Things get heated when Pope (Ritchie Coster) throws Daryl (Norman Reedus) out of the frying pan and into the fire on The Walking Dead. Spoiler warning for Season 11 Episode 4, “Rendition.” A Reaper reunion with Leah (Lynn Collins) brings Daryl to the Meridian, where Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and the Wardens lived until just before Season 10. It’s now home base to Pope and The Chosen Ones, the true name of Pope’s squad of mercenaries forged by fire and ordained by God, and it’s there that Daryl has his baptism by fire when he’s locked inside a burning shed with Leah.
Daryl helps Leah escape and passes Pope’s test of being “forged by fire.” He’s welcomed with “Fortitudo Saludis,” the solemn war cry of The Chosen Ones. Pope’s soldiers survived their trial by fire when they were bombed to holy hell and left without a burn or a scratch, leaving them with nothing but their brothers and sisters in arms.
It’s Bossie (Michael Shenefelt) who suffers Pope’s wrath when he’s accused of fleeing the enemy during an attack that killed one of their own: Michael Turner. Bossie has wounds on his back but swears he was facing the enemy when Turner died.
Pope sermonizes about the “divine strength” shown by Daryl when facing his fear and risking it all to save Leah, telling his newest Chosen One, “God baptized you in that fire. Made you one of us.”
God is forgiving, but Pope is not. “Never turn your back on your brother. God doesn’t only use fire as His baptism. It’s also His wrath,” says Pope, pressing Bossie into open flames. As Bossie burns, Pope’s boot pushed into his back, he reminds The Chosen Ones: “We run into the battle. We run into the fire. Always.”
“This idea of a trial by fire just felt like this divine test. We felt like that was just a very dramatic way to illustrate the type of danger that they’re all in, but Leah too,” explained showrunner Angela Kang on The Walking Dead: Episode Insider. “For whatever it’s worth, there is kind of a turning point for Leah in that moment as well. Because it’s one thing to be inside the circle of love and to feel like she’s one of his favorites, and he sees her as a daughter, but what kind of father sticks their daughter in a room and sets it on fire?”
“That is super, super intense, and so for both of these characters, they kinda come out of this, and Pope intends for them to come out feeling like changed people,” continued Kang. “And they do, but maybe not in the way that he’s thinking is going to help them.”
Daryl and Leah may be forged by fire, but Bossie’s death could burn away what’s left of Leah’s loyalty to the family she found before the apocalypse.
“In the scene where he puts Bossie’s head in the fire, we wanted to show a few things. One is that, in the apocalypse, we’ve seen our characters, we’ve seen villains, we’ve seen a lot of them do some pretty intense things,” Kang said. “And the question is, who are the people that are going to stand up to that, and who is just going to try to live with it, and who is complicit in it, who is cheering it on?”
Daryl’s not out of the fire yet: Pope will test his loyalty when The Chosen Ones return in Season 11 Episode 6, “On the Inside.”
“Daryl’s just kind of coming into this situation knowing very little about them and he’s still learning what all of it means, and where they all stand. The big lesson out of this is, nobody’s going to stand up to Pope easily,” said Kang. “I think for some of them it’s a wake-up call to realize how intense the situation has gotten. I don’t actually think Pope has killed a lot of his own people in this way. I think it’s always been like, ‘It’s us against the world.’
“But now that he’s put Leah in a burning room, just threw one of these people that she considers like a brother in the fire, the equation is shifting, and I think there’s a sense of unease. For Daryl, all of this is intel that he’s taking in and he’s realizing, ‘I’ve got to tread very, very carefully here.’ He’s in a dangerous situation.”
Follow the author @CameronBonomolo on Twitter for all things TWD. The Walking Dead Season 11 airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.