Last week’s episode of The Walking Dead concluded with some very big moments leading into Season 11’s one third of the way finale. (Yes, I hate that we’re splitting the season into thirds, but at least it’s been a good one so far).
- Over in the Commonwealth, Eugene gave Governor Milton‘s son Sebastian a well-deserved punch to the face. Unfortunately, this landed our mulleted hero in jail, which allowed Deputy Governor Hornsby to coerce Alexandria’s location from him. In the meantime, Yumiko’s brother Tomi was imprisoned for no discernible reason. We also have the whole “Stephanie” thing going on, but who knows when that’ll get resolved. Unfortunately, this plotline has been shelved until the next eight episode mini-season in February.
- Leah and Daryl decided to let some random people they found escape with their lives, which went against Pope‘s orders. Fortunately for them, that’s likely not to be investigated very thoroughly because of the next item.
- Maggie, Negan, Elijah, and Gabriel used the Whisperer herding method to gather a gigantic horde of zombies, which are now headed for the Reapers at Meridian. If that’s not enough drama for you, Gabriel and Mancea (the Reaper’s weird preacher) totally saw each, but didn’t tell their respective leaders about the encounter.
There are also a couple big plot lines from previous episodes that will be coming into play:
- Alexandria’s defenses and food rations are still critically low.
- CONNIE IS BACK!
As always, the recap portion of this review will contain plenty of spoilers. The sequence of events has also been streamlined for the sake of clarity.
The episode opens with the Reapers taking note of the giant zombie horde near their base. Instead of swarming toward them, however, the walkers (or “rotters” as the Reapers call them) are stumbling about in a weird-yet-purposeful holding pattern. Carver doesn’t think their odd behavior means anything, but Pope knows something’s up.
Daryl offers to herd the zombies away and double back to Meridian. Pope agrees with the plan, but orders Wells to do it instead of him. What starts as a seemingly easy task turns deadly when Wells ends up being flanked in the woods. As he tries to defend himself on two fronts, Maggie and Negan sneak by and stab him, giving their walker horde a well deserved meal and scoring their first Reaper kill.
When Leah can’t hail Wells on the radio, she decides to go after him, but is stopped by Pope. He knows that this is something more than just a random rotter attack — it was the people they’ve been hunting. He’d already suspected as much, but couldn’t be 100% sure until he sent Wells out.
Leah is furious that one of their own was used as bait, but Pope justifies his decision due to Wells being a “soldier.” When Leah pushes back, he kicks the rationalization up a notch by declaring that Wells fate was actually decided by God. Leah looks like she’s about to finally rebel, but stands down when Pope belittles her for being insubordinate ever since her “boyfriend” showed up. He then states that sacrificing Wells (who was “like a son” to him) was a difficult decision, but also the right one since it provided valuable intel they can use to finally defeat their enemy.
That night, the Reapers are both perplexed and frustrated when the walker horde disappears. Pope asks Daryl what he can tell him about Maggie. He once again plays dumb, which causes Pope to openly question why he’s allowing him to stick around and/or live. Daryl responds (and totally dunks on him) by pointing out that he said it was God’s will for him to become part of the Reapers.
Instead of conceding the point, Pope likens Daryl to a dog he rescued who also had severe trust issues. After the dog bit him, he strangled the poor creature to death.
Leah attempts to diffuse the situation by pointing out that Daryl is an excellent tracker. Unfortunately, the only tracking advice he can give is that Maggie might be hiding in some nearby trees.
Before things can boil over, the meeting is interrupted by a call on the radio announcing that the walker horde is back. Everyone heads outside and watches as the zombies approach Meridian. Pope finally figures out that Maggie knows how to herd the walkers. He also isn’t worried on the account of the land mines that are set up around the perimeter, which promptly begin going off.
As zombie guts fly into the air, Pope notices that Leah seems disturbed and correctly assumes it’s because of the people they’ve lost in his quest for vengeance. This leads him to give a speech about how the Reapers were chosen by God and that their sacrifices were not made in vein.
Meanwhile, Daryl spots Maggie and Gabriel in their skin masks moments before they break off from the horde and head toward the main wall. They’re nearly spotted by Powell before Daryl pretends to do a perimeter check, intercepts him, and offers the man a smoke. Instead of lighting it for him, however, he stabs Powell through the head and dumps his body over the wall.
A surprised yet grateful Maggie and Gabriel drag Powell’s body out of sight. Daryl then gives them directions to the food storage area before heading there himself and breaking the lock. After they make it through the wall, Maggie sends Gabriel to get a secretly stashed weapon while she goes off to get some sweet revenge.
Back on the frontlines, Elijah is hit by shrapnel from one of the land mines and has to be helped by Negan to keep from falling down. Thankfully, enough of the horde has made it through to keep them hidden. The hint of a smile barely has time to cross Daryl’s face before Pope tells Leah to ready the hwacha (multi-rocket launcher), which she says will end the conflict right then and there.
As they prepare to fire the weapon, Leah once again expresses her disgust at Pope using Wells as bait. This gives Daryl an opening to ask if she really buys all that stuff he says about them being chosen by God. Leah implies she doesn’t, but that the hard times he got them through still commands her loyalty. She then asks Daryl if he ever wondered what life would’ve been like if they’d never left their cabin.
After dancing around things for a bit, Daryl finally confesses that he’s been working for the enemy and that his people are the ones leading the dead toward them. He also explains that they’re just trying to gather food for starving families and begs her not to kill them.
Leah is incensed that Daryl lied to her, but doesn’t outright reject his suggestion that she abandon the Reapers and return to Alexandria with him. She also doesn’t sell him out when Pope walks up and asks what the two of them were discussing, although he definitely suspects something is amiss. After Daryl and Leah exchange meaningful glances, Pope commands his newest team member to be the one who finds and brings him Maggie once they’ve obliterated her horde (assuming she survives).
Unbeknownst to him, Maggie is in the middle of hot wiring a truck. She successfully starts it, drives the vehicle toward the main gate, and jumps out moments before it smashes through, allowing walkers to pour into Meridian.
As Reapers run into the courtyard and futilely attempt to clear the horde, Pope orders Ancheta to fire the hwacha on their location. The soldier hesitates, but ultimately obeys. Leah, on the other hand, is not about to watch more of her adopted family get sacrificed. She officially decides she’s had enough when Pope says God will be the one who determines if they live or die (instead of the rockets he’s about to launch directly at them) and claims he shouldn’t be questioned since the Lord speaks through him.
Daryl makes the first move to kill Pope, but Leah uses his momentary hesitation to jam a knife through her former leader’s neck. Ancheta starts to make a move toward her, but gets taken down by Daryl, who also stops the lit hwacha fuse from reaching the rockets.
Meanwhile, Maggie is nearly taken down by Deaver before he’s sniped by Gabriel from a nearby window. Despite having extensive military training and weapons of their own, the others Reapers panic and scatter like kids who got caught swimming at a neighborhood pool after dark.
Back up near the hwacha, Leah stabs Pope through the head to confirm the kill. She then checks to make sure Ancheta is dead, gets on her radio, and tells the rest of the Reapers that Daryl just murdered their leader and has been working for the enemy the entire time. Like the rest of us, Daryl is completely shocked that she would do this. When he asks why, Leah explains that Pope started caring more about his war and delusions of grandeur than his people, who she would do anything to protect.
Bad Moon Rising
Over in Alexandria, Aaron and others try to shore up the house where a bunch of main characters (including Connie) are staying as a bad storm rolls in. Judith tries to keep the kids calm by telling them how Michonne used to say that storms are always followed by clear skies. This leads to R.J. saying that he misses their mom.
Before the heartbreak can really set in, lightning strikes a nearby windmill and catches it on fire. As if that weren’t bad enough, the makeshift repairs to the wall are starting to blow away, leaving the town completely exposed.
Aaron puts three teams together to handle the crisis:
- Team 1: Put out the windmill fire, which is drawing walkers toward them.
- Teams 2: Fix the wall.
- Team 3: Protect the main characters back at the house.
Despite just getting back in town, Connie insists on helping to fix the wall and/or windmill. She also asks to be with Carol, which could either be a gesture of peace or a path toward making things extremely awkward.
Judith asks Carol if she can help, and agrees to stay behind and help the other kids feel less scared.
As Rosita, Lydia, and Dianne board up the house, Judith gives Gracie a pep talk on using her fear by focusing it into her ability to fight/survive. Virgil notices that the talk seems to genuinely help Gracie and tells Judith her mom would be proud of her.
Judith then asks if he knows where Michonne went, but Virgil says he doesn’t. Instead, this dude who barely knew her begins a soliloquy about how he sees Michonne in the way Judith holds her sword, how they’re always with each other despite being apart, etc.
Thankfully, this cringeworthy moment is brought to screeching halt when a walker reaches through one of the boarded up windows and grabs Gracie. Judith is able to save her, but more walkers from another nearby wall breach and begin surrounding and banging on the house. When the defense team is unable to hold back the door any longer, Rosita goes outside and takes down a bunch of walkers by herself.
It makes for a somewhat cool moment, but only allows the group a short reprieve before a horde of zombies are at the door again.
Dianne helps Judith shepherd most of the group upstairs while Rosita and Lydia try to keep the door closed. After Rosita peels off to get to safety (at Lydia’s behest), Judith notices that she can’t find Gracie. She eventually discovers her friend searching the basement (which is flooding) for a weapon so she can “be like her.”
Judith breaks off a table leg, gives it to her, and tries to lead them back upstairs only to find the main floor crawling with zombies. She closes and locks the basement door, but that won’t keep them safe for long–especially with the water level beginning to rise.
Fire of Resentment
Back at Meridian, Daryl joins Negan and Elijah in taking down walkers and Reapers alike. Just when things look like they’re about to start getting good, the Reapers get a command on their radio to fall back.
Negan is slightly amused that their opponents are retreating, but Maggie knows there has to be a reason they gave up.
Sure enough, Leah relit the hwacha and has it aimed directly toward them. She continues to stare at the group with cold determination as CGI rockets begin to reign down on the courtyard.
I wanted to like this episode a lot more than I did, mostly because of how things played out with Leah.
Once again, The Walking Dead eschewed the easy narrative for something far more interesting. Pope’s death offered Leah an escape into the second part of a yet another redemption arc. Instead, Leah’s beliefs and fierce loyalty to her people proved to be far more than simple devices to maintain tension. She actually held true to them, turning her heroic moment into the birth of a new and even more terrifying antagonist.
It also helped that Leah’s reasons for betraying Pope were both 100% believable and completely in line with everything we’d seen from her. This wasn’t a decision she took lightly, but was also inevitable after what happened with Wells. Once Pope endeavored to launch rockets at his own people, there wasn’t any question about what she would do.
Leah’s betrayal was shocking, but wonderfully consistent with this season’s theme of family and loyalty. Even Negan recognized what he should have done as the Savior’s leader (killed all of Rick’s group) despite that not being his life anymore. In Leah’s case, the Reapers are both her family and identity. That bond is more important to her than any individual desire — and certainly more important than their delusional former leader.
Was it a bit contrived how Daryl took down Ancheta, thus sparing her from having to hypocritically sacrifice a teammate to keep her secret? Sure, but it’s a small price to pay for such a good payoff.
It was also a lot of fun watching Maggie’s plan somewhat come to fruition. Obviously there’s still the issue of Leah launching rockets at them, but main character antibodies should offer suitable protection. Elijah is the only one I’m worried about and he’s likely too cool of a character to be killed off yet. If someone important is going to get taken down (like Pope), it’s going to happen in one of the three “finales” for this season, not a premiere.
I realize that’s not exactly how things happened for her husband, but I’m sticking to it.
I will say that I’m still a bit perplexed over how Maggie expects to bring a significant amount of food back from Meridian to Alexandria. Perhaps she always intended to hot wire a truck and/or wipe out the Reapers before making the long haul back from the world’s most dangerous grocery store. Until that’s explained, however, it feels like an odd if somewhat inconsequential oversight.
Speaking of inconsequential, it’s all types of frustrating that we finally got Connie back only for her to disappear a few minutes into the episode — especially when she specifically asked to work with Carol. I get that we’ll see how things play out between them (and the rest of the main characters who went outside) when The Walking Dead returns next year. But the decision to focus on the much less interesting characters/story inside the house for a partial season (ugh) finale was disappointing — especially with the Commonwealth plotlines being completely absent.
Look, I love Judith as much as anybody, but her having to babysit Gracie just didn’t interest me much. Maybe it’s because we haven’t seen her enough or all the stuff happening outside is too distracting. Either way, the only fear I feel about Gracie’s potential death is due to her being a cute little kid who’s also Aaron’s adopted daughter. I don’t think any of us are actually worried Judith won’t make out of that basement alive.
In fact, the only character I’m really worried from the house group was Lydia. Add in the bizarre focus on Virgil along with Rosita’s cringeworthy action hero moment, and you’ve got a partial season (UGH) finale plotline that’s nowhere near as interesting as the others.
All that being said, the episode’s main plotline is more than enough to make me continue feeling optimistic about the direction this final season is headed. In addition to fresh and interesting narratives, The Walking Dead has successfully turned a tired narrative into something much more potent. Leah and the Reapers are just as deadly as any other Group of Psychos we’ve seen, but with a devastatingly personal component.
We’re already in the middle of a pretty good redemption arc with Negan. Now we get to see how things play out when the show’s big bad is also someone who holds the heart of one of our most beloved characters.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but February 20, 2022 can’t get here soon enough.
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