The Walking Dead season 11 episode 4 spoilers follow.
Eleven seasons in, The Walking Dead has a major challenge on its hands. How do you keep things fresh in a post-apocalyptic world where humans have long been established as more dangerous than any mere walker?
The Commonwealth storyline is certainly a step in the right direction. Rebuilding civilisation is an inevitable goal of this franchise, much like it was in the comics, and bringing in a morally ambiguous group who can make this happen certainly bodes well for the end of this series.
But in the meantime, how do you raise the stakes outside of those walls, and how do you maintain this tension across a bumper-sized final season of 24 episodes? The answer of course is bring in some more random sickos, because as we all know by now, Humans Were The Biggest Threat All Along™. Cue The Reapers, a crazed military group who like to dabble in a spot of murder, all in the name of God.
Fans were first introduced to these skull-clad killers back in season 10C where we learned that they had decimated Maggie’s base camp and were now on the hunt for Maggie herself. Clearly, our fearless warrior has done something to piss them off big-time because one Reaper told Maggie that a man called Pope has “marked her.” And with that, he very casually blew himself up with a grenade, smiling as his body was ripped apart by the explosion.
This eerie calm instantly positioned the Reapers as a foe to be feared because if they’re willing to die for the greater “good” of their group, that makes them even more dangerous. And the personal connection between Maggie and Pope also heightens the tension even more, investing viewers in a way that casual zombies do not.
Given all this, there was a lot riding on season eleven’s latest episode, which finally introduced us to The Reapers in full. But what’s interesting about ‘Rendition’ is that it actually calls back more to a different bonus episode from season ten, the one where Daryl’s relationship with a woman named Leah is revealed.
Early on in ‘Rendition’, Daryl discovers that Leah is now a Reaper herself, which sort of puts a dampener on their reunion. Clearly, our shaggy-haired hero is gutted about this development, but he tries to keep that to himself while figuring out what the Reapers want from him and his friends.
After the Reapers torture Daryl, Leah eventually buys his cover story, but before he can “join” their ranks, the man only known as Pope puts him through a rather brutal ordeal. Trapped in a burning shack, Daryl chooses to save Leah before himself, which means that he’s passed Pope’s test and is now officially one of the gang.
That’s great and all, but haven’t we seen this story play out before? It wasn’t so long ago that Negan infiltrated the Whisperers. The only big difference here is that Daryl actually has feelings for one of the Reapers, whereas Negan was definitely not feeling Alpha in the same way.
At the end of this episode, Pope cements himself as a bona fide nutcase when he melts a guy’s face off by holding him down in a huge fire. It’s gruesome, and it’s chilling, but again, we can’t quite shake off this feeling of déjà vu.
Coming after a concept like the Whisperers, these Reapers feel like a major step-down. A God-fearing cult of former mercenaries isn’t exactly original in the grand scheme of things, and that’s particularly true on a show where other groups like The Saviours and The Wolves have already covered similar ground.
Of course, it’s still early days. As previously mentioned, that Maggie connection has us intrigued and Daryl’s feelings for Leah will undoubtedly complicate things moving forward. But as it stands, skull masks and military training don’t exactly freak us out like past groups have. If anything, we’re still reeling from what Carol did the week before.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays on AMC in the US. UK viewers can now watch all episodes via STAR on Disney+, where new episodes of season 11 will premiere each Monday.
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