War Has Arrived in the Return of ‘The Walking Dead’

AMC’s blockbuster juggernaut “The Walking Dead” launched season eight with its explosive landmark 100th episode last night. Episode one of the new batch, titled “Mercy,” raised the stakes between Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Rick (Andrew Lincoln), as tensions rise to an all-time high.

Within the confines of “The Walking Dead,” a new world order has emerged. It’s chaotic, messy, and, up until now, mostly lawless. Humans are each other’s biggest threat, not the flesh-eating walkers. Those have almost become secondary. 

Rick, alongside King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan), the leaders of The Kingdom and The Hilltop, open the episode with a speech – speaking on the very topic of laws and rules within the new world, which holds no room for those looking to rule for their own benefits. Brief and intriguing flash-forward’s are intertwined throughout the speech. One featuring a much older Rick, with a walking cane aside his bed. The other illustrating Rick standing above two graves, in the not too distant future. 

Combined with the forces of Alexandria the colonies have declared war on Negan. The episode provided much-needed progression that had been promised since Negan’s untimely arrival onto the scene. “The Walking Dead” has a tendency to tease things out over the duration of a half-season or so. But “Mercy,” directed by special effects guru Greg Nicotero, supplied the necessary acceleration with an ample pump of adrenaline.

After Rick’s group hatches a plan to invade The Saviors, in which Michonne (Danai Gurira) stays back on – due to her injuries previously procured, Negan offers up a compelling counter-argument. Apparently, Gregory (Xander Berkely), the former leader of The Hilltop has allied with The Saviors. He announces that anyone existing in that colony who turns their back on The Saviors will be banished to fend for themselves. It’s a wicked power play that has the ability to scare a lot of the members. But Jesus (Tom Payne), declares the colonies alliance with their new the leader, Maggie. Perhaps Negan is starting to lose some clout. 

One of the more interesting prospects that the theme of war provides is a sense of division and the blurred lines that it can create from various alliances on the battle lines. The probability of betrayal amplifies the more intricate human elements. 

By the end of the episode’s enthralling power struggle, involving the colonies parading right to Negan’s doorstep in metal clad vehicles stripped out of “Dawn of the Dead,” explosives, and hoards of walkers – many fates remain uncertain. A grenade was set off at the watch point, which Carol (Melissa McBride), Ezekiel, and other members of The Kingdom occupied. Additionally, Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) finds himself in a tight space with an unfriendly face. Closing out the episode is the very speech that opened it – reminding the viewer of Rick’s ultimate mission: to strive in their hope for a better tomorrow. 

A special two-hour edition of “Talking Dead,” hosted by Chris Hardwick, followed up the fulfilling episode. Perhaps a little too self-indulgent, the series did deserve the attention after the appetizing and progressive season opener. 

The Walking Dead” season eight premiered Oct. 22 and airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.