The Walking Dead's Final Season Part 1 Was Secretly a Villain's Origin Story

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned — or a Reaper burned. Spoiler warning for Season 11 Episode 8, "For Blood." The Walking Dead showrunner Angela Kang explains the "villain's origin story" told over the first eight episodes of Season 11A, ending with Leah (Lynn Collins) waging war against Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Daryl's (Norman Reedus) family to avenge her fallen brothers-in-arms. A Maggie-obsessed Pope (Ritchie Coster) spirals out of control when he tries to sacrifice his squad if it means killing his enemy — only for Leah to then kill Pope and turn on Daryl, siding with her family over his. 

"I think for Daryl and Leah, that evolved over time as we were working on the season. We knew that we wanted to kind of do almost like this, I suppose, like a villain's origin story with Leah," Kang told Deadline of Daryl trusting Leah with the truth about his people moments before she takes over the Reapers, framing him for Pope's murder. "I think with Daryl, it's really like there is this romantic aspect once, but we always felt that the story was more about what happens in grief when you cling to somebody, but that moment is gone, and you realize, looking in the rear-view mirror, that there was like always something that was broken or toxic about it." 

RELATED: TWD Season 11A Finale: A Death in the Family

Daryl and Leah formed a romantic relationship over years, during separations from their found families in the Season 10 episode "Find Me": Daryl during his six-year search for Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), and Leah when she ended up in a cabin in the woods with Dog. The former flames reconnect in Season 11 Episode 4, "Rendition," where Daryl has his baptism by fire and is forcibly inducted as one of Pope's "Chosen Ones" chosen by God.

It's then that Leah watches Pope burn Bossie (Michael Shenefelt) for supposedly turning his back on his brother-in-arms, Michael (Ryan Monolopolus), in battle with Maggie's people. Daryl has hope for Leah when she spares the lives of a man and his young son in "Promises Broken," defying Pope's orders to kill them, but Leah loses faith in Pope as he's willing to sacrifice her brothers if it means winning his holy war with Maggie. 

RELATED: TWD Season 11A Finale Recap With Spoilers: "For Blood"

Leah finally kills Pope to stop him from firing a hwacha on his own men, but is betrayed by Daryl when he reveals he's with "the enemy." When Daryl kills Ancheta (Dave Davenport) to save his family, it's the breaking point for her: "You'd do anything to protect your family. So would I."  

"How do you navigate that when you also hope that somebody has something redeemable, and in some ways, the Maggie, Negan, Daryl, Leah stories bounces off of each other because Negan is our number one example of a villain who all of our people hated, who has come around to sort of be integral to our group in his own way," Kang said. "Leah is somebody that we started off as like maybe she's not a villain, but can she come back? So, we felt like that was an interesting way to touch on the questions of, is redemption really possible in this world? Are there foregone conclusions? Like if you cut somebody's story off at just the right place, do you just feel good about that and move on, or should you have given them a couple more turns to get somewhere else? So, that was just something that thematically we were thinking about a lot as we were building this first block." 

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Leah returns when next year's Final Season Part 2 premiere resolves the massive cliffhanger that ends "For Blood." 

The Walking Dead Season 11 returns in February on AMC. Follow the author @CameronBonomolo on Twitter for all things TWD and stay tuned to ComicBook for coverage all season long.