This article contains spoilers for The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon episode 1.
Watching a zombie series like The Walking Dead always requires some suspension of disbelief. As if the existence of reanimated corpses (which are hot now!) isn’t outlandish enough, there are also other nagging questions that inevitably come along with the depiction of any post-apocalyptic scenario.
We’ve heard them all before – questions like: Would people really get that violent? (Apparently not). Doesn’t gasoline go bad eventually? (Yep). Would we forget about Shakespeare? (Station Eleven says nay.)
Suffice it to say, Walking Dead viewers have gotten used to accepting post-apocalyptic fictional scenarios that likely wouldn’t bear out in a post-apocalyptic reality. In the first episode of The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon, however, the TWD Universe spinoff still introduces one storytelling element that’s pretty hard to believe. How do so many of the French folks who Daryl encounters speak such pristine English?
Now I know you’ll want to call me an ignorant American for this observation, which is entirely fair since I am both ignorant and an American. I can practically hear the complaints now: “Oi bruv, Europe is a multilingual continent and English is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world!” (That may have just been Louisa yelling at me). That’s all well and good but even with the English language’s geopolitical dominance and France’s proximity to the British Isles, something seems off about the frequency and quality of the English spoken on The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon.
As noted in pre-release interviews from Daryl Dixon producer Greg Nicotero, roughly the first 15 minutes of this six-episode series feature little-to-no dialogue as Daryl (Norman Reedus) finds himself washed up in Southern France and wanders around the beautiful, barren landscape. Daryl doesn’t come across any fellow human beings for awhile – but whenever he does, at least one of them speaks his mother tongue.
When Daryl bumps into a father and daughter, the father doesn’t speak English but the daughter does. Later, when he’s taken in by a convent of nuns, both lead nun Isabelle (Clémence Poésy) and the messianic child she’s protecting Laurent (Louis Puech Scigliuzzi) not only speak excellent English but somehow understand Daryl’s country-fried grunting version of it. For an isolated community that hasn’t seen many visitors in a long time, American or otherwise, that is truly an impressive linguistic feat.
According to a 2022 report from Education First, France ranked a respectable 34th in the world in English Proficiency Index, just behind nearby nations like Italy, Spain, and Switzerland, with a little over 57% of French citizens having a “reasonable proficiency” in the language. But the 2022 of our world and the 2022 of The Walking Dead‘s world are very different beasts.
The Walking Dead timeline is a bit wonky but it seems a good bet that its zombie apocalypse arrived around 2010 when The Walking Dead pilot first premiered. In fact, Isabelle makes mention of things starting “12 years ago.” Back in our version of 2010, there were fewer French folks considered proficient in English than there are today. Citing a 2012 Eurobarometer study, French Together puts the rate at 39%. Naturally this would be higher in global cities like Paris and lower in rural areas where Daryl Dixon himself now.
The enormous, isolating event of a global zombie apocalypse would also be sure to put a dent in many culture’s adoption and execution of non-native languages. Every day is a struggle for survival and no one has time for Duolingo.
For what it’s worth, Daryl Dixon doesn’t fall into the typical storytelling trap of having everyone speak and understand English. That not only adds to the verisimilitude of the series but it also opens the door for non-native English speaking actors to participate in the ever-growing Walking Dead universe.
Still, populating the post-apocalyptic French countryside with just enough English speakers for Daryl to comfortably get by feels like a cheat. If anything, our hero now seems like yet another ugly American who took a vacation and never bothered to learn the local language.
New episodes of The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon premiere Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.