Shipping is a pop culture staple, and not even shows featuring intestine-munching zombies can escape it. The Walking Dead promises romance in Rick and Michonne’s upcoming spinoff, The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live. However, The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon reminds fans that there is undoubtedly something special between Daryl and Carol. Over a decade later, it’s leaning toward romance, but with the cheers of encouragement comes an equal shouting of boos.
A potential Carol and Daryl romance has been controversial since Season 1. Many shoot down the pairing on the pretense that friendships between straight men and women deserve on-screen representation, too. It’s a valid point. Still, it’s far from the only reason noses turn up at the idea. Sentiments like “she’s old enough to be his mother” and “he deserves someone his own age” suggest women can’t escape ageism… even in the apocalypse.
A Carol and Daryl Romance Comes With Ageism
Shipping culture often leads to toxicity. My ship is right. Your ship is wrong. We all know how messy that type of language can be. Everyone is entitled to their opinions; it’s when fans start throwing around misguided judgments that things turn rocky. A quick Google search of Melissa McBride and Norman Reedus proves McBride is only four years his senior. In this case, the actors’ ages align with the characters’. So, no, she is not “old enough to be his mother.”
In fact, Daryl has a much larger age gap between two of his most popular shipping pairings. The actor playing Beth (Emily Kinney) is 15 years younger than Daryl, and Connie (Lauren Ridloff) is nine years his junior. There’s nothing wrong with age-gap relationships between adults. However, Hollywood has a tendency to pair older men with younger women, from classics like Gone with the Wind (Clark Gable, 38, and Vivien Leigh, 26) to modern movies like Silver Linings Playbook (Bradley Cooper, 37, and Jennifer Lawrence, 22).
It’s more frequently called out these days. Still, audiences aren’t typically as bothered by older male and younger female couplings—if they notice at all. That’s certainly the case with The Walking Dead. While few people take issue with Beth and Connie, Carol is frequently cast aside as a maternal figure when discussing Daryl’s love life.
“The mother that Daryl never had.” “No one mentioned possible MILF action.” “No need to worry about periods or making a child.” “Isn’t she too old for him?” These are all things said on Reddit threads discussing a possible Carol and Daryl romance, despite just four years between them. McBride doesn’t look or act “old,” meaning age gap assumptions likely stem from one thing: Carol’s hair.
Who Would’ve Thought Carol’s Hair Could Cause So Much Confusion?
Carol’s gray hair has been a signature since her debut. While white or gray locks lend authority to men, women are often seen as old. Just look to US politicians, and you’ll find countless gray-haired men, women not so much. It’s a double standard for sure, and one that extends to Hollywood, too. Where ageism lurks, sexism also steps in. When women gray, it’s associated with a loss of youthfulness, which may explain why some Walking Dead audiences think Carol is significantly older than Daryl.
Funny enough, A LOT of women would have gray hair in the apocalypse. Nobody is prioritizing expired hair dye when they’ve got zombies clawing at them. It’s one thing to oppose a Carol and Daryl romance in favor of platonic energy; it’s another thing to dismiss it entirely because Carol looks “older.” That’s ageism, plain and simple.
Carol and Daryl’s Relationship Was Never Just Platonic
Those opposing a Carol and Daryl romance often return to a Season 3 interaction. “Want to screw around?” Carol asked. “Pfft,” Daryl scoffed, and chuckles followed. Some interpret this as Daryl shooting down Carol’s advances, while others view it as playful banter among friends. Just because two characters don’t fall into bed at first whim doesn’t mean they don’t harbor romantic feelings for each other. In fact, it goes a long way in making any future relationship more meaningful. As Reedus said to Cinemablend when discussing a potential Carol and Daryl romance, “I’m glad we didn’t do an episode early on where we make out behind the bushes, you know what I mean? I’m glad we made it real.”
Carol defies a lot of negative stereotypes assigned to middle-aged women. The Walking Dead writes her well, yet parts of the fandom still cling to this prejudice. Luckily, Daryl does not. He sees Carol as his equal. Someone who is just as capable, strong-willed, and independent as him. Yes, friendships between men and women are important. Still, anyone who’s been watching The Walking Dead (and its spinoffs) knows that whatever Carol and Daryl have isn’t simply platonic. They’ve exchanged friendship bracelets, but they’ve also exchanged “I love you’s.”
Their relationship is complex and nuanced. Thus, putting it in black-and-white terms (friends or lovers) is almost an injustice. Shipping is personal, and if it’s not your thing, that’s certainly okay. However, those bringing imaginary age gaps and perceived “oldness” into the equation need to re-evaluate their own bias. Relationships are about love, not about gray hair. And there’s no denying Carol and Daryl love each other, friends or otherwise.