This review contains spoilers for The Walking Dead season 11, episode 4, “Rendition.”
It had been rough going for The Walking Dead‘s swansong so far. The writing in the first three episodes regressed somewhat into the sloppiness of weaker seasons, while the show’s new threat, the Reapers, seemed like an unnecessary stopgap between the Alexandrians and the Commonwealth. However, episode 4, “Rendition,” has lifted my spirits back up to where they were at the height of The Walking Dead’s Whisperer War arc.
“Rendition” is an all-Daryl episode, no other main cast members included at all. He is taken prisoner by the Reapers, revealing more about this masked group of exacting killers in the process, including why they can strike with such swiftness and the fitting reasons why their leader is named Pope.
As it turns out, the Reapers are a religious group of ex-mercenaries — and ex-military before that. Their penchant for quick, precise strikes on the Alexandrian and Meridian groups comes from those days. A so-called miracle spared Pope and his troops, convincing them their killer instinct was a weapon of god. While their religious background was teased last week, this added dimension of being former mercs makes them much more compelling. Their powers combined with their false beliefs in being a “chosen people” could provide a fascinating new angle for villains.
Pope is a confident man with a clear code of conduct. His actions may still be as ruthless as Negan’s or the Governor’s, but he is neither as self-centered as the former nor as unhinged as the latter. He and his people truly believe they have been “chosen,” and that sort of confidence can be fatal, as we already saw once in this episode. Pope earnestly has his whole group’s well-being at heart. But if you end up on his proverbial no-fly list, he doesn’t hesitate to take you out. Even with a rogues’ gallery as illustrious as in The Walking Dead, Pope feels excitingly fresh and unique after “Rendition.”
This episode succeeds not just in deepening our understanding of the suddenly enticing Reapers, but it also reveals an unexpected link to Daryl that caught me off guard. When the synopsis mentioned meeting a figure from Daryl’s past, I figured we would finally be catching up with Connie, whom I presumed was also taken prisoner. Instead, it’s Leah from the episode “Find Me,” which I still cite as the best episode in the pandemic run.
As an integral member of the Reapers, Leah poses an engrossing challenge for Daryl. He seems legitimately in love with her, but he continues to protect his friends at Alexandria by pretending they’re strangers to him. In fact, they both seem to be playing each other and are both hurt when the other tries to circumvent their own important questions. It’s like they have to hide their feelings while they battle as enemies, even though no one looking on is fooled, least of all each other when they lie about their respective groups.
I’m excited to see how this plays out, especially with the Commonwealth always lingering over the whole season-long storyline. Will the Reapers get wiped out? It seems like an inevitability. But then what of Daryl? Will he leave Leah’s side if she’s alive? How far will he go for her versus, say, Carol? In the post-Rick Grimes era, Daryl has been catapulted into the spotlight, and he’s really shined. I’m glad to see him getting such a compelling storyline in these final episodes, and I find myself rooting for the star-crossed lovers even as it’s hard to foresee a happy ending.
“Rendition” does a lot to inspire confidence in this final season of The Walking Dead again. I’m so eager to see the series end on its highest note possible, and I hope episodes such as this one will slowly raise the bar and build to a worthy sendoff a year from now.