By Kenny Garner
*WARNING: This article includes spoilers. Proceed at your own risk.*
Last month, AMC’s The Walking Dead wrapped up part one of their eleventh – and final – season. Coming off the heels of a mediocre season ten bonus chapter filmed during the pandemic, showrunner Angela Kang promised fans the show would return to its usual scope fans know and love for the final season. While the effects of the pandemic are still present, the show does seem to have returned to its original state, but the writing this season has been questionable.
I expected the wheels to be turning right out of the gate. This is the final season, after all. Instead, I got harassed with this boring Reapers arc. Don’t fear the Reaper, the old song says. Except I will fear the Reapers if this arc is any indication of what to expect from the remaining sixteen episodes. We were introduced to Leah in the bonus episode “Find Me” last season during Daryl’s search for brother-from-another-mother Rick Grimes. The two developed a romantic relationship, which didn’t please many fans. In the end, Leah took off without Daryl knowing and the next time we see her is in episode four of this season.
Leah is re-introduced as part of The Reapers; a group of mercenaries who felt betrayed by the U.S. government before the fall. They’re led by a former officer named Pope (real name unknown) and have taken up Bible study to cope with the stress caused by both combat in Afghanistan as well as the zombie apocalypse. They believe they’re God’s “Chosen Ones,” a label they adopted in the early days of the apocalypse after a vicious fire left them miraculously unscathed. In other words, they’re a religious cult. I like the idea behind this group, but the execution? It hasn’t been good.
Pope is mad at Maggie for some reason. We never learn what that reason is, but considering he orders his men to kill Maggie’s entire group of “Wardens,” it must have been something pretty damning. Or not. Who knows. They seem to be a powerful force despite both their numbers and the fact that Pope likes to murder his own men for absurd reasons. For example, in episode four, Pope accuses one of his men of abandoning a fellow comrade despite the fact the guy carried his companion’s dead body ten miles back to the Reapers’ compound, something Pope himself praised him for. There’s a knife wound on his back, though, which must mean he’s “no longer protected by God,” therefore prompting Pope to throw the poor guy into a fire pit. The Reapers are low on numbers, so obviously Pope isn’t too bright. This is our introduction to the Pope character.
It also doesn’t help that the Reapers are a repeat of groups we’ve already seen before. When we were introduced to them last season, they were this mysterious group of combat soldiers killing Maggie’s group off one by one from afar with snipers, all while wearing cool and intimidating masks. By episode six of this season, the masks are gone, and the group is entirely stripped of originality. They’re just a collective of deranged lunatics, much like nearly every other antagonistic group our protagonists have met. Pope is just a militarized version of Negan without the charisma and potty humor. His men are just dumb followers unable to see the blatant fact that Pope is a volatile hothead with only his own interests in mind. I liked this group better when I knew nothing about them.
In the end, Leah, the only Reaper with a compelling story, kills Pope to prevent him from blowing up his own men. Well, that was pointless. Don’t get me wrong, I like that Leah was the one to kill Pope. I just don’t get why the writers introduced Pope at all. He doesn’t really do anything momentous, and he never even goes face-to-face with his “enemy” (for some reason) Maggie. I kind of wish this group died in the writers’ room. If you need antagonists for this portion of the season, the Whisperers still exist, as revealed in the fifth episode. Continue that arc. It was far more interesting than this Blue Oyster Cult group.
Which brings me to the good stuff about this season. First, The Commonwealth. I’m enjoying what I’m seeing from this community thus far. This arc really does feel like the final chapter of the series and I’m excited to see how our group reacts to the community and their structure of government. The community does seem like a good place, but if that little brat Sebastian is any indication, the government of the Commonwealth may spell tumultuous for the Alexandrians.
The other thing I liked about this first part of the season is the dynamic between Maggie and Negan. They hate each other’s guts, but they’re forced to work together to survive this dumb Reapers group. The interactions between them have been compelling TV, and Negan teaching Maggie how to walk like a Whisperer, a group he infiltrated last season, to invade The Reapers’ compound and end them once and for all is brilliant. It’s an intriguing, and miserable, duo.
In conclusion, I didn’t outright hate part one of the eleventh season. I just thought it was confusing and uneventful for the start of a final season. If the writers focused more on the Commonwealth instead of the Reapers and added some significant and surprising moments to start the season off with a bang, I feel it’d be much better. Instead, they focused on a recycled and tired antagonistic concept that should’ve died with Alpha and Beta, which was a big letdown for me.