Everything has an expiration date — my debit card, the milk in my fridge and, according to some, AMC’s hit TV series “The Walking Dead.” “Mercy,” the show’s season eight premiere, aired this past Sunday, and I’m sad to say it was met with mostly negative responses. It seems the promise of this season’s theme, all-out war, was not enough to rouse people’s support for Rick’s fight against Negan and continued battle with zombies. I believe some lack of interest stems from the show’s shift from an apocalyptic to post-apocalyptic nature. Gone are the adrenaline-filled plot lines in which walkers were the main sources of danger and every threat seemed like the end of the world. We’re now firmly in the realm of human conflict over completely rebuilding a society and the battle over who gets to run that society. For this reason, many have written off the show. But all hope is not lost. “Mercy” incorporates three main things that remind us why TWD is still worth watching:
1. Easter eggs
“Mercy” was not just the season eight premiere; it was also “The Walking Dead’s” 100th episode. And with this celebratory milestone, executive producers Scott Gimple and Greg Nicotero demonstrated their genius once again by including a few Easter eggs that referenced the show’s pilot episode, “Days Gone Bye.” “Mercy’s” plot is interspersed with flashes to the future, and the first one shows Future Rick waking up in a bed, turning his head to the right and glancing at a vase of flowers on his nightstand. This exact sequence occurs in the first episode of “TWD,” when Rick wakes up in a hospital bed and discovers the world as he knew it is gone. Additionally, like father, like son; Carl performs some of the exact actions when looking for gas that Rick does in “Days Gone Bye.” One of these scenes depicts Carl setting his Sheriff’s hat — which was Rick’s in season one — on the ground and crouching down on his stomach in order to check under an abandoned car. Carl is also seen peering into the window of a car to get a better look at a dead walker in the driver’s seat. Gimple and Nicotero really outdo themselves with these scenes, because not only are Rick and Carl’s actions the same, but the camera angles are as well.
And, of course, the producers couldn’t end the season eight premiere without referencing the ending of “TWD’s” pilot. “Days Gone Bye” ends with an overhead shot of walkers swarming a military tank — one that Rick is trapped inside of. One of “Mercy’s” final shots consists of a similar overhead view of walkers overrunning a small building that holds a trapped Negan and Father Gabriel. Overall, Gimple and Nicotero’s nods back to the pilot episode don’t overwhelm “Mercy” enough to distract the viewer from the current plot. Rather, they are just present enough to make you question whether or not Rick and his followers have truly made progress, while taking us back to the start of where our love affair with “TWD” began. So if you’re not a fan of “TWD’s” current plot, these Easter eggs will take you back to a time when the terror was new and the only thing to worry about was getting bitten by a walker.
2. Why Negan is still alive
From what I gathered from the internet, people are upset with the show because Rick and his allies had a prime opportunity to simply shoot Negan and be done with it when they drove their makeshift armored cars into the Sanctuary. Yet they just allowed Negan to stand out in the open and talk; how unrealistic is that, right?
Wrong. Killing Negan at this point would be a terrible move, and Rick knows this. Simply shooting him dead right then and there would make him a martyr in the Savior’s eyes. Instead, Rick is attempting to challenge Negan, to deconstruct the myth that he is all-powerful, and to show his followers that he is still just a vulnerable human. Why do you think Rick took that seemingly random photo of Negan when he was cowering behind a building? He’s gathering evidence that Negan is, in fact, a coward, and not the fearless leader he makes himself out to be.
3. A new head honcho
Over the course of “TWD’s” last few seasons, no one can deny that Rick has undergone some rough patches in his leadership. People who have been fans of Rick since season one now speculate that he often makes decisions based on his own wants rather than the needs of the group. Yet even at his worst, I have never lost faith in Rick’s ability to lead. But for all you people who are doubtful of or exasperated with Rick’s leadership style, you’ll be excited to learn that there may soon be a new sheriff in town. About halfway through “Mercy,” Rick tells Maggie that after the war with the Saviors is won, he’ll be looking to follow her lead. While this potential passing of the torch is subtle, it could shake things up enough to regain some “Walking Dead” fans who believe the show has finally met its expiration date.