As season 8 draws nearer, fans are being treated to lots of great pictures of what’s to come. In addition to that, Entertainment Weekly has just released yet another amazing series of pictures to celebrate the upcoming 100th episode of The Walking Dead. Interestingly, in one of them, Carol is shown feeding Daryl… Which intrigued many fans. Here are a some thoughts about Carol and Daryl, the role of food in their relationship so far, and, to finish, a few comments on this new picture.
Among the questions that divide the Walking Dead fandom the most, “What kind of relationship do Carol and Daryl have exactly?” must be up there with, “Was Daryl responsible for Glenn’s death?” and “Is Negan really that different from Rick?” Whether they see them as lovers, as siblings, as best friends, as mother and son, or a combination of several of these, many fans have their own idea about what this relationship really is and how it should evolve.
On this subject, much has been said about the tendency to see middle-aged women – even those as pretty as Melissa McBride – exclusively as “mothers”. There are interesting points to be made about the role of gender and age stereotypes in the perception of “Caryl”, but the focus in this article will be on the actual elements in the series that might support the various perceptions of Daryl and Carol fans might have formed.
Because, in fact, the reason why “Caryl” is so divisive is precisely why it is so interesting: because no matter what various “sides” might claim, the relationship Daryl and Carol have has always been a very complex and ambiguous one. If some see them as lovers, while others see them as mother and son (to take only two possible characterizations), it is because you can find elements to support either, or even both.
The EW 100th episode photoshoot: five of our favourite characters in a new light… but in rather familiar situations?
The latest photoshoot that was released by Entertainment Weekly for the 100th Anniversary provided a perfect example of that. Rick, Michonne, Daryl, Carol and Maggie all look amazing in smart dresses and tuxedos. The first photo in the series shows them in the unusual setting of a garden party, but with many “easter eggs” taken from the series. Whether that was intentional or not, the pictures that included Carol and Daryl together were absolutely perfect to tease both the advocates of Caryl as a romantic relationship, and those who defend the mother-and-son interpretation.
Of course, one could claim that the pictures are just the actors having fun, and are not meant to represent the characters. However, even though the fancy clothes are obviously not from the show, the actors were deliberately given attributes that are associated with their characters. Danai Gurira is wearing her Michonne wig and has her katana, Maggie has Glenn’s watch, Carol has Sophia’s doll… All this, and the choice to picture Richonne as a couple, Daryl and Carol together, and Maggie alone clearly implies that the pictures are meant to portray the characters, albeit in an unusual manner.
So, no matter how seriously we are supposed to take these pictures, and without implying in any way that they are supposed to reveal anything about the content of season 8, it is clear that they were carefully constructed. Which means it can be a lot of fun to analyze them, and see how they relate to what has happened so far in the series!
Carol giving Daryl food: a recurring pattern on The Walking Dead
One thing we see in several of these pictures is Carol giving food to Daryl. In one picture, that made one of the covers, she is feeding him with a spoon. In another, she is giving him grapes. This is particularly interesting, because Carol giving Daryl food is something that happens so often in the series that it has almost become a pattern. And what’s even more interesting, is that this act of Carol giving Daryl food has almost always been associated with the ambiguity that characterizes their relationship. Some fans were excited by this.
To begin with, Carol’s relationship with cooking has always been related to her very complicated relationship with her identity as a mother and a housewife. Preparing food, bringing food or drink to people is something Carol does a lot throughout the series, and it’s almost always used to highlight the many ambiguities of the character.
More specifically, the scenes when she brings food to Daryl have always been ambiguous. And no, don’t run, I’m not going to lead you into some weird Freudian analysis about food and sex, but there are some rather obvious elements in those scenes that feed (no pun intended) this impression of both a mother-son relationship, and a, well, less platonic relationship. Four of these scenes particularly stand out.
Four ambiguous “Caryl and food” scenes : mother/son or lovers?
Season 2: Carol checks on wounded Daryl
Back at the very beginning of what we could call their “special relationship”, in season 2, as Daryl was recovering from several wounds sustained while looking for Sophia, Carol came in to bring him food and drink. Carol is very sweet and nurturing, as she checks on him to see if he’s alright. But Daryl is embarrassed at being seen half-naked and covers himself up. Carol kisses him on the forehead, and he flinches at the touch. Note that she also compares him to her dead husband – telling him, “You did more for my little girl in a day than her own daddy did in his whole life”.
Season 3: the top-of-the-truck scene
Of course, Caryl fans will all remember the top-of-the-truck scene from season 3, when Carol brought food to Daryl who was standing watch, got a massage and openly flirted with him – suggesting they “fool around”, and ending with a rather daring joke about “going down”. Carol was obviously amused at Daryl’s embarrassment. It is not clear whether she was expressing her true desires in a humorous way, or simply having fun teasing Daryl. As for Daryl, whether his rebuttal was a dismissal, or rather an indication that he was also interested but was way too shy and awkward to admit it, is also a matter of interpretation.
Season 4: “I liked you first”
Another time when Carol brings him food is at the beginning of season 4, at the prison. Once again, there is a little teasing that could be seen as flirting: Carol embarrasses Daryl by pointing out “I liked you first”, then calls him “pookie” in the next scene.
Another thing that should also be pointed out here, too, is that the roles Daryl and Carol have at this point seem closer to husband-and-wife than to mother-and-son. Daryl is hunting and bringing the meat back home, Carol prepares it and serves dinner: this is pretty much the stereotypical, old-fashioned definition of a heterosexual couple in most patriarchal societies.
Season 7: the Kingdom reunion
Finally, in season 7, their very emotional reunion at the Kingdom also ended with a meal. As usual, Carol prepared food for Daryl – which, again, can be seen either as the stereotypical behavior of a mum, or that of a wife. Another strange element is the way that, although they were apparently supposed to have dinner together, Carol doesn’t actually eat – she just enjoys watching Daryl eat. This is certainly unusual behavior, at least for a friend. Who has dinner with a friend and watches them eat? Now, once more, whether it is something a loving mother would do with her child, or a loving woman with her husband, is also open to interpretation.
So, what about the latest EW pictures?
When Entertainment Weekly unveiled the latest pics, those who see Daryl and Carol as mother and son no doubt thought: “Here! See? She’s giving him food, just like a mother feeds her child! How more obvious can it get?” Carol is, indeed, shown feeding Daryl with a spoon. She is also portrayed in a dominant position, standing up while he is sitting down, which could support that interpretation of her being the parent, while Daryl would be the child.
And yet, one cannot ignore that the body language of both characters does not really send “platonic” vibes. In the cover, Daryl does not exactly look like an innocent child: he is sprawling lasciviously in a chair, with one foot on the table, as if he was at the end of a long night of partying. He’s holding a glass (presumably of alcohol) and nonchalantly spilling its content on the floor, apparently too busy looking at Carol (or eating?) to care. As for Carol, the way she stands there with confidence, looking stunning in that beautiful dress is at least as reminiscent of a “femme fatale” as it is of an innocent mum.
The pictures with the grapes instead of the spoon– which are taken from the video of the photoshoot but did not make the cover – are even more ambiguous. Carol has an almost dominatrix-like attitude while Daryl appears subservient, eating the grapes almost like an animal – another trope that has often been used in the series. Whether this looks more like a mother-and-son relationship, or more like something way kinkier, is really up to you to decide!
No doubt, the fandom will go on arguing about what “Caryl” really is about, but that is really the beauty of this relationship. It is complex and ambiguous, it doesn’t have to be only one thing, and it still has a lot of potential to evolve in many directions.
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What did you think of the latest pictures? Did you like them? Did you find other interesting things hidden in there? Let us know in the comments!