The Walking Dead 8.1 Recap and Review: Mercy
Expectations for the season 8 premiere of The Walking Dead were high among the fans, myself included. Titled “Mercy”, the episode was the 100th in the series and was to be directed by TWD favorite Greg Nicotero, who had directed many pivotal episodes in past seasons. After the exciting conclusion of the last season, where the communities united and finally fought back against Negan and the Saviors, fans were anxious to see the return of Negan and watch the power struggle between the Saviors and Rick’s crew unfold. So, when Sunday night rolled around, I silenced my phone and tuned in, ready to witness something that would make my jaw drop; ready to be stunned; ready to pause the show when things got too intense . . . but before I divulge whether any of those things did happen, I will give you the obligatory *spoiler alert*!
The episode focused mainly on Rick’s crew coordinating and executing the first strike against Negan at the Sanctuary. This involved Daryl, Carol, Morgan and Tara leading a herd of the undead toward the Sanctuary while taking out Negan’s lookouts (disclosed to them by Dwight in advance). At the Hilltop, cars were retrofitted with “armor” consisting mainly with sheets of corrugated iron. Then, after several speeches about fighting for their right to live in a world without Negan, Rick and crew made their attack.
The attack went flawlessly. Rick’s caravan of armored cars rolled up to the gates of the Sanctuary. Rick demanded the surrender of everyone but Negan, who he has promised to kill. When they hesitate, Rick (in one of the best scenes of the episode) starts a countdown from 10, but opens fire on “7”, taking Negan completely by surprise and almost killing him. After shooting out all the windows of the Sanctuary in order to make as much noise as possible to attract the undead, Rick’s crew retreats with everyone, save Gabriel who stays behind to rescue a treacherous Gregory, who in return for being rescued, steals Gabriel’s car, leaving him for dead. In the end, Gabriel finds himself trapped in a trailer with Negan as the herd of dead surrounds them and the Sanctuary.
Several aspects of the episode worked well. There was a very interesting scene with Carl stopping at a gas station where he encounters a survivor. Rick chases the survivor away, leaving Carl to question what they will become as a society. The scene parallels the first episode of season one when Rick first leaves the hospital and encounters an undead young girl at a gas station and his heart breaks; at the end of this current scene we also see a young female walker and Rick emotionally heads toward it with ax in hand. Rick has changed, the rules have changed, and the world has changed.
However, interspersed with the scenes of “ruthless” Rick, are spliced images of a future world of peace. Rick is seen with a long beard and a cane (if you are a fan of the comic, you know the origin of the cane.) Also spliced in are scenes of Rick with red rimmed eyes looking overcome with grief and fear. The juxtaposition of these scenes seem to suggest the inner conflict that Rick feels taking this “ruthless” approach, killing without “mercy” knowing it is the path to ultimate peace. It is as if he is willing to sacrifice his own humanity for the sake of his world. Thankfully, Father Gabriel is there to remind Rick it is not “all about him”.
Yet at the end, it is Carl who goes back to the gas station to leave supplies for the stranger that his father had previously scared away. Carl’s approach seems to be one where he will create a better world now, in the present. Carl refuses to give up his humanity; for him the means justify the ends, not the other way around.
Other parts of the episode did not work so well. I imagine every writer and actor would like to create the impact of the “inspirational speech before a battle against all odds” similar to the iconic St. Crispin’s day speech of Henry V. Unfortunately, most of the time, these speeches are so cliché, they are almost painful to watch. This episode gave us not one, but three such painful speeches: one from Maggie, one from Rick and one from Ezekiel. At least Ezekiel sounded Shakespearean. Regardless, the speeches were “mercifully” short (see, cause the title of the episode. . . never mind) and did not completely ruin things.
Another problem I had with the episode was the lack of intensity I have come to expect from the show. Everything about Rick’s plan worked flawlessly and there was never a real sense of danger, except for Father Gabriel getting trapped with Negan at the very end. Not once did I feel anxious or excited. I felt like the writers could have at least tried to manipulate me a little bit by leading me to think something would go wrong and then making it right at the last minute, but no such luck.
So overall, for a 100th episode and series premier I felt a bit underwhelmed. The episode was not bad, and it moved the story forward while introducing some interesting ideas about the changes characters are willing to make or not willing to make to win the war, but it fell far short of my expectations.