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The Walking Dead - Rendition - Review

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  The Walking Dead “Rendition” was written by Nicole Mirante-Matthews and was directed by Frederick E.O. Toye. It’s a Daryl (Norman Reedus) only episode and reunites him with Leah (Lynn Collins), who is one of the Reapers. It’s an intense episode, introducing Pope (Ritchie Coster), who is clearly the (or one of the) big bad of the season. However, I’m really beginning to feel like the show just has nothing really new to show us. This just feels like what is supposed to be a more severe version of the Saviors – the names almost rhyme! And the Commonwealth just feels like the Governor or even Alexandria (and certainly like World Beyond) again. But let’s take a look at this week’s episode. And just a quick note – I get AMC on cable. I won’t be paying for AMC+ because I can’t, so these reviews may be coming a bit late for some, for which I apologize…

It’s interesting that the last episode ended with an image invoking the worst thing that Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) ever did – killing Glenn and Abraham. It leads us directly into the parallels between the Saviors and Reapers. The week, we pick up back at the attack in the forest and follow Daryl and Dog as they work to escape the attack. For once Dog seems to actually be paying attention to Daryl. There’s a terrific fight in the woods with one of the Reapers and Daryl isn’t faring great when Dog leaps in and bites the guy in the thigh. The guy gets hold of Dog and flings him down a hill, with Daryl – and the entire audience screaming NO!!! Three others show up, and Daryl throws a knife – after already throwing his crossbow at the first – and gets away… But it’s clear that Leah has recognized him – and we get multiple closeups of her eyes – she is wearing a mask, but it’s clearly her. Collins does a great job clearly showing that she’s torn between her Reaper family and what she had with Daryl with just her eyes. I may not like the character, but I do appreciate the actor.

The next morning Daryl smears walker guts on his face – apparently that’s all you’ve got to do to fool walkers anymore. Daryl sees the radio tower he’s supposed to be heading towards when he hears Dog barking and runs toward him in a different direction. He finds the Reaper holding dog on a porch and tells them to let him go. Leah removes her mask and says she never thought she’d see him again. He says same. She asks what he’s doing out there. He claims to be alone, but she’s seen him with the others. She wants to know who they are and asks if he’s one of them, raising her gun to him. He denies it, and tries to get Dog to come with him and leave, telling her that he’s not part of whoever they’re fighting. Dog refuses to move and Daryl is quickly surrounded by the others. 

Daryl is tied up with a bag over his head and dragged back to the Reapers’ base. It’s exactly like when he was taken by Negan. We see him use some of the same techniques – such as counting off on his fingers, which are shaking. He’s breathing heavily because he’s been here before (and so have we…). He’s tied to a chair, and hears Pope say to Leah, “let’s see if you’re right” before the two are left alone. Daryl tells her that he came back for her and looked everywhere, and her face softens as he says it. He can’t understand why she hooked up with “these” people. She tells him that they are her family, and they never stopped looking for her. Going with them was coming home. He tells her that his family picked a fight with the wrong people a long time ago and he’s alone. She stares at him a long time and then declares that he’s filthy. She picks up a bucket of water and gently wipes his neck before they really clean him off by waterboarding him!

Leah mainly watches and oversees as Carver (Alex Meraz) and Wells (Robert Hayes) do the questioning and actual torture. They aren’t happy when she calls an end to it. She tells him that she needs him to cooperate, but he sticks to his story and tells her to kill him because he has nothing else to say. They put him in a cell, which looks a lot like a dog kennel – but at least it’s not a broom closet, right?

The prisoner across from Daryl wakes up and it’s Frost (Glenn Stanton)! He tries to talk to Daryl, and Daryl tells him he doesn’t know where HIS friends are and that helping them for a week doesn’t mean he gives a shit about them. Daryl is clearly desperate to separate himself from Frost and fill him in on what lies he’s told. He tells him to shut up and leave him alone. When he asks if he’s got it, he clearly means for Frost to understand what he’s doing. After all, if Daryl can get on their good side, he might be able to get away or save Frost too. They come and drag Frost away for more torture…

Leah comes by and calls him stubborn, which he denies. She says hard-headed then… She wants the truth, and he tells her that he never lied to her. She asks again about the people, and he tells her that he doesn’t give a shit about them and he’d help her if he could. Blatantly lying to her. Well, technically, he would help her but he can’t, and he really doesn’t care about Negan… 

Frost is dragged back, and he’s not doing well. Carver tells Leah they found Bossie (Michael Shehefelt) – and there’s clearly bad news about Turner. They walk through some corridors and here screams and groaning. The go through a guarded door. Bossie is the one making the noise – he’s distraught he couldn’t save him. 

The seem to have a Priest of sorts – Mancea (Dikran Tulaine) – who is praying or chanting over the body. Leah kneels by the body and says Amen when he finishes whatever he was saying. Pope gets a great entrance, emerging from the darkened room with building dramatic music. Coster is a great choice for this role, and it’s wonderfully ironic that he looks like Gandhi which being a psycho! In vivid contrast to Gabriel’s words last week, Pope’s first words are “God is here.” He declares that he and God are on the same page and they are both angry. Leah stands at attention as he says this and wipes away her tears – she looks both a bit frightened and worried.

Daryl is working away at is ropes when Leah shows up again. This scene is nicely shot. She sits outside with her back to the wall and the cell. We can see Daryl’s profile but only a tiny bit of her face as she starts to reveal a bit more about herself and her fellow soldiers. She tells him one of her brothers is dead. They’d fought all over the world together. The cameral shifts back and forth with Leah sitting outside and Daryl seen only through the bars. They are close, but not touching and there is a barrier between them – of experience as well as the physical one. Daryl is clearly appalled that they were mercenaries. She doesn’t see any difference – it’s the same job as a regular soldier, but you can actually pay your bills. She tells him that Turner was like the little brother she never had – and wanted. She tells Daryl that she knows he’s lost a lot of people, but this is the first time in a long time that she’s lost someone really close to her. She’s crying. Except when he left…

Daryl tells her that she didn’t lose him. He came back and she was gone. She turns to look in. She tells him that she asked him what he wanted, and he left. He tells her that he got scared. She asks of what, and he tells her letting go. She looks at him for a while and then leans back on the wall again. It’s a great moment between the two, who really do have some great chemistry. She tells him it doesn’t matter. They couldn’t have been happy in a world like this. He asks if it’s her talking or her family. She reminds him that he’s done terrible things too. He has no right to judge – and this is her. All of her. The good and the bad. She tells him that she can still save him because despite everything, she doesn’t want anything bad to happen to him. She tells him that Pope is angry.

And the Daryl does give up some information. He tells her that the woman is the leader. He tells her that the spoke in code because he was an outsider, so he both sticks to his previous story and tries to protect the others. He also tells her that the tall, skinny guy who never shuts up and the Priest with the shotgun are also leaders. He tells her that they have the numbers – way more than the 15 that they have there. She gets up and tells him that she’ll get him moved out of the cell, and Daryl wants to know when he gets to meet Pope.

Leah reports to Pope everything Daryl told her. She tells him that he was right that Daryl would be hard to break, but then she advocates for Daryl to join them because they need the manpower. Pope keeps his back to her, sharpening a knife, saying nothing. She asks him to talk to her, telling him that he knows it bothers her when he won’t speak. He’s like a sulky child – and that’s never a good thing in a leader. Pope is angry because they lost a day of tracking their enemy because she had to go on a fishing expedition after an old boyfriend – so he’s jealous too? 

Then he goes and sits right in front of her. She clearly needs and wants his attention and approval – like a father. He asks if she found what she was looking for. She insists that Daryl will be useful. She was thinking of the group, not herself. She tells him that Daryl doesn’t fear pain or death. Pope sees a guy that wants to get into her pants. He accuses her of losing focus because Daryl loves her. She insists that she never said that and that she chose their family the moment they came back for her. Daryl may have meant something to her once, but she never regretted her decision to leave him and come back to Pope. She asks him if he regrets her decision. Pope tells her that he believes in her. She confirms that she trusts Daryl, and Pope wants to see for himself.

Daryl is back in the interrogation room. The boys are harassing him when Leah comes in and chases them out. Daryl asks if she’s going to tell him anything about Pope before he has to meet him. They hear the door lock and then gas is pouring under the door. Leah is quickly overcome by the smoke, so she remains useless, coughing on the floor while Daryl tears the room apart to get them out a window – pushing her useless ass out first. 

As the two finally recover enough to stand up, the entire group is there watching. Leah pauses and then goes to stand with them. Did she know what was going to happen? Pope looks mildly impressed even as the building slowly collapses. He declares, “Forged by fire. We’re dangerous. A god. Welcome him.” The sound was so low down in the mix that it was really difficult to hear half the dialogue in this episode – so I may not have gotten that right. The group seems to chant something in Latin? Daryl looks mildly unimpressed – or utterly furious…

Daryl is taken to meet with Pope, who tells him he wants Daryl to understand. He gives him a drink and tells him to sit down. He tells Daryl that they all met in the Valley of Death – Afghanistan. They carried so many of their fellow soldiers from the battlefield that they lost count, but realized that those in power didn’t care – and most importantly, they didn’t know God. They saw God everywhere – in the blood, horror, and death. So clearly a vengeful God… He told them where to go, and they had each other to hold onto. He offers Daryl a cigarette. Reedus is excellent here. His body language and the way he looks up at Pope are all reminiscent of either a small child or a subservient dog.

Pope goes on to tell him that they couldn’t reintegrate into society when they got back, so they became mercenaries – a really dirty word. And then after the Fall – the real dirty work started – he’d never been in a war like that. That kind of chaos. So much death day after day. He tells Daryl that he felt like him – wondering where God was (I don’t think Daryl is really wondering this…) until God showed his face again. So, for some reason, during the Apocalypse, the Politicians decided to come after them. Which begs the question of who was paying them – but whatever. The tried to bomb them and had to run through the fire in order to save their own. They found a church and holed up there – where Alden (Callum McAuliffe) is? When the fires died down, he couldn’t believe that his people didn’t even have a scratch. It was a sign that they were the chosen ones. And now Daryl has come out without a scratch. I loved that Daryl tells him that he’s been through worse! LOL! He is apparently the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail! Then he asks Daryl if he’s hungry and takes him to dinner.

Daryl arrives at the fire with Pope. Leah is on the other side of the fire – with Dog (the traitor!). Neither of them get up to greet him. Pope tells her that she was right about Daryl, and she just says “of course I was.” Pope tells Bossie to give his food to Daryl because he’s family now. He then praises Bossie for walking 10 miles with his dead brother on his back so Turner can have a proper burial. Bossie insists he just did what any of them would have done. 

And then Pope asks if Bossie’s wounds still bother him. Coster is great here as you clearly see the shift in his mood and intention. He says he has one more question – about something that’s been bothering him. Both Bossie and Leah see it coming. Bossie looks terrified as Pope won’t let him turn around, and Leah cautions Pope that it’s been a long day. They all know in their hearts that they’re following a madman. 

Pope insists he’s just getting clarity. He wants to know where he was when Turner was being attacked. Bossie insists he was right there – and we know that he was. Again, Leah tells Pope to stop, Bossie’s been through enough. Pope seems to relent. It’s human nature to run when you’re scared. He looks at Daryl as he says ‘you know how that feels.’ And then his voice grows hard again – it takes divine strength to risk everything for someone else. He commends Daryl for getting Leah out of the fire first. 

He tells Daryl that God baptized him in that fire and made him one of them. And then he adds, that he forgot to tell him on thing – never turn your back on your brother. God doesn’t only use fire as a baptism. It’s also his wrath – and with that he grabs Bossie and throws him into the fire, holding him face first into it with his boot on his back. This is a great effect as Bossie’s face slowly melts. The others are horrified but do nothing. Pope declares that they run into the battle, they run into the fire, always. Daryl exchanges a look with Leah. It’s guarded, but they both know what they just saw…

I found this all just a bit disappointingly derivative. Austin and the iron at the Sanctuary anyone? Negan at least made sure not to reduce his numbers when he disciplined them. I suppose Pope could afford to lose one member if he’s taking in Daryl. Coster is terrific, and I look forward to seeing more of him, but this final season is becoming pretty disappointing if they are simply relying on re-playing their greatest hits with slightly new twists. It does seem likely that Negan and Gabriel will have to play significant roles in defeating Pope, but it also seems pretty obvious that Leah will have to betray Pope at some point to save or choose Daryl and will die for her efforts. Still, my disappointment with the writing doesn’t prevent me from very much appreciating Reedus and Collins’ performances in the episode. What did you think of the episode? Do the Reapers seem like new and interesting opponents or a shabby re-tread to you? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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