Back on April 2, The Walking Dead wrapped its seventh season with style, providing the opening overtures to the theme all out war. Rick and the Alexandrians are saved from Negan, the Saviors, and the Scavengers, by the timely intervention of the Kingdom and the Hilltop societies, along with a few old friends. We know what’s at stake, and we know where things are going. Sure, it hasn’t been perfect: I, like many of you, I suspect, have issues with trash people and other glaring, less than stellar plot elements, but mostly, it was an engaging season with copious amounts of tension, and a Negan that just keeps getting more evil–somehow.
Now, with the premiere of the 100th episode of The Walking Dead, called ‘Mercy,’ we are ready for this new war to begin and for the action to intensify. So what did we get to mark such a momentous episode and point in the show’s trajectory? Read on to find out.[Editor’s Note: This recap will obviously go into detail about last night’s episode of The Walking Dead, so there are going to be a ton of spoilers. Final warning!]
Having screened this episode a little while back, I was hesitant to complete an early write up as I felt the episode seemed–well, let’s politely say unpolished. But the preview was accompanied by language that indicated that the episode might change by air date, and this was by no means a cut guaranteed to ever see the light of day, or public television screens. Holding out hope, I delayed until the official airing to watch the broadcast version and hoped for the best.
Sometimes hope is not enough my friends. This seems to be the same cut of TWD ep. 100 that I’d previewed, complete with everything that was wrong then. The first few minutes of this episode (prior to the opening credits) are a testament to garbled editing and poor writing. Predominantly, we’re cutting back and forth between various iterations of Rick Grimes as he is in different states of emotional expression and agitation–and apparently, different times. We get early hints and then glimpses of the old man Rick revealed at the end of season 7. Not only has Rick aged, but a helpful post-production filter that adds a layer of smoothing to the finished shot, while also boosting an otherworldly feeling glow, denotes that this is indeed a different time. But the other Rick variants are adrift in free floating pockets of existence not tied to anything else, seemingly. There’s only one, the one most recognizably a continuation of the last season, that relates to the other shots that are hodgepodge cut together (a juxtaposition of our series regulars making preparations for something, including some crossbow rendered, in-class flirtatious note-passing between Dwight and Daryl.
But let’s dwell on the old man Rick theme for a second—when it was teased last spring, people suggested that perhaps the entire series had been a dream, as Rick was clearly lying in bed, and the theory went that perhaps he’d never escaped the coma we found him in when the series began and that perhaps the entire zombie apocalypse was a dream. This was not only dispelled by series showrunners (at the time), but now is clearly dispelled by Old Man Rick’s awakening and moving out to be with Michone, Carl, and Judith—a clearly aged Judith. One can surmise that this is a glimpse into the series’ future, can’t we? It seems like a safe assumption, only then it becomes an assumption that begs the question why? Why are we being shown this? We’re still waist-deep in the shit, wearing our “shitting pants,” wondering what’s going to happen next—why waste valuable screen time on tiny snippets of unexplained future scenes? Honestly, there’s no viable answer right now. Is it for hope? Is the concept of hope that Carl continues to express to his father transcendent beyond the grind the characters experience to the same emotional grind that we the audience endure? That’s another fair assumption—as the dark, dreary, and frankly depressing world that is the zombie apocalypse continues, the audience deserves, and needs some hint that better things lie ahead for these characters we’ve grown to care about over seven seasons. The showrunners are giving us a glimpse at hope and a future that will eventually come to fruition (one that’s not all heads being crushed by baseball bat or faces being consumed by zombies).
Only, if that’s the case, we shouldn’t have been teased with this footage the way we were at the end of season 7; that seems more like a cheap gimmick and this more like an apology or excuse for the cheap gimmick. Let’s be clear, currently, the scene, intercut as it is and running the amount of time that it does, makes zero sense.
The same can be said for the fleeting moments in which we see Rick clearly in mid-cry. These have zero explanation, but are cut to now and again for no apparent reason. Confused yet? Good, me too. If you have theories as to WTF is happening, please feel free to share. I would love someone to provide justifiable logic for these shots.
Finally, we get to the rotting meat at the center of this walker of an episode (mindless, slightly annoying to look at): the inevitable conflict between good guys and bad. And here, things feel more right, as HAK (Hilltop-Alexandria-Kingdom) prepare to pay Negan a visit. The direction is skillful enough that the plan unfolds in stages with the viewer kept guessing. Using a checklist of Savior lookouts a progression tool (as different lookouts are summarily killed and crossed off the list) is effective. A barely noticeable slow zoom on a seemingly discarded SUV in front of a walker horde is subtle and well-crafted. But it’s followed by a terrible bit of editing work that involves a much smaller fire being pasted over the exploded SUV. There’s a wonderful detail shot of Daryl examining a revolver he’s taken from a savior he just slew; atop it’s frame, in silver marker, are cross-hatches detailing some tally we’ll never know the origin of. But these attentions to detail in filmmaking do not coincide with attention to detail in writing.
When the real confrontation between HAK and the Saviors finally occurs, instead of being the satisfying confrontation we’ve been promised, we get a wholly unsatisfying can of worm. If HAK is good enough to snipe lookouts before ever revealing their existence, why didn’t they just snipe Negan and his captains instead of trying to talk to or negotiate with people who have proven again and again that they can’t be trusted. Rick and his HAK compatriots, of whom there are dozens, if not a hundred or more, have Negan and his most trusted lieutenants in front of aimed guns. You would think that between them all, they could have shot one of them—there’s no hesitation at loss of life, or moral conundrum here; after all, they’ve just dispatched at least a dozen Saviors via assassination. But no, they don’t just kill them. They fire at the windows of the Sanctuary, thus proving that they are real badasses at breaking glass.
Is it even worth touching upon the continued idiocy of Gabriel? Frankly, his character deserves a baseball bat to the head, though I hope, we, the audience, are spared seeing it.
I realize that this has become much more of a review than a recap, and predominantly a heavily critical one, but the confusion derived from editing choices, and storytelling so vague and convoluted leads towards this sort of discussion. I could give you a shot by shot of the episode, but it would be so confused as to be nearly unreadable to anyone who hadn’t already seen it. And, if you’ve already seen it, you’re probably more eager to want to talk about what just happened anyhow.
There are larger themes at work here: Maggie’s ascension as a leader (including Rick telling her that he plans to follow her when this is over); Carl remaining more optimistic than his father regarding inherent human nature in others (coincidentally, Darly is showing some of this same continued optimism with regards to Dwight—perhaps through an understanding of what Dwight went through by his own ordeal?); and Morgan, fighting his own instincts to not kill when faced with the perception that it’s necessary. ‘Mercy’ is an appropriate title, it turns out, as these various thematic elements deal with characters continuing to employ mercy when you’d expect them not to. There’s an implication, in each instance, that each act of Mercy may have massive, and often horrible, consequences for the one being merciful. Mercy has heft in this world.
But, in terms of the failure of thought that the battle implies—Mercy for all but Negan, I don’t but it, and nor should you. Rick might say that everyone else can walk away, but I don’t expect he means it. Wait, you say, didn’t Rick just not kill them all on that platform? Yes. However, the rest of their overly complicated and convoluted plan has already been set in motion. The massive walker horde is coming for the Sanctuary regardless. I don’t think there was any intended mercy for anyone there. And hence, they should have just shot them all and been done with it. We’re still dealing with trust no one Rick and no one should forget it.
There’s not a lot here. The episode is light to begin with and lacking when it’s not. The inspirational speeches by HAK leaders Maggie, Rick and Ezekiel are contrived. The Negan put-downs of HAK are entirely too focused on bodily functions (“Piss patrol” and “Shitting pants”). The only bit that was OK was from Rick: “You’re going to make me count?” Throwing Negan’s own words back at him, and then doing one of the only smart things discernible in this episode by shooting on 7 of a 10-second countdown. But, as already discussed, they should have just shot him the first step he took out the door, having never uttered a word.