The Walking Dead reveals Daryl's (Norman Reedus) dogged search for Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) when we return to the years after Rick disappeared. In the Season 9 episode "What Comes After," Rick saves hundreds of lives when he leads a stray zombie herd away from the communities linked by a bridge. Rick fires on dynamite and blows up the bridge, saving his friends and family at the cost of his own life. Or so it appears: Rick survives. Gravely wounded but still alive, Rick is rescued by Anne (Pollyanna McIntosh) when she flies away with him aboard a Civic Republic Military helicopter, and The Walking Dead jumps six years into the future.
Eight months after Rick's disappearance, Daryl and a pregnant Michonne (Danai Gurira) comb the river for Rick's body in Season 9 episode "Scars." But their search turns up empty, and Daryl tells Rick's partner: "I ain't gonna stop looking. Not ever."
In the extended Season 10, it's been seven years since Rick vanished without a trace. Episode 1018, "Find Me," flashes back to five years before the end of the Whisperer War, revealing a time when Daryl has spent two years fruitlessly trying to find Rick's body. On a map, we see several sections marked with an "X" and crossed out places Rick hasn't turned up.
When Carol (Melissa McBride) checks in on Daryl, she tells him Maggie (Lauren Cohan) left the Hilltop and is away somewhere with Georgie (Jayne Atkinson). Returning to the river, Daryl turns over a dinghy and examines a walker body. It's not him.
Daryl weathers a harsh storm, almost losing his map when the roof of his makeshift shelter gives way. One year after that, Daryl comes across the secluded cabin where Leah (Lynn Collins) lives with her dog. Over the next 27 months, Daryl and Leah's relationship develops and ultimately turns romantic.
Leah tells Daryl about her son, Matthew, who was killed by walkers. She's been alone out here ever since. Until Daryl comes along. "Who did you lose?"
"My brother," Daryl says. "It was an accident. Never found the body." Leah asks Daryl he thinks Rick is still out there. "I don't know," he says, "but I'm not gonna stop until I find out."
Back in Season 4 episode "A," Daryl falls in with some bad guys while looking for Rick. When Rick kills those men, he tells Daryl: "It's not on you, Daryl. Hey. It's not on you. You being back with us here, now, that's everything. You're my brother."
Even when Rick and Daryl's relationship grows strained in the 18 months after Rick decided to spare Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), they don't stop being brothers. When the two men have to work together and climb their way out of a ditch about to be filled with walkers in Season 9 episode "The Obliged," Rick reaches out his hand: "Brother," Rick says, "Brother. Take my hand." He does.
In "Find Me," Leah gives Daryl an ultimatum: choose where you belong. Here with her or out on the river looking for his dead brother. Daryl can't call off his search for Rick, and the two lovers go their separate ways.
By the time Daryl returns to the cabin, Leah is gone. Wherever she is, it's where he belongs. Daryl leaves her a note: "I belong with you. Find me."
Daryl doesn't know what happened to Rick, but Reedus has said Daryl won't move on until he gets closure.
"I think he's been looking for this body. 'If he died, where's his body?' And he's a master tracker, he can get you from here to there no problem, he's very intuitive, and he's very observant, and he just can't find it. It makes no sense to him," Reedus said on Talking Dead in 2019. "Michonne's doing it a little bit, and she kind of even says something to the effect of, 'We have to go forward.' I don't know, I think it's hard for him to swallow. I think he needs closure. There's a piece of this puzzle missing."
Rick returns in the untitled Walking Dead feature film expected to release in theaters in 2022. New episodes of The Walking Dead extended Season 10 premiere Sundays at 9 pm ET/8c on AMC. Follow the author @CameronBonomolo on Twitter for all things TWD.