How the Terminus reunion ended up in the core trio drifting further apart
Yet, this opportunity was not taken and after Carol came back, everyone simply decided to forget about it. Rick told Carol that she was actually the new leader of the group (which had no impact whatsoever on his subsequent behavior), Carol told Daryl she did not want to discuss it… And apart from a few aborted attempts at discussing what had happened during her banishment with Daryl in “Consumed”, the issue was just dropped completely and remained unfinished business, until it seemed to have disappeared completely from everyone’s minds (the same can be said about the whole Lizzie and Mika trauma, which should really have been addressed at some point in Carol’s story in seasons 6, 7 or 8 – and not just through planting flowers in Ezekiel’s garden).
In fact, once the group reached Alexandria, the relationship between Carol, Daryl and Rick, which was arguably one of the most interesting dynamics on the show, basically stopped being developed at all, except for a few very brief scenes. At first, they seemed to remain a pillar of the show, as they met in secret to hide guns. Yet, soon, the writers chose to clearly disconnect their stories, which was truly puzzling: Daryl simply became a sort of outcast again, scouting outside Alexandria and not even trying to fit in (when that would have been an interesting challenge for him), Carol embarked on her “cookie mum” act and actually had a rather interesting story until she suddenly decided to run away, and Rick simply didn’t seem to care much about any of this. This could have been interesting, if they had subsequently been reconnected, but they weren’t – not really.
One pattern that is particularly frustrating is the fact that these three characters, who are now the last 3 of the original Atlanta group and thus should be at the core of the show, never get to discuss important events that happened to them. Their reaction to Carol’s departure from Alexandria, which should have been a huge thing, was barely addressed. We never got to see how Daryl even heard of this, or of the letter she had left before going. Surely, after escaping from Negan’s prison, Daryl must have wondered why Carol was not around anymore? Wasn’t his reaction to this shocking decision worth writing/showing?
And what about Rick, who admitted to Morgan that he had changed his opinion on Carol’s actions at the prison, saying she had been right to do what she did? Rick never got tell Carol this. Given that Carol’s mental breakdown and her feeling that she did not really belong in the group can actually be traced back to her banishment, shouldn’t this have been the real answer to her problem? The whole storyline at the Kingdom, with Ezekiel’s rather naïve “and yet I smile” philosophy, just seem to be superficial answers to the wrong questions. Carol’s problem was never about “going to war with a smile”. It was about finding her place in the group again, after being banished from it; and about being at peace with her ruthless nature, after being morally censored for it by Rick and losing faith in her own judgment.
Of course, you could argue that Rick/Daryl, and Daryl/Carol, were the focus of two very emotional reunions in season 7. Rick and Daryl’s hug was the moment when Rick truly found his will to fight again. Daryl and Carol’s reunion at the Kingdom was a welcome moment of raw emotion in season 7. Yet, these were no substitutes for real, meaningful interactions, of which we have had very few lately. In the same way that Carol never discussed Lizzie or her banishment with anyone, Daryl never spoke to Rick or Carol, or anyone else in fact, about his experience in Negan’s prison. Even if he was unwilling to talk about it, we could at least have expected other characters raise this question with him. This seemed important enough to be addressed, and the absence of focus on this meant his subsequent evolution, which was the basis for his feud with Rick, was unconvincing.