SPOILER ALERT: If you have not seen season eight, episode one of The Walking Dead yet, you may want to watch it before you read this.
The Walking Dead has returned to the television screen after almost seven excruciating months of anticipation. Like any other fan of the hit zombie epic, I was pretty excited to watch the first episode of season eight, which aired last Sunday night. This also happened to be the 100th episode of the show.
Okay, I admit, I was pumped. I watched all the bonus episodes and had a special meal prepared and everything. By seven-thirty, I was sitting on the couch wearing my Daryl Dixon hoodie, ready to go.
I believe this episode was both really crafty and really disappointing. There were a lot of interesting and creative things that went on. However, it took me two watches to pick up on a lot of the details, while I can usually catch on to the show pretty quickly. Not that that is necessarily a problem. However, there were several things this time that I thought were just distracting and unnecessary. Stuff and things (kudos, Rick Grimes) that I believe did not work to the creator’s advantage or the way they intended it to.
Before I begin, here’s a brief summary of the episode: The main character, Rick Grimes, leader of the Alexandria community, is preparing to go to war with Negan and his group, the Saviors, who are running a brutal regime, terrorizing the various communities in the area, and taking more than their fair share of supplies. Two other groups, the Kingdom and Hilltop Colony, have joined forces with Rick, and, so far, the three groups seem to be getting along fabulously.
Rick and his allies take out many of Negan’s lookouts at strategic points along the road and blow up cars to lure a massive hoard of walkers (zombies) to the Sanctuary, which is where Negan and a bunch of his major lieutenants live.
They decide to attach sheets of metal to their vehicles as protection against bullets, and Rick and the other groups head over to the Sanctuary, armed with a bunch of high-powered weapons. Negan taunts Rick and reveals that he has Gregory, leader of Hilltop, on his side. Gregory cowardly commands that his residents back down or lose their homes. Thankfully, no one listens to him.
After imploring them to surrender several times, Rick and the three groups open fire on the Sanctuary, just as the walkers close in on it. Rick finally retreats so the walkers won’t surround them. Although they won the battle, there was a loss. A friend of Rick’s, Father Gabriel, returns to save Gregory, and ends up being forced into a trailer to escape the walkers. As it turns out, Negan is hiding in the same trailer with Lucille, his baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire. It was never revealed what happened to Fr. Gabriel yet.
I will start with the negatives and get it over with, because the positives aspects really do deserve the last word. For such a jam-packed episode, to my surprise, this one felt agonizingly slow. After my first watch, I detested the episode solely because of the way it was organized. I felt it was just really poorly done and disappointing for the 100th episode.
The repetition of images– such as the flowers by future, gray-bearded Rick’s bed, his cane, the clock, Tara chewing liquorice– was actually a drag for me and just made the episode seem choppy and disorganized. Usually, I enjoy repetition when it is subtle (and I think many other people do too), however this episode used it in a bang-you-over-the-head, heavy handed way.
This was obviously meant to be artistic– I have the feeling, since it was episode 100, the creators and writers wanted to show us how far Rick has come and the future that could be his, but the means by which this was done were just so annoying that I could not appreciate it.
I think they could have done this much better. For example, they could have had an opening scene with flashbacks of significant moments in Rick’s life (that could include interesting moments from pre-apocalypse by the way!) so far, and then dissolve into the future with older Michonne and child Judith that Rick imagines. And then Rick would wake up and have to face the war he has in front of him. Even spacing this throughout would be fine. At least it would include characters instead of seemingly random (confusing) objects and scenarios.
As far as storyline disappointments go, I thought the constant waste of bullets was frustrating to watch– Rick’s group often randomly fires their guns with no particular target, or shoots at an enemy and misses, even though they are all using machine guns. Morgan kills again (sigh), which I think is disappointing because I liked the fact that he became a pacifist and thought the writers could have been more creative with that and dug deeper.
And there is the obvious one: Rick failing to kill Negan twice when he had two great opportunities to. The first time was just plain ridiculous. Rick and his allies just shot at the windows above the Savior’s heads for no particular reason. Either Rick is playing the hero (a good possibility) or he just doesn’t want Negan dead (I’m leaning toward this one). Which leads us into the positive (and super interesting!) aspects of the episode.
I like how the writers are really emphasizing the reluctance Rick has to take Negan out. Although Rick has told Negan multiple times he is going to kill him, I am really sensing a Batman and Joker relationship here. Rick will not kill Negan because he (perhaps subconsciously) refuses to allow himself to be morally corrupted by doing so, and Negan does not kill Rick because he interests him too much and keeps him occupied.
During his second opportunity to kill him, Rick shoots at a piece of metal Negan is hiding behind. There are no enemies in sight and Negan appears to be injured, with only Lucille as a weapon. In all reality, Rick could just walk up to him and fire and it would be done. But he hangs back and just shoots the metal sheet over and over again, and, after Fr. Gabriel convinces him to leave, he snaps a picture of Negan hiding before he takes off. This basically tells viewers that Rick was doing this to prove his strength to Negan, but not to get rid of him. I think Fr. Gabriel senses this too, because, during this time, he reminds Rick that this war is not about him.
Actually, one of my favorite parts of the episode was when Fr. Gabriel stops Rick. That scene really plays with viewers emotions. On one hand it is wonderful that Fr. Gabriel saved Rick from being surrounded by the walkers, but on the other hand, this prevents Rick from killing Negan, like he has said he was going to.
Ironically, Fr. Gabriel ends up taking Rick’s place when he sacrifices yet again to save Gregory, who abandons him to the walkers. I especially appreciate Rick’s later comment that Fr. Gabriel’s mercy overcame his wrath. I believe this is a turning point for Rick– he has not shown mercy to an enemy in a long time.
However, my favorite parts of the episode were the multiple scenes with Carl at the gas station, walking with the gas container between broken-down cars just like his dad in the very first episode of the show. He even bends down to check under a car, putting his hat on the ground like Rick did. These scenes really made the 100th episode memorable to me.
I’ve always loved the father-son development between Rick and Carl, as each person has their own set of experiences, but are still able to share common ground. Both went through phases of coldness and brutality, particularly Rick. Interestingly, although he has less memories of life before the apocalypse, Carl has reminded his father in various ways that life is precious and has gotten him out of tough spots countless times.
When Rick could not show mercy or make logical decisions, Carl could. I find that very intriguing– it proves that although the world may be negative, good can, and will, always be found. The theme is repeated in this episode (which is entitled “Mercy”) at the gas station when Carl leaves a few canned goods behind for an unknown survivor and a note that says “sorry” after Rick scares the man away by firing a gun over his head. Carl criticizes Rick’s hasty decision, showing that he is less paranoid that Rick.
Making Carl a reflection of his father in this episode was not only a parallel to the first episode, but also a powerful way to show that Carl still respects Rick, no matter how much they argue, which was something called into question last season.
And, of course, watching everyone come together to fight was really awesome, especially Dwight. He was always a dynamic character and I was glad to see him working with Rick’s group. Although he participated in Daryl’s earlier torture, the two seem to have reached a mutual understanding that I think was always there.
A couple of other nostalgic things I thought were interesting was when the RV driven on the night of Glenn and Abraham’s deaths was blown up, and Carol looking at a graffiti design of a flower on an overpass, a reference to “Look at the flowers, Lizzie.”
Overall, I appreciated this episode, even though the title of this article may seem a bit negative. With the theme of showing mercy and calling back the past, this was a pretty deep episode, which it definitely should be for the 100th.
However, unfortunately, I cannot say that I really enjoyed watching it. The heavy repetition and slow-moving sequence of events just was not what I wanted to see in a season premiere. Things could have been done in a more effective way. For instance, some cutting between Rick’s group preparing to fight, and Negan and the Saviors doing whatever they were doing inside the Sanctuary at the time would have been much more suspenseful.
Better organization and a more solid structure would have made a world of positive difference for this episode. But, considering everything else it explored, especially in the Carl scenes and Fr. Gabriel scenes, I believe it was ultimately a success.
Thanks for reading and feel free to share your thoughts on last Sunday’s episode, “Mercy”, in the comments below or click the “Leave a comment” button at the top left of the post, under the author’s image. I would love to read what you think about this interesting episode. Stay tuned for a review of this Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead!