The Walking Dead, S08E01: “Mercy”

The Walking Dead, S08E01: “Mercy”

Shocking Basically Nobody, The First Episode of The Walking Dead‘s 8th Season is Really Bad


The Walking Dead continues it’s aimless gait towards oblivion, barely even pretending to believe in its own bullshit anymore. It’s sloppy, boneheaded and properly fuckin’ dull but, I mean, I don’t know what any reasonable person could expect from it at this point.

Rating: 2.5/11


There’s a legitimate argument to be made that The Walking Dead is the quintessential American TV show of 2017. Seriously: it thrashes about and demands attention, all while remaining embarrassingly misguided and impossible to take seriously. It’s undeniably of this era, yet feels totally antiquated. It doesn’t seem able to convince anyone of its own convictions, let alone itself. And it always appears to be waging an internal war against its better impulses, unsure of its identity or purpose. But, beyond everything else, The Walking Dead is simply tired. So very, very tired.

To wit: the show’s eighth (I’m gonna go ahead and restate that: eighth!) season kicks off with what initially seems like a promising nudge in the right direction. Rick begins gathering his troops for war against Negan, both sides comprised of the last people alive on Earth who also happen to be the only people in the history of the world who would ever be stupid enough to elect either Rick or Negan as their leader. Ain’t that a bitch? Despite an endless montage that could’ve been a lot cheaper (and basically identical) if it’d just been a compilation of other endless montages from previous episodes, “Mercy” still manages to burn through more plot in 20 minutes than most whole seasons of TWD.


Seeing as the entirety of last season hinged on a battle between Rick’s people and Negan’s that, for the most part, never actually happened, the fact that Rick’s armed forces seem to so efficiently have the drop on Negan and his crew this episode does bode sorta well for the momentum of this season. But then, this is The Walking Dead we’re talking about, a show that has become so lazily incompetent that even a slightly interesting plot development needs to be hindered on all sides by stupidity and nonsensical bullshit, for reasons both inscrutable and frustrating to ponder.

First, let’s just ignore how many opportunities Rick and his cohorts have to turn Negan into a pencil holder during this entire confrontation. Because even outside of that, there are just far too many aspects of this strategy (once again, on both sides) that don’t add up. So, Rick is offering Negan’s entire crew amnesty, while maintaining that he’s still definitely gonna kill Negan regardless? What, and that approach doesn’t work? Christ, this guy used to be a police officer, right? Top of your head, how many hostages must he have gotten killed in the real world behind that kinda shit?

But then there’s Negan’s shit-sandwich smirking rebuttal, which is to bring Gregory out and have him rally the people of Hilltop that have taken Rick’s side to join Negan’s instead. Otherwise, Gregory will kick them out of Hilltop based on the authority of the guys they’ve… come to overthrow. So… they’d better not? I mean, does anyone in this fucking show understand how power dynamics work? Granted, this whole thing falls apart pretty quick, but it’s insulting to suggest that anyone – least of all someone like Negan, who’s somehow managed to survive this long – would think this would be a good plan.


Finally, it turns out that while Rick has been talkin’ shit with Negan, his secret demolition crew has been otherwise engaged. Carol, Daryl, Morgan and… shit, I dunno, *Twizzler Girl, have been laying traps for Negan’s reinforcements (which, yeah, makes sense) and herding zombies towards the Saviour’s compound (which makes… a lot less sense). I can see how it helps to overrun your enemy’s base with zombies to systematically wipe them all out, but wasn’t Rick’s initial offer to let everyone else go except for Negan? Plus, all the zombie attack seemed to achieve was allowing enough chaos for Negan to slip away while exposing Rick’s own people to harm.

This staggering level of silliness and exhaustion wears on every element of the show. It’s there in the characters, who are either default leading roles with half a dimension spread between them or ambulant mouthpieces used for decoration. Honestly, some of these people are so poorly-defined at this point that it’s almost tempting to think that the show is trying to draw some sort of toothless parallel between them and the mindless zombies that litter the landscape. But no, even that would be giving TWD too much credit. Plus, any benefit of the doubt is trampled by the turgid dialogue that continues to seep from these people’s mouths like so much lumpy cornshit.

Even the show’s visuals, usually its most impeccable feature, seem to be floundering under the weight of indifference. “Mercy” is filled with morose explosions that illicit the excitement of a wet fart in a sauna, while also using such Film School 101 techniques as framing a character through a hole a fence, a shot that goes on for way too long. Even some of the more interesting touches in this episode (e.g. the overhead shot of a herd of zombies passing under a bridge) are tied to nothing substantial enough to offer any sense of thrill or significance. Add in such lazy visual elements as a gun with a tally of victims inscribed on it and a half-hearted stab at the assassination montage from The Godfather and everything begins to feel pretty uninspired.


And yet, there’s almost something accidentally compelling about TWD‘s frantic contradictions. It espouses the virtues of hope and humanity, all while remaining the most nihilistically violent show on TV. It can still find the time to be visually stunning, utilising longshots, deep focus and evocative lighting, all of which adds up to precisely nothing. There seems to be a genuine effort to rally and inspire, yet it’s based on the promise of something so abstract and – within the confines of the show – wholly unachievable that it’s almost depressing. And, most intriguing of all, Rick continues his looooong and ungainly descent into despotic madman, while he and the show remain convinced that he’s a hero.

But just look at the wide gulf that exists between Rick’s words and actions. He assures his own people that, the way he sees it, only one man has to die to end all of this; less than 10 minutes later, he’s stabbing some dude and setting a chained zombie on him. Listen to how, when he’s talking to the Saviours, he offers everyone basically the same deal that Negan gave to Rick’s crew, genuinely seeming not to hear the irony in aligning himself with a man he considers a monster. And even then, Rick’s ultimate plan with the zombies suggests this was probably a bullshit offer anyway. But like I said, this is not an actual element of the show so much as an aberration that exists around it, a disparity between intent and result that’s fun to poke at.

In any case, this episode may be fun to pick apart and shit on afterwards, but “Mercy” is not what I would call a good way to spend 45 minutes of your life. Because even though its lead character is a weirdly fascinating contradiction in terms and the show itself may technically serve as a stand-in for the state of contemporary America, The Walking Dead continues only to be interesting by accident. It offers no insight on capitalistic greed or political divisions through its fantasy world; nor does it manage to stake out a legitimate claim to good plotting, consistent characterisation or even half-engaging action setpieces. It remains an insidiously dull, bone-achingly stupid show which – by its very existence as a piece of “entertainment” – says more about our world than anything that happens in this episode ever could.


Quotes, Random Thoughts & Housemate Contributions


  • The fact that this episode’s preceding “Previously on…” segment runs for 15 seconds tells you all you need to know about how fuckin’ little actually took place last season.



  • Housemate Contribution #1 – [Groans loudly the second Rick opens his mouth].


  • Carl: “There’s not gonna be enough, Dad…”
    Rick: “Enough what?”
    Carl: Hope.”
    Me: [Screams while gnawing at my own arteries].


  • Ok, I genuinely don’t know how long it’s been since the beginning of Season 7 and right now. Because, uuh, Maggie’s still super not-pregnant-looking, but everyone keeps talking about it. Meanwhile, Judith has aged about two years. What’s that about?


  • Slim pickings, yeah, but I still find Ezekiel pretty engaging. His excessive grandeur should’ve worn thin by now, yet I dig it. Go figure.


  • I take a shot every time Negan mentions his or someone else’s dick or balls. And every time I remember I’m watching The Walking Dead.


  • Carl leaving cans of food for the scavenger dude is just… [sigh]. Juvenile, I guess, both on his part and the show’s for foisting such easy plot points on us.


  • Oh, here are the things that Gabriel does this episode: stops Rick from killing Negan for no reason, tries to save Gregory the arse-hat and then ends up trapped in a small vestibule with Negan, surrounded by zombies. Fuck you, Gabriel.


  • I’m not even gonna dignify that flashforward bullshit to Grandpa Rick’s happy place. So stupid.

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