The season 8 premiere of The Walking Dead titled, “Mercy” was engrossing. The 100 th episode held interest upon every scene and every word until the end. A blend of drama, suspense, action, and the sublime.
War began in previous episode’s season 7 finale, as the communities of Alexandria, Hilltop, and the Kingdom led by Rick (Andrew Lincoln), Maggie (Lauren Cohan), and King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) all marshalled their forces against the Saviors led by Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). That which happened quickly after the betrayal of the Scavengers led by Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh), now with the Saviors, who previously agreed to a deal brokered by Rick in season 7 episode 10.
So with that, some minor spoilers ahead.
Any fan of The Walking Dead should already know, that either a premiere episode or a finale of a season occasionally begins with a montage of scenes with a touch of surreal. Which is how “Mercy” starts. The face of Rick is seen first. Next, he’s standing nearby a few graves at Hilltop. Then a cane is shown, as is if in a dream scene. Following that, people from Alexandria, Hilltop, and the Kingdom all make preparations for battle armoring up vehicles at Hilltop. In previous episode 99 of the series in season 7’s finale, the episode got a little carried away with the surreal scenes all involving Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green). It should have kept to a minimum, allowing more time for an effectively dynamic ending battle scene that rescued Alexandria.
The episode “Mercy” kept surreal scenes to a minimum. Which was good. For showrunner Scott M. Gimple had promised season 8 to be action packed. Much criticism had been thrown upon the series already. Not only how the deaths of Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) were handled by Negan, but also the pedestrian pace of all of previous season 7.
To be fair, fans were warned well in advance about Negan by Robert Kirkman, creator of The Walking Dead comics in online article, titled, “The Walking Dead’: Robert Kirkman Compares Negan’s Arrival to an Atomic Bomb,” by Dave Trumbore of Collider January 15, 2016. Warned before the February 14, 2016 mid-season 6 premiere when Negan’s name is first mentioned by a Savior, who makes his first appearance seven episodes later in the season 6 finale. All for effect.
Therefore season 7 was all about Rick’s brokenness including his group and the Alexandrians, all who had never encountered one such as Negan. Notably affecting Rick’s group more so even his teenage son Carl (Chandler Riggs), whom all were already a battle-hardened tight-knit group against the horrors of the dead and the depravity of the living. Season 7 was about humiliation and subjugation brought on by the Saviors pure and simple. For despite criticism by some fans, and from those who may have left the series, the pace and tone of Season 7 was entirely justified.
As Rick and his group rediscovered their resolve, which steadily increased from mid-season 7 onward as was the intent, allows season 8 opening to a different tone and pace. Rick’s group can be a SEAL Team again as he leads Alexandria. Now with Hilltop and the Kingdom on their side.
The preparation scenes for battle were riveting, juxtaposed by Rick’s rallying speech. “When I first met him, Jesus said that my world was gonna get a whole lot bigger. Well, we found that world. We found each other,” says Rick. Carol (Melissa McBride) and Tara (Alanna Masterson) are both at lookout at a bridge, as Rick’s speech continues, “That ‘bigger world’ is ours, by right. That we’ve come together for it, all of us, it’s that much more true…it’s ours by right.”
“Any person who would live in peace and fairness, who would find common ground, it’s their right too,” says Rick. Then another preparation scene shows an arrow hitting a motorcycle tire with Savior Dwight (Austin Amelio) close by at the Savior’s Sanctuary. Dwight, who secretly betrayed Negan by warning Rick and Daryl (Norman Reedus) about a planned Savior attack on Alexandria in previous season 7 finale, sees a note attached to the arrow. Unfurling the note, it reads, “Tomorrow.” Dwight then writes a response, attaches then shoots the arrow back nearby Daryl, who had shot the arrow from outside the Sanctuary.
Another surreal scene shows Rick, with a full white beard and older with beautiful flowers close by, as he awakes and gets up from bed. Next, Carol and Tara check the time while at the bridge, as Rick continues his speech, “But those who use and take and kill to carve out the world and make it theirs alone …we end them! We don’t celebrate it. We don’t have shame about it either. There’s only one person who has to die and I will kill him myself. I will. I will.”
A series of scouting scenes are shown. Carl arrives at a gas station searching for fuel. Alerted to a sound, he raises his gun at a man in search of food. Carl hesitates, while Rick suddenly appears firing a gun over the man’s head to chase him off. In the world of the dead, it pays to be careful also among the living, as by his action in his own way Rick tries afterwards to explain to Carl.
Meanwhile, Daryl and Morgan (Lennie James) are engaged in scout skirmishes. Daryl takes out a Savior at one location, while Morgan takes out a Savior at another. While also, Rick encounters a lone Savior at watch who is also taken out. All locations that were supplied by Dwight.
Both King Ezekiel and Maggie had also given speeches to the gathering after Rick’s speech. Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) later informs Rick that all is ready. Daryl then rejoins Carol and Tara atop the highway bridge, followed by Morgan. All four await to initiate a tactical plan while at the bridge.
Rick then leaves Alexandria leading a caravan of armored vehicles as Rosita (Christian Serratos) sits at a porch watching. It was good to see Rosita sidelined on this one. She had done enough. Because of her rash actions, though understandably feeling rage at Negan brutally killing her former lover Abraham, Rosita was responsible for not only Eugene’s capture by the Saviors, but also Sasha’s capture as well. All fully explained in my April 6, 2017 Huffpost blog, titled “The Walking Dead Season 7 Finale, War Unleashed!” Especially in a scene near end of season 7 episode 15 before the season 7 finale, when Jesus (Tom Payne) of Hilltop asks about Sasha’s whereabouts to Rosita, just after she and Sasha sought to kill Negan. Yet she ignores him.
It is on. War has arrived. Everybody’s engaged. Alexandrians Tobin (Jason Douglas), Francine (Dahlia Legault), Scott, played by Kenric Green husband of Sonequa Martin-Green as Sasha, Aaron (Ross Marquand) and even his boyfriend Eric (Jordan Woods-Robinson) are all seen and armed. While Enid (Katelyn Nacon), a former Alexandrian, had joined Maggie as she leads Hilltop. All of the Alexandrians, with the only exception of Aaron who has always been capable among danger, were at a learning curve in dealing with both the dead and the living. Hilltop as well, yet both were fortunate to have met Rick’s group.
It’s also noteworthy that all three communities fighting the Saviors in the episode are identified with armbands. Alexandria-white, as shown on Rick, Daryl, and Tara, Hilltop-green, shown on Maggie, Jesus, and Enid, and the Kingdom-orange, shown on King Ezekiel, Carol, and Morgan. The battle line has been drawn. Look out Negan.
Directed by Greg Nicotero and written by Scott M. Gimple, the season 8 premiere was better than the season 7 finale. The 100 th episode of The Walking Dead gets four stars out of five.