TV Show Review

TV Review: THE WALKING DEAD: Episodes 8.01 & 02: Mercy & The Damned [AMC]

Andrew Lincoln Lauren Cohan Khary Payton The Walking Dead Mercy

The Walking Dead: Mercy & The Damned Review

AMC‘s The Walking Dead, season 8, episodes 1 & 2, ‘Mercy’ & ‘The Damned,’ brought All Out War to the whole lot bigger World of Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), in ways both encouragingly expedient, and typically expositioned. Some might find the effort to blend these aspects jarring; but, where the first two episodes were concerned, I think the disjointed parallels show promise. How they reconcile, however, will be a major sticking point (along with when/ where such a reconciliation might take place, in the principal timeline).

As likely the most prominent bit to reconcile, I’m not sure how I feel about our introduction to Old Man Rick. Maybe Weird Al Yankovic is a good act to convalesce to – I’ll get back to you, on that one.

I’ve had some long standing gripes with The Walking Dead‘s world building – like the fact that I see more people sporting camouflage while out shopping, IRL, than the show has had shooting at each other – and this All Out War will likely exasperate them.

The most glaring (other than the lack of militia outfitting): the vast amount of underutilized open space there is, between & around warring & allied locations. Open space that can be traversed, canvased, or staked out by anyone, anytime; which should make solo/ small group venturing hazardous, if not suicidal. The countryside should be ripe with scouting/ blocking/ raiding parties from both sides, given the numbers involved; so the typical wandering scene kinda tugs at my suspension of disbelief, impatiently. Other details, like solo look-outs & using corregated sheet metal as armor, much more so.

I guess you could say I was starting to see the usual series pace & mood settings, in before the shooting started, leaving me worried that this All Out War thing was just going to be a retread of the conflict with the Governor – but with a higher body count.

Well “good news, everybody” – if the first two episodes were any indication, this ain’t gonna be that.

‘Mercy’ managed to balance getting the shooting war going with the usual speechifying, while leveraging a potential high-profile loss into some nervous moments for ‘The Damned.’ If you’re the sort that would still rather less speechifying to your war scenarios, some of that talk went into a last-ditch diplomacy exchange, between Rick & Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) – and speeches do tend to go better, when Negan gets the mic.

The great thing about this moment was that Negan has proven himself worthy of a plot-twist grin, in the face of losing odds. So much so, in fact, that a part of me second guessed Rick’s plan. Then again, almost all the principals were there; so things couldn’t have gotten too bad, I reasoned.

Well, with all that in mind, I had to settle for the simple fact that – even when Negan’s contingency turned out to be sadly impotent (kind of embarrassing, as Negan contingencies go, really) – having so many principals, on both sides, facing off that close to each other made for some genuine tension.

Of course, all that wonderful tension went out the window, when the Rick Regiment started shooting out windows. Why wasn’t someone already zeroed in on Negan? Henry Dean Morgan’s name in the opening credits, no doubt; but it still irked that he was allowed to scamper, again – it’s like that season 7 finale middle finger never came down.

We’re supposed to get pissed, every time Negan gets to smile his smuggest smile; so not does he get to live to smile another day, he gets to do it over somebody’s dead body – past or present. Hear that Darth Vader voice, yet – the one telling you to release your anger? That’s the sound of one or more Showrunners, doing a Vader impression, poking at you with Negan plot armor. Personally, I say save it for Gregory (Xander Berkeley) – I can smell his comeuppance round a few corners, ahead.

So, while we’re on the subject of plot armor: did Morgan (Lennie James) break the fourth wall, with his “I don’t die” remark? There was a tragic inflection to it – I got that – but the impatient tugging thing was still couch hopping over Negan, when he said it, is all.

It seemed to me that some emphasis was put on the tiny detail of Morgan killing (with guns, even – most proficiently – hell, he was Killing Machine Morgan); so I expect some back-storying to come out of it, at some point. He was also pretty cold about a fallen comrade; so expect more on the undoing of the Morgan-Monk.

Come to think of it, who needs a monk when you get Jesus (Tom Payne), anyhow? Jesus has always been a soft touch, but it looks like he may be filling Morgan’s Zen void. He may have even earned himself a nemesis, for the effort; but that would be too obvious (y’know, after Martin, Alpha Wolf, and Dwight all punished good deeds).

Carol (Melissa McBride) still had to work on processing King Ezekiel (Khary Payton). The hard part for her: figuring whether it was worse having to put up with his fantasy projections, or watching reality validate them.

On a side note: looks like it’s going to be a good time to be a tiger (being digital just makes it a good time to be around it).

In other news: Judith (Kinsley Isla Dillon) sprouted. She’s still Hyena bait, of course; but at least she will be a more animated, articulate plot hostage, going forward.

Oddly enough, she was part of the reason I was able to figure out the plot twist to ‘The Damned’ (the first one – the second came from over the wall, past left field). With all the women so prominently front-and-center, on both sides, the show had to address what unisex living facilitates, at some point. This was as good a time as any. Sometimes it’s the Empire that strikes back; sometimes it’s only what you take with you.

Rick might not see himself in Negan, just yet (I actually pictured Negan giving a similar speech, to his initial followers, at one point), but he may have seen himself in the father he killed. He was also saw a ghost, from a point in time I barely even remember; but I’m sure a pass of the bottle (episode) will fix that.

Since nothing easy is ever simple, a whole lot of opening round wins left my Spidey-sense spastic. Given the stakes, some recognizable faces had to take one for the team; given the scale, this might be an ongoing cull, rather than the occasional stunt plotting.

Hell, things could’ve gone so much smoother with just a few grenades (and other things I hope to never have to say, out loud), and the one that did show might’ve been laced with something very not-fun; but I’m trying to keep on the right side of paranoia, here (the kind that worries less about characters, and more about what the writers are willing to do to them, just to push our buttons).

At the end of the day, blowing up the Death Star didn’t really accomplish much, did it? The series just got started, and the Empire did Strike Back. Considering that Carl (Chandler Riggs), Michonne (Danai Gurira), and Judith were left holding the fort – with once-and-future spoiler, Rosita (Christian Serratos), benched along with them – I’m expected quite a bit of blowback headed for Rick’s underbelly (maybe even of the third person speaking variety).

Given that ‘Mercy’ had already yielded a presumptive tragedy, to Rick’s Roadie circle, you could say the opening stages of this conflict ended on something of a downer; but that would be assuming there’s actually an end in sight.

The first two episodes of TWD‘s All out War season actually left me hoping that this one battle never ends. Hoping that the typically episodic ebb & flow will be suspended, in favor of a drawn-out, expansive, see-saw contest. There will be bottle episodes, sure; but only to serve as contextual breathers – not parallel arcs, or full breaks – making the parade of faces, at the end, a way of signaling to us that everyone should take a breather, ’cause we’re going to be at this for a long time. Hoping.

As for Old Man Rick: yes. Yes, I do think Wierd Al would be a good selection to Lion in Winter to. What the Old Man Rick scenes mean for the show: not a clue, just yet; but between the looks of the place, and the impression that his cane looked like Ezekiel’s, and I’m thinking he got the keys to the Kingdom. Likely more time will go into this scenario – whether flash forward, dream, or death delusion – for a parallel reveal; but, for now, I’d say King Elessar did all right by Minas Tirith.

In case you missed it, I am thoroughly enjoying this All Out War thing. Yes, there will be forced melodrama & plot armor/ convenience, and I dread filler eps the way I should probably be dreading cast casualties; but after years of talking the future of mankind game, we’ve finally gotten around to the real business of what that takes.

Screw zombies! The show was never about them. It’s about how the survivors cope; and this is one, inevitable culmination to that end. It’s also too big a deal to just dole out in increments; so I’m gearing up for a nice, long conflict, on multiple fronts.

Bring it on, or Look at the Flowers, Showrunners (though, that might be the gear talking – I should take it off, before going outside)!

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About the author

Sam Joseph

Sam is an Avid consumer/observer of Geek culture, and collector of Fanboy media from earliest memory. Armchair sociologist and futurist. Honest critic with satirical if not absurdist­­ wit with some experience in comics/ animation production.

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