Not by accident, I avoided all trailers for Season 8 before it started, as well as all the short “special previews” that suddenly appeared on my DVR. I’m sure all of this didn’t spoil anything important, but I wanted to go into the 100th episode of The Walking Dead with no expectations whatsoever. I’ve been a fan of the show since the beginning, and I expect to continue to be a fan until the series decides to reach some sort of conclusion.
But…if Episode 8.1 “Mercy” is any indication, they plan to stretch the conflict with Negan out for at least part of the season, which reminds me, unfavorably, of the whole directing the herd from the quarry sequence that went on forever in Season 6. That season turned out okay after a slow start. I suspect this one will, too. Plus, I think trying to portray an all-out war with the Saviors in just one episode would tend to diminish the conflict. This should be epic. But how epic? The first half of the season, maybe? The whole season?
I think non-stop fighting scenes would grow tiresome after a while. You need the quiet moments to make the big, scary moments bigger and scarier.
I remain a little confused about the flash-forward of the bearded Rick with a cane. He seems okay, as does Michonne, Carl and Judith, so this takes away some of the tension from the battle scenes. We know none of these characters is likely to die in the near future. Of course, I didn’t think they were likely to die anytime soon. I think Daryl and Carol are safe as well, though I could be wrong about that. The future is not as clear for any other characters, including Negan, who—as I understand it—lived on in the comics. With a charismatic, powerhouse of an actor like Jeffrey Dean Morgan in the role, it seems like it would be a shame to kill him off in the television show as well. But, I don’t see any other satisfying conclusion to the Rick vs. Negan conflict.
I’m not sure what’s going to happen this season. At the moment, I can’t see a goal past that of eliminating the Saviors as a threat. I guess Maggie will need to have her baby at some point as well. That should take most of an episode, maybe with some tear-jerking flashbacks of Glenn. If the Saviors are defused by the midseason break, then the back half could be about putting together some sort of government to unite the other communities, which doesn’t sound very exciting. Of course, before the season ends, some new, even bigger threat may emerge. That sounds about right. Maybe Negan survives somehow and returns to bash in the heads of both Carl and Michonne while Rick looks on, impotent. That would suck.
Okay, enough crystal ball gazing. About this episode: it was a slam-bang action-packed opener to the season. The Alexandrians and their allies go on a total offensive, with strategic tactics and armored vehicles. Daryl rides his bike and sets off some explosions to direct a walker horde to the Saviors’ compound, which was cool. In spite of their well-laid plans, no one seems to be able to get a bullet into Negan, even when he is standing in plain sight bragging about the size of his package in comparison to Rick’s. Negan’s malevolent charisma is like Magneto’s forcefield, and bullets are deflected almost harmlessly away from him.
The Alexandrians kick some serious ass in this battle, leaving the walkers to finish off any stragglers. As our heroes are pulling out, Father Gabriel turns back to save Gregory, who had defected to the Saviors from Hilltop. Predictably, the ever-slimy Gregory betrays the priest and steals his car, leaving Gabriel to fend off the walkers on his own. Gabriel enters a trailer to save himself, only to find out that Negan is inside with him. “I hope you got your shitting pants on,” Negan says, and Gabriel’s future suddenly doesn’t look so bright. African American actors haven’t fared well on this show.
There’s also a little wraparound bit about Rick, while he and Carl are out scavenging gasoline, scaring off a stranger by shooting over his head. This was before the battle, I think, although with the flash foward and all, time gets a bit disjointed. Carl doesn’t seem to like Rick’s pessimistic outlook towards strangers, and at the end of the show is shown leaving food for the stranger, who seems to be watching him from a hiding place. I admire Carl’s ability to not think the worst of his fellow man. However, in the TWD world, I have to side with Rick on this one. Helping strangers doesn’t always end well. Helping anyone, at times. Look at Gabriel and Gregory.
It was also nice, in this episode, to see Maggie fully emerging as the leader of Hilltop Colony, with Jesus as her chief lieutenant. On the other side of the war, I was happy to see that Eugene and Simon haven’t been killed yet.
Even if I’m slightly concerned that the conflict may end up slightly over-telescoped, you know I’ll keep watching. If forced to rate this episode, I would give it a solid 4 out of 5 stars. An A-, maybe. That’s not bad.