Welcome back to The Walking Dead, folks. It’s time to return for Season Eight and the start of an all out war between Rick and Negan. Hopefully this time, our heroes aren’t as overconfident as last time, but we’ll see. This is “Mercy.”
The season begins in nonlinear fashion. After some close-ups of a cane, flowers, and a clock, we cut to Rick paying his respects at the Hilltop while everyone else is hard at work while others are spread out in various locations- Tara and Carol, for one, are keeping watch at an overpass.
Rick then tells his audience that, on their first encounter, Jesus told him that his world was about to get bigger. Now they’ve found each other and that bigger world is theirs by right. The same applies to anyone who would live in peace and fairness. But those who use, take, and kill to carve up the world to make it theirs alone will die. That’s not to be celebrated, but there’s no shame in it, either.
Only one person has to die, and Rick will kill that person himself. Then they keep making the world bigger. Ezekiel and Maggie concur. They know that their plan doesn’t end this morning. They may live in uncertainty for days, but they have to keep up their faith in each other. If they can do that and hold onto what they have, then the future and world is theirs.
Over at the Sanctuary, Dwight receives a message in an arrow that reads ‘Tomorrow.’ He fashions his response to an arrow and fires it outside the gates to Daryl.
Back on the overpass, Carol and Tara continue to wait while a sea of walkers pass on the streets below.
We then get another glimpse of old man Rick, with a much thicker beard. I think that Rick’s just having dreams about the time skip.
Meanwhile, on the road, Carl revisits the opening of Season One-I mean, is on the road when he gets out of his van and starts exploring. With a gas canister in his hand, he surveys the land until he hears a voice. The unknown person explains that he’s been shot at and repeats his mother’s words about helping a traveler. The voice gets that Carl may not trust people, and this person may not, either.
The person hasn’t eaten in awhile. Carl finally finds him and the man explains that he just wants some food, but then Rick swoops in and fires at him. He then scolds Carl for not meeting him at the intersection. Rick thinks the guy could’ve been one of the Saviors, so he shot above him. If he’s not a Savior, Rick hopes he makes it. Carl feels that hope won’t be enough. Who was this guy, you may ask? We’ll get to him later.
Elsewhere, the plan to gain a tactical advantage over the Saviors is executed, as various Saviors are eliminated from their lookout posts.
Gabriel informs Rick that everything is ready. The two talk of how this all started with one person, but Gabriel says that it always starts with one person. Rick feels that this isn’t about him, though, and Gabriel agrees. Rick just made it like that.
While Daryl meets up with Carol, Tara, and Morgan, Rick bids goodbye to Judith, Carl, and Michonne. As Rick heads off, Michonne tells Carl that while she wanted to go with Rick, she’ll stand with Carl and help him defend Alexandria.
Out on the road, Rick gets a surprise attack on a Savior and manages to gut him. As the Savior slowly bleeds, he taunts Rick, remembering how he begged and that he’ll beg again. More than that, his son will die. Rick then cuts loose a nearby walker that quickly feats on the Savior. Once the coast is clear, he signals to the others down the road that they can proceed.
Everyone soon assembles in an open field. Maggie tells Rick and Ezekiel that she got the Hilltop to stand against the Saviors and needs to be there with them for the first part. Ezekiel, having heard about the Hilltop losing a doctor, offers to lend one from the Kingdom, but Jesus is certain that they’ll retrieve theirs. Rick tells Maggie that the Hilltop is lucky to have her and that once this is all over, he will follow her.
Back at the overpass, it’s time. Tara counts down and eventually…nothing happens. Then the walker herd soon arrives. Tara should adjust her watch. Anyway, the four fall back and as they do, the van on the road soon explodes.
Over at the Sanctuary, a convoy of Saviors leave the compound. Dwight heads inside just as two more Saviors are executed atop their posts from a distance. Soon enough, the entourage from Alexandria, the Kingdom, and Hilltop arrive at the Sanctuary and everyone fires off three shots. Well, that’s just a waste of bullets, but it’s enough to get Negan and a few Savior lieutenants to make an appearance.
Rick has yet another daydream. This time, he actually gets out of bed, grabs his cane, and goes to greet Michonne and Carl.
Okay, enough. In the present, Negan again emerges and isn’t in the mood for a shootout. He cares about the Saviors and doesn’t want to march them into the line of fire. After all, his dick is bigger than Rick’s. But even if it wasn’t, he wouldn’t want anyone to die. So he wants to know why Rick is here.
Rick points out Simon, Gavin, Dwight, and a new Savior who hasn’t been previously identified before: Regina. And Rick already knows Eugene.
Rick tells the Saviors that they have a chance to survive if they surrender. It can’t be guaranteed anytime but now. Negan wonders if Rick would indeed let any surrendering Saviors life if they give up, but as for Negan, Rick reminds Negan that he will kill him. But Negan knows something that Rick doesn’t. He questions and doubts that Rick has the numbers for this fight.
More than that, it turns out that the Saviors have another advantage. Gregory is brought out and announces that the Hilltop stands with Negan. Any Hilltop member who stands against the Saviors will no longer will be welcome in the colony. Same with their families. And they should go home now or they won’t have a home.
Even still, no one’s retreating. Jesus even yells out that the Hilltop stands not with Gregory, but with Maggie. Simon tells Gregory that he invested a lot in him, and now he’s very disappointed.
Back on the road, Morgan kills a lone walker to keep it from setting off the trap. the trap springs into place. Once the Saviors’ cars arrive, they trip the wires and an explosion goes off.
The explosion is heard from the Sanctuary and Rick tells Negan’s lieutenants to make up their mind. Gavin calls for calm, but Rick tells Negan that this is the only way. And now Rick is the one to start counting. But once he gets to seven, he just opens fire anyway. The Saviors retreat, but everyone continues opening fire on the Sanctuary. Once they’re done, they pull back. Again, a waste of bullets.
On the road, the four watch as the walker herd heads their way. Tara bids the others farewell while Daryl soon speeds off on a motorcycle, shooting off various explosions along the way.
Soon enough, Rick detonates the RV. Negan, for some reason, heads back out into the firefight and takes cover as Rick tries to get a good shot at him. Though Gabriel reminds Rick that this isn’t about him, so they have to leave now. But not before Rick can take a picture. Come on, you know that’s not going to be a good looking picture.
Before Gabriel can head out, he rushes over to help Gregory, who wonders why people are firing at him of all people. Of course. Instead of waiting, Gregory rushes off and leaves in a car, stranding Gabriel at the Sanctuary in the process.
We’re back on the road with Carl, who returns to the gas station and leaves two cans of food and a ‘Sorry’ note for the man from earlier. That man, turns out, is watching him from the bushes.
Elsewhere, while Carol meets up with Ezekiel, Rick tells Negan that he tried to kill Negan, but Gregory stopped him. Rick reiterates that this isn’t about him. Meanwhile, at an outpost, Morgan and Dianne discuss possibly taking out the guards with arrows, though Dianne isn’t sure if she can hit them through that.
However, the Kingdom makes another surprise attack on another facility, only to get caught off guard when their Savior target tosses a grenade.
As walkers stream into the Sanctuary, Gabriel eventually takes refuge in a trailer. But this was the worst possible choice. A voice from the darkness says that Gabriel should be wearing his shitting pants. Why? Because he’s about to shit his pants. The voice is, of course, Negan.
But we’re still not done. We get another flash-forward as an older Judith informs Rick that people made a big owl for the party. Turns out the festival is being taken very seriously. Festival, huh? Hm. The two head out and we get a glimpse of a lively Alexandria.
Still not done. We finish with another bit of Rick’s speech to the crowd, telling them that after everything they’ve endured and risen above- if they start tomorrow right now, then no matter what comes next, they’ve won!
We’ve arrived at the 100th episode of The Walking Dead and in addition to some great callbacks to the pilot- and the great scene with Carl recreating the same motions Rick made in the first episode- it felt like the start of something great coming on the horizon for the survivors.
Now I say all of this knowing that this war is far from over and there will be a setback, but now, planning here is going far better than it did in “Not Tomorrow Yet.”
Back then, Rick and company thought that taking out just one outpost would get the job done. As such, they underestimated the sheer number of Saviors and this culminated in the group facing many roadblocks until they were finally surrounded and outmatched in “Last Day on Earth.”
Here, the goal of the premiere, I feel, wasn’t to deliver a satisfying conclusion or show that the odds will be in Rick’s favor for the rest of the season. But rather, now with aid from more allies, he’s being more careful. Instead of striking at one stronghold, everyone is methodically picking off all of the Saviors at each outpost in an effort to limit communication back to Negan.
It’s a smart strategy that clears along certain paths that can be used for more traps, but also shows how much more thought and effort went into this plan. Everyone here has learned from their previous mistakes and it’s good progression that they’re being smarter and more covert when dealing with Negan.
As such, the episode had a fast pace to it, but then, with everything that’s going on, it had to be. Everyone is fighting battles on multiple fronts and it does feel like a more coordinated effort. While some can attack outposts, the others can lead walkers to the Sanctuary, and there can still be others around to defend the individual communities.
This is my one minor qualm with the episode, specifically the segments with Carol, Morgan, Tara, and Daryl. Nothing’s wrong with the moments themselves, but because we cut to them for such brief periods before jumping back to Rick and the others, I feel that these scenes could have played out as longer segments. But again, a very minor nitpick.
It’s nice to see Rick get his second wind as far as his confidence goes. Even if he doesn’t know everything that Negan may do, he’s more prepared this time around and it helps that he has more support on his side. And unlike last time he tried to get the drop on Negan, he’s not taking any chances.
His bravado to the point of just opening fire at Negan and even taking a photo of him during the firefight was a great moment that felt very earned, given all he’s endured under Negan’s thumb. Now is the time to counterattack and I will be very surprised if that picture Rick took doesn’t pop up down the line. But then, he took it in the heat of the moment with a Polaroid camera of all things. It’ll look blurry for sure.
Rick’s talk with Carl about hope felt like a callback to the conversation they had after their first encounter with Gabriel. Back then, Rick wasn’t taking any chances with strangers and the same applies here. But like back then, Carl didn’t believe that everyone could be bad. And just as he chose to trust Gabriel, he’s doing the same here and following Aaron’s past move of leaving out food for a stranger.
Now it’s possible that this mystery man could turn out to be a problem if he’s allowed in, but for now, Carl is going beyond just being hopeful and opting to extend an olive branch for someone who may prove a useful ally. We’ll see.
Sticking with Carl for a second, it’s interesting when Michonne told Carl that this is his show, making me wonder whether Alexandria may come under attack while he’s in charge.
Another great moment was Jesus yelling out to Gregory that the Hilltop stands behind Maggie. Because yes, ever since “Go Getters,” Maggie has shown she has the leadership abilities to lead the Hilltop. And she’s more willing to confront the Saviors compared to Gregory, who would rather slide into Negan’s good graces at the expense of his community.
All in all, “Mercy” was a solid start and continuation of the series. It was fast when it needed to be and put the characters on the offensive by taking the fight to the Saviors on all points. However, even though Rick may feel he has an advantage for the time being, the war is far from over.