The believed dead Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) would be "really, really proud" knowing Daryl (Norman Reedus) stepped up as a leader, says The Walking Dead executive producer Denise Huth. After Rick's apparent death in a bridge explosion six years earlier, a devastated Daryl retreated into the wild as a lone woodsman but was pulled back by Carol (Melissa McBride) just before the survivors encountered a dangerous new enemy, the Whisperers, a legion of skin-wearing savages commanded by the ruthless Alpha (Samantha Morton). The departure of Maggie (Lauren Cohan) from Hilltop in Season 9 and a reduced role for soon exiting Alexandria leader Michonne (Danai Gurira) in Season 10, as well as the worsening threat of the Whisperers, has forced Daryl into the role of "reluctant leader":
"I think Rick would actually be really, really proud of Daryl," Huth said on Talking Dead following "Stalker," taking place after Daryl guided a trapped group of heroes out of Alpha's caves. "Daryl has never really wanted to be the leader, that's not a role he sought out and naturally fell into the way Rick did."
But with Michonne currently away on a high-stakes mission, Daryl is "kind of the one everyone looks to."
"He is that reluctant leader, and I think he's been very smart this year about not freaking out and not overreacting," Huth said. "They lost all those people to the spikes last year, Alpha is this serious threat, and he's thinking long game. He doesn't want to go into this fight until they absolutely have to."
On Daryl's handling of the Whisperers both at home and at the allied Hilltop, Rick would be "very, very impressed with how much he's grown and how well he's leading this community," Huth said.
Daryl and Michonne begrudgingly agreed to abide by the border and laws imposed by the territorial Alpha, but lines have been crossed on both sides. Now that Alpha's daughter Lydia (Cassady McClincy) has picked her side — fully aligning herself with Daryl's survivors over her mother's Whisperers — Alpha is ready to unleash her walker horde on the communities.
In 1011, "Morning Star," Daryl is on the frontlines when the Whisperers go to war with Hilltop. The community now led by Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura) and King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) in Maggie's absence will be defended by the militia-style fighting force overseen by Daryl, who is seen taking charge when preparing the survivors for a fight.
After Lincoln exited the show in Season 9, showrunner Angela Kang noted Daryl would take on a leadership role in certain situations but would not become a replacement Rick Grimes. It was in line with conversations with Reedus, who told Kang Daryl is "not the type of guy that's gonna build a soapbox and get up and speak to a room full of people and give 'em some inspirational speech."0comments
"He lived outside of the group, now he's back into the group, he's finding himself having to step up and sort of take leadership roles," Reedus said on an episode of Talking Dead aired during Season 9. "I think he's a bit reluctant, you know."