The Walking Dead: S8E1 ‘Mercy’ – Review

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By Ben Wright (@iamzavagno | www.xgeeks.co.uk)

Season Eight of The Walking Dead returned to our screens with a flurry of explosions and great speeches. Oh, and a few confusing ‘flashforward’ scenes, but more about that later!

One of the big criticisms of the past few seasons has been the pacing of the episodes. If episode one is the template going forwards then they may have addressed this issue.  Though it must be said, I personally didn’t feel it was as bad as some made out and defended this issue in my season seven review, however, Katie did! Whatever your stance on the pacing of previous episodes, ‘Mercy’ was a nice blend of dialogue and action, with little glimpses of story setup for the season.

We got to see all the players and factions, minus The Scavengers, in this first episode which allowed the episode to convey this season’s big theme of “all-out war”. So expect plenty of conflicts, skirmishes and battles throughout the season. While the episode may have ended on a high for Rick and co, Negan and The Saviors are far from done. The war has only just begun.

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Early on, they focused on ‘the list’ and we saw Negan’s guards get taken out in a variety of creative ways. It was Rick though who had the most intense scene, as we actually got to have some dialogue with the guard him took out. The others just felt like drones, but when they speak back in the way that this guard did, it sets the scene up to carry a lot more weight. And as for Rick’s solution? Brutal. Setting the walker free to munch down on the helpless guard shows that ruthless side of Rick that emerges when it involves threats against his family.

I enjoyed Rick here, Andrew Lincoln does such a good job with the character and offers so much versatility and range.

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For me, the build-up of the zombie herd was good, but the final execution fell a little flat. This had the chance to become an iconic scene, a big moment. To see Negan’s face slip and show a glimpse of being terrified. Instead, mainly thanks to some strange editorial choices, the scene felt a little underwhelming.

The only thing I really enjoyed about the herd trapping Negan inside the trailer was that it was a callback to when Rick was trapped in the tank back in Season One. And speaking of callbacks…

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This was episode 100 of The Walking Dead, and they paid tribute to the show’s past in a number of different ways. They mirrored various past scenes throughout the episode. ‘Old Man Rick’ waking up in bed was framed the same way as Rick waking up from his coma in the first episode of season one. The bedroom furnishings even replicated the that of the hospital room. We even saw Carol looking at some floral graffiti, a nod to the very memorable “look at the flowers” scene.

But obviously, the biggest mirroring scene was Carl at the gas station. Shot-for-shot they re-created the opening the scene from Season One, which saw Rick looking for gas too. In that iconic scene, he encounters a young zombie girl. In Carl’s scene, we see another zombie stylised almost identically (but this time an adult). This zombie is actually played by actress Addy Miller, who was the little girl from the first season!

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Maggie’s story arc is lining up nicely to become the future leader of all the factions. There will be plenty more twists and turns along the way, but the initial setup in this episode clearly signals the show’s intent with her.

While Rick has previously stepped away from the leadership role, he is now showing signs that he wants to pass it on for good. Maggie’s continued rise has seen her now fully confirmed as the leader of Hilltop, despite Gregory’s ultimatum. In the comics, some did leave, but it’s clear they want to show the solidarity and faith the Hilltop residents have in Maggie.

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So, what about those flashforwards?

Producer Scott Gimple has stated that they are not going the way of ‘it was all a dream’ and has said that the reasons for these flashforwards will make sense by the time we reach the mid-season finale. So while many are coming up with sound theories about ‘Ricks happy place’ or ‘real events of the final ever episode’. I’m keeping an open mind as best I can.

After this first episode? Not loving them. I’m more interested in Ricks bloodshot eyes in the scene that comes before the sickly soft camera filter appears. Another flashforward at a key Season Eight event? Does it cause such trauma that it forces Rick to go to his ‘happy place’ as some have theorised? Who knows, I’m going down the rabbit hole I had previously said I wouldn’t a few sentences ago! So I’ll just let this all play out and hope that the payoff is worth it.

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Overall a very good start for The Walking Dead. Yes, fans will moan about Rick’s Stormtrooper level of accuracy with Negan, but if they killed him there and then what sort of a show would you have then? Seriously, get a grip. Yes, it could have been handled a little better, but for a show that ended on such a high, it has still returned in a positive way.

Daryl also came under some criticism from ‘fans’, with some stating that his character has become too cartoonish and that he’s modelling all the time rather than acting. Harsh. Very harsh when you consider some of the emotional scenes he has been involved with. It’s apparent that the ‘hate’ for The Walking Dead is still alive and well.

What did you think of the episode? Is Season Eight do or die for the show? Leave your all thoughts and theories in the comments.

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