It was never going to take much for The Walking Dead to raise the bar back up following last week's disappointing "Splinter", and indeed, it didn't. Episode 21, "Diverged", is equally as uninterested in progressing the show's overall narrative, but the improvements are tangibly felt in its stronger writing, more compelling cast of characters, and a better sense of pace and structure, which leaves season 10 in a much healthier place before next week's finale.
"Diverged" chronicles a day in the (for once) separate lives of Daryl and Carol, after the pair part ways following the messy, heated argument we witnessed between them in episode 18. Carol heads back to Alexandria and spends a full 24 hours attempting to make some soup for Jerry, while Daryl finds himself having to fix his bike during one last scavenge for resources.
On the surface, those two stories don't sound like the recipe for a particularly compelling forty minutes of primetime television, but it speaks to the endearment of these two characters that we're more engrossed in the minutiae of their day-to-day business than the full-blown hostage situation of "Splinter".
For one thing, there's something to be said about a Walking Dead episode that indulges in the mundanity of the everyday apocalypse, free from the melodrama of warring factions, theatrical villains, and bloodthirsty hordes. It's as if we're reading between the panels of the show's comic book source material, finding a strange satisfaction from the small joys of watching Carol try (and fail) to catch a rat, or Daryl hunt around cars for a specific piece of wiring.
That lack of real threat – though Walkers still feature aplenty here – also allows the show to adopt a more playful and lighthearted tone than usual; there are genuine laughs to be had from seeing Jerry wait patiently for his soup, or Dog destroying Daryl's living room in a temper tantrum. It helps, of course, that we're watching two fan-favorite Walking Dead characters who have been with us since the show's premiere, played by Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride so naturally at this point that it's as if Daryl and Carol are merely an extension of who they are.
There's still plenty of subtextual meat to be chewed beneath the surface level of the episode's seemingly ordinary events, too. Carol's desire to help Alexandria in any way she can, even if that means fixing up some soup out of composting fish guts, is a not-so-subtle expression of the guilt she still feels over her actions during the Whisperer Wars, and suggests Daryl's cutting words about her inability to take responsibility have struck a deep chord.
Equally, the fact that Daryl lost almost an entire day trying to find a replacement knife for the one he lent Carol suggests that he's not as self-dependent as he believes. Like it or not, the fate and identity of these two characters are deeply entwined together – even when you take their upcoming spin-off show out of the equation. Some of the visual metaphors, such as that aforementioned rat, are a little too on-the-nose to leave an affecting impact, but "Diverged" finds thematic richness in its micro-stories nonetheless.
The pair might not have made up completely by the episode's end, but you can tell they're already on the road towards reconciliation, which can only be a good thing for the rest of the show going forward. Sure, Daryl may have refused Carol's piece offering of salty fish soup, but given the unconventional recipe she followed to make it, I'd say he probably dodged a bullet.