Season 8’s premiere marks the 100th episode of The Walking Dead. Remember how it started back in 2010, when we were sweet summer children, blissfully unaware of the countless traumas that awaited us? No, me neither…Arguably one of the most brutal moments in the show’s history came this time last year, when we were introduced to Negan, and Abraham and Glenn were introduced to his barbed baseball bat, Lucille. That season opener set the tone for the coming year, with Rick’s people forced into subjugation, terrorised, depleted, and divided. “Mercy” had a much more optimistic tone, and after a deeply flawed seventh season, delivered some much needed mobilisation.
With both sides having retreated to lick their wounds after last season’s inconclusive face-off, the allied forces of Hilltop, Alexandria, and The Kingdom had been carefully planning their next move. There was no sign of the treacherous Heapsters, but with Dwight acting as their man on the inside, Team Rick spent this episode setting the wheels of their meticulously oiled machine in motion. After taking out all of the Savior’s main lookout posts, Rick and co. led a hoard of walkers straight into Negan’s stronghold with a series of well-timed explosions and lures.
After rallying speeches from Rick, Ezekiel, and Maggie, the respective leaders of the three communities, it was agreed that everyone must act for the greater good, and that personal grudges couldn’t muddy the waters yet, faced with Negan being within shooting distance, Rick couldn’t pass up the chance to end his mortal enemy, and his botched assassination attempt resulted (indirectly) in Father Gabriel being left behind. While Rick’s bound to beat himself up for that one at some point in the near future, blame can’t be laid solely at his door, as Gabe was actually trapped trying to save Gregory, the usurped former ‘leader’ of Hilltop, who proved himself to be an even more odious, back-stabbing little turd that anyone realised. While Gabe has made his own fair share of dubious moral calls in the past, his character has been well developed over the last couple of years, and it will be interesting to see how he deals with being incarcerated with Negan.
But while the linear action drove the plot forward and answered some questions left hanging from the previous season, there was an element of mystery introduced by some dreamlike sequences happening in other, unspecified timelines. We saw Rick as a much older man, his movements stiff, his hair and beard grey, while Judith appeared to have only aged a few years, and Michonne hardly at all. A figure who I assumed was supposed to be Carl was only glimpsed briefly. These future visions were interspersed with footage of a seemingly disoriented and distressed Rick, his eyes red-rimmed. which might have preceded his confident speeches on the eve of war, or may have been a peek at an alternate reality. Whilst intriguing, these vignettes weren’t as successful as the quieter moments, when Maggie joked about being able to fight until the second trimester, Carol and Daryl shared a hug, Michonne and Rick kissed, and Ezekiel lit up at seeing Carol.
As an aside from the main focus of “Mercy”, we saw Carl encounter a young man looking for food. After Rick scared him off, unable and unwilling to deal with a distraction from the war with the Saviors, Carl returned to leave him some canned goods and a note which simply read ‘sorry’. Like Gabriel, he’s had wobbles in the past, but Carl seems to be conquering his inner darkness and fostering his humanity. More like Maggie than his father at this point, Carl seemed genuinely surprised when Michonne expressed a willingness to back up his decisions. Perhaps this season we’ll get to see Carl grow into someone people want to follow.
So, a promising start, with Rick having regained his swagger, and the zombies taking their place front and centre as both an ever-present threat, and as something which can be utilised against human adversaries. With The Sanctuary compromised, and Negan’s people not quite so under his spell as he might have thought, the balance of power is tipping in favour of the surrounding colonies for the first time in an age. But Negan’s closing, scatological lines to Gabriel suggest he’s not ready to throw in the towel quite yet, and with Gregory and the Heapsters still at large, I suspect this war will rage for some time to come.
Final Grade: B-
+ A high zombie count, and some truly tense moments, such as Morgan having to take down the stray walker before he set off the trip wire.
+ It was good to see everyone onscreen, as the various characters and factions have been very siloed in recent times.
+ I’m just going to put it out there – Daryl and Dwight’s little arrow messages are adorable!
– While it’s good to see Rick back on form, after a hundred episodes, his speeches are starting to sound a little corny.
– The plan to attack the Saviors with the dead was a tad over-elaborate and the flash-forwards/visions and playing with time made it harder to follow.
– I know it’s a lift from the source material, but Negan really needs to get some better lines! He’s more crass than menacing.
Extra Thought – It’s not the most pressing question in the scheme of things, but where is Tara getting her Twizzler supply from?!
What did you think? Did “Mercy” have the eye of the tiger? Sound off in the comments or over on Twitter!