The Walking Dead this season and last delivered an extremely pleasant surprise in the character development department: Daryl Dixon. Norman Reedus has been handed a character who could have been a South Park or Simpsons style cardboard cutout and given him depth, wisdom, compassion and overall badassery.
Daryl serves as the perfect foil for Merle, both of whom came from the same background (which itself could have been done in a cliche manner, but was not) and the exchange between them in Zombie Delivery was a perfect example. Daryl has grown as a person in a believable manner without giving up the charm that makes him Daryl.
Daryl follows in the footsteps of Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones, a character who has distasteful qualities but shows more than enough depth to be the most sympathetic character in the show (at least to me). Tyrion was already my favorite from the books, but Peter Dinklage brings so much to the table in bringing him to life. Not that Daryl shares Tyrion's depravities, just in both cases the characterization could easily fall into cardboard cutout territory and by virtue of impressive acting steers well clear of it.
Daryl does illustrate a particular prejudice on my part - surprise that a character who might be considered a "hick" or "redneck" would be likable or deep. I'm not particularly proud of this realization, and it goes a long way toward realizing Daryl's likability isn't in spite of his background or because of it, but due to coming across as a thinking, feeling, complete person. The actor successfully turns the mirror of "the other" back on us, showing that even the most open-minded view some people with the same prejudice they criticize others for. That's the real magic in Daryl Dixon.
Plus they'd all die without him around.