The Walking Dead: 8.01 Mercy
The season eight premiere of The Walking Dead, it’s pretty safe to say, was more exciting than the majority of season seven put together (obviously excluding the premiere and finale).
The opening scenes involved images of flowers, a cane, a clock, a radio, and an old and bearded Rick waking up in a bed, clearly set up in a way reminiscent of his waking up in the hospital in the show’s pilot. These shots were brief, at the beginning and end of the opening scene, and bookmarked either end by a focus on present-time Rick’s eyes, tired and red. The majority of the pre-opening credits consisted of our back-to-being-fearless leader giving what was basically a motivational speech to the people of Alexandria, the Hilltop, and the Kingdom. He spoke of a bigger world that belonged by right to the people willing to survive and come together in peace, and was followed by Ezekiel and Maggie each speaking in their own moments of leadership. Together, they made a formidable group, and created an exciting and anticipatory feel. Along with the pep talks, we also saw a montage of everyone preparing to initiate their Saviour attack plan.
Noteworthy things to happen before the opening credits even begun were Carol and Tara partnering to observe and manipulate a herd of walkers (something I was thrilled about as for a long time now I’ve been looking forward to the next time we’d see a herd used as a weapon), a team effort to reinforce the vehicles with corrugated iron and the like, and Dwight communicating with Daryl from inside the Sanctuary as the two shot notes to each other attached to an arrow. If you ignore the fact that it almost felt like two children secretly passing notes in class, it was actually really cool, both at face value and because it’s Dwight and Daryl working together. In fact, the kids passing notes thing almost made it better. It was rather representative of the general vibe of the episode: involving action, but also lightheartedness and almost a certain degree of feel-good-ness.
After the opening credits, we got our first glimpse of season eight Carl, wandering between cars as he apparently looked for fuel. Sat within some of these cars were definitely some of the most decayed dead we’ve seen so far - corpses that were basically mummified skeletons. It was a reminder that it’s been several years now since the apocalypse first happened, and that many of the zombies surely mustn’t have long left until they’re rendered immobile by decomposition.
While Carl was scavenging, he came across a random dude who seemed to have gone half mad in his survival, talking to someone who wasn’t there until he saw Carl, and then he said he was just looking for food. A very unsympathetic Rick shooed him off quick with a few bullets shot above his head, in contrast to Rick from the earlier seasons, who would surely have shown him some kindness. Not sure if that’s character growth, per se, but it’s definitely a development. It reminded me of another moment a couple of seasons back, when instead of picking up a hitchhiker in desperate need, our protagonists drove right on past him, and on the way back saw his remains.
Cutting back to the battle plan, next up it was time to take out the Saviour lookouts. My personal favourite was the one simply shot down from their post atop a platform in a tree (why haven’t we seen more things akin to this on the show? When will we finally encounter a group that’s done the smart thing and built a treehouse colony?), but we also saw Morgan run one through the chest with his sharp stick (a stark reminder that he’s no longer embracing a life of nonviolence), and Rick ruthlessly set a walker on an already-stabbed Saviour that was taunting him as he died. The walker in question was definitely one of the best makeup jobs of the week, and the callous way in which Rick used the gross thing to kill only reiterated the sheriff’s new no nonsense attitude. This scene was shortly thereafter accompanied by tranquil music that was played here and there throughout the episode.
We returned to Alexandria to say some quick farewells before the armoured convoy set off for the Sanctuary. Rick and Michonne parted with a kiss (reminding me that they were still a thing, which honestly I’d completely forgotten), Rick saying “this is the end of it,” about the fight with the Saviours. It was hard as a viewer not to respond to this with mild amusement, given that it’s only the first episode of the season, so I highly doubt it will in fact be the end of it.
Before all the action kicked off, we had one final scene of the Hilltop, Kingdom, and Alexandria people mingling and chatting to each other in a sweet moment of calm before the storm. A really cool little thing was the fact that the now allied groups appeared to all be wearing coloured armbands that corresponded to their colony, presumably so they could distinguish between friend and Saviour. This visual detail was a brilliant representation of the group co-ordination and teamwork present in this episode - something that I hope and expect to see much more of given that we so missed out on it last season.
I was glad to see some more acknowledgement of Maggie’s now prominent role as leader of Hilltop. Rick told her that Hilltop was lucky to have her, and that after this he would be following her. A really interesting concept; that of Rick no longer being the main leader, but one that I doubt we’ll see come to fruition as Rick in the lead is really what we’ve come to know and expect from The Walking Dead. I hope that her new leadership position doesn’t mean Maggie will end up split from the Alexandrians, as I can’t imagine her not a part of the group that is Rick and co.
The action began as some of our favourites began leading the herd of walkers we saw at the beginning of the episode toward the Sanctuary. At first all we saw was the herd in the distance, the show giving us a very long, lingering shot on the distantly approaching dead that was suddenly punctuated with a van exploding in the foreground, clearly meant to lead the walkers the right way.
The armoured convoy drove straight up to the Sanctuary in what was the first moment of the episode that made me think “wow, they’re actually doing it.” Up until then I’d been skeptical, anticipating that something would go wrong and maybe stall them somehow, but nope, finally things were actually happening. Much of the music playing during the exciting parts felt like it might have belonged in an action thriller - very different to the tranquil tones from earlier.
Once the vehicles had stopped and their passengers piled out and taken their positions, Negan emerged from the Sanctuary accompanied by his lieutenants, his old swagger, and of course dialogue that would more befit a twelve year old. I refer of course to gems like “piss patrol,” “I don’t want to play ‘my dick is bigger than yours’... it is!” (I found it hard to believe Negan wasn’t interested in a metaphorical measuring contest given that that’s basically his entire shtick) and “you have no idea the shit that’s about to go down,” (ok writers, we get it, this season is going to be exciting).
I was sadly reminded of the fact that Gregory exists when Negan pulled him out, clearly expecting him to be a trump card that would send all the Hilltop people home and put the numbers back in his favour. In a moment of triumph, however, when Gregory tried to tell the Hilltop people to go home, no-one moved, and Jesus yelled out that “HILLTOP STANDS WITH MAGGIE.” This for me was probably my favourite moment in the episode, Gregory being pushed down a flight of stairs by Simon right after coming in at a close second.
Just as I was wondering why, when he’s stood out in the open and there were so many good guys with guns present, no-one would just take a shot at Negan, Rick finally opened fire, as then did everyone else. Raining down bullets on the Saviours’ compound, disintegrating the windows etc looked cool but did seem like it was rather a waste of bullets.
From there on things just sort of wrapped themselves up. Rick and co. left (though not before Rick snapped a picture of Negan running and hiding), the zombie army descended on the Sanctuary thanks to Daryl’s pointing them in the right direction by blowing things up on the path left right and center (did Michael Bay direct this episode?), and Gabriel went back to save Gregory like an idiot, ending up in him getting himself trapped in a cabin with Negan delivering more god awful lines, this time about hoping the Father had his “shittin’ pants” on… I mean, really? Oh, and Carl returned to the location from earlier to leave some canned food out for that guy from before, who may or may not be completely sane and possibly spying on them after all.
The episode then ended with us once again in old bearded Rick’s house, with Michonne looking exactly the same even though Rick had apparently aged, and an older Judith. At this point I assumed this scenario was a fantasy, and I was right. Rick’s red, crying eyes opened in the present as he gave his motivational speech at the start of the episode, talking about how starting tomorrow, they could have the world they wanted, and that they’d already won.
It was a little cheesy, but I liked it. It wasn’t the most solid start to a season The Walking Dead has ever seen, but nevertheless I’m looking forward to seeing where season eight will take us.