We gave it a B+
The cast and crew are hoping the 100th episode is how The Walking Dead gets its groove back. Andrew Lincoln has called season 8 his “favorite season in a long time,” a season that brings “the swagger and the mojo back,” and one that’s “reminiscent of seasons 1-4.” This is exactly what fans want to hear after the slow, slow slog that was season 7. (The group’s main mission in the second half was to acquire guns, and what happens in the season finale? They. Lose. Their. Guns!) But it’s also something we’ve heard before with previous seasons that never paid off that hype.
The show’s recent panel at New York Comic Con became a time to air some of those frustrations. Moderator Chris Hardwick would ask the cast a question and, in many cases, the actors would have to sit and smile for a bit as they’d be drowned out by fans shouting their own comments. Lennie James was musing about Morgan’s hesitation to become violent when one audience member shouted, “Just do it!” And before Austin Amelio could get a word in about Dwight, another fan bellowed, “I hate that guy.”
When we finally pick up with Rick Grimes in “Mercy,” we do get a sense that the old Rick (and the Old Man Rick) is back. He’s more militarized, more brutal, and he’s ready to relinquish his command of the group once this is all done — and thank God for that because he’s not exactly the best strategist. While we shouldn’t start judging this season as the best yet, the opening makes one thing perfectly clear, and it’s something else the cast members have been saying ad nauseam: The gang is ready for war.
It’s difficult, however, to discern when some of the moments glimpsed before the credits take place. We can figure that Rick’s rousing speech to the troops is happening in real time. The same goes for Daryl’s secret arrow relays with Dwight, and Carol and Tara tracking a herd of walkers. (Side note: Did you catch that drawing of a flower on the side of the overpass next to Carol? Is it, like Daryl once said of the Cherokee Rose, a sign of hope for these dark times?) The same goes for the montage of Hilltoppers assembling their armored cars, the blacksmiths forging weapons, and the assembling of all three rebel colonies before the fight.
But there are also moments like the scene of Rick standing over Glenn and Abraham’s grave at the Hilltop (also likely in the present), and a quick close-up of Rick’s eyes, red from crying, that flashes on screen after he and Ezekiel address their army. We get another piece of this scene further on in the episode, and we see a stained-glass panel dangling above him. He seems to be wearing the same shirt he had on at the start of the attack, so one would think this is a flash-forward to signal that their plans don’t go exactly as planned.
Then there’s the one that fans have been hoping to decipher: Old Man Rick. We see a full-bearded Rick wake in a bed at the start of the episode and more snippets are revealed throughout the hour. It’s a vision of some kind — perhaps of the future, perhaps of an alternate reality where there’s peace instead of war, perhaps of a dream sequence. Whatever the case, it’s of Rick limping around his home in Alexandria. Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” is playing in the background, while Michonne and Carl are playing hooky. They turned off Rick’s alarm so he could sleep in. The final moments of the episode bring another extension of this scene, where we see a more grown-up Judith run to her dad to say a giant owl has been built for the party. Michonne remarks that the people are “taking this festival very seriously.” They walk outside to reveal a freshly built stone house across the street as Alexandria is readying for a celebration.
(Recap continues on the next page.)