Spoilers below for The Walking Dead's latest episode, titled "Find Me."
Holy hell, Walking Dead fans, the day finally arrived! Showrunner Angela Kang and the rest of the AMC drama's creative team at last delivered an episode giving Norman Reedus' perma-loner Daryl Dixon a 100% official love interest, Leah, as portrayed by True Blood and Bosch vet Lynn Collins. Granted, Daryl and Leah's flashback-set relationship didn't exactly start off on the right foot, and it definitely didn't end well for anyone, not even Carol. But for some of that time-lapsed period before it all went south, Daryl seemed to find genuine love and companionship, with the bonus of meeting Dog for the first time.
CinemaBlend spoke with Lynn Collins about making her entrance into (and possible exit from) the Walking Dead universe and taking on such an unexpected role within these extended Season 10 episodes. When I asked if it was intimidating to join the series for such a compacted character storyline, here's how she answered:
I mean, I wouldn't say intimidating, I would say just really exciting. You know, I've been around the block in this business, so not much intimidates me, but a lot excites me. This was such a great opportunity. I am a big fan of this show. And actually, as a fan, it's an honor. It's an absolute honor to be a part of it, and in this way, where we're introducing something I think that we've all wanted, for Daryl to have a love interest. I feel like this is a time that the writers felt like they could introduce it. You know, the show's winding down its last few seasons, and what a way to be involved in something that I've loved. So it's exciting.
Thank goodness Lynn Collins was already a big Walking Dead fan before she landed the role of Leah, since it would have been somewhat disappointing to have such a memorable new character being played by an actress who didn't fully realize Leah's impact on one of the drama's longest-surviving characters. Indeed, Collins was absolutely aware that Leah's relationship with Daryl would face much scrutiny from the show's outspoken audience. Especially since that relationship was kicked off by Leah pointing a gun at Daryl and temporarily holding him captive. Probably not a story that many other longterm couples share.
As time went by in the episode, Leah and Daryl not only started to get along, but their feelings for each other combined and morphed into a genuine romance, despite a lack of horny make-out sessions. Because viewers didn't have access to the full breadth of the experiences that Leah and Daryl shared during that lengthy span of time, Lynn Collins understood that it was just as vital to win fans over as it was for her character to win Daryl over. In her words:
So playing the part of Leah was like, it was so important to me that, as fans, we were able to like her enough, to understand her enough, to connect with her enough that we would want the two of them to have sweetness, to have love, to have intimacy, to have something pure and beautiful in this world of darkness and death. So I mean, that was my goal. You know, it's the fans world as much as it's the actor's world when we're doing this.
Walking Dead fans are rarely ones to bite their tongues about new show elements that don't sit right, giving Lynn Collins even more motivation to make Leah as three-dimensional as possible. That goal was definitely helped along by Leah's heartbreaking story about losing her sister and seeing her nephew-turned-son being bitten, which gave context to why she was all alone out there for years on end. Her past tragedies likely also tied into why she presented the ultimatum that ultimately drove them apart, with Leah going missing before Daryl could return to say he chose her over going out to look for Andrew Lincoln's Rick again. Po' Daryl.
With Leah's "take me or leave me" ultimatum coming as a rather sudden new hiccup in their courtship, I asked Lynn Collins what she thought about how her character handled that last big conversation with Daryl. She admitted it wasn't the easiest thing to pull off opposite such an enjoyable co-star, but she explained her thought process behind justifying Leah's impulsive choice.
I have to say, in every relationship I've ever been in, if I was given an ultimatum, I didn't like it. And any time I've ever given an ultimatum, it always flies back in my face. So I mean, if I were Leah's friend, I would have told her like, 'Pipe down, sweetheart.' But I will tell you this: when we were shooting that scene at the dinner table, you know, working with Norman is really just like popcorn and cotton candy. It's so fun, it's so delicious. It's just such a pleasurable experience. So to get into these deeper emotional moments, I had to really pull out my toolbox. And one of the things I do if I'm having a hard time getting into a place emotionally, or finding the intensity that a scene needs, is I give myself a secret; a secret that the character has that the other characters don't know.
Which isn't to say that Leah actually had a big secret in mind within the show's narrative. (As much as it would rock if she secretly knew where Rick was.) But rather, Lynn Collins used this hypothetical situation as an acting exercise to convince herself why Leah might put Daryl in such a situation. And in the actress' thought process, Daryl interrupted Leah's chance to share her not-really-a-secret, leading to her untimely ultimatum. Collins continued, saying:
But before she can get it out, he tells her, 'Alright, I decided I'm going back on the river, and I'm going to be gone for a while this time.' So she never gets to tell him. And so the ultimatum comes out of that. There's a missing piece of information; he doesn't have the whole story as to why she's even giving the ultimatum. For her, she's ready to nest, she's ready to put down roots and, you know, he's ready to fly. So I think the ultimatum comes from her absolute dreams dashed.
The fact that Leah goes missing probably shouldn't have surprised many Walking Dead fans, since this show has a way of ending relationships in devastating ways, and it's also pretty well-versed in making characters disappear at inopportune times. But still, that timing couldn't have been more awful, with Daryl finally wearing his heart on his sleeve and ready to commit himself to another person. If Leah doesn't come back at any point, I doubt Daryl will ever allow himself to be that vulnerable again.
In an awkward way, Leah and Daryl's relationship also fed into another implosion for Daryl's friendship with Melissa McBride's Carol. Despite her caring attempts to meet Daryl on his level during his time away from the main communities, as well as during the present-day storyline, his anger got the best of him, and he once again blamed her for Connie's disappearance before saying he wouldn't stop her if she wanted to run away again. Harsh words, Daryl.
When will AMC's The Walking Dead provide answers behind Leah's whereabouts? Probably not in the remaining Season 10 episodes, which will continue shifting its limited focus to other characters groups. But maybe in the eleventh and final season, or as a major plot line in Daryl and Carol's impending spinoff.