Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Walking Dead Season 8, Episode 1: Mercy

It's the premiere of Season 8 of The Walking Dead!

Wow, eight seasons already! Seems like the show started just yesterday. Shortly after it premiered it became AMC's most popular series, often scoring higher ratings than many broadcast network shows. Not bad for a series about zombies!

Coincidentally, the Season 8 premiere is also the show's 100th episode! The producers celebrate this milestone by tossing in a few scenes that echo the first episode. We'll get into those a bit later.

I'm convinced there's something wrong with showrunner Scott Gimple's brain that prevents him from telling a simple linear narrative. Virtually every episode of this series features some kind of twisted timeline. Flashbacks, flash forwards, flash sideways— you name it, and The Walking Dead's tried it. Jesus Christ, if I want a convoluted time shenanigans I'll  watch Doctor Who! Just show the goddamned events in real time already.

All this timeline nonsense reminds me of the Deadpool movie. Despite the fact that I like that film quite a bit, even I have to admit it used a flashbacks to mask the fact that it only contained about thirty actual minutes of story. I have a feeling that's what's happening on The Walking Dead. Your script's only twenty minutes long? Tell it in flashback format! That's guaranteed to stretch it out to a smooth forty five minutes!

This week's episode is no different, as it contains three different timelines, all playing out simultaneously. There may even be as many as FIVE, as it's honestly hard to tell. It's like the editor took footage from several episodes, threw it all into the air and spliced it together however it landed. Jesus wept. I long for the early days of this show, when the story went from Point A to B, with no visits to X, Y and Z in between.

Season 8 appears to be adapting the All Out War storyline from the comics, which happened in Issues #121 through #126 of the comic. Based on this episode, it appears they're also adapting the infamous "Time Jump" from Issue #127 of the comic. In that issue, once the war was over, the story jumped ahead two to three years, to show the aftermath of the battle. 

I have a feeling the comic was inspired by the "One Year Later" time jump in the Season 2 finale of the rebooted Battlestar Galactica. That episode had a huge impact on the audience, and after it aired dozens of other shows tried their hand at time jumping.


The Plot:
There are three (maybe even five
— it's hard to tell) timelines in this episode, because showrunner Scott Gimple is an idiot. To avoid confusion, I'm gonna deal with them one at a time.

In the first timeline, the three "good" communities
— Alexandria, the Kingdom and the Hilltop— prepare for war against Negan and the Saviors. We see several scenes of them stockpiling weapons and welding armor to their cars and trucks.

Meanwhile, Negan's right hand man Dwight, who's secretly decided to work with Rick, is working on his bike at the Sanctuary. Suddenly an arrow shoots into the front tire. Attached to the arrow is a message from Darryl, which reads, "Tomorrow." Dwight realizes this is when the attack is scheduled, and helpfully writes down a comprehensive list of all of Negan's many outposts. He shoots it back to Daryl.

Elsewhere, Carol, Morgan, Tara and Daryl are out on the road, coaxing a massive walker herd toward Negan's Sanctuary.

We then get a montage of Negan's various scouts being taken out one by one, with surgical precision. Sometime later in Alexandria, Rick kisses Baby Judith (who's no longer a baby!) goodbye, and embraces Michonne. She's apparently staying behind with Carl to protect Alexandria. Rick tells them, "This is the end of it." A convoy of armored cars and trucks rolls out toward the Sanctuary.

As Rick and the others leave, we see Rosita, recovering from her gunshot wound from last season, watching and wishing she could with them. Carl tells Michonne he also wishes he could go with his dad. Michonne says his place is here, and she's ready to follow his orders (?).

The convoy stops just outside of the Sanctuary and waits for a signal. The leaders of the three groups
— Rick, King Ezekiel and Maggie— each give a rousing, inspirational speech to their troops. Rick tells his assembled army that only one person needs to die today— Negan. Of course we all know that's not going to happen anytime soon.

Tara and the others stand on a highway overpass, looking anxiously in the distance. Eventually the walker herd comes around the corner. Tara, Carol, Morgan and Daryl detonate a truck in the highway as they move on, to ensure the walkers follow them.

At the Sanctuary, Negan sees the smoke from the explosion and sends out several squads of soldiers to investigate. Dwight watches them go (lucky for him Negan didn't send him out too). He looks up and sees several of Negan's men taken out by Rick's snipers. Just then, Rick's convoy rolls up. His people spill out and take positions behind their armored cars. Rick fires into the air several times, to "knock" on Negan's door.

After a minute or two, Negan, Simon and Dwight and Gavin appear on a balcony, along with Regina, who I'm not sure we've ever seen before (Redshirt Alert!). Amazingly, Negan stands out in the open, blathering for many seconds, but for some reason, neither Rick nor any of the others ever think to just blow his head off right then and there. Frustrating!

Eugene takes several dozen words to try and tell Rick there's no need for violence. Rick tells him to shut it. In his charming way, Negan starts talking about measuring dicks, and says he's not going to let his people die over this little display.

Rick tells the Saviors they'll all survive if they simply surrender, but this is their one and only chance. Negan asks if that offer applies to him, and Rick says he means to kill him personally. So do it then! Does he think it wouldn't be sporting to just open fire on him until they've bantered a bit? Negan says he doesn't believe Rick has the numbers necessary to win this war, and brings out Gregory, the leader of the Hilltop.

The weaselly Gregory announces that the Hilltop stands with Negan, and any resident who takes up arms against the Sanctuary will be thrown out, along with their families. Maggie tells the Hilltoppian members of the Army to do what they have to do, but no one leaves. Jesus yells to Gregory that the Hilltop stands with Maggie. This frustrates Simon, who shoves Gregory backward off the balcony.

Elsewhere, the Savior patrol is returning from checking out the explosion. As they drive through a nearby town, they trigger a bomb set by Tara and the others, which takes out the entire convoy. OK, that was a pretty smart plan.

Back at the Sanctuary, Rick gives Negan one last chance to surrender. When Negan refuses, Rick begins counting down from 10. When he gets to 7, he and the others open fire on the balcony.

Somehow they all miss their targets (were they even firing at them?) as Negan dives for cover and the others run back inside. For some reason, Rick and his army then waste thousands of rounds of precious ammo by shooting out the factory windows of the Sanctuary. Well that'll certainly show 'em!

Meanwhile, Daryl (who sure gets around in this episode) leads the walker herd toward the Sanctuary. As he passes various points on his bike, he shoots at previously prepared explosives, to lure the walkers along.

Rick has Negan pinned down behind a piece of wreckage, but can't get a clean shot at him. Gabriel drives the armored RV through the fence and jumps out the back. It trundles along until it reaches the Sanctuary, and Rick detonates it with a charge. Saviors and walkers alike are blown sky high.

Negan hobbles thorugh the wreckage and finds more cover. Rick continues shooting at him, determined to end him once and for all (oh, NOW he wants to shoot at him!). Gabriel appears and tells Rick they've got to leave now, as the herd is rapidly approaching. Rick's reluctant to go, but realizes he's right. For some reason, he takes a Polaroid of the ruined Sanctuary and leaves.

Gabriel hops in a car and starts to move out, but sees an injured Gregory hobbling along. Instead of running him over like any sane human would do, he jumps out to save him, and the two men are immediately pinned down by gunfire. Gregory sees the idling car, runs to it and takes off, leaving Gabriel behind. Serves him right for showing "mercy" in a world like this.

Some time later, Carol returns to the Kingdom, where she's welcomed by Ezekiel. Rick and Daryl wait in the woods for any sign of Gabriel. Daryl eventually convinces Rick that Gabriel didn't make it. Rick and the others take over Negan's satellite station. Several other groups capture two more Savior outposts.

Back at the Sanctuary, we see that Gabriel's actually still alive, desperately trying to escape as he dodges hundreds of walkers. He enters an abandoned trailer and shuts the door behind him. Suddenly Negan appears, asking if he has his "sh*ttin' pants" on. The camera then pulls up, revealing the massive walker herd surrounding the trailer and the Sanctuary. That's it for the first timeline.

We then get a scene of Carl exploring the wasteland, but it's unclear if this is part of the first timeline, or happening sometime after this episode. We see Carl driving along a highway. He stops, gets out, grabs a gas can and cautiously walks through the wreckage, in a shot-for-shot recreation of the opening of the very first episode of the show, Days Gone Bye.

As Carl approaches an abandoned gas station, he hears the voice of a man babbling on and on about being shot and hungry. The man says his mom used to tell him "May my mercy prevail over my wrath," which is a quote from the Koran. Carl sneaks up on the man and pulls a gun on him. Suddenly Rick appears and fires over the man's head, scaring him off. 

Carl asks what the hell he did that for, and Rick says the man could have been one of Negan's spies. Rick says if the man's not a Savior, he hopes he survives. Carl says hope's not enough.

Sometime later, Carl returns to the gas station with two cans of vegetables and a note that reads, "Sorry." Again, it's not clear just when this is happening.

In the second timeline, we see Rick in the Hilltop, silently standing over the graves of Glenn and Abraham. He looks to the heavens and whispers, "Let mercy prevail over thy wrath," which is the same quote Carl's mystery man used.

We then see what may be yet another timeline, or it may be part of the second. Again, it's very vague and there's no way to tell. We see a closeup of Rick's face, with red eyes that indicate he's been sobbing. A shaft of rainbow colored light plays across his face, and he looks up to see the sun shining through a stained glass sign hanging... somewhere.

In the third definite timeline, Rick wakes up in bed, visibly older and with a long beard. He gets out of bed, grabs a cane and hobbles into the kitchen. He kisses Michonne as Carl walks by. He's greeted by Judith, who looks to be six or seven years old. She takes him outside and shows him a giant owl that was built for "The Fair." This scene obviously takes place after the infamous "Time Jump" from the comics, that happened in Issue #127.


• At the end of last season, Dwight approached Alexandria and told Rick they both want the same thing— to see Negan dead. He then offered to help Alexandria overthrow him. Naturally Rick didn't believe Dwight, assuming he was lying. Daryl— who was tortured mercilessly by Dwight— shoved him against a wall and held a knife to his eye, ready to kill him. Dwight then told Daryl he should know from experience that he doesn't lie. Daryl then lowered the knife and released him.

And apparently that was all it took for Dwight to become a trusted member of Team Rick! Suddenly in this episode he and Dwight are exchanging notes like a couple of schoolboys! I dunno... I was expecting maybe an episode or two in which Dwight proved himself to Rick before they made him a vital part of their plan.

It's amazing how this series will completely leap over important scenes that really need to be seen, but then waste an entire episode on useless crap no one needs to see— like how Morgan got his sweet, sweet bo staff skills.

• Based on his looks and the fact that he quotes the Koran, the man Carl meets at the gas station is likely Siddiq.

He's a fairly important character from the comic, who first appeared in Issue #127. He was a former member of the Oceanside community (!), who later moved to Alexandria. In the comic he had an affair with Rosita, who was shacking up with Eugene (!!!) at the time.

It's a good bet we'll see him again, since this episode went to so much trouble introducing him. Also, in one of the timelines we saw Rick reciting Siddiq's little Koran quote, so they're obviously going to meet at some point during the season.

• I noticed something this week I don't think I've ever seen before— apparently zombies can blink! At one point Dwight walks to the Sanctuary fence to send Daryl a message. There's a guard walker chained to the fence, and as the camera pans by you can clearly see it blinking several times.

I could swear I read somewhere that the producers didn't want the walkers to blink, going so far as to digital remove any errant eyelid motion caught on camera. Maybe I'm thinking of another show.

• This isn't a nitpick, just an observation. Several times during the episode we see a shot of Tara's watch. I bet the time it's displaying is just a rough estimate at best. There'd be no way to ever know the exact time in the zombie apocalypse! It's not like you can check the time on your smartphone or dial information!

• Wow, Baby Judith, how you've grown! Last time we saw her she was still an infant. She appears to have aged at least a year or more since the Season 7 finale. She looks to be three, possibly even four years old if she's a day.

The problem with this is that it opens up a huge can of timeline worms. If Judith's aged over a year, how the holy fraking hell is Maggie still in her goddamned FIRST TRIMESTER of pregnancy? Somehow Judith's learning to drive, while Glenn's sperm still hasn't made their way to Maggie's egg.

Maggie first announced her pregnancy WAY back in Now, the fifth episode of Season 6, which aired in 2015! That was THREE YEARS AGO. And she's still not showing!

Yes, I get that the show's not unfolding in real time, but Jesus Christ! According to the interwebs, pregant women start showing sometime between twelve and sixteen weeks. So in the three years since Now aired, apparently less than three months have passed on the show. Yet during that same period, Baby Judith had a massive growth spurt, and is now three to four years old.

To make all this even worse, the producers have stated that Maggie won't give birth anytime this season! C'mon, Gimple! If you're going to ask us to believe that corpses can walk, then the least you can do is depict a realistic pregnancy!

There's some more temporal shenanigans later in the episode during the flash forward scenes. In the comic, it was informally established that the Time Jump consisted of two to three years. Judith appears to be six or seven here, so a jump of two to three years seems about right.

Note that we also see Carl and Michonne after the Time Jump, and they both appear relatively unchanged, as they would if only three years had passed.

Yet somehow Rick's aged a good TWENTY YEARS during the Time Jump. He's got a long Rip Van Winkle beard, his hairline has receded dramatically, and his eyes look ancient and weary.

I guess being a leader really does age a person. Just look at what it does to our Presidents in just four years!

• As I watched this episode, I thanked my lucky stars that I don't live in or around the Atlanta area, where The Walking Dead is filmed. Can you imagine the kind of havoc this show wreaks on the local traffic, as it's constantly shutting down highways and roads for filming?

• Subtlety, thy name is The Walking Dead! At one point Morgan sees a stray walker's about to accidentally sets off one of their explosive traps too soon. He then tries to stop it, frantically running past this religious statue that's standing out in the open for no discernible reason.

Gosh, do you think the statue might possibly be a subtle callout to this episode's title?

• Daryl and the others detonate a truck to lure Negan's soldiers away from the Sanctuary. On the way back, this little convoy sets off one of Daryl's explosive traps and is obliterated.

Boy it's really lucky for Dwight that Negan didn't send him out with the group. Especially since he's Negan's right hand man, and regularly handles incidents like this. If Negan had sent him, then Dwight would have been blown up as well.

• As Daryl (who sure gets around in this episode) rides past various points on his bike, he shoots at previously prepared explosives, to lure the walkers along.

In this scene he's supposed to be shooting at the explosive-filled boxes next to the walker. Note that his gun's not pointed anywhere remotely near the box, yet he somehow hits it and detonates it. I guess he's just that good! David Beckham, eat your heart out!

• Rick's Army wisely welds armor all over their cars to protect them, but then inexplicabloy leave their tires exposed and vulnerable. Couldn't they have rigged up some kind of covering to protect them as well? One Savior sharpshooter could easily shoot out the whole caravan's tires, leaving them unable to get away.

• I'm convinced that Scott Gimple secretly hates The Walking Dead fans. This episode offers ample proof of that.

Rick gives a rousing speech to his army before they attack the Sanctuary, and says Negan's the only one who has to die for the mission to be a success. The army then rolls right up to the Sanctuary's front door. Negan comes out, cocks his head and sways his hips and bragging about the size of his dick for a good five minutes. All through this scene, Rick's hiding behind an armored car, with a clear shot of his nemesis. He could easily blow Negan's head off his neck at any time during his taunting little speech, but of course he doesn't. Instead he asks him to surrender.

To say this scene was frustrating would be the understatement of the year.

OK, I knew Rick wasn't going to kill Negan here, as his storyline still has a lot of miles to go before it plays out. That's not the frustrating part. What was maddening was that the scene existed in the first place. This isn't real life, it's a TV show. Events can play out any way the writers want. So why come up with a scene in which Rick has ample opportunity to kill Negan when you know that's not going to happen for a long, long time?

• Rick gives Negan an ultimatum, which he of course ignores. Rick and the others then open fire on Negan and his lieutenants. They all miss of course, as Negan and his people scramble for cover. For some reason, Rick's Army then starts shooting out all the windows of the Sanctuary.

What the hell? This may have been the stupidest thing that's ever happened on this show, and that's saying something! What possible purpose did it serve to needlessly shoot out the windows? Was it supposed to send a message? Were they hoping all the Saviors' stuff would be ruined next time it rains?

The worst part about the scene is that Rick's crew probably wastes several thousand rounds of ammo for absolutely no reason. Are bullets really that plentiful in this world? I'm gonna say no, they're not. Just last season there was such a shortage of ammo that Eugene had to try and figure out how to make more. And he ended up making just one bullet (for Rosita to use on Negan) before defecting to the Saviors. So where the hell is all this superfluous ammo coming from?

 As Rick and his Army depart, Father Gabriel drives the RV into the Sanctuary compound and detonates it.

I was gonna say, "R.I.P. Dale's RV" here, thinking it was one of the longest surviving "characters" on the show. But when researching the episode, I found out that's NOT Dale's RV. It's been gone since the end of Season 2. The RV in this episode belonged to Aaron. He was driving it when he ran into Rick & Co. back in Season 5 and brought them all to Alexandria.

 Even in death, this zombie's walking around with saggy-ass pants.

 At the end of the episode, an armed Father Gabriel gets trapped in a trailer with Negan. Realizing the momentous opportunity he has, Gabriel immediately shoots Negan in the head before killing himself, thereby ending the Savior threat and giving his death meaning.

Naw, I'm just screwin' with you. Of course he doesn't do anything like that. This is The Walking Dead, after all. Instead Gabriel's gonna get captured, and we'll get five or six episodes of Negan torturing him before he's killed in the mid season finale.

 Since this is the 100th episode of the show, the producers decided to celebrate by going back to where it all began. Mercy features several scenes echo the very first episode, Days Gone Bye.

The first of these scenes features Carl, who perfectly recreates his dad's actions in the opening minutes of the first episode.

Days Gone Bye opens with Rick pulling up to an overturned truck on a deserted highway. 

In Mercy, Carl drives his van up to a similarly wrecked truck.

Rick then grabs a gas can out of his trunk and threads his way through a tangle of wrecked cars. In Carl's scene, he does the same.

Rick walks down a slight incline. For some reason he makes an odd gesture by reaching under his jacket, like he's going to pull out his gun. Apparently he changes his mind, and walks on.

Carl does the exact same thing, going so far as to reach under his shirt for no good reason.

Rick then takes a peek inside an abandoned car and sees a fresh corpse, covered in flies. His face screws up in disgust, as the smell of death pours from the hot car. It looks like the dead woman has a nasty head wound, which would explain why she doesn't try to kill Rick.

Carl also takes a look inside a car, seeing a much more desiccated corpse. He also sniffs slightly, although this particular dead body's so dried up I don't see how it could still stink much.

The flies in the Rick scene bring up a good point— why isn't this world completely overrun with flies? You'd think they'd have a field day on a planet full of rotting, shambling corpses. Every time Rick or one of the other characters opens their mouth, they should be inhaling a dozen or more flies!

One last thing about this "Peeking In The Car" scene. Look at the figure inside the car behind Carl. What the hell is that? It looks for all the world like a department store mannequin or a moldy CPR dummy. Whatever it is, it looks fake as hell, and I can't believe no one on set spotted it and replaced it with something better.

As Rick passes through the cars, he looks down and sees an abandoned plastic tricycle.

Carl does the same, and sees a tricycle that's been exposed to the elements a bit longer.

Rick hears footsteps, but can't see anyone. He carefully sets his hat on the ground, bends down and peers under the car, hoping to see the source of the footsteps.

Carl removes his hat and bends down to get a good look as well. Amazingly, the hat he sets down is the same one Rick wore in Episode 1, just a bit worse for wear!

Eventually Rick discovers the source of the footsteps a little girl who's become a walker. She runs at Rick and he's forced to shoot her in the head.

Carl finds the source of the footsteps he heard, and it turns out to be Siddiq (probably). Rick chases him off, and then sees a walker who looks amazingly like the girl from the first episode, but older. He grabs his trusty axe and walks offscreen to take care of her.

Mercy features another scene that echoes the very first episode. In Days Gone Bye, Rick's shot in the line of duty, shortly before the zombie apocalypse starts. He then wakes up in a deserted hospital and looks over to see a wilted bouquet of flowers.

In this episode, Rick wakes up after the Time Jump, and looks over to see a fresh bouquet of flowers.

By the way, once the Time Jump occurs for real, will Andrew Lincoln have to wear his old man makeup all the time?

Lastly, this week's episode mimics the final scene of the very first show.

At the end of Days Gone Bye, Rick's hopelessly trapped inside a National Guard tank, surrounded by walkers. He hears Glenn's voice on the radio, as the camera slowly pulls up to reveal the massive horde of hungry zombies.

At the end of this episode, Father Gabriel's left behind just as the walker herd arrives. He hides inside a trailer, only to find it's also being occupied by Negan  the man he just tried to kill. The camera slowly pulls up to reveal the massive horde of hungry zombies surrounding the trailer.

These homages to the first episode are cool, and very well done, but... ultimately I have to wonder if they were a good idea. In the end all they do is point out how much the series has changed over the past eight years and not always for the better!

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