The Walking Dead season eight premiere was a jumble of montages and flash forwards. "Mercy" shoots the opening salvo in the war against the Saviors. But in true Walking Dead fashion, nothing was revealed and a lot of questions are left unanswered. That definitely works as the hook to draw you in. Some scenes, particularly of Old Man Rick, seem pulled right from the comic. I've learned not to infer anything, so we'll see if Old Man Rick is truly the future or just a red herring.
"Mercy" opens up with a montage of several events at different times. Rick (Andrew Lincoln) is at the Hilltop colony looking over the graves of Abraham and Glenn. He's then on top of a truck giving a rallying speech to a heavily armed group. An arrow is seen shot in front of Dwight (Austin Amelio) at the Sanctuary. It carries a note that says "tomorrow". Carol (Melissa McBride) and Tara (Alana Masterson) are on a highway overpass. Tara looks at her watch.
We flash forward to the future; flowers are by the bed of a much older Rick. When he opens his eyes, we cut back to the present. Dwight has shot an arrow back towards Daryl (Norman Reedus). Rick, back atop the truck, has Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) by his side. He tells the group that this is their time, their world, and only one person has to die. He will kill that person himself.
Carl (Chandler Riggs) is walking down a road checking cars for fuel. He comes to a gas station, when he hears a voice. Someone is asking for help and food. He confronts a dirty, disheveled man, but does not fire. Rick comes blasting behind him. The man runs away. Carl looks at this father, who says he was shooting overhead to scare him. The man could have been a Savior lookout. As they walk off together, a walker girl walks toward them, just like the first episode.
A lookout on a tree top post is shot and falls down. We see a list; the word "platform" is marked off. Daryl then kills a man who was sitting on a car. He looks at the man's gun. It's marked with his number of kills. "Neighborhood" is seen scratched off the list. The next man to die is a lookout at the "Paze Research Center". Morgan (Lennie James) rams a staff through his chest. That one is also marked off. Rick is the one holding the list. He is in Alexandria with Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam).
Daryl rides his bike to the highway overpass. He joins Tara, Carol, and Morgan. Back in Alexandria, Rick kisses an older Judith. She has long hair now and looks like a toddler. He shares a goodbye kiss with Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Carl. He heads to the convoy of cars. Each vehicle is armed with steel plates on one side. They drive through the Alexandria gates. A frustrated Rosita (Christian Serratos), still wounded, is left behind sitting on a porch. Michonne tells Carl that he is now in charge of the town.
Rick gets the drop on another Savior lookout. The man taunts Rick, saying he will cry again and Carl will die. Rick releases a walker to finish him off. We're back to the rallying scene with the convoy. Rick asks Maggie if she's up for the fight. She responds, "I'm good to the third trimester." Ezekiel says they have a fine doctor at the Kingdom if needed. Jesus (Tom Payne) replies that they are going to get their's back. Before they leave, Rick whispers to me Maggie. He will follow her after this war is over. She will be the leader of the future.
Tara looks at her watch. She counts down from ten, but nothing happens. Suddenly a massive herd of walkers turns the corner towards them. The group gets in their vehicles and leaves. As they drive away, a truck explodes behind them, drawing the walkers attention. We then cut to the Sanctuary. Dwight sees the smoke in the distance. A convoy of Saviors leave to investigate.
Carol, Tara, Daryl, and Morgan are laying a trip wire. Back at the Sanctuary, Dwight is smoking a cigarette. The two guards above him are killed by sniper fire. At that moment, Rick's armored convoy arrives at the gates. They arrange the armored sides to create a metal shield. Everyone raises their weapons and fires off three shots. Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) comes out on the balcony. Followed by his lieutenants, Dwight, Simon (Simon Ogg), and everyone's favorite mullet, Eugene (Josh McDermitt).
The scene cuts to a sweaty and shaken Rick. Something is glaring in his face, he looks up to reveal stained glass. The scene cuts again to Old Man Rick. He gets out of bed, then using a cane, hobbles downstairs. Michonne is at breakfast, music plays, and Carl casually walks by.
Cut back to the Sanctuary, Negan arrogantly proclaims that everyone knows his d*ck is bigger than Rick's. He doesn't want to waste his men's lives on this futile rebellion. Rick responds by saying everyone's name, except Negan's. They can make a choice now and survive. Rick says Negan already knows what's going to happen to him. Back at their ambush, Morgan kills a walker that gets too close to the trip wire.
Negan mocks Rick. He doesn't have the numbers for this fight. He beckons for Simon to get Gregory (Xander Berkeley). Maggie and Jesus now know where he ran to. Gregory claims that anyone from the Hilltop that fights with Rick will be exiled. Jesus yells back that the Hilltop stands with Maggie. No one leaves. A frustrated Simon kicks Gregory down the stairs. At the trip wire, the Saviors have arrived. Morgan hides behind a dumpster as they are blown to bits.
The signal is given. Rick is through talking. He gives an ultimatum. Then starts counting down from ten, opening fire at seven. Negan and the Saviors run for cover. Rick's group shoots out all of the windows in the Sanctuary. At the ambush, the group gets in their vehicles and separates. Daryl stays behind to lead the herd advancing toward them. He shoots at explosives along the way. The gigantic herd of walkers stumbles towards the Sanctuary.
Rick sees Negan and pins him down with bullet fire. They hear Daryl's explosions in the background. Father Gabriel drives the armored RV into the Sanctuary gates. He jumps out, then Rick remotely blows it up. The Sanctuary is breached by the massive explosion. Rick is still trying to shoot Negan, but Gabriel beckons him to leave. Everyone gets in the vehicles and drives away. As Gabriel is about to drive away, he sees Gregory hiding. He leaves the car to try to help him, but Gregory jumps in and leaves him behind.
Carl has returned to the gas station where he saw the man. He leaves two cans of food and a note that says "sorry". The man is still hiding in the bushes and sees him. Rick and Daryl wait for Gabriel as long as they can. They decide to move on. The separate groups are now outside different Savior outposts. Morgan and Tara are by the satellite compound. Carol is leading a group towards the Paze facility, a smoke bomb explodes in front of them.
Meanwhile, Father Gabriel is running through a sea of walkers. He comes to a trailer door and runs inside for cover. His escape is short lived. Negan is hiding there as well. He looks at the Father and says, "I hope you got your sh*tting pants on, because you're about to sh*t your pants." There is an overhead shot of the Sanctuary. It is decimated and overrun by hundreds of walkers.
Back to the future, Old Man Rick is greeted by Judith, who is now a young girl. She tells him there's a big owl outside. He walks outside to see a bustling Alexandria. The scene then immediately cuts to the sweaty and shaken Rick. He talks softly about mercy. We are then back to the rally by the cars. Rick tells the group that no matter what happens, they have already won.
The war has indeed begun. It didn't have to. Rick could have easily shot Negan when he come out on the balcony. But then we wouldn't have fifteen episodes to figure out what the hell is happening with Old Man Rick. Father Gabriel is in a tight spot, but his stupidity put him there. Once again, characters never act rationally on this show. We just need to crank up the suspension of disbelief and keep watching. Let's hope for a more straightforward narrative, next week on AMC.