‘The Walking Dead’: Do we have to go back?

The Walking Dead
“Mercy”
October 22, 2017

The Walking Dead is back, and yo, they’ve heard your complaints: it’s too slow, it’s too sad, it’s too boring, it’s too killing-our-favorite-characters-in-unnecessarily-horrific-ways. The showrunners spent all summer promising that this season is going to be “action-packed” and get its mojo back, that all the pain and boredom we endured last season will somehow be worth it.

So how’d they do in the big season eight opener, which also happened to be the series’ 100th episode?

Eh.

Between the confusing timelines and the BIG REVEAL having been revealed in the trailer three months ago and the lack of anything happening other than people standing around waiting for something to happen — and for that something to ultimately be just a bunch of threats being tossed back and forth, this episode was something of a dud.

Let’s hope the momentum changes and changes quickly because:

boring me to death

Ahead of the start of Rick’s “All-Out War” on Negan, we begin with a bunch of big speeches from each of the community leaders which can be summarized thusly:

Rick: “THIS IS JUST REALLY ABOUT THAT ASSHOLE NEGAN AND I’MMA GONNA KILL HIM MYSELF. BUT IF HIS PEOPLE GET IN THE WAY, TOO BAD, SO SAD, BUT THEY GET KILLED TOO.”

King Ezekiel: “Lofty Shakespeare quote!”

Maggie: “Look, this is going to be a slog, so just settle in guys.”

Crowd: “Yay.”

Tiger: “RWAR.”

In preparation for the big attack, the community alliance make a bunch of armored cars, Daryl sends Dwight a warning that the attack is coming tomorrow via messenger arrow, and Carl heads out on a gas run, and in the process recreates shot for shot his father’s own journey in the very first episode.

Happy 100 episodes, everyone!

On his errand, Carl comes across a dirty, hungry man who claims to have not eaten in days, begging Carl to share his food if he has any, adding that his mother always quoted the Koran, “may my mercy prevail over my wrath.” But before Carl can share a can of mini corn with his new best friend, Rick fires a couple of warning shots over the man’s head, sending him scurrying away.

Back to the war prep: our heroes go to Savior lookout posts and kill the men standing guard at each; the armored cars get ready; Carol, Tara, Daryl, and Morgan take their positions out on a highway; and back in Alexandria, Father Gabe reminds Rick that this whole thing isn’t actually about him, he just made it that way. Which I suppose sounded a lot more profound in the writers’ room. With that, Rick kisses Baby, Michonne and Carl goodbye — he’s leaving them behind to guard the place.

The communities and their armored cars meet up and presumably give the aforementioned speeches, after which Maggie explains that as the person who convinced Hilltop to stand up to the Saviors, she’s going with Rick, but someone else will have to take over the warring once the second trimester begins. So, we’re still in the first trimester? Look, if Maggie can accurately shoot a gun while puking her guts out, more power to her. I couldn’t accurately drink a glass of water or look straight-forward during my first trimesters, I was vomiting so much.

King Ezekiel notes that they have a doctor at the Kingdom and Maggie is welcome to join them there, but Jesus assures everyone that they’ll get their Doctor Carson back soon enough.

jay-pharoah-ben-carson
Godspeed, Dr. Carson.

Maggie and Rick then talk about what “tomorrow” will look like, and Rick’s all, “Dude, once this is all over, you’re in charge.”

And then the plan goes into motion: Carol, Tara, Morgan, and Daryl detonate a series of explosions along the highway, drawing the attention of a large shuffle of walkers, and channel them towards the Sanctuary.

Meanwhile, Rick and the rest arrive at the Sanctuary in their art cars, forming a barricade from behind which they yell at Negan.

Negan emerges from the Sanctuary and announces that he sees no reason they need to start shooting at one another: he for one doesn’t want to get his people killed over a dick measuring contest, but Rick is not interested and offers Negan’s lieutenants and Dr. Mullet the opportunity to walk away now and live. But they have to go right now.

Negan laughs at Rick being a dumb dummy and insists that Rick doesn’t have the numbers for this little fight, before bringing Mayor McChickenShit from Hilltop out to yell that anyone from Hilltop who wages war on the Saviors will be kicked out of the community along with their families. But Jesus is all, “OH HELLS TO THE NO, WE’RE WITH MAGGIE NOW, YOU STUPID OLD BITCH.”

Meanwhile, the herd reaches a town on the outskirts of the Savior’s area, setting off a detonation that alerts Team Rick. Rick starts counting down from 10 for Negan’s lieutenants to make up their minds — but begins shooting at 7. Shooting shooting shooting shooting shooting shooting wasting all the precious bullets shooting at a building shooting shooting.

idiocracygunz1

As Team Rick loads back into their art cars and drives away, Daryl leads the herd to the Sanctuary via motorcycle explosion relay, because cool, and Father Gabe and Rick blow a hole through the Sanctuary with an explosives-laden RV, because cool. Rick wants to stay behind and kill him some Negan, but Father Gabe reminds him that they have to go, it’s not about Rick.

However, when Father Gabe is about to drive away, he sees Mayor McChickenShit stranded and decides that cowards have to stick together, and Father Gabe runs out to save him. Except, HAHA, Mayor McChickenShit steals Father Gabe’s car because chickenshits gonna chickenshit.

the walking dead jesus wants me to save him twd

The only place for Father Gabe to go is a nearby trailer, except he has to share it with Negan who makes a bunch of jokes about Father Gabe needing his “shittin’ pants.”

surprise, bitch

SHOOT HIM, FATHER GABE. SHOOT HIM IN THE FACE WITH THE GUN IN YOUR HANDS, YOU DUMMY.

Meanwhile, everyone else ambushes another Savior outpost, only to have one of the Saviors throw a grenade in their general direction. Boom.

And Carl returns to the gas station where he last saw his starving Muslim friend and leaves a few cans of food with a note that just reads, “SORRY.”

Oh, and there are two other timelines interwoven through this episode:

Timeline 1: Rick is all tired and weepy and red-eyed and sweaty and repeating our Muslim friend’s new catchphrase: “may my mercy prevail over my wrath.”*

Timeline 2: A older, grayer Rick walks around with a cane in Alexandria, Baby now appears to be about five or six, Michonne hasn’t aged a damn day, and there’s talk of a “giant owl.” OK.

Once again The Walking Dead tries to make the show feel more profound than it actually is by playing confusing timeline tricks instead of focusing on tight linear writing. Lost introduced the flash-forward thing many years ago — but the beauty of the flash-forward in that instance was that the audience wasn’t aware they were watching a flash-forward until the final moments of the episode, because the writing was so well-crafted that everyone assumed it was another flashback.

Here, The Walking Dead is literally screaming in our faces, “IT’S A FLASH-FORWARD! THIS IS IN THE FUTURE, GUYS! DON’T YOU WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO MAKE RICK NEED THAT CANE AND GO ALL GRAY AND GET THAT TERRIBLE HAIRCUT? WELL YOU’RE GONNA HAVE TO WAIT BECAUSE THIS IS A FLASH-FORWARD. GET IT? DO YOU GET IT?”

Yes. We get it.

As for that other bewildering timeline, the one in which Rick is crying, I’m pretty sure that is a flash-forward too, a more immediate one. So, this might be completely obvious, but the bulk of the episode is the beginning of the “All-Out War” against Negan; then Sad Rick is a small hop into the future at the conclusion of that war, and he’s crying because someone important on Team Rick has died; and then Old Rick is the some two, three years in the future, demonstrating that Rick’s family is, to some degree, safe and happy.

To some degree.

What we know for sure, unless this is some hokey dream sequence — which IT BETTER NOT BE A HOKEY DREAM SEQUENCE — is that Rick, Baby, and Michonne are alive and well some two/three years in the future. What we also know is that slightly future Rick, in deep grief, is repeating what the Muslim man said to Carl: “may my mercy prevail over my wrath,” and that Carl showed that man some mercy by leaving him some food with an apology. And I’m concerned, kiddos, that this does not bode well for Carl’s future on the show.

First of all, just from a practical matter, Chandler Riggs is 18 years old and has been accepted into college, so it makes sense that if he’s going to be killed off, this would probably be the season. I always kinda assumed that the end game would have Carl taking over for his father, but maybe that honor will end up going to Baby, or, even better, Glenn and Maggie’s baby.

But second of all, the framing of this episode is pretty much showing its hand: Carl shows mercy; Rick is starting this war where he wants vengeance and is making it personal with Negan; in the future, Sad Rick is talking about mercy; and Carl is nowhere to be seen in the future-future.

I’m pretty sure what we’ll have is war war war, Carl ends up being killed either right before or right after Rick manages to get the upper hand over Negan (but not before Rick is injured by Negan, hence the cane in the flash-forward), and Rick is faced with a choice: either to kill Negan or grant him mercy, and he will choose mercy — out of respect for Carl’s memory.

Some relevant comic spoilers for you. Click, hold and scroll over to read:

The All-Out war happens, there’s some back and forth between the Saviors and Team Rick, and eventually, Negan comes up with a plan to coat all of the Saviors’ weapons in walker ick so that any contact with them will be a death blow. Later, he spies Rick and orders Dwight to shoot him with an arrow. Dwight does, but deliberately it’s only a flesh wound. Negan, however, believes that Dwight dipped the arrow in walker ick when he did not, and Rick survives. Rick slashes Negan’s throat, but it doesn’t kill him, and Negan breaks Rick’s leg before passing out. Rick does not kill him, however, choosing instead to take him prisoner. The series flashes forward two years, and we learn that Negan, still Rick’s prisoner, has befriended Carl. 

So, yes, Carl and Negan both survive the All-Out War, but for storytelling purposes — and the framing they are putting in place in this episode, I think ultimately it’s more important that Negan survive than Carl. 

A couple of final notes: as mentioned before, this was the 100th episode and it was filled with callbacks. For instance:

Negan at one point says, “Let me ask you something, Rick,” which was one of the things Shane used to say all the damn time.

They brought back two walkers from the original episode. This guy was the walker that crawled out of the bus and followed Rick:

the walking dead electrocuted walker twd.jpg

And in this episode, Rick spots a female walker in the scene that Carl recreates from the first episode. She happens to be the same actress who played the little girl zombie and they did her makeup the same!

Carol looked at the flower.

carol look at the flower twd the walking dead.jpeg

The orange backpack from season three was spotted:

And in the last flash-forward, Baby tells Rick they’ve built an owl statue, which is a nod to when Team Rick first arrived at Alexandria, and Love Interest, who rocked an owl tattoo on her arm, was building some sort of owl sculpture with her sons.

*Finally, I leave you with a question, because I think I know what is going on but I’m not 100% certain. I’ve seen in other places where they say that Rick visiting the two graves at the beginning of the episode was part of the first flash-forward, the Sad Rick flash-forward. But I’m not so sure.

For one thing, those scenes are filmed VERY TIGHT on Rick’s face, I suspect because there’s something else in the scene they don’t want us to see, like a body or another person. And this scene was shot very wide:

rick twd graves mercy.jpg

Rick looks contemplative here, not distraught. Also, the color of the shirt is different from those other scenes:

rick sadness twd the walking dead mercy.jpg

On the other hand, it’s not the same color as the shirt that he’s wearing when he goes to war, either:

rick speech twd mercy the walking dead.jpg

My best guess is that this scene was supposed to be Rick visiting Abraham and Glenn’s graves before setting out on a mission to avenge their deaths, not a clue that two people from Team Rick are going to die in the All-Out War.

But heaven knows I’ve been wrong before. What did you make of the grave scene?

rick kermit 10 7 twd the walking dead.jpg

The Walking Dead airs on AMC on Sundays at 8/9 p.m.

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