Season 8 of “The Walking Dead” premiered Sunday night with it’s monumental 100th episode, “Mercy.” It was an episode packed with action, explosions, promises and threats. But nothing much happened. And yet, it still worked.
Season 7 left off with Negan on the run after the town of Alexandria was saved by reinforcements from The Hilltop and The Kingdom. Shiva the tiger killed a few people. Sasha bravely sacrificed herself to go captain a star ship for CBS. There were betrayals and threats of dismemberment. It was intense, and an episode the series desperately needed.
Expectations for loyal fans were high going into the season 8 premiere. How could Robert Kirkman, Scott M. Gimple, and Greg Nicotero properly lead into the newly battle-ready Rick et al?
The build up was big. It’s rare for a series to reach 100 episodes, especially one with 13-16 episode seasons. Trailers and sneak peeks showed glimpses of an obviously aged Rick, with much more white in his beard and a beautifully crafted cane. Theories ran wild about what it could mean and Gimple promised in a preview interview that it would be clear in the first episode. More on that in a minute.
The episode follows not long after Negan and the Saviors fled Alexandria under fear of death by tiger. Exactly how long? One can’t be sure. But not much time has passed. Rick, Maggie, and King Ezekiel gather their people together and Rick gives one of his big motivational speeches that just don’t pack the same cheer leading spirit they once did. For the audience, anyway. The allied forces seem to like it.
As is now the way of pretty much every season premiere of “The Walking Dead,” the entire episode jumps around in time, keeping the audience on the hook and slightly confused. There is a planned march on Negan’s Sanctuary. It is carefully calculated, plotted, and complete with precisely placed explosives and a herd of walkers. Negan still believes he has the upper hand, taunting Rick like he always does. But this time, he underestimates Rick and all his new friends.
Both sides make a lot of noise. Negan talks, like he always does. Rick instructs his people to open fire after his offer to accept surrender goes ignored.
There are cutaways to a somewhat present-day Rick, looking grief-stricken, red-eyed, kneeling at an unidentified grave.
And then there are those scenes of the aged Rick.
If there is one thing TWD fans have learned over the years, it’s that Scott M. Gimple should not be taken literally.
Because, yes, there were plenty of glimpses of Old Man Rick. But the meaning behind it is still unclear. His claim that we would understand it was not exactly true.
Are they flashes to a future time in which Negan is vanquished and life is beautiful? Is it some kind of hopeful dream? Is it some sort of heavenly vision wherein they have all died and live together in paradise?
There is no context. No explanation. No hint at why these sequences are even there. Which wouldn’t be a problem if the actual showrunner hadn’t made a promise. Because one thing we know about TWD is that the answers will come eventually. We may not like them, but they will come.
And so, these sequences are nice to look at and wonder about, even if they have yet to provide any answers.
Such is the case with a lot of this episode. It is fun to watch. It’s nice to see Carol and Daryl have a moment and to know that Carol is back in action. It always feels like the right side will win if Carol is with them. And Daryl shooting at homemade bombs while riding by on his motorcycle will always be cool. Negan and Rick sparring in their way is always entertaining.
This episode was a whole lot of style and very little substance.
But it worked. Because there is still a sense that the story moved forward, even if we didn’t get to see all the details of that just yet.
Considering that the season is themed “All Out War,” it is clear now that the time for talk is over. It’s all action from now on.
“The Walking Dead” airs Sundays at 9PM ET on AMC.