NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “The Walking Dead” are present in this review
After my brief hiatus from reviewing, it’s finally time to catch back up with The Walking Dead a few episodes deep into its eleventh and final season. This week presents another character-focused episode, one that builds off of one of the bonus episodes that were retroactively added to Season 10 earlier this year. “Rendition” centers almost entirely around Daryl, thus making him the eyes of the audience for our proper introduction to the Reapers’ operations. This comes after Daryl is separated from his party and captured, something that also comes alongside a shocking (not really) reunion with someone he knew many years ago.
Obviously, there was eventually going to be a payoff to follow the Daryl-focused, “Find Me” episode from last season, and that payoff has now come. Yes, Lynn Collins’ Leah has returned to The Walking Dead, somewhat unsurprisingly having fallen in with the Reapers. This episode tries to initially make it sort of a mystery that the Reapers’ one conspicuous female character has her eye on Daryl, but considering that Daryl’s encounter with Leah aired this very year, it isn’t much of a shock that it’s Leah underneath the mask. Regardless, Daryl’s brief reunion with Leah leads to both him and Dog getting captured, which, on top of finally paying off some of the teases behind that Daryl/Leah romance, also gives us a good chance to meet this season’s first primary antagonist.
Before that though, Daryl is imprisoned and interrogated at length by the Reapers, and not much else happens. Unsurprisingly, this leads to a first half for this week’s episode that’s quite sluggish, and doesn’t carry much of an interesting structure. There are some decent scenes wherein Daryl has to try and cover up his affiliation with Alexandria, and especially Maggie, but there’s not much suspense ultimately achieved with this. After all, if Daryl is found out, he’ll be killed, meaning that the show’s story can’t move forward, and neither can AMC’s in-development Carol/Daryl-focused spin-off series. Obviously, we can’t have that.
One thing leads to another, and eventually, Daryl is locked in a cabin with Leah, which is then set on fire. This comes after we’ve already met the Reapers’ leader, and gotten a peek at some of their rather religious rituals, which, unsurprisingly, includes baptism by fire. Daryl and Leah both survive this inferno regardless, which Leah is somehow completely alright with (is the implication that Leah would have died if Daryl failed to escape in time?), and this leads to the Reapers’ leader, Pope accepting Daryl into his ranks. Oh yeah, in another of The Walking Dead’s already-spoiled secrets, the leader of the Reapers is named Pope, and, shock of shocks, he’s a psychopath.
A big part of why this episode is a bit of a dud in many respects is the fact that Pope and the Reapers just flat out aren’t working as credible villains at this point. Pope is an unimpressive-looking military stooge with granny glasses and a silly moustache, and the fact that he executes his own henchmen for simply turning their back in battle (as much as death by being forced face-first into a campfire is effectively grisly!), isn’t intimidating, it’s silly. That’s cartoon villain shit! Worse still is that Pope’s Reaper faction is so small, consisting of only about fifteen people, that it’s difficult to believe Maggie’s former group could ever struggle with them. In fairness, maybe the Reapers used to have a lot more members, but you see, this is kind of the problem with killing your own henchmen, and encouraging them to blow themselves up; Eventually, you run out of bad guys!
So, no, I’m not sold on the Reapers at this point to say the least, especially when they’re yet another made-up TV faction that doesn’t exist in the Walking Dead comics. That said though, the dynamic between Daryl and Leah, and Daryl having to embed himself in the Reapers on a temporary basis, does hold some promise. Daryl and Dog being separated from Alexandria is a significant blow when they’re already starving, and considering that Pope is comically unhinged, Daryl will have to be very careful with how he navigates that threat over the first chunk of this season. Considering all of Daryl’s recent friction with Carol as well, it feels especially interesting to see how he may or may not develop a romance with Leah, effectively giving Daryl another major support system that could test his loyalty to his established group in Alexandria. Okay, probably not in the short term, but this is still another interesting way to take Daryl’s character in a new direction nonetheless.
“Rendition” has to spend its entire runtime trying to sell viewers on the Reapers, and to be honest, it doesn’t do a great job. The scenes with Daryl and Leah are generally good at least, and the implications of Daryl having to keep his head down with the Reapers creates another interesting obstacle for Maggie, and for Alexandria. Beyond that though, the Reapers are silly, non-sensical villains that don’t feel like they should have given Maggie’s group all that much trouble. Moreover, they continue to steal attention away from the more interesting and promising story arcs that this season is brewing at Alexandria and the Commonwealth. There’s still time for the Reapers to become better villains that effectively service the front portion of this season, but for now, they’re not really gelling as baddies. Hell, at the rate that Pope is inexplicably killing his own people, maybe the Reaper threat will sort itself out before Alexandria even has to get properly involved.
- Daryl's tense reunion with Leah
- Daryl being embedded with the Reapers creates a promising obstacle
- Pope's suitably grisly theatrics
- Pope and the Reapers are unimpressive, ridiculous villains
- Sluggish first half is a chore
- No real suspense behind Daryl's espionage