‘The Walking Dead’: Spoiler-Free Season 8 Premiere Review — Mercy, But For Who?

Kim Taylor-Foster
TV The Walking Dead
TV The Walking Dead
of 5
Review Essentials
  • Bold approach to storytelling
  • Switches up tone
  • Injects new life into the series
  • Exhilarating and tense
  • Unconvincing at times

What is “Mercy”?

Episode 1, entitled “Mercy”, picks up right where Season 7 left off. As the 100th episode of The Walking Dead, it’s a setup that neatly lays out the framework for the rest of the season. “All out war” has been strongly teased in the build up to Season 8, and so far that’s exactly what it delivers – as well as some surprisingly moving moments.

Switching Things Up

There’s a lot riding on the show’s 100th episode. Not only is it a landmark instalment in the long-running franchise, but it also has the last season’s action-packed premiere to live up to. Sure, that was divisive — with all its blood and brutality as Negan meted out his savage punishment to Rick’s gang — but it had a massive impact. The impact of “Mercy” is perhaps less fierce, but despite that, this episode is just as pivotal.

This centennial  milestone can’t pass without paying homage to the early days of The Walking Dead,  of course, and that’s exactly what Mercy does with some wonderful callbacks. A clip from the episode that debuted at New York Comic Con, in particular, is full of Easter eggs, and is a brilliant, carefully executed, near shot-for-shot remake of a key scene from Season 1.

The Season 8 premiere overturns its Season 7 counterpart’s largely bleak tone, replacing it with a far more hopeful one, as we see Rick and co. take a stand to fight for what they believe in. Namely, “tomorrow.” It’s a tone that feels different to anything we’ve had before from The Walking Dead. The feeling is that something fundamental has shifted – perhaps the show’s creative team has listened to the criticism from certain corners that some fans are tired of the “same old, same old.”

It’ll Keep You On Your Toes

The Walking Dead Season 7 Finale
Rick, Maggie and Ezekiel address the united factions during the Season 7 finale of The Walking Dead.

Ambiguity is blended into the mix, with jarringly assembled sequences that disorientate but which clearly mark a new direction for our heroes. A suggestion of what the future may hold for some characters indicates hope; and a singular vision to work towards to keep everybody focused, and crucially, united and selfless.

We may not have heard what Rick, Maggie and Ezekiel said in their closing speeches of Season 7, but we can assume it was powerful stuff. The Kingdom, Hilltop and Rick’s group are certainly solidly unified.

The episode opens up the question of what it is to be a leader, and examines the toll leadership can take. As for the theme of mercy, and who the title of the episode refers to, that becomes apparent in the episode’s closing moments.

Rick and Father Gabriel Are Integral

rick walking dead season 8 trailer time jump Cropped
That flat top, though.

You may have seen a grey-haired Rick in the trailer – well, that shot appears in Episode 1. However, the most confusing thing about this is not why Rick looks older but how his hair changes from tough-to-tame curls to poker-straight flat-top. It’s a conundrum we might never see answered, sadly.

Hair aside, Rick is seen in different emotional states during the episode. He’s clearly entering a new phase and while he exhibits a cruel streak and a lust for vengeance, he wrestles with his baser instincts. A gulf is widening between him and his son Carl, however, who proves he still has a lot of empathy and kindness within.

Father Gabriel continues to come to the fore in this episode, and really shows his mettle. He’s been stepping up for some time now, and has come a long way since the days of him betraying his flock and cowering in corners. His enduring ability to forgive, however, is tested when it becomes his undoing — leaving us with a doozy of a cliffhanger for this historic episode.

So What’s Wrong With It?

It’s not perfect. It’s not easy to comprehend the group’s plan at all, and the actions of certain characters seem to make little sense. According to Lennie James, who plays Morgan, we won’t find out about plans and affiliations until three or four episodes in.

Until then, we’ll just have to hope things gradually become clearer, because there are parts of this episode that frustrate largely just because they feel completely unconvincing.

Lennie James as Morgan in The Walking Dead.

Is “Mercy” Good?

It’s a thrilling and bold premiere that breathes new life into the show after a procession of seasons that have drawn criticism for retreading the same ground. Following a downbeat Season 7, Season 8 brings a renewed sense of hope for the team and for arguably the first time, a glimpse at a positive future.

It’s not without its faults, however, and there’s plenty about the action that will have you questioning the wisdom behind Rick’s plan.

Still, a change of tone, and approach, makes the episode an exhilarating and discombobulating one. ‘Mercy’ promises more  to come from a series that has plenty of life in it yet. Indeed, showrunner Scott Gimple has said that the episode is less about celebrating 100 episodes of the show, and more about “setting up the next 100.”

Based on the strength of “Mercy”, we certainly like the sound of that.

Kim Taylor-Foster
Kim Taylor-Foster is Entertainment Editor for Fandom in the UK. She was raised on an unsteady diet of video nasties and violent action flicks.