as a non-human entity – a  prelude to his further attempt to dehumanize Daryl by actually treating him like a caged animal: locking him up, stripping him of his clothes, forbidding him to talk to anyone, and feeding him dog food. Is it because of his animalistic nature that Daryl can withstand this treatment, swallow all the humiliations and remain unbroken?

In any case, after all this, it should come as no surprise that Daryl and Shiva might have instantly connected. As many fans have pointed out, Daryl, having spent the first half of the season in a cage, must relate to the caged tiger.

Next: Why does Negan want Daryl back?

Is there an underlying message, though? Some fans – many of them “Caryl” shippers – have been coming up with a few theories: should we see a parallel between the way Ezekiel tamed Shiva, and the way Carol tamed Daryl? Will Carol and Daryl end up “adopting” Shiva? Will Daryl free Shiva from her cage and ride into the sunset on her back, to attack Negan like some post-apocalyptic Tarzan? Or is Shiva just another Daryl fangirl? Fans will have to wait until season 8 of The Walking Dead to find out…