UK TV review: The Walking Dead: Season 11, Episode 4 (Rendition)
Neil Brazier | On 14, Sep 2021
Season 11 of The Walking Dead premieres weekly on Mondays. This is a spoiler-free review. Read on below for spoilery notes – and read our other Season 11 reviews here.
Rendition gives us an insight into the latest villains to invade The Walking Dead, The Reapers – and, it turns out, we’ve known some of them longer than we thought. The episode returns us to the woods when the survivors were first attacked at the end of Acheron Part II, but this time we follow Daryl (Norman Reedus) as he and Dog make their escape. Alone and trying to stealthily navigate his way to safety, Daryl covers himself in zombie guts as camouflage to avoid the Reaper who is hunting him. This proves in vain (and seems to only serve the purpose of a joke later in the episode) – despite his best efforts to avoid them, Dog betrays his master and gives Daryl up as the Reapers take them both in for questioning.
It appears the zombie apocalypse either turns you into moral survivors planting crops and trying to rebuild society or it turns you into a psychopath. The Reapers are the latter, but they are no different from the Whisperers, the Saviours or any of the other villainous groups our survivors have encountered. The Reapers’ highly skilled military training makes them incredibly dangerous, but each group has had its threats, some more unique and imaginative than others. For one of the final season’s antagonists, and an original, non-comic entity, it feels as though the show has run out of ideas.
What makes Daryl’s encounter with them slightly different is that he knows one of these Reapers personally. Their presence does feel a little shoe-horned in, their being there a way to save Daryl from being executed on the spot like some of the others in his party. Their connection doesn’t save him from being tortured for information but Daryl, being the hardened survivor he is, oozes cool and calmness.
His perseverance throughout affords him an audience with their mysterious leader, Pope (Ritchie Coster), but not before Daryl must pass one more trial by fire. Pope then fills us in with the backstory to the Reapers and how, as former soldiers, they felt their country turned their back on them, which led them to become mercenaries. When the world fell and they survived certain death, Pope believed they became a higher power doing God’s work. The speech does a fair job of warning Daryl how dangerous the Reapers are, but Pope goes on to show rather than tell, brutally emphasising the mantra and rules that Daryl must abide by if he is to become one of them.
The episode focuses solely on the Reapers and makes us wait to learn more about the Commonwealth. It feels as though there is lots of story left to tell in this world but not an awful lot of time left to tell it. Rendition could easily have shared the time with other stories, as spending an entire episode with a group who are the typical enemies we’ve come to expect does feel wasted. Daryl-centric episodes are always nice to have, but he is an original character surviving from Season 1; we’re not going to learn anything new about him. Rendition really is about the one Reaper we’ve met before and we learn very little about them.
The series runs the risk of repeating itself with this revelation and so soon too. We’re specifically thinking about Negan’s infiltration and disposal of the Whisperers – and this episode does open with Daryl covering himself in blood, something he would have done to avoid the Whisperers. Maybe the writers are getting confused? It would also be hard to believe that Daryl would sell out his family just because he once shared bread with a Reaper and, as the episode proves, they may end up being their own worst enemy anyway.
The Walking Dead: Season 1 to 11 is available on Disney+, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription or a £79.99 yearly subscription.
Innards and entrails (spoilers)
We will admit when we’ve made a mistake and we hold our hands up at this one. Back in the addendum episode Find Me, we suggested that Leah (Lynn Collins) might have been a figment of Daryl’s imagination. It turns out that she wasn’t, as here she is, alive and well as a Reaper. Her presence is awfully coincidental and fortunate for Daryl – if it wasn’t for her, he might be dead. But looking back at Find Me, Leah did explain that she was part of a military unit and lost contact with them.
As Daryl is trying to escape capture, one of the Reapers gets their hands on Dog and looks like they are going to kill him. Daryl changes at this point – he would do anything to save his beloved pet. Those feelings may have changed when, later, not only does Dog sidle up to Leah, but also seems to want to stay with her rather than return to Daryl.
Leah tries to get information out of Daryl for the majority of the episode, even putting him through water torture. Her interference may have saved his life as the other Reapers seem happy to take the torture to the extreme. Daryl refuses to break but his cover is almost blown when he is put in a cell next to another captured from Maggie’s party. He manages to send a not-so-subtle wink to the other prisoner, who corroborates Daryl’s story.
After sweet-talking Pope, Leah is able to get Daryl an audience with him. The two are put in a shack and told to wait but are then locked in and the shack is set on fire. Daryl manages to get a window open and throws Leah to safety before escaping himself. This act of selflessness is what Pope wanted to see. The fire was a test. The Reapers stand around the building with slight smiles on their faces that Daryl could be just what they’re looking for. But what if Daryl hadn’t been as quick thinking? Pope seemed happy to let one of his own die, which is confusing considering the next point…
Pope isn’t happy to learn of the deaths the Reapers have suffered at the hands of their enemies, explaining in his best evil villain tone that they will “feel our wrath”. There aren’t many Reapers and losing some of their family angers them, but you can’t help feeling that maybe there would be more of them if they stopped blowing themselves up to avoid capture? This point is later compounded when the group are relaxing after their hunt and eating around a campfire.
One of the Reapers who carried his dead brother 10 miles back to the camp is praised for the endurance he showed. But then Pope starts to get overly excited and questions why this Reaper has injuries to his back. No soldier who was brave and fearless would get injuries on their back, Pope deduces – these scars must have been because the soldier was running away. That is not good enough and so, despite his earlier praise for the soldier and his complaint they are small in number, Pope decides to throw the soldier on the fire and hold him down until it melts his face off. It’s a sickening act from someone who is supposed to be a leader and it’s face-wrenching to watch.
The others continue to eat their meal, but there is definite tension in the air. If Daryl was thinking of turning his back on his family, that idea is completely shelved now. Nobody tries to stop Pope or stand up to him – is this regular behaviour? It is all good intel for Daryl to take home with him, should he manage to escape.