This is a spoiler-free review. Read on below for additional, spoilery notes – plus how to watch online.
After the standoff at Alexandria, Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) regrouped his Saviour army back at the Sanctuary and declared to his raucous followers that they were now at war. With the Saviours enraptured by their charismatic, if slightly psychotic, leader, the Alexandrians on the opposite side mourned their losses, but had found new allies in the Kingdom and their wild beast Shiva. The end of Season 7 promised an all-out war and Rick (Andrew Lincoln) is ready to continue his rise up against the Saviours – in Season 8, he’s taking the fight right to their door.
Picking up where the seventh run left off, the new alliance between the Hilltop, the Kingdom and Alexandria is cemented in this opening episode, as the three leaders give an emphatic speech outlining the war to come. While battle cries must inspire courage and enthusiasm, the three are so certain they are going to win, they’re almost blinkered, having forgotten the horror they were put through by Negan only days before. This paints the path that Season 8 is going to take, but in an eruption of walkers, everything changes.
With the feeling of a season finale, full of big explosions and set pieces – yet still having the character and community development that bonds the new groups together – Jerry (Cooper Andrews) and Enid (Katelyn Nacon) share few words yet steal the scene. Mercy will hopefully not be a standalone episode, instead shaping a new standard and help us forget some of the drudgery we suffered in Season 7. This is Rick’s retaliation and it is spectacular. Having suffered setback after setback in his previous attempts at revenge, the combination of forces brings together a new plan that involves a lot of firepower, a lot of the undead and a severe lack of patience.
Season 7 may have left a sour taste in the mouths of some viewers, as it wasn’t what they were used to. We’d seen the survivors suffer but never more so than at the hands of Negan. Before Rick seemed infallible, but Negan changed that in the most horrific of ways. Throughout last season, Rick was on the backfoot and, as a result, the show tonally felt very different. Mercy feels like a return to heroics for Rick and company, hitting every beat quicker than the last.
Mercy is given the Lost treatment, as the story jumps to scenes of future events. Are these actually flash-forwards or are they all just a dream of what might be? Two sequences in particular are foreshadowed. One sees a broken Rick in tears, praying and asking for forgiveness; the other is bright and hazy from white light, showing Rick happy, years in the future with a community and a family around him. Are these the two possible futures that lie ahead of Rick? One a nightmarish hell, the other divine? They could both be reality, but how do we get to these points in the narrative and what do they mean for the season ahead?
Should these actually be the future for the show, then it does taint the season in that we now know Rick and some other survivors are going to be safe, even if the road to this place is tinged with tragedy. The untouchable hero remains even more unassailable, and doesn’t that just take some of the edge away? Mercy, overall, is a very watchable episode, a great and promising start for a series that, with this chapter, has now aired 100 episodes. Jumping through the steps of Rick’s revenge so satisfyingly, it should attract new viewers to the series while also having a subtle nod to the pilot episode for long time watchers, but which of the visions, if any, are the truth to what lies ahead?
The Walking Dead Season 1 to 8 are available on Sky Box Sets until 30th November 2018. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, for £7.99 a month, with no contract and a 14-day free trial.
Innards and entrails (spoilers
– Although each stage of Rick’s revenge is meticulously planned, he shows mighty over-confidence in some of his actions. Aided by Dwight (Austin Amelio), Alexandria are able to pick off the outposts with such ease – why wouldn’t the Saviours have reinforced these points? They are at war. The army at the assault on the Sanctuary unloads a barrage of bullets to smash the glass windows, as if ammo wasn’t hard to come by, and the herd of walkers should probably be labelled runners, as they’re able to keep up with Daryl (Norman Reedus) on a motorcycle. These are nit-picks at best, as it is the over-exaggeration of everything in this episode that makes it so enthralling to behold.
– “Hope you’ve got your shitting pants on!” For all his preaching, Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) has the opportunity to finish what Rick started when he finds himself trapped in a cabin with Negan. Lucille is dangerous, but she’s no match for an automatic weapon. So, unless Gabriel has run out of ammo, he could just shoot Negan and this could all be over. Regardless, the final shot of them trapped, surrounded by the undead is stunning.
– Zombie Kill of the Week goes to Daryl as he fires a round into a bomb that explodes, taking the nearby walker for a free flight to oblivion.
– For anyone who reads the comic books, the Old Man Rick scenes will be awfully familiar. Whether the TV show decides to follow the comic on this is still yet to be determined. Future Rick is an older man, wounded so badly he can’t walk as well as he used to. This may well hinder the TV’s story telling ability; they can’t have a protagonist who sits back and enjoys his twilight years surrounded by people he loves, so we may see a similar diversion as we did for the wellbeing of Rick’s hand.
– Carl (Chandler Riggs) tells his Dad there is not enough hope in him, but there is one character that embodies hope in this series. She isn’t a major player, she can go many episodes without a thought, but as is seen in Mercy, both in the real time and flash-forward, that Judith, Rick’s (not so much a baby anymore) daughter, is the future he fights for. She is the hope in this world and considering her fate from the comics is far removed from her on-screen counterpart, she may be the key that spurs Rick on to win this war.
Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC