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The Walking Dead - Mercy - Review

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The Walking Dead returned for season eight with a slight up-tick from the season seven finale of 11.31 million viewers to 11.44 million – still a far cry from the 17+ million viewers for last season’s premiere. Clearly, people either haven’t forgiven the show for the amount of horrendous violence in the premiere last year – or just the loss of a beloved character. “Mercy” was written by showrunner Scott M Gimple and was directed by Greg Nicotero. Clearly, the show was putting the A-Team on the case, and it felt like the title of the episode might also have been a plea to viewers. However, in true Walking Dead style, the title actually played out in several ways – and lead to a pretty bloodless beginning to the All Out War promised for the season.

This episode is temporarily challenging as we cut back and forth between time lines, circling back to some moments – I’m thinking particularly about the three leaders addressing their collective army – and jumping ahead to likely two future moments. One moment sees Rick almost on the verge of tears, and one series of moments jumps ahead to some point in the future. Is this moment in the future a fantasy or the well-known five year jump in the comics? It does give us the comfort of knowing that Rick (Andrew Lincoln) – with a limp – Michonne (Danai Gurira), Judith (Kinsley Isla Dillon), and Carl (Chandler Riggs) are all still alive.

The episode opens with present Rick looking sweaty and possibly defeated or at least troubled. We flash forward to that cane and flowers, and then back again to present preparations. Rick is watching, the armored cars are being built at Hilltop, Daryl (Norman Reedus) is sending Dwight (Austin Amelio) a message – tied to an arrow which he shoots into the tire of Dwight’s bike – hilarious! – and Tara (Alanna Masterson) and Carol (Melissa McBride) are waiting… for the herd. It’s always puzzling where they get some things, but I was really enjoying Tara chewing on that Twizzler.

Rick speaks first about finding the bigger world and that they’ve all come together to claim that world. For peace, fairness, and common ground. Rick is prepared to welcome others who are of a like mind, but he’s also fully prepared to end those who aren’t. Rick is determined that Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) must die and that he will do it himself.

Ezekiel (Khary Payton) follows, picking up on the togetherness theme that Rick ended with. And of course, Ezekiel draws on his dramatic background and quotes Henry V’s famous speech to rally the troops. Of course Shiva chimes in with a roar!

Ezekiel passes the torch to Maggie (Lauren Cohen) who is the practical one. They’ve done their homework. But she also mentions having faith – in each other – but also clearly in a higher power, and I couldn’t help but think of Hershel. Maggie is determined that the world can be theirs.

Rick prepares for what’s coming by taking a moment beside Glenn’s and Abraham’s graves. And then we jump into that future with Rick grey and with a longer beard – I loved the soft focus to delineate that time. We cut from Rick waking up, which a lot of people were afraid meant that the entire show had been a dream – LOL! – to a close up of that sweaty, worried Rick’s eyes – just like the first shot of Rick from season one. My interpretation is that this is a new awakening for Rick too. I think that in communing with Glenn’s grave, Rick will have awoken to the fact that killing for any reason is wrong – unless it’s self-defense. I think troubled Rick is finding that he can’t actually kill Negan in cold blood when it comes down to it.

It’s clear that this episode is starting a slow build up to all out war. And it’s interesting to see who is on the front lines and who is not. It’s actually great to see Carl has changed. We see him scavenging for gas, and he comes across a “traveler” – Siddiq (Avi Nash) – who asks Carl for mercy. Carl is clearly freaked out. Siddiq quotes his mother and then the Quran: “Let me mercy prevail over my wrath.” And I think that is exactly the struggle Rick is having in those cuts. Carl is no longer about shoot first – but Rick is and he chases the guy off. Rick is still worried he could have been one of Negan’s people.

Rick really has to defend his actions to Carl. He tells him he hopes the guy will make it but they can’t take the chance. Carl tells him there won’t be enough. Rick asks what, and Carl answers “hope.” Carl has come to understand that coming together is the way to survive, but Rick is still holding out on really trusting strangers or letting them in. Rick himself needs to learn how to hope again. Of course, Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh) and her people contributed to crushing that again in Rick. In another throwback to the first episode, Rick sees a young girl walker among the derelict cars – like the girl he had to kill when he was looking for gas.

I loved the gimmick of Daryl having a grocery list of Negan’s lookouts that he is crossing off as he takes them out. However, it becomes clear later that it is Rick who is crossing the items off. He also has help from Morgan (Lennie James), who is clearly ok with killing people again.

Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) reports to Rick that things are ready to go – in 30 minutes – and then checks in to see if Rick himself is ready. Rick insists that it’s one person that brought them to this. Gabriel serenely tells him that it always starts with one person. And he points out that Rick has made all of “this” happen – but for good, of course. Rick insists that it’s not about him, and Gabriel agrees – because Rick made sure it wasn’t all about him.

Rick says his goodbyes, kissing baby Judith, kissing Michonne and hugging Carl. It was nice to see the real affection between the two. Rick tells them that “this is the end” but that hardly seems realistic! What would the shot be without the next big bad? The only shot we have of Rosita (Christian Serratos) is her sitting on her porch watching them go – no doubt primarily because Serratos has just had a baby – but logically because Rosita can’t be trusted to follow orders.

Carl and Michonne aren’t happy about having to stay behind. Michonne tells Carl that she will help him defend Alexandria. He’s taken aback. She tells him that it’s his show – he’ll see. She sees how far Carl has come.

There’s a really nice long sequence of everyone gearing up in the field. We see Maggie chatting with one of her people. I loved Jerry (Cooper Andrews) insisting that Enid (Katelyn Nacon) put on a vest. It’s a nice nod to the cross-pollenation between these groups. Dianne (Kerry Cahill) tells one of the Alexandrians or Hilltoppers that she has his back and he comments that she just met him. She says they all just met – but they have that common goal of a peaceful co-existence. Aaron (Ross Marquand) and Eric (Jordan Woods-Robinson) share a nice moment. Eric has joined the fight, but he’s also praying for the first time in his life.

Maggie, Rick, Ezekiel, and Jesus (Tom Payne) share a moment – with Gabriel just outside their circle. He’s becoming a leader in his own right – which may come crashing to a halt… Maggie tells Rick that she’s been fighting since the farm and she’s not sitting this one out. He asks about tomorrow – at some point she has to think about the baby. She asks him if he’s been thinking about what the future looks like. He tells her that he’s not sure he can wait that long – but again, she tells him just one more fight – but will it ever be really over? Seems unrealistic – but they have to have hope. Ezekiel offer the services of the Kingdom’s doctor, but Jesus assures him that the Hilltop is getting their doctor back.

Rick tells Maggie that the Hilltop is lucky to have her. She tells Rick that he showed her how to be someone worth following, and he shocks her by saying that after this, he’s following her.

It’s Daryl, Morgan, Carol and Tara working to bring the herd into the fight to use them as a weapon. Now we see why all the lookouts had to be taken out – so that they couldn’t see the explosions or the moving herd.

The assault begins on the Saviors as Rick calls out Negan and his lieutenants. But we have to wait for it as we flash to Rick – on his porch? And then into the future. Michonne turned of Rick’s alarm – so now they are all going to be late… for work? And we hear Carl in the background ask if they’re all playing hookey. And then it’s back to the present.

Negan apologizes – he was in a meeting. He then tries to come off as caring more about his people – he’s not going to let them die over a “my dick is bigger than your dick contest.” Both Negan and Rick have come to see that this is between the two of them. Rick doesn’t rise to Negan’s bait. Instead, he offers the lieutenants the chance to simply join his side. He calls them out by name – Simon (Steven Ogg), Gavin (Jayson Warner Smith), and then Regina (Traci Dinwiddie) introduces herself. I didn’t recognize Dinwiddie at first, but it was great to see yet another Supernatural alumni on the show! Seems like they let all the good ones get away! Eugene (Josh McDermitt) tries to jump in, but Rick cuts him off.

While Daryl, Carol, Tara, and Morgan set a trap for the Saviors who are on patrol, a walker stumbles in and Morgan has to kill it before it sets off the booby trap. The cars setting off the booby trap was a pretty spectacular stunt.

While Rick waits for the answer from his lieutenants, Rick reminds Negan that he’s told him how it will end for him… twice. Negan thinks he has the upper hand. He asks Rick if he thinks he has the numbers for the fight – and then he brings out Gregory (Xander Berkeley) – the guy that Negan was meeting with. Gregory calls out that the Hilltop stands with Negan and that anyone who stands with Rick will no longer be welcome in the colony. But none of them leave – even after Maggie tells them to do what they need to do. Jesus cuts Gregory off to yell out that the Hilltop stands with Maggie.

Simon is very, very disappointed and shoves Gregory off the platform. Gavin actually asks for a time out – which can’t put him in Negan’s good books. Rick tells the lieutenants they have to decide now – and they force him to count down – but he only gets to seven before he loses his temper and opens fire on Negan. I thought it was stupid for them to simply shoot out all the windows, but of course, they were simply trying to draw the herd. However, it was a ridiculous waste of bullets.

The others hear it start and Daryl remarks it was always going to be that way. Morgan and Tara withdraw, and Morgan tells Carol and Daryl to beat them. Carol says they will. Carol hugs Daryl and tells him to be careful. He says it’s going to be fun – and she says it isn’t. He tells her that it’s better than letting things be, and she leaves him to take up her own position, while he leads the herd. There’s a brilliant shot of Daryl shooting a planted explosive and blowing up a walker – more great effects work.

Rick sees Negan on the ground and tries to shoot him. Gabriel uses the camper to take down the fence to let the herd in and then they blow it up. Rick is consumed with trying to shoot a wounded – limping – Negan, but Gabriel pulls him away. He reminds Rick that it’s not about him. Rick inexplicably stops to take a polaroid of the carnage. Gabriel is about to drive away when he spots Gregory – and you knew going in that coward Gregory was going to screw Gabriel and take off without him. Gabriel has come too far to think of this as poetic justice. Gregory, on the other hand, can’t die a death that will be long or painful enough for me!

The action pauses as we see that Carl has returned to leave food – and a note – Sorry – for Saddiq, who watches from the bushes. Ezekiel shares a smile with one of his followers. He feels good about having joined the fight. Rick and Daryl are waiting for Gabriel. But they can only wait so long.

Morgan and Diane are about to start the assault on the satellite station, but they’ve set up a moat of walkers. Carol and her team are about to go in to the Research Center when someone throws a grenade. The walkers have converged on the Saviors’ headquarters. Gabriel finds what he thinks is refuge, on to find he’s locked in to a container with Negan – who wants to know if he’s got his “shitting pants on.”

In the final scene, Judith leads future-Rick outside their house to see the giant owl that’s been erected for a festival that’s about to happen. Have they moved to the Hilltop? It looks like one of the colonial buildings there. We then flash back again to more present day Rick, who is clearly red-eyed and distraught. Is he tired? Been crying? And he’s telling himself to let mercy prevail over his wrath.

We return to the speeches from the beginning of the episode. Rick doesn’t want to wait for the future anymore. He wants to start tomorrow right now. If they do that, they’ve already won. I loved that the episode was dedicated to lost cast member John Bernecker – who died performing a stunt on set – and George Romero – the father of zombie apocalypses.

This was a solid premiere. I think it suffered only by comparison to some of the more intense premieres – such as last year. However, the temporal shifts made it a challenging episode. I loved the theme of mercy that runs throughout. Having Rick take a moment by Glenn’s grave made the episode feel like a tribute to him and Glenn’s commitment to mercy. It was also great to see our characters working together even if on different missions. What did you think of the episode? How would you rate it as a season opener? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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