It's a funny thing that The Walking Dead's breakout character so far is one of the few to have no counterpart or origins in the comic books. Chupacabra is a Daryl Dixon heavy episode, thereby adding further fuel to the fire of this reviewer's man-crush. The man just plain knows how to rock a horse – even if he does fall off it five minutes later.
While searching for Sophia, Daryl takes a spill, falls down the side of a steep hill and winds up battered and bruised on the ground. Can a pep-talk from his brother save the day? Michael Rooker's Merle returns, albeit in hallucinatory form. Even fake Merle is a foulmouthed racist, sewing seeds of contention in baby brother's mind; encouraging Daryl to rebel against Rick and chums. It's a shame that the show should spoil Rooker's return (this review not withstanding) by including the big man's name amongst the opening credits. It could have been better served as a cheeky little surprise, perhaps, in lieu of his real return to The Walking Dead. Another funny thing is that the character is served a lot better in these little hallucinations than his actual self ever was in Series One.
Much of the episode deals with Daryl in distress, particularly during a tense scene with Andrea and a high-powered rifle. If Daryl was having doubts about his choice of travelling companions before, then they'll only be compounded by Andrea nearly shooting his face in. It's a good thing that her shooting is a little more off here than it is in the comics. Daryl's, however, remains spot on. The guy's a consummate badass even while lying smashed to bits at the bottom of a crevasse.
Also having doubts about the Grimes party is Hershel, quickly beginning to notice how unstable and unpredictable his new houseguests are. When they're not stealing his horses, they're taking his family for zombie-walks and rooting around in his kitchen. And then there's the little matter of Shane murdering Otis and Glenn getting the glad eye for his daughter, Maggie. Still, Hershel is not a man without secrets of his own, as discovered by Glenn whilst on a quest for nookie.
After the past two weeks' more padded, talky episodes, Chupacabra picks up the pace a little. It opens with a flashback to the beginnings of the zombie apocalypse – something it might be nice to see more of – and is punctuated throughout with either action or genuinely nice characterisation. Even Dale is less annoying than usual, sharing some sweet bonding time in the RV (of course) with Glenn. If Glenn's theory about the women beginning to 'synchronise' is funny, then Dale's reaction is even better. He's less impressed at Glenn's kiss-and-tell on Maggie though, and gets plenty of chance to practice his disapproving face. Oh Dale, you disapprove of everything.
We can only imagine how much Dale will disapprove of the episode's big reveal (spoiler: quite a lot, probably) but one thing is for certain: Hershel's got himself some explaining to do.