As always, before you read on, there are spoilers ahead for this week’s review of The Walking Dead. After seven weeks, we’ve reached the mid-season finale, the first of two, some might forget, to The Walking Dead’s bumper 24-special swansong season. So, to dive right in, the Reaper’s top man, the fanatically religious maniac Pope (Richie Coster), is on his way to meeting the big man at the pearly gates, and about time too. He’s utterly convinced Maggie and her crew are responsible for turning the dead against the living and luring the army toward the walls of Meridian.
His rift with Leah is widening too, who indirectly blames Pope for the loss of her friends, particularly Wells, a Reaper who becomes ambushed by Maggie and Negan while luring the herd away from their sanctuary. It’s evident she’s quickly losing her faith in someone whom she considered a father figure, much like the same as I’m losing faith in this overall story. With Pope preparing to launch an attack, he’s set to go full Ramsey Bolton against his people in a bid to wipe out the undead in the grounds of Meridian, and just in the nick of time, both Daryl and Leah work together to take out the Reaper head honcho (no pun intended, but Leah does plunge a blade into the back of his head).
Coster’s performance as the wonderfully maniacal Pope has been a highlight within this first half of Season 11, it’s a shame the same can’t be said for the Reaper arc overall. For the most part in this episode, they stand around and do very little, other than watch the advancing herd approach the gates of Meridian before preparing one final assault against the flesh-eating invaders (more than that later). Without their masks, the Reapers lose any mystery and threat. They now appear to be little more than another deadly, ragtag group of Savior imitators, the likes of which we’ve seen time and time again. Across the course of the episode, the Reapers will begin to drop in numbers, while the true number of the group appears to randomly fluctuate from one episode to the next. It’s almost as if the Reapers possess the ability to instantly respawn when another dies, a trick pulled by the Saviors throughout Season 8’s All-Out-War arc.
The trajectory of Leah’s character is the most significant of anyone else in this episode, and she’s been the most interesting character to watch. She’s forced to kill Pope to protect her friends, later learns that Daryl had betrayed her from the beginning, revealing himself to be one of Maggie’s people all along, while simultaneously dealing with the grief of losing her fellow Reapers. She sacrifices any future with Daryl by falsely accusing the archer of her leader’s death, outing him as a traitor for the other side, before firing the Reaper’s biggest weapon from their arsenal, a man-made, Korean War-style Hwacha, a multiple rocket launcher capable of firing hundreds of rocket-powered arrows (said I’d come back to that).
It’s sad (and a tad predictable) to imagine that Daryl and Leah may not get their happy-ever-after as many of us first hoped, but Leah’s character development throughout Episode 8 feels real and tragic at the same time. To protect her family, those she cares most about, Leah is prepared to sacrifice a chance at love to keep her people alive, a point she makes to the archer in that, he’d do the same for his own. There is, however, a part of me that prays she’ll make it, and that despite whatever carnage is set to ensure in the next half of Season 11, Leah will establish herself as a member of Daryl’s group. Because this show has been in dire, dire need of an upgrade with their main cast since Maggie’s Meridian group were all dead by Episode 3. Frustrated sigh.
With Pope dead and the Reapers dropping like flies, Leah orders her people to retreat from the courtyard, just before she launches the Hwacha onto the undead, where hidden among the herd, Maggie, Negan, and Daryl are all clustered together. The closing moments of the episode focus on Leah as the arrows begin to fly (including a silly 3-D effect as an arrow pierces the screen), leaving us all wondering whether or not any of the main cast members will meet their fate. I’ll say this much, with the amount of plot armor surrounding the show’s remaining cast, I am not worried in the least.
Meanwhile, over in Alexandria, things have been progressively worsening for some time, and this week, the desperate community is faced with a storm. With lightning strikes setting fire to the windmill, doors rotting on their hinges, and windows being blown in from the strong winds, it’s hard to imagine that it could get any worse. Until these same heavy winds take down the community’s walls and the undead swarm in. So…, it got worse. With battle plans drawn, Aaron, Carol, and Rosita, the three highest-ranking cast members left, take small teams to deal with the various problems.
What lets down the Alexandria segment of this week’s story is that the heart of the action. Those left contend with strong winds, a smattering of walkers, and tree branches taking out windows. Aside from a brief, brilliant spell of action from Rosita, who dishes out a lethal assault on walkers on the house’s front porch, the episode struggles to gather any real momentum as we’re left clueless as to what’s going on with the burning windmill and the missing wall panels. There are rarely any moments of real, intense danger to keep you interested, particularly considering it is a mid-season finale.
Virgil, however, makes a small mention of Michonne to Judith, and it’s a sweet moment that makes me long for the better days of the show, and praying that Danai Gurira will make her return before the series finale next year. In the final minutes of the episode, both Judith and Gracie, become trapped on a staircase between a swarm of walkers in the house and a flooding basement.
Judging by the frequent smatterings of death, gore, and religious Reaper rantings, you’d be forgiven for thinking that there are only sixteen episodes to go. Episode 8, with its sinister title, “For Blood”, certainly delivered on the violence, from a range of Reaper deaths to a minefield scattering the body parts of an undead herd far and wide, but by the credits, there’s a sense we’re some way off from a conclusion to the tiring Reaper arc, and even further off from the Commonwealth arc taking a front seat in this, the final season of The Walking Dead.
With sixteen to go, at this point, I’m not too worried, provided the Reaper arc is resolved no later than the mid-season premiere next year. If you’re all caught up with The Walking Dead, then make sure to take a look at last week’s review for “Promises Broken.”
What do you think of the eleventh season of The Walking Dead so far at the mid-season break? Give us your thoughts in the comment section below!