arning: This review may contain spoilers for this episode and previous episodes of The Walking Dead.
The Walking Dead Season 8 doesn’t open with a bang; it’s more of a pop followed by a fizzle. The episode begins promising. A flash-forward shows a confusing shot of Rick looking exhausted followed by a scene of an older looking Rick in bed with a cane. These glimpses into the future continue throughout the episode and are most likely showing a time later into the season or even the series. Unfortunately, even though the future of the season looks bright, this episode falls flat.
Image from “Mercy”
After the initial flash-forward, Rick is seen giving a speech to Alexandria, The Hilltop, and The Kingdom about their future war with the Saviors. The speech ultimately is summed up through the line “only one person has to die”. What follows is an episode where many people die, except the person who needed to die. Throughout the opening preparation is made in anticipation for the battle between Rick and the Saviors that falls flat rather fast.
As the hundredth episode of the series, appreciation of the series’ origins is expertly implemented. Subtlety is key when giving callbacks in a series, and even though subtlety is hard to find in The Walking Dead it was done surprisingly well here. Instead of beating the audience over the head with characters or objects from the past seasons while repeatedly yelling “Remember this!” select shots from the original episode are recreated in a way that is easy to miss, but entirely rewarding when found.
The effects are poor…really poor. In true Walking Dead fashion, people/zombies are often just set pieces for a glory kill. A great shot of a Walker after an explosion is the best the effects get this time unfortunately. A glaring example of these poor effects comes from the climax where instead of shooting at anyone of importance, the entirety of Rick’s army unloads on the glass of the building. What makes this worse is the effects used on the glass, as rather than shattering and falling it dissolves into black.
However, completely overshadowed by this is the scene in which a car is left to explode. In a scene too terrible to miss, a group of obviously CG walkers unnaturally glide in the back of the scene as a car waits to blow up. When it finally does, an explosion occurs that is so terrible you have to see it to believe it. A cartoony ball of fire erupts over the car rather than from it. As the explosion grows it becomes increasingly apparent something is off and upon closer inspection the explosion appears to have occurred on the wrong axis seeing as the debris isn’t actually parallel with the ground.
Image from “Mercy”
In terms of action, this episode is definitely more exciting than most, but not by too much. As Rick’s plan to kill Negan comes together many guards need to die, yet they all seem to die from a crossbow bolt off camera. The overuse of the off-screen killer trope detracts from any excitement after a while and it comes off as repetitive. The preparation for Rick’s plan however is interesting. Without full knowledge of the plan, it is a great time trying to piece together why metal plates are being fused to cars and why Tara and company are sitting atop a bridge constantly checking the time.
When the time finally comes, the action is a disappointment. What all the preparation ultimately amounts to is a clear shot at Negan which no one takes until it is too late, aim worthy of a stormtrooper, and the previously mentioned glass attack. Worst of all, Rick has a clear shot at Negan until Gabriel pulls him aside for no real reason at all, leading to an unsatisfying shootout where no one actually gets shot (Besides the glass of course).
Any doubts that the show may have jumped the shark are quelled almost immediately when the dreadlocked, Shakespeare-spewing leader of the “Kingdom” looks over at his pet tiger and laughs at Jesus (don’t worry it makes sense in context…almost). This leads to the bigger problem with the episode (and arguably the series), the characters.
Image from “Mercy”
Even though characters are technically developed throughout the series, it rarely feels natural and they often end up following the exact same arcs. An always angsty Carl still comes off bratty and continues to do things his way while an almost unbearable Tara comes off as a ten-year-old’s idea of “cool”. And worst of all, the completely flat members of each of the groups come together and chat in some of the most unnatural, laughable conversations in the series. Every single one of these characters who talk feel as if they are aliens trying to fit in as humans to no avail.
Performances by Negan and Rick are a major plus. Any scene with Negan in it (portrayed by the lovely Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is elevated due to his fantastic stage presence. Negan is prime example of how to take the cartoonish direction the show has taken and turn it into something great. Morgan takes the poor script in stride and makes it consistently entertaining (even if he is basically just a glorified Disney villain).
Rick on the other hand, though a shell of his former self, has yet to become yet another generic character. Even while giving his motivational speeches which we’ve heard thousands of times before, he still has more dimensions to his character than most anyone else on the show. There is more to Rick than meets the eye and he is a blast to watch whenever on screen.