The Walking Dead, Season 8, Episode 1: “Mercy”
Directed by Greg Nicotero
Airs Sundays at 9 pm ET on AMC
Editor’s note: This is our spoiler-free review of “The Walking Dead” season eight premiere.
There’s been plenty of television shows that have reached 100 episodes over the years and even more shows that never made it anywhere near that number, but I can’t remember the last time a cable TV drama (which averages only 13 episodes a season) made it this far – not to mention a show as expensive to produce as The Walking Dead. Not even AMC’s previous hits Mad Men and Breaking Bad reached this milestone, so there’s plenty of reason for the folks behind America’s favourite horror show to celebrate this weekend.
The good news is The Walking Dead’s 100th episode is in many ways, a return to form. This season will (as marketed) be an adaptation of the comic’s “All Out War” storyline and the premiere wastes little time getting into the thick of it. Where season seven opened with Rick Grimes begging for mercy, season eight begins with Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) on the opposite end of the spectrum, forming an alliance with the Kingdom and Hilltop, and bringing the fight to Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). And little does Negan know, one of his own, Dwight (Austin Amelio) is working as a double agent to help Rick get the job done.
While the season will, for the most part, follow the aforementioned comic storyline, that’s not to say the season will follow the original source material beat by beat. Obviously the show is taking some liberties from Robert Kirkman’s graphic novels, but when I say the show is returning to its roots, what I mean is that it’s pretty obvious (based on this episode alone) that the season will revolve primarily around the heroic everyman who’s featured in almost every issue of The Walking Dead comic.
It’s safe to say the seventh season was an all-around disappointment leaving many fans frustrated while they watched their favourite character either die or fall apart. It was such a disaster that they somehow made fan favourites Daryl Dixon and Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride) boring to watch, and Rick Grimes almost unbearable to listen to. With the premiere episode experimenting with a new and interesting storytelling format, The Walking Dead seems ready to correct these mistakes. The heart of the series has always centered around the deputy and this time around we get not one, but two timelines to follow Rick Grimes. It shouldn’t be a spoiler to any fans who’ve most likely seen the season teaser that this year, the series will flash back and forth between Rick’s present-day struggles with Negan and a not-too-far-away future that follows an older, happier, white-bearded Rick walking with a cane (most likely due to an injury he suffered along the way). And one thing’s for sure, episode 100 is as much a celebration of the character who’s always been the center and heart of the entire show.
Fans have been impatiently waiting for Grimes to take revenge on the Saviors ever since Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) had their skulls bashed in by Lucille, and in many ways, fans will find some comfort in tonight’s installment. Needless to say, Rick doesn’t hold back, and while I’m not promising his plan will be a complete success, he does at least come out guns blazing. From his inspirational, opening monologue to a big (surprisingly sweet) reveal, the Rick Grimes we all loved is back and based on the flash forwards, seems here to stay. More importantly, Andrew Lincoln is better than ever. He’s the absolute star of the hour showing a wide range of emotions from ruthless and intimidating to loving and remorseful to all-out inspiring. Whatever the scene calls for, the actor gets the job done.
As much as the episode is about our leading man – it’s also a nostalgic look at the show’s legacy with not-so-subtle references to past episodes sprinkled throughout the hour and some fun Easter eggs only diehard fans will notice. It’s an episode worthy of a re-watch just to catch every callback and something fans will surely appreciate. It also helps that this time around, the show is injected with every bit of hope the Season Seven premiere stripped away and every single character (big or small) is present and accounted for. Everyone and I do mean everyone alive, makes an appearance. From Negan and the Saviors to Rick and the nameless Alexandrian extras, everyone has a small role to play. And if you missed seeing Daryl (Norman Reedus) kicking ass you’re going to love watching him drive through the abandoned streets on his motorcycle while cocking a pistol and blowing up gas cans along the way. There’s a touching moment between him and Carol, a few moments between Rick and Michonne (Danai Gurira), another with Michone and Carl (Chandler Riggs) and even an inspiring rebel yell courtesy of Jesus (Tom Payne). Hell, even baby Judith makes a significant appearance this week. More importantly, “Mercy” gives us just the right amount of Negan, a character I’m sure most fans can’t wait to see disappear.
Nearly a year to the day after The Walking Dead’s most controversial episode aired, the Season Eight premiere is set to prove that showrunner Scott Gimple and director Greg Nicotero are trying to bring the show back to its glory days. Overall, “Mercy” does play it safe, maybe too safe, but there’s a lot to like here. The action, despite what you may have heard, is light and the scenes with nailbiting suspense are few and far between but longtime fans of The Walking Dead will certainly appreciate the smaller, quieter moments. I can’t promise it will be enough to win back those fans who have long tuned out but if anything, “Mercy” at least shows there’s actually potential for a happy ending on the horizon.
– Ricky D