This review contains spoilers for The Walking Dead season 11, episode 8, “For Blood.”
Though all of my expectations for the 2021 finale of The Walking Dead, “For Blood,” were thrown out when the episode stayed singularly focused on Meridian the entire time, it contained solid drama and compelling character interactions nonetheless. “For Blood” leaves viewers with a half-dozen questions, but the scant answers we do get are satisfying.
For all its ups and downs, The Walking Dead always seems to deliver a strong finale, which this third-of-season episode continues. While major cliffhangers can always heighten the drama of even a bad episode, “For Blood” is a good one because of the drama between Daryl and Leah.
As Maggie’s small group herds the sea of walkers to Meridian’s doors, viewers are treated to an exciting dramatic irony, where Daryl knows why the walkers are acting so strangely by moving in circles as they are, but no one else in the Reapers has seen it before. Eventually Pope guesses not quite that Maggie is walking among them, but that she’s somehow manipulated them, which is all he needs to know.
Pope’s reaction to this revelation is interesting. He’s partly impressed, like an elite chess player who can’t help but appreciate his opponent’s foresight and tactics. Arming themselves for war with the horde, Maggie and Gabriel flank off while Daryl quietly assists from inside the walls, dispatching at least one guard in cold blood. It’s risky and thus very exciting, like in a video game when you’re trying to hide the body just before another guard on patrol rounds the corner.
The decision to exclude the Commonwealth entirely from “For Blood” irked me at first, because I haven’t understood why the Walking Dead writers keep dragging out the Commonwealth’s “good guy or bad guy” reveal. But now I think I get it. For one, it’s probably going to provide for another comic remix, so the swerve will be worth the wait, I hope. But more importantly, with Daryl being the de facto main character of the show now, “For Blood” is Norman Reedus’ time to shine more than ever before, and that he does.
Daryl takes a huge risk and reveals to Leah who he really is, that his people are herding the walkers, and that Leah can leave with him. Things look promising when she helps kill Pope, but as it turns out, she’s loyal to neither of them. Pope was becoming unhinged, so she justifies his killing in that way, which completes that part of her arc we’ve been watching all season. But there’s more to it for her. Daryl lied and killed her “family” too, and the moment when she betrays him and signals for Reapers to come get him is a real jaw-dropper.
I’d been burning with curiosity all season about what would happen when Leah and Daryl met back up with Carol — how awkward would that love triangle be? It caught me off guard to take that scenario off the table.
While it’s a bit frustrating that this plotline extends into the new year — shades of the Governor surviving season 3 come to mind — I do take some comfort in knowing it’s now less of a Reapers versus Alexandrians story and more of a Daryl versus Leah story. I expect the Reapers to put those menacing masks back on and get back to their hunter-killer ways in episode 9, and I do expect them to even kill at least one major character — my money’s on Gabriel after he spared the Reapers’ priestly soldier.
The first Walking Dead episode of the new year could be a great one as this storyline develops even further. I do hope they wrap it up soon and focus on the Commonwealth for the bulk of the remaining season, but this 2021 finale episode definitely elevated my opinion of season 11 as a whole.