The Walking Dead Season 8, Episode 1: “Mercy” Review

It’s that time of year again people! October and that means that The Walking Dead is back on our screens, and as each year goes on so does this tremendous piece of art, and boy has it grown since it first showed up on our doorstep back in 2010 covered in blood, and with the promise of something different down the road. Sure, it’s had its ups and downs, most shows do, but there has always been something interesting to pull me back into the fold, even during the series’ dullest, and somewhat abysmal, periods.

Another thing that has been developing the last couple of years is the sharp season openers, granting us some mighty big indications as to what we can expect from the rest of the season, starting things off with a mighty big bang that leaves a massive impact. This year’s season opener, “Mercy”, certainly didn’t shy away from this trend and what with it being the 100th episode of the show you’d expect something extraordinary to come out of this particular narrative. Well…

I’m not going to stray away from the fact that “Mercy” wasn’t the best episode within the show’s history, and that I was slightly disappointed by the fact that the team behind the series wasted such a grand moment within The Walking Dead‘s successful run. We had a landmark occasion to fulfil and the team blew it. “Mercy” certainly wasn’t a bad episode, far from it, but it wasn’t anything outstanding either. It was mostly a load of build-up and not a lot of pay-off.

Kudos to the team opting to have Rick and his new alliance go with a more strategic plan of action against Negan and The Saviors, because it mostly paid-off in demonstrating a cunning conclusion to all their suffering. But, one who has followed this series since the beginning, and grown attached to this recent shift in the action towards the war with Negan, expected something more fulfilling when it came to the confrontation between Rick and Negan.

Now, a lot of this judgment is pre-judgement because I have yet to see the rest of the season, and it’s quite obvious that there is still more fight to come, so my wishes of a more bloodthirsty battle with tons of casualties is just around the corner. I guess when you look back at The Governor turning up at the prison in Season 4’s mid-season finale with a freaking tank, and then compare that to this confrontation it lacks the impact and ferocity.

Plus, I just hated Rick’s over confidence throughout like he knew he was ultimately going to win, and he just acted rather smug throughout his half-arsed confrontation with Negan. I get that he was supposed to be re-treading what Negan had previously done to him, thus accomplishing some sort of reverse psychology in order to showcase how the tables have turned and that Negan’s own ruthless tactics had come back to bite him in the arse. But the problem lies with the execution and the simple fact that the plan wasn’t a guaranteed victory, so why be so cocky?

This is what made me enjoy Negan’s calmness throughout the entire spoken confrontation because he damn-well knew that he still held the high-ground despite being outnumbered and outgunned within the moment. And what made this moment hold even more weight towards Negan was the simple factor of the villain outwardly declaring that he wouldn’t use his people as canon-fodder to fight Rick, making you wonder just who the greater monster is here (I mean, Christ, Rick ain’t no saint that’s for sure). The bottom-line is Rick still doesn’t have the numbers to beat Negan and The Saviors, thus needed to plan a counter-strike that involved the less bloodshed, hence resorting to using a herd of Walkers to bombard the Sanctuary.

It was a bloody clever idea mind, but one that quickly makes Rick’s strategy feel flawed in so many different ways. The most obvious of course is that there’s no guarantee that this will defeat Negan. Maybe slow down his operations or hinder his numbers, thus giving Rick the slightest bit of advantage down the road, but ultimately this doesn’t guarantee Rick the instant victory that he constantly proclaimed throughout the episode. I imagined from these bold words that he had devised a plan that pretty much guaranteed him the upper-hand, and thereby making him victorious once and for all, to the point where I actually feared that the war against Negan may have concluded in “Mercy” (which would’ve sucked).

But by the episode’s conclusion it was clear that these ballsy words had no real depth other than, “Hey look at us Negan, we’re definitely standing against you this time [after two previous failed attempts] and we have lots of numbers now, and lots of guns which we’re going to fire unnecessarily to make it seem like we have plenty of bullets to waste, and oh, we have a massive herd that we’re just going to plonk on your doorstep just for extra giggles. Bye now! ~ Love from Rick.”

Of course the other flaw in this grand-scheme is Rick becoming no better off than Negan himself (which I touched upon above). I mean releasing a herd of Walkers upon the Sanctuary is a bit much isn’t it? A mean it’s not like every single person within the Sanctuary single-handily attacked Rick and his alliance personally. It was The Saviors! Most of the people inside the Sanctuary are just normal people who have been brainwashed into serving Negan because they are literally terrified of his brutality and the wrath it ensues. Thus releasing the Walkers has condemned many innocent people caught in the middle of a terrifying war caused by one man.

I also found it quite hypocritical of Rick to proclaim that this war wasn’t about him when it was blatantly all about him. It’s always been “The Rick Show” in which he has to look the big man in front of his group in order to make it seem like he’s this ultra badass that can do anything he proclaims and Negan has since destroyed that perfect image. Rick’s recent failures has cost him nothing but embarrassment because he has been lowered into the dirt by Negan, to the point where he was made a literal bitch reduced to licking the shit off somebody else’s boots, and this in turn cost his group a lot, including their respect towards Rick because of his false promises bringing them further devastation in an already devastating landscape.

So really this battle was about him finding his dick again and lining it up against Negan’s in order to prove once and for all his is the bigger equipment and will pull on demand. I don’t mean to be shitting all over Rick, especially since Andrew Lincoln does such a great job, but I would be lying if I said he wasn’t an inconsistent beast that constantly strays in and out of my interest level. One minute I really enjoy his character and I want his unstoppable badass nature to go to new heights, but then he just becomes a preachy fuck that bores me to tears with half-empty promises of a better tomorrow which clearly lacks innovation because his heart isn’t in the right place, thus lacking the correct resolve.

Also, I really found this season opener jarring at times because of the shift in focus on these different moments in time and places revolving around Rick. It literally made me confused and that’s not the reaction I want from The Walking Dead. I was scratching my head puzzled as to what was going on, and these jumps just made what was already a questionable episode on my scale of likeability sway even more because I didn’t understand what these moment were supposed to represent or entirely mean within the context of the greater narrative.

The whole “Old” man Rick thing was a nice gesture into Rick’s psyche of wanting a better future for his family and group, thus finally being able to settle down and live a normal life again prior to the outbreak of Walkers, but it leaves me wondering whether this is supposed to be something in his head or an actual flash-forward to the future. Then there’s the other weird one where we keep seeing a close-up of Rick who looks beaten by physically and mentally, almost filled with regret over some decision he has made, which no doubt cost his group more pain due to his failure. Again, is this going to be addressed later on in Season 8? Who knows? And don’t get me started on Rick standing over the graves!

I will admit I liked the subtle (and not so subtle) call-backs to the very first episode, “Days Gone Bye”, particularly through rebuilding the opening scene with Carl replacing Rick as the leading character bringing the viewer into this dangerous world of survival, accompanied with the return of Addy Miller who played the very first Walker seen within the show. Again, these scenes don’t have a chronological order within the grander narrative and left me wondering where they stood and how they affected the show’s progression. I suppose it gave us subtle hints at the change in character’s ideology, i.e. Carl’s willingness to show compassion to a stranger against Rick becoming paranoid due to his fear of The Saviors and his keenness to finally beat them by whatever cost.

The build-up to the attack was great and all but sadly it didn’t have the pay-off I hoped for. Plus, the sad part is that the Season 8 Trailer pretty much gave us every crucial moment from this very episode, thus there weren’t any surprises to be made (specifically the conclusion), let alone any actual badass moments to be enjoyed first-hand. It was nice to see the tables finally start to turn but I honestly expected to seek Rick and his alliance tackle their fight differently, i.e. actually attack the Sanctuary with actual force, but instead opted for a sneak approach that resulted in no actual conflict, which added to the season-opener’s lack of real threat and tension (something that completely smothered the past two season-openers and made them instant classics).

Obviously, there’s more to come. And I’m hoping that the events of this episode opens tons of repercussions down the road. Ultimately, I’m hoping that this war is far from over because it’s honestly the best thing that has happened to the show in a long time. Plus, I love Negan. He’s my new favourite character. I know I shouldn’t like him but I think he’s an absolute riot, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan sells him perfectly. I guess his unpredictability, added with his questionable humour, just adds to the many reasons why he’s a really well developed character and a joyful, multi-layered villain whom I love to watch. Sometimes I’m just waiting for him to show up just so I can be dazzled by what he’ll do next.

So, yeah, spoil me with plenty of battles filled with bloodshed. Lots of repercussions because of Rick’s idiotic decisions. And many more glorious Negan moments please! Thank you kind sirs!

 

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