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‘The Walking Dead’ Review: ‘Mercy’ Celebrates 100 Episodes of Abject Misery

A new season brings the same old storytelling frustrations.

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes - The Walking Dead _ Season 8, Episode 1 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Gene Page/AMC

Previously…

Last season, “The Walking Dead” had one of its biggest audiences ever for its worst-ever episode, and the show subsequently lost a number of viewers most shows would kill for, while still remaining a ratings powerhouse.

Rick and the others encountered new communities like the Hilltop (led by Gregory, who sucks) and the Kingdom (led by King Ezekiel, who rules). Both communities wound up rallying to Rick’s side, presumably because they were tried of Negan’s endless speechifying. Eugene went full heel, becoming a higher-up in the Saviors, while Savior lieutenant Dwight agreed to be a mole for the resistance. Finally, Sasha killed herself in a convoluted attempt on Negan’s life, because she had to go trek to the stars. Whew!

Whose Episode Is It?

Everyone’s accounted for in the premiere, with Rick naturally getting the biggest focus. With their forces united, Rick, Maggie, and Ezekiel deliver a big speech about how they will be triumphant, and once the Saviors are vanquished they can begin to build a new world. Rick claims that only one man has to die in this conflict, and Rick will kill him himself. If you let someone else take a shot you’ll probably achieve your goals faster, Rick.

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Lauren Cohan as Maggie Greene - The Walking Dead _ Season 8, Episode 1 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

“Walking Dead” premiere episodes tend to be more action-focused, so it’s not a big character development episode, but there is an odd framing sequence that involves what appears to be a Near Future Rick and a Far Future Rick (or possibly Dream Sequence Rick). Near Future Rick seems to be in a bad way and mutters “May my mercy prevail over my wrath,” while under a stained glass window. Far Future Rick has grown a big beard, walks with a cane, and is enjoying a seemingly conflict-free life in Alexandria. Nothing really comes of this during “Mercy,” but it’s sure to come up again further down the line.

A Shred of Humanity

Early in the episode, Carl encounters a starving Muslim man who pleads for mercy until Rick chases him away, claiming he could be a Savior spy. Later, Carl returns to the same spot and leaves some cans of food along with a note reading “sorry.” It’s basically unheard of for “Walking Dead” to comment on current politics, but there’s really no other way to read the scene, particularly when the man says “Helping a person without a home? That’s everything!” It’s all pretty rich, considering that the show’s overarching ethical ethos up to this point has been “get them before they get you.” (You’ll recall that just two episodes ago Rick and his buddies robbed a community of their weapons in the name of their righteous war.) “Walking Dead” could definitely stand to have greater moral clarity, but this all seems a bit too little, too late.

The War Effort

The horrifically Photoshop-ed ads for this season promise “all out war,” and to its credit, “Mercy” delivers on that promise. There’s no brooding, no dawdling — the team fortifies their battle wagons and then heads off to confront Negan. So yes, things happen this episode, it’s just the way they happen range from “by the numbers” to “pretty dumb.”

Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon - The Walking Dead _ Season 8, Episode 1 - Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

Rick’s plan is twofold: take a team to Negan’s compound and demand their unconditional surrender, and have a second team drive a huge herd of zombies into that same compound, presumably to kill every living thing there. This raises the question: If the Saviors did surrender, was there a plan to evacuate them before the zombie horde arrived? Or was it all just a feint to wipe out the Saviors completely? Does Rick even know that the Saviors have a big indentured servant population? None of those questions reflect particularly well on Rick and his “only one man has to die” speech. Regardless, when Rick’s team arrives, Negan just walks out in front of them with no cover, where literally anyone could shoot him, and when Rick finally does take a shot, he misses.

There’s even a point where Negan is alone and pinned down and all Rick has to do is jog over and finish him, but Gabriel convinces him to leave, although Rick does snap a quick Polaroid to commemorate the occasion. Remember how Negan had like 10 million chances to kill Rick last season, but didn’t because he’s the main character? The “I should kill you now but then the show would be over” shoe is on the other foot now. You could argue that Rick didn’t want to risk getting shot by the Saviors, but since neither side appears to take a single casualty after emptying their guns at each other, it’s a pretty weak excuse.

All of the action is pretty ho-hum. Rick’s team and the Saviors shoot at each other a lot (a lot). Daryl drives around on his motorcycle, blowing things up to remind you that he’s the coolest. Tara makes a joke because she’s the Funny One. It’s all par for the course.

Khary Payton as Ezekiel - The Walking Dead _ Season 8, Episode 1 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Man Is The True Monster

Before the gunfight begins, Negan trots out Gregory to demand that Hilltop abandon Rick, apparently not realizing that everyone at Hilltop turned on Gregory like nine episodes ago. Eventually, Gregory gets stuck between the warring sides and Gabriel opts not to escape the zombie horde in order to help Gregory escape. They both get pinned down but Gregory steals Gabriel’s car and gets away, because as usual on “The Walking Dead,” mercy is weakness. Gabriel winds up trapped in a trailer with none other than Negan.

The Remains

  • This week in terrible Negan lines: “I hope you’ve got your shittin’ pants on, because you’re about to shit your pants.” I feel like he’s said that one before, but it’s not any better the second time.
  • When everyone goes to fight Negan, Michonne, Carl, and Rosita have to stay behind, because two of them are wounded and one of them is Carl.
  • Congrats to Seth Gilliam and Ross Marquand for making the opening credits. Here’s hoping they get more to do this year!

Grade: C

“The Walking Dead” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC. 

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