The Walking Dead Season 8 Premiere Recap: "Mercy"

Photo: Courtesy of AMC.
The Walking Dead is back, and in case you’d forgotten while Daenerys and Jon Snow laid waste to armies on the backs of dragons, its seventh season ended with the Alexandria, Hilltop, and Kingdom colonies finally teaming up against Negan and his vicious band of Saviors. AMC’s tagline for Season 8 is “All Out War” — its posters feature Rick Grimes and Negan squaring off atop a pile of earth tone-clad soldiers, sort of like that pile of Taylor Swifts in her “Look What You Made Me Do” video — and on that front, “Mercy” did not disappoint.
Before we get into the carnage, though, let’s go over some basic housekeeping items:
In the months since the season finale but, presumably, days since Sasha died and Negan’s henchman got eaten by a Tiger, Judith has aged considerably. She’s now walking, talking, and putting away her savings in a 401k, which is slightly hilarious because ...
… Maggie isn’t showing yet at all. This will undoubtedly make it easier for her (and for actress Lauren Cohan) to kick ass in battle without having to pee every 15 minutes, but I’m a little bummed we’ll never get to see a super preggo Maggie chop Negan’s balls off with a rusty hatchet. (What? A girl can dream.)
Also, if and when Maggie’s baby does finally arrive, she might have to hire a new preacher to baptize them in the name of her Lord and Savior. Because while none of our heroes died in “Mercy,” the episode ended with Father Gabriel in a seemingly unsurvivable (for a disposable character like him, anyway) position. Thanks to a combination of bad luck and good faith, Gabriel found himself stuck inside a trailer with Negan (and Lucille), which was somehow only the second crappiest part of his situation — there was a horde of walkers rapidly encroaching, too.
Besides poor Gabriel, though, “Mercy” was the most — um, uplifting? — episode of The Walking Dead we’ve seen in a couple of seasons. It was a sweeping victory for our heroes, who defeated and uprooted the Saviors from The Sanctuary using a mix of teamwork, bravery, and smarts, and Rick evan began the episode with an optimistic vision for his people’s future.
“When I first met him, Jesus said that my world was going to get a whole lot bigger. We found that world, we found each other, and that bigger world is ours by right,” Rick began; motivating his troops for battle.
“Any person who would live in peace and fairness, who would find common ground, it’s their right, too. 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 is only one person who has to die, and I will kill him myself.”
We’ve watched Rick and his ilk struggle to determine what makes someone good or evil in their world since Season 1, and though they’ve found brief moments of peace and stability in the past (early-days Alexandria; the prison), teaming up with The Kingdom and Hilltop seems to have imbued Rick with more optimism than ever. Even as he grieved at the Hilltop graves of Glenn, Abraham, and the rest of the post-Season 5 fallen, he also enjoyed visions of himself living peacefully with Michonne, Carl, and Judith in old age, which is a huge improvement from the nihilistic Rick Grimes of yesteryear.
Of course Rick will still have to kill Negan (the “one person” referenced in his Bill Pullman Independence Day speech) before he gets there, as offing the Big Bad was the one part of the group’s plan that didn’t quite work out. After communicating with Dwight, their man on the inside, via a system of messages tied to arrows, Rick’s group began their attack by killing the Saviors’ lookouts.
Next, the group’s newest explosives expert Tara (clearly pinch-hitting for Rosita, here, as actress Christian Serratos was extremely pregnant when “Mercy” was filmed, but is still billed as a regular this season) began leading the aforementioned horde of walkers toward The Sanctuary using strategically placed pieces of that dynamite they stole last season. The explosions also led several of Negan’s best men and women out of The Sanctuary to check out the source of the booms, which left the compound and its leader even more vulnerable to Rick’s attack.
From there, Rick, Maggie, and the majority of their army drew Negan and his inner circle outside by gathering near his gate and firing four gunshots in unison. (Clearly, the ammunitions scare the group faced last season is now a thing of the past.) And, lest you hoped The Walking Dead writers might pull an about-face and somehow write Negan less like a handsome, super-empowered version of an alt-right meninist this year and more like an actually intriguing villain, your hopes were surely dashed when he strolled outside with Lucille and immediately started talking about his dick. Negan still sucks. The less said about his awful personality in general, the better.
Rick told Negan’s crew — Eugene included — that he’d spare them if they abandoned their leader. None of them took him up on it, so Negan swaggered on by bringing Gregory out, and having him tell the Hilltoppers that any among them who took up arms against Negan and The Sanctuary would lose their home. Jesus promptly shouted back that Hilltop stands with Maggie, so Negan went ahead and did the second good thing he’s ever done on this show (the first was telling Gabriel that he’s “creepy as shit”); telling Simon to push Gregory down the stairs. Bye, girl.
Rick, Maggie, Ezekiel and the rest then began shooting, drawing Negan and his cronies back inside while The Sanctuary crumbled. Meanwhile, Daryl led the horde of walkers in the right direction, so the armies and Rick (the latter begrudgingly) drove off to let the dead do their thing.
Poor Good Christian Gabriel, though, found Gregory alone and terrified on his way out, and left his vehicle to save him. Gregory then drove off with said vehicle, leaving Gabriel alone with no choice but to seek shelter in that trailer while the horde approached. Waiting for him was Negan, who asked Gabriel if he was wearing his “shittin’ pants,” because if I haven’t made this clear yet, Negan talks like a sixth-grade bully.
I’m guessing the next few weeks, at least, will continue the “all-out war” — Negan is still out there, after all, and Carol, Ezekiel, and some of the others found themselves in hot water while trying to pick off the remainder of Negan’s trusted guards. Additionally, Carl and Michonne were left behind in Alexandria to protect the non-fighters; and I’d be shocked if the war came and went without Michonne chopping off a head or two. Until then, “Mercy” was a pretty solid start to what should hopefully be an interesting season, as who knows what might happen once the Negan threat is exterminated and the communities are left to build this better world for themselves.
A few other things:
Immediately after Rick gave that rousing, “all good people can totally hang” speech, he and his son found a seemingly innocent and very hungry man at a gas station. Rick scared the man away with gunshots, telling Carl that he might have been a spy. This undercut what he’d just said; and I’m guessing that Rick not knowing how to act once war is through could be a continuing theme this season and beyond. Carl later left cans of food and a note saying “sorry” for the man to find, so maybe the younger Grimes will be better off than his father when it comes to actually living in the future Rick promised.
Rick also told Maggie that he plans to hand over the leadership badge to her after Negan is killed which, given his history of severe mood swings and general mental instability, doesn’t sound like the worst idea.
On that note, did Rick seriously take a Polaroid of The Sanctuary burning?
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