The repercussions of The Reapers’ attack on Maggie’s raiding party, which ended the Season Eleven two-parter Acheron, continue to reverberate through the storyline of the fourth episode Rendition. While last week’s episode Hunted tracked the pursuit of Maggie, and of those survivors she had reunited with, Rendition turns its attention to the plight of Daryl.
With its focus on just one of the show’s regulars, the drama of Hunted is shaped by two major character revelations: surprises that it’s impossible to review the episode without discussing.
Despite his best efforts to evade capture, as he heads to the rendezvous point, Daryl is detained by a Reaper snatch-squad. To his amazement, the head of the detail and the jailor put in charge of him is Leah - the woman he flinched from making a commitment to until it was too late in Season Ten’s Find Me.
During his period of self-imposed isolation from Alexandria, Daryl had become close to Leah, a fiercely independent and self-assured survivor living alone in a cabin in the woods. At first mutually suspicious, the pair gradually began to build a rapport and, in time, a romantic connection developed between them. When Leah sought a commitment from Daryl, he backed away. He later returned to the homestead they had been sharing only to find a note from the departed Leah expressing her disappointment and regret.
Leah’s return as an operative for the murderous Reapers is a jaw-drop shocker, made all the more impressive once it’s recognised that this was the showrunners’ plan for this one-off ‘guest’ character from the outset. Leah was a resilient and self-possessed loner throughout the time she and Daryl were together. But through her experiences since then, she’s toughened up and lost connection with the guarded empathy she previously displayed. She’s now a black-clad hunter tied to the merciless perspectives of the commander she had in her previous life as a mercenary.
Lynn Collins captures both focus and great presence as Leah’s backstory comes to light. Her character’s return in this new guise will add even more complications to the already difficult dynamic between Daryl and Carol.
It’s the much-anticipated appearance of the Reapers’ head-honcho Pope that delivers the second key thrill of Rendition. Each new human antagonist that the series’ heroes face must be forged from a different mould, to avoid the risks of repetition. With no equivalent in The Walking Dead graphic novels, Pope is a new character crafted to be as distinctive as possible from any of his infamous predecessors.
He’s arrogant, possessed of a rock-solid certainty about his twisted worldview, and motivated by rage and resentment. In that sense, he shares some character traits with The Governor, with Negan, and with Alpha. But while he’s no less ruthless, he has an introspective intensity, lacking in bombast or the need to project an image to impress others. He’s a zealot who kills without compunction, but just as his crew wear masks to disguise their appearance, it’s implied that his background in ‘special ops’ has encouraged him to embrace anonymity over celebrity. As Pope, Ritchie Coster makes a brooding, menacing debut. It's a strong performance, given extra impact by the moments of explosive violence in Nicole Mirante-Matthews’ script.
Daryl’s detention in the Reapers’ cellblock is the setting for the story's most harrowing scenes. Given the episode’s title, it’s no surprise that the interrogation scenes echo the real world abuses of the ‘extraordinary rendition’ programme of the ‘war on terror’. Reedus is always excellent when Daryl is locked up and persecuted. As the Reapers’ enforcers try to break his spirit, he resists in his usual wily fashion using different techniques to frustrate, deny, and mislead them. Daryl's relationship with Leah also goes through complex shifts as the pair attempt to negotiate a new way to be around each other (and Daryl lies about never deceiving her).
It sets up the basis for the two fiery set-pieces that bring the episode to a memorable close. When Daryl and Leah become trapped inside a blazing wooden cabin, their escape takes an unexpected turn. And when Pope holds court at an evening fireside celebration, his intolerance for weakness and his sociopathic tendencies burn bright. In order to survive, Daryl has found himself ensnared in the affairs of a cult, and entangled with a former lover now seemingly lost to the dark side. As he plots his escape, he will be left in no doubt about the horrors that the Reapers are capable of sowing.
New episodes of THE WALKING DEAD - SEASON 11 premiere Mondays in the UK on DISNEY+/STAR
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