Some time back, I wrote a "shipping" article regarding Caryl versus Bethyl. At the time, I was on the side of "no relationships" for Daryl and while I still lean that direction, last night's episode of The Walking Dead, "Consumed" has solidified my position on why I would choose a relationship between Carol (played by the amazing Melissa McBride and Daryl (played by the super fabulous Norman Reedus) long before I would want to see a relationship between Beth (played py the most excellent Emily Kinney) and Daryl.
When Daryl looks to Carol, he sees an equal. Another survivor who has fought beside him in this world and someone who can take care of themselves. Daryl doesn't feel like he has to save Carol from the dangers of this world. With Beth, however, Daryl gets a bit of the white-knight complex going on. He sees a young woman who might be building strength, but who simply doesn't have the skills to survive without his help. He sees her as weaker than he is, rather than equal to what he is.
Neither position stops Daryl from doing exactly as he has done from the moment he chose to stay with the group all the way back in Season One. He still looks to those in the group as reasons for being strong. He lacks that inner awareness to see that he is strong without a cause and so each member of the group becomes a cause for him to maintain this facade of undeniable strength. When Daryl took care of the mother and child walkers in the shelter, he did it because he couldn't do that for Carol when Sophia came out of the barn and because knowing what he does about Carol and Sophia, he decided that Carol didn't need the pain that would come from having to deal with those walkers. He took up the cause and handled the "dirty work" to protect someone he cares a great deal about. There was not a moment when he believed Carol couldn't handle the walkers. Rather he made the decision that she shouldn't have to do it.
The level of trust between Carol and Daryl stems, in part, from the belief that Carol can and will take care of herself. They've learned from their time together than neither is willing to risk the life of the other until there are no other options. How else can you explain the silent agreement between the two of them as they tipped the van over the edge and down from the bridge? These two characters trust one another implicitly and know that each will ensure the survival and strength of the other.
With Beth, however, we saw a far more destructive side of Daryl. Think back to the burning of the moonshine house. Here were two characters who stepped out of the apocalypse and into the youthful behaviors that could have killed them both. Neither grew from that experience and neither learned anything about the other beyond what they already knew. Daryl has a self-destructive streak and Beth feeds into almost any character trait others present her with. It's a fault of youth, I believe, rather than a fault in character that Beth seems to go along with these destructive traits. I honestly believe that she's begun to outgrow some of these traits, but even the sneak-peak of the next episode showed us that her impulsive nature is still getting her and her comrades into trouble.
Daryl and Carol share a similar past. Both come from abuse and have survived the fire that burns out so many others who come from that type of situation. Carol, despite going back to Ed many times, eventually shed the past to become the bad-ass audiences love. But there was a cost, one Daryl recognizes and in "Consumed," refuses to allow her to wallow in or become broken by. When she thinks to harm Noah as he's taking off with their weapons, Daryl stops her. He knows that no matter if she'd meant to kill or wound Noah, the man would have died eventually. Daryl believed they could survive without taking Noah's life and so he didn't want Carol to carry the weight of yet another death in her heart. He knows that despite her belief that each time she has had to kill, there was no other choice, she still feels the pain of taking a life in her heart and soul. He cares enough for her to want to save her that pain when he can.
He also knows that coming at Carol straight on is not always the best way to get results. When Carol says she doesn't believe they can save anyone anymore, Daryl knows he can't change her mind by arguing the point with her. Instead he allows her to believe that he'll leave Noah for the walker once the young man is pinned under the bookcase. He lets Carol make the argument for saving Noah. He let her come to the conclusion on her own that some--including herself--can still be saved.
In Beth, Daryl sees the idyllic life he might once have dreamed of as a child. A girl brought up in a mostly loving home with the love of a sister who ensured her safety rather than adding to the pain of the beatings doled out by an abusive father. I think much of Daryl's desire to protect Beth comes from his belief that because she had it "soft" as a child, she can't possibly be able to stand strong beside him and the others. And he doesn't want her to have to become as hard as he and Carol are. He believes he can save her innocence and her soft edges if he protects her from what the world has become.
I'm still of the mind that relationships between the characters can and should build naturally, but they seem to end in heartache more often than not. With that expectation in mind, I love Daryl and Carol enough to not want to pile anything further onto their hearts by hoping the writers will put them in bed together or connect them in a more romantic way. The connection between them now is amazing and strong and done in such a way that when the inevitable happens and one is lost, the other might just survive. I'd like that to be the case, no matter how much it might break my heart.
As for Daryl and Beth, I honestly feel that the protective relationship that borders on sibling care is the healthiest for them both. Beth can learn from Daryl's strength and skills. Daryl can continue to take on a little of her softness when they have the moment to spend time together. Anything romantic would, I believe, be destructive for them both as I still see them bringing out the worst of each other's personalities.