Before you read on, there are spoilers ahead for this week’s review of The Walking Dead. This week, as we see the events replay from the beginning of last week’s “Hunted”, the action picks up with Daryl as he tracks a member of the Reaper clan through woodlands. This Reaper, as we soon learn, is actually Leah Shaw (Lynn Collins).

The woman Daryl Dixon, believe it or not, became romantically involved with. Her first and last appearance came during “Find Me”, one of six generally forgettable episodes tacked on to the end of Season 10 in April. Long story short, a promising tale of romance for the show’s lead fizzled out when Leah vanishes.

Now she’s back in the fray, and she’s far from the broken, lonely woman she used to be. In a surprising twist, Leah’s return does not coincide with the Commonwealth, as some of us had likely expected earlier in the year. Daryl’s beau is in fact a hardened killer and a member of the Reapers, a merciless group of ex-military religious fanatics who’ve already bumped off half the secondary cast of Season 11. What an awkward first date that’ll be…

Leah - The Walking Dead.
Leah’s back! – (Pic: AMC).

The commander of this group is Pope, fleetingly mentioned during “Home Sweet Home”, the first of the six COVID episodes during Season 10c. Following last week’s assault on Maggie and the group, the Reapers have been dealt some casualties, and Pope wants to exact revenge in the only way these ex-mercenaries know how. In blood. 

His accent is questionable at times, but his mustache is beastly and his motivations are deadly. Coster’s interpretation of the former Afghanistan veteran is on par with some of The Walking Dead’s nastiest villains, most notably the Governor. Ritchie Coster’s performance is sinister and unrelenting, and this makes Pope a highlight of the episode.

Pope’s monologue to Daryl in the final act of the episode conjured images of what the world had been like before the apocalypse, and their back story certainly intrigues. This pushes Season 11 forward with some exciting and dark momentum, but ultimately there’s a sense that the Reaper arc, in the long run, will have little to no impact on the show’s final major story thread concerning the Commonwealth.

Pope - The Walking Dead.
Pope – (Pic: AMC).

With Daryl spending the entirety of the episode in captivity, “Rendition” is a relatively dismal side-story expanding on yet another rogue band of heavily armed bad guys, a pandering will they, won’t they romantic subplot that’ll ultimately fizzle out half a season from now, some waterboarding, a trial by fire and sinister monologues from our season’s new antagonistic lead.

It’s even harder to feel anxious about Daryl’s predicament as a newly recruited member of the military clan. When you consider the upcoming spin-off with Carol, and just how impenetrable the archer’s plot armour has become, regardless of what comes his way in the next few weeks at the hands of these God-loving ex-vets. The season’s joint-longest serving character will no doubt emerge from far more perilous places than a burning container unscathed. The same cannot be said for the deceased Reaper Bossie. You got the impression it was coming, but that was still a horrible way to die.

Additionally, it’s tricky to become invested in a new set of characters, notably Pope and Leah, as they’ll likely succumb to a nasty end before the mid-season point of this season, making way for the Commonwealth story to pick up its pace after waiting in the back seat for so long. This character-centric instalment to Season 11 is an unflinchingly violent and stark reminder of how ruthless and bleak The Walking Dead can be.

Daryl & The Reapers.
Daryl & The Reapers. (Pic: AMC).

What do you think of the eleventh season of The Walking Dead so far? Give us your thoughts in the comment section below!