(There will be spoilers!)
You spend most of the first two series knowing very little about Daryl’s background. In fact, on introduction, he’s such a two dimensional character it’s hard to imagine you could ever fall in love with him. But slowly you’re drip fed details about the abusive father and older brother, the rough upbringing – never enough for him to lose his mystique, but enough to go some way to explain why he was the angry, shouty redneck first introduced in Season 1.
Interesting how much Daryl’s motivation changes. At first, he’s motivated soley by survival. It’s revealed in Season 3 that Daryl and Merle were planning to rob the campsite and strike out on their own before everything went wrong. They didn’t care about other people, they didn’t need anyone except each other.
But then Merle is taken away from Daryl and he’s left with a bunch of other people to influence and change him. He starts to be more about the group, more about helping others and not the selfish, angry individual he was before. Now he’s highly motivated to keep people safe and to protect the people he’s grown to care about.
The thing that really sets Daryl on his redemptive path is the disappearance of Sophia. Sophia’s mother, Carol, is another abused, browbeaten character, and in her Daryl sees something of a kindred spirit. In rescuing her daughter, it’s almost a way of rescuing himself. Of course, it’s the Walking Dead, and you know it isn’t going to turn out well – Sophia is a Walker and Rick has to shoot her – but it’s the journey Daryl embarks on to find her that is what sets him on the path to being the gnarly, dirty, loveable guy he is now.
In looking for Sophia, Daryl proves there’s more to his character than anger, that he has useful skills that could be a real benefit to the group, and that he’s the sort of guy they could depend on.