Nicole Prieto | Staff Writer
On the heels of Fear the Walking Dead’s surprisingly successful season, Season 8 of The Walking Dead premiered on Oct. 22 with Rick Grimes and company dead set on the warpath against Negan and the Saviors.
Season 7 saw the emotional reunion of Rick’s allies from Alexandria, The Hilltop and the Kingdom. In an unexpected twist, the odd, drab-dressing garbage people betrayed Rick in favor of a deal with the Saviors. Thankfully, the united Hilltoppers and people of the Kingdom stormed in to save the day just as Negan was set to sick Lucille on Carl. We said goodbye to Sasha Williams and the capable talent of actress Sonequa Martin in one of the more creative cast exits to date, and we witnessed the rise of Maggie Rhee as a respected leader on the show.
If you have not watched “Mercy” or “The Damned,” this is your final warning — because here is the good, the OK, and the ugly of TWD’s Season 8 openers.
“The Damned” is certainly the stronger of this season’s first episodes, and it takes its time between violent shootouts and shocking revelations to give our heroes some much needed moments of self-reflection.
In executing a raid against one of the Savior outposts, Morgan and two of his allies are gunned down by a retaliating group; wearing body armor, Morgan is the only one who survives. He manages to kill several Saviors as he escapes the compound, experiencing flashbacks to his confrontation with Rick about killing them off. His turmoil comes to a head when he encounters a large group that surrendered to Jesus and the others. He immediately sees the man who killed Ben out of spite, Jared. It is a watershed moment for Morgan, who nearly guns him down on the spot before Jesus intervenes. Morgan is once again forced to compromise the tenets of his own moral code against the Saviors’ brutality.
For their own part, Rick and Daryl check out one of the Savior gun caches indicated on Dwight’s map. The pair, sharing few words, decide to split up. While exploring a room, Daryl unexpectedly finds a chilling scene: a pair of bloody handcuffs next to a half-eaten plate of food on the ground. Someone tried — and perhaps succeeded — in escaping the outpost, likely by cutting off their hand. It is a subtle callback not only to Daryl’s own tortuous imprisonment at Negan’s compound but also a smart reminder of his brother, Merle.
For all his propensity in doling out inspiring speeches every season, it is nice to see Rick taken down a notch when he gets too caught up in his grand plans. During his own search in the building, Rick is ambushed by a lone man desperate to take him down. Rick succeeds in strangling and impaling the man against a wall mount. But it does not take long for Rick to realize the gravity of what he has done; in the next room over, he stumbles upon a nursery and a sleeping baby girl apparently named Gracie. This is a poignant moment that pairs nicely with Morgan’s own self-doubt about mercy and revenge. A mirror hanging over the child’s crib forces Rick to face the consequences of his actions: He has killed the child’s father, and he is left with a hard choice about what to do with that information.
Seven years and eight seasons later and the most impressive thing we learn about Rick in “The Damned” is his indomitable memory for side characters from Season 1. A man named Morales was among the group that parted from Rick and company back in Atlanta — presumably never to be heard from again. Sometime after Rick kills Gracie’s father, Morales holds him at gunpoint, revealing that he has taken up with Negan’s crew. The leftfield return of a fairly unmemorable character is handled well by the show and could signal the inclusion of some backstory on what happened to the other Atlanta survivors.
“Mercy” was TWD’s 100th episode and, surprisingly, one of the least compelling entries in the series to date. The problem was not the quality of the production, the acting or the occasionally tenuous suspension of disbelief. Rather, for being a landmark in TWD’s production history, it contains a shocking dearth of substantive development. We watch Rick’s odd visions of the future and him and company execute the early stages of their major assault on the Saviors.
This humdrum hallmark immediately follows the unexpected compellingness FTWD’s third season. The comparison is jarring, and Season 8 is in dire need of ramping up the action to hide its companion series’ comparatively superior quality.
With the bulk of the Saviors alerted to the group’s plans, the fate of the united communities once again hangs in the balance. King Ezekiel is undeterred, deciding to continue leading his own group to fulfill their part of Rick’s plan. Eric is shot during the prolonged shootout against the Saviors at the Sanctuary. From “Mercy,” Carl might have inadvertently made a key new ally with a larger role to play in upcoming episodes, and we have yet to see the fate of Father Gabriel at Negan’s very ticked off hands. Episode 3, “Monsters,” premieres on Sunday at 9 p.m. EST.