This article contains spoilers for The Walking Dead season 11 episode 2.
The first time we see the The Walking Dead‘s latest villainous group, The Reapers, is midway through the premiere of the six-episode “season 10C.” In that hour, Maggie’s group comes across the smoked-out wreckage of their latest living space, with two smoldering bodies outside. Immediately, Maggie, Cole, and the masked Elijah all know who is responsible for the devastation.
“Shit, it’s them. They found us,” Cole says.
The fear in Cole’s voice and his certainty in who sabotaged his crew is definitely a rough sign for the survivors of The Walking Dead. Maggie later confirms that there is indeed a new antagonistic group. She calls them “The Reapers” and they attacked Maggie’s home after her smaller crew disbanded from Georgie’s society-building project. Maggie and Daryl make it through an encounter with an unnamed Reaper at episode’s end by the skin of their teeth
Now, at the very end of The Walking Dead season 11 episode 2 “Acheron Part II”, we get our first official look of the Reapers as a group and the fear in Cole’s voice makes a lot more sense. This is an…imposing bunch. In the waning moments of “Acheron Part II”, the Reapers appear in ominous masks, surrounded by hanging bodies, and apparently very ready to kill. Several of our survivors are quickly wounded by arrows and melee weapons flying through the air. A cut to the credits is the only thing that spares the audience from witnessing more carnage
The viciousness of the Reapers’ attack begs the question: who are these guys? And what does their arrival mean for The Walking Dead‘s final arc?
While iconic Walking Dead villains like Negan and the Saviors and Alpha and the Whisperers came directly from Robert Kirkman’s original comic source, there are no Reapers in said comics. Nor is there a group who closely matches up to the Reapers M.O., or at least their M.O. as we understand it currently.
Thankfully, Walking Dead showrunner Angela Kang spoke with Den of Geek prior to the season 11 premiere and revealed a little bit about what to expect from these show-specific bad guys.
“We’re always trying to think about, especially if they’re not from the comic, what makes a group stand out?” Kang says. “In this case, we were like, ‘We’ve never actually come across a group where every single person is their own John Rambo. Every single person is a trained killer since before the apocalypse.’ I think that was something that just felt interesting to us.”
The Reapers’ ruthless efficiency then makes a bit more sense. This is a group that was adept at killing even before the apocalypse began. Now that we’re just about a decade into said apocalypse, the mind reels at what kind of additional training in murder the Reapers may have received. Perhaps this group was some sort of paramilitary organization before the dead began to walk. Or maybe they were just a sanctioned military unit gone bad. The survivors are still in the Washington, D.C. area after all.
Whatever the Reapers are or once were, it’s clear that they have a strong sense of the dramatic. Everything about their appearance is designed to instill fear in their likely victims.
“In terms of the costuming, we drew from a lot of different inspirations,” Kang says. “Some of it was just interesting, like concept art for post-apocalyptic, sort of like fantasy world. Jim and I, who wrote the episode, we’re both big gamers. So there were certain apocalyptic game things that were like, ‘Oh, like, you know, it’s kind of a fun, this vibe.'”
Back during the Reapers’ first appearance, a soldier tells Maggie “Pope marked you” before detonating himself with a grenade. Ritchie Coster is attached to play Reaper leader Pope later this season. Soon we’ll be able to see what it takes to lead The Walking Dead‘s most adept antagonists yet.
NOTE: An earlier version of this article mistook a Reaper saying “Pope marked you” in season 10 to be a mysterious statement in an Eastern European language. I’m just letting you know so I can continue to be properly roasted in the comments.