This episode of The Walking Dead reveals what happened to Daryl (Norman Reedus, The Boondock Saints) at the same time of the previous episode that followed the others in the group. As the episode’s plot threads are all centered around the same group of characters in the same location, the episode has to keep the audience interested without the use of lingering tension and cliffhangers, as there are no alternate events to jump to in order to break up the story. That being said, this episode did a decent job of staying interesting, though it was the last few minutes that solidified the potential this plot line has for the rest of the season.
While everyone else either died or managed to get out into the woods, Daryl was taken hostage by The Reapers who, to his surprise, had taken in his ex-love interest Leah (Lynn Collins, Bosch) who reveals her devotion to the group right off the bat.
Speaking of devotion, the biggest betrayal of the entire series occurred when Daryl called for Dog and the former best boy remained with his previous owner instead of going with; although, this could be an elaborate Parent Trap situation with Dog trying to reunite his parents, so fingers crossed he’s pulling a Season 10 Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Supernatural) and has a justifiable plan prepared.
Unfortunately, once Daryl was taken in by The Reapers who proceeded to waterboard him, Dog was nowhere to be found for the rest of the episode.
Daryl and Leah’s relationship had been rocky to begin with, pretending not to care as much as they did once they finally began to warm up to each other, so it’s no surprise that their reunion wasn’t very positive, though it was nice to see them being open about their feelings, Leah being upfront about why she resents him and Daryl being upfront about how he did want her with him. Rather than having miscommunication be an aspect of their relationship, it’s all about the outside circumstances that cause the conflict, as well as their own reservations about the other; Leah about opening her heart again, and Daryl reconciling his feelings for Leah with the danger The Reapers pose to Alexandria.
Daryl’s lie about the group not being his, instead just people he ran into on the road, was understandable, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out in the future when the truth is revealed. The scene with him and the other group member taken in by The Reapers was a great way to establish how Daryl is going to adapt to the situation in order to survive.
While it was slightly amusing to hear Daryl loudly proclaiming how much he doesn’t care about the other group member just because they shared some grain, the other member glancing around before playing along, the grim reality of the situation became clear when the other member was taken and beaten, left in the cell while Daryl was given better accommodations courtesy of Leah.
It made sense what happened, and the other group member was great in not snitching on Daryl, but it will be interesting to see what Daryl has to do in order to fit in, akin to Negan and The Whisperers last season, and this episode hinted at that towards the end when Daryl and Pope (Ritchie Coster, Happy!) finally interacted.
The trial by fire wasn’t necessarily proof of that, though it was proof of Daryl’s loyalty and instinct to protect, giving Leah the handkerchief and getting her out of the building first, but Pope’s torture by fire definitely was. While not a bleeding heart, Daryl isn’t so lost as to power trip and murder on a whim to prove a point, nor does he sit idly by when he feels something happening is unjust; at least, not when he’s in a safe situation to do so. In this case, he had no choice but to stand by and watch the carnage at hand, keeping his mouth shut when Pope proselytized to the group.
Even though Daryl was accepted by Pope and Leah, it’s clear he will have to work to win over the other members, particularly the ones closest to Leah who had tortured him for information. Whether or not Daryl will actually try to gain their approval has yet to be seen, as his true ally in the group is Leah, who has already been set up to be more sympathetic than the group would like. While there can still be a twist where she chooses to side with the group rather than Daryl, it’s fair to assume that most likely Leah will help Daryl escape in some way and either leave with him or stay with the group, but either way will reconcile with him and be integral to his escape and return to Alexandria with supplies.
Moving on from the reunited couple, Pope was an interesting character, very much the typical lead antagonist seen on this show. The religion fanaticism isn’t a new concept by any means, but it will be interesting to see how this particular group uses it as a weapon—it would be great to see Gabe (Seth Gilliam, Teen Wolf) interact with Pope and the group as a whole, as he didn’t particularly care for the Reaper he killed who demanded he pray over him in the last episode—and just how unhinged Pope can be. The episode didn’t waste any time in hinting at this, and it was especially interesting when Pope seemed to parallel himself or refer to himself as God, which is implied to be because he believes he has a direct connection with him and that he’s a chosen one, which makes an interaction between Gabriel, a priest, and Pope, a fanatic, all the more enticing.
Overall, this was an interesting episode that introduced the antagonists completely and set up the plot line for the rest of the season, or at least the first part of the season, much like what happened in the previous episode with Maggie (Lauren Cohan, The Vampire Diaries) and Negan’s storyline. The next episode will probably be the final establishing episode, introducing The Commonwealth completely and the larger plot line in that area, then lead into the rest of the season which will be seeing how these threads play out and eventually come together.
The only real issue with the episode was the lack of Dog content after Daryl was taken in, but that can be remedied by an entire episode following Dog, a la “Appa’s Lost Days” in Avatar: The Last Airbender.