Warning: This recap for the Season 8 premiere “Mercy” episode of The Walking Dead contains storyline and character spoilers.
Rick and his gang, much like Kool and the Gang, are all ready for a celebration. As Mr. Grimes tells an assembly of the Alexandrians, Kingdomites, and Hilltoppers ready to go to battle against the Saviors, “With everything we’ve beat, everything we’ve endured, everything we’ve risen above, everything we’ve become, we start tomorrow right now. No matter what comes next, we’ve won… we’ve already won!”
Of course, they still have to actually go ahead and play out the war first, which begins in the season premiere that finds all the leaders of the resistance against Negan getting their grooves back after the brutal, tragic events of Season 7.
Rick, Red-Eye Rick, and Old Man Rick
There appears to be three different timelines happening in the premiere: current Rick, who’s making speeches, and bidding loved ones Carl, Michonne, and Judith adieu as he leaves Alexandria to go off to take out Negan at the Sanctuary.
Then there’s Red-Eye Rick, nicknamed so because he looks as though he’s been crying, or had his peepers traumatized by some sort of gas or other irritable agent. This Rick also seems deep in thought and either in the middle of, or close to the end of, some sort of major event. He appears throughout the episode, most notably at the end, when he mumbles, “My mercy prevailed over my wrath,” and smiles. This Rick appears to be a future Rick, but not as far in the future as Old Man Rick.
You know him, from the San Diego Comic-Con trailer for Season 8. Here’s what we learn about him so far: He wakes up in his bed, where a bouquet of flowers is on a table beside him (in one of the 100th episode’s cool callbacks to TWD scenes past). An aged Rick — gray buzzcut hair, bushy gray beard, relying on a cane to walk — gets up and goes out to the living room, where Michonne (who hasn’t aged) is at the table. Carl comes in (also looking unaged), and tells his dad they’re playing hooky. The house does not appear to be the same one they lived in at Alexandria, and the furniture isn’t the same. And most major reveal: Judith, who looks to be around three or four-years-old when Rick kisses her forehead before leaving home in the war timeline, but who is walking, talking, and appears to be around five or six-years-old as she excitedly tells Old Man Rick about the festival the community is planning, including the creation of a giant owl statue. They look outside, where there is a stone building that is not a part of current Alexandria, as well as new crops. Readers of The Walking Dead comic book will recognize these events as part of the post-“All Out War” storyline, so it’s a good bet that Old Man Rick is a real future version of Rick, and not just a dream.
All three communities gather in a field to officially launch their plan against the Sanctuary, after they’ve armored cars and an RV with metal plates. Rick, King Ezekiel, and Maggie make speeches, and assure their people the bigger world Jesus forecasted for Rick has come together, and that it is now “ours by rights.”
“But those who use and take and kill to carve out the world and make it theirs alone… we end them!” Rick says. “We don’t celebrate it, but we don’t have shame about it, either. There’s only one person who has to die, and I will kill him myself. I will… I will.”
Ezekiel quotes Shakespeare: “For he today that sheds his blood with me today shall be my brother,” adding, “she today, my sister,” as he puts his hand on Maggie’s shoulder.
Maggie warns the soldiers that, though they’ve practiced their plan, they all should keep in mind that they may have to live in uncertainty for days, or longer, before their new order prevails. “We have to keep our faith in each other,” she says. “If we can hold on to that with everything we have, the future is ours. The world is ours!”
Jerry, beloved Jerry, eschews speeches for more practical action. He tries to give Enid a piece of armor for her sternum. She says no thanks, she plans to go back to the Hilltop with Maggie. Jerry persists, holding out the armor, and saying to her, “Dude… sternum.” She doesn’t take it, still, prompting Jerry to hold it out again, and say, more strongly, “Duuuude… ” Enid accepts his thoughtful gift.
Can Rick and Daryl trust Dwight’s Season 7 finale claims that he wants to help them take down Negan? Dwight’s actions in “Mercy” do nothing but suggest they can. Daryl shoots an arrow that lands near Dwight. When he unwraps a piece of paper wrapped around the bow, it says “Tomorrow.” Dwight looks around and sees Daryl, and soon returns the bow with paper that lists the addresses of various Savior lookouts, including one on a treetop (who’s shot down and become zombie chow); one who Rick stabs, then unleashes a walker upon when the man taunts Rick that Carl will die; and one sitting on the hood of a car, who Daryl kills, then begins puffing on the dead Savior’s still lit cigarette. Daryl’s still very angry, and tells Carol later he thinks it’s going to be fun to take the Saviors down.
Morgan also kills one of the lookouts, stabbing him with his newly sharpened pointy-ended stick. But his “all life is precious” philosophy is still causing him great conflict, and he says very little to anyone as he carries out his duties in Rick’s master plan.
The Master Plan
Here’s the gist of the clever, multi-pronged attack against Negan: After taking out the lookout Saviors thanks to Dwight’s info, Rick and company steer a herd of walkers along several miles towards the Sanctuary. They also set off a car bomb on the highway, which Savior lieutenant Dwight sends several carloads of Negan’s minions to investigate. That lowers the number of Saviors at their homebase; Daryl rigs another bomb, which the Saviors in cars set off when they trip a wire, blowing themselves up. With the Saviors population lowered, a caravan of the armor reinforced cars, filled with members of the resistance, roll up to the Sanctuary and unload some gunfire into the air. That brings Negan out, and after Rick gives everyone but Negan a chance to surrender, he and his crew will shoot the place up, with the goal of killing Negan. Then, they’ll immediately go attack the rest of the Saviors’ outposts, dismantling the whole organization.
And most of that plan goes off without a hitch, except for the killing Negan part. Rick makes his best effort. When Negan comes out of the Sanctuary, alongside Simon, Gavin, Eugene, and Savior Regina, he smiles when he sees Rick and his army all lined up on the other side of the Sanctuary fence.
“I see you got your little mudflaps with ya,” Negan says. “I’m not exactly seeing a reason for us to throw lead at each other. I care about my people. I don’t wanna march them into the line of fire because I wanna play ‘My Dick Is Bigger Than Yours … it is. We both know it. But I’m also comfortable enough to accept the fact if it wasn’t. I’m certainly not gonna let my people die over that sh*t. Like you’re about to. So, Rick, what the hell can I do you for?”
Rick calls out Negan’s minions by name, and offers to let them, and the Saviors inside, live, if they surrender now. Eugene tries to speak up, but Rick cuts him off, telling him he knows who he is.
“So, they surrender, and you and your little piss patrol doesn’t kill ‘em?” Negan asks. “That sounds like a good deal. What about me, Rick?”
“I told you. Twice,” Rick says. “You know what’s gonna happen.”
Negan: “I do, I do know what’s gonna happen, but you don’t.” He asks Rick if he thinks he has the numbers for the fight, not knowing that Rick and the gang have already taken out a lot of his people.
Negan plays his next hand when he summons someone from inside: Gregory. Of course, the Sanctuary was his destination when he packed his weasel bag and embarked on a trip at the end of Season 7. Gregory comes out to address Rick and the army, declaring, “The Hilltop stands with Negan and the Saviors.” He threatens that any Hilltop residents who don’t leave now will be banished from the community, as will their families.
None of them leave, and Jesus shouts out at Gregory, “The Hilltop stands with Maggie!”
Simon is unhappy that Gregory has no sway with his people, and he pushes him down a set of concrete stairs to show his displeasure.
Meanwhile, off in the distance, a giant cloud of smoke enters the sky. Rick and the group know it’s the bomb blowing up the cars full of Saviors, and that’s their signal to open fire on the Sanctuary. He starts counting down from 10, but the whole army starts shooting when he gets to seven. They shoot out most of the compound windows, as Negan’s people run inside, and Negan himself runs for cover. He’s limping — did he get shot? — as he dives behind some metal, and Rick keeps shooting. Finally, the resistance army retreats, and Gabriel tells Rick he has to go, even though Negan is still alive.
Elsewhere, Daryl is on his motorcycle, leading the walker herd right to the Sanctuary, and one of Rick’s crew rigged a bomb-filled RV to roll right through the compound’s fence before it explodes.
Father Gabriel is the last one to leave, but just as he starts his truck to go, he sees Gregory stumbling towards him, begging for help. Gabriel — yes, the guy who was once as frightened and cowardly as Gregory — gets out of the car to save Gregory, who then hops in Gabriel’s truck and takes off on his own.
With the walker herd surrounding the Sanctuary, and no one else from his group left to help him, Gabriel runs into a building as walkers claw at the door behind him. Out of the darkness, he hears a voice. “I hope you got your sh*ttin’ pants on,” Negan grins at him. “Because you are about to sh*t your pants.”
In a nod to the end of the series pilot, when an aerial shot pans out as Rick is trapped inside the Army tank in downtown Atlanta, surrounded by walkers, an overhead shot pans out on Gabriel and Negan’s current location, which is also surrounded with hangry walkers looking for a snack.
Rick, Daryl, and the rest of their contingent wait in a field to rendezvous with Gabriel, but have to leave to carry out their next attack: another satellite station Saviors outpost.
And Carol and Ezekiel are leading members of the Kingdom army back to an industrial center where Morgan had killed the lookout Savior earlier. His replacement proves more formidable, though, as the Kingdom army opens fire, and the Savior on duty tosses a smoke bomb at them, temporarily blinding all of them.
Meanwhile, Back in Alexandria…
After Rick and the community members going to battle leave the town, Carl tells a still injured — from the initial battle in the Season 7 finale — Michonne he knows she wanted to go. He did, too, he says. Michonne tells him she is ready to help him defend Alexandria though. “This is your show,” she tells him, as Carl shakes his head.
“OK, you’ll see,” she promises him.
More than just a hint of battles to come on Alexandria turf, the “this is your show” line could also be a shoutout to the popular fan theory that the entire series, and TWD comic book, will end, and have been the story of Carl’s life during and after the apocalypse.
Homage to 100
In addition to the shot of the walkers swarming the building where Gabriel and Negan are holed up, the premiere’s greatest nod to the series making it to 100 episodes is a shot-by-shot creation of Rick’s series pilot encounter with Bunny Slippers Girl. This time it’s Carl looking for gasoline, wearing his dad’s hat, wandering through cars filled with walkers, passing abandoned children’s toys, and getting down on the ground to look under cars to spot a nearby human. Rick found BSG, and Carl finds “The Traveller,” a guy who tells him he’s experienced traumatic things, hasn’t eaten in days, and talks about how his mother always says, “whatever you have good, spend on the traveler.” Carl proceeds carefully towards him, as The Traveller — shaking, emaciated, and frightened — says his mother also liked to quote the Quran: “May my mercy prevail over my wrath.”
But before Carl can befriend the man, Rick appears, and shoots his gun over the man’s head. He tells Carl he was supposed to meet him at the intersection, and that The Traveller could have been a Savior. Carl doesn’t think so, and later returns to the gas station, where he leaves two cans of food and a “sorry” note. The Traveller sees his gesture from the bushes where he’s hiding.
* Despite his commitment to killing Negan, as he had previously promised to do on two occasions, Rick is not taking the war against the Saviors lightly. He tells Father Gabriel, “It’s one person who brought it to this,” and he spends time at the gravesites of Glenn and Abraham, almost as if he needs to focus on why he and his people must go to such extreme lengths, be willing to kill so many people. And his speech to the communities who are banding together to give themselves a shot at a better world? It’s probably just as much to keep his own mind wrapped around the task at hand as it is for his cohorts’ benefit.
* Why yes, that is Weird Al Yankovic’s “Another One Rides the Bus” — Al’s parody of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” — playing in the house when Old Man Rick awakens and goes into the living room. And Carl tells Rick he’s not the one playing it, so, that means either Judith or Michonne is a Weird Al fan, which makes them both even more delightful.
* Another TWD 100 callback: Tara is wearing the orange sunglasses she found in the gift shop she hid in on the way back from the Oceanside in Season 7’s “Swear.”
* If you’ve been paying attention to the decaying show logo at the end of the opening credits sequence each season, be sure to check it out for Season 8. It’s in super gnarly shape now.
* Just before Rick flees the Sanctuary after the group shoots up the place, he pulls out a Polaroid One Step camera and snaps some pics. It’s another callback, this one to the Saviors’ sadistic use of Polaroids to document their handiwork (and to torture Daryl with images of dead Glenn when they imprisoned him at the Sanctuary).
* Rick tells Maggie the Hilltop is lucky to have her. “You showed me how to be someone worth following,” she tells him.
Rick: “Good. After this, I’m following you.”
* F-Bomb Count: zero. AMC is reportedly allowing the writers to use Negan’s favorite four-letter word twice this season, but they must be saving them for something big. Even when Negan was being shot at, he didn’t deploy it.
* After the first round of battle, Ezekiel and his people meet up back at the Kingdom. He sees Carol there, and nods and smiles at her. So… Carol is still living at the Kingdom. Do we think Carekiel is happening?
* The episode was dedicated to the memories of TWD stuntman John Bernecker, who died after an accident on set in July, and to zombie movie legend George Romero, who also died in July.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.
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