Alright, so the TWD season premiere wasn’t half bad, after all. It wasn’t spectacular either, mostly because my suspension of disbelief sadly doesn’t extend to a willingness to gloss over things that doesn’t make sense.
(Also, because any TWD episode where the opening images involve Tara munching on twizzlers and wearing those ridiculous orange sunglasses isn’t a good sign.)
The season opener picks up a few days (weeks?) after we left things off in last year’s finale: Alexandria, the Hilltop and the Kingdom have come together to prepare for war against Negan and the Saviors, so naturally an inspirational speech is in order as they gear up for battle. And we got three!
Rick, Maggie and Ezekiel take turns addressing their troops to remind them what’s at stake: they have united their forces against big bad Negan, so they can take back what’s “theirs by right“: the bigger world they didn’t even know existed until recently.
I’m willing to let the whole “the world is ours” idea slide, even though, as a very smart person pointed out last week, we’re still talking about a rural area in the backwoods of Georgia, or Virginia, or wherever the hell they’re supposed to be. Still, it’s worth mentioning that a more realistic approach would be to focus on defeating Negan so they can expand this big world of theirs and start rebuilding, because claiming the world as their own (and quoting Shakespeare while they do it) makes them sound slightly delusional. Oh well. These guys have been through the ringer, so I guess I’ll cut them some slack – for now.
Besides, that’s not even what really annoyed me in these opening scenes. I can understand the intention behind stitching together those shots of Rick, Maggie and Ezekiel’s people preparing for battle; what I don’t understand is why we needed those throwback images of old man Rick, which mirror the hospital scenes from the pilot episode. Not only did it not add to the tension they were supposedly trying to build with the war prep montage, but it would have made much more sense if the flash forward had taken place AFTER All Out War, with that chapter of Rick’s story concluded.
Anyway. After the extended cold open, we get the revamped title sequence, which is more decayed than ever – although there’s still no sign that the zombies are finally starting to die off. I actually don’t mind that one at this point, because it had been a long, long time since we’d seen more than a couple of random walkers, so the big horde was a pleasant surprise. Nice to see that what they set up a couple of seasons ago at the quarry looks like it’s finally going to pay off.
I also don’t really mind the scene with Carl and the hungry guy mumbling to himself at the gas station: not only does it get paid off later in the episode, but it’s a good reminder of Carl’s progress through the years. He went from a trigger-happy obnoxious kid to an actually mature and kind-hearted teenager, and if Kirkman’s supposed intention to have Carl emerge as the actual hero of the Walking Dead story is true, it’s nice to see them planting the seeds early on, first with him and his dad showing mercy to this stranger (Carl more so than Rick, but it’s still good to know Rick didn’t shoot AT the poor guy but over his head), and later with Carl accepting Rick’s decision to leave him behind to guard Alexandria. The part where Michonne tells him he’s actually running the show is a bit of a stretch, because we all know he’s not half the badass she is, but I’ll buy it – again, for now.
Which brings me to the group’s actual plan to take down the Saviors, which, according to Andrew Lincoln, is the first good plan Rick’s come up with in the show’s 8 seasons. True enough, the plan looks legit: our guys have crossed their t’s and dotted their i’s this time around, launching an attack on multiple fronts. Rick & co. take out the Savior lookouts posted in random locations around the compound and other strongholds (and in case we didn’t get it, we see each lookout getting crossed off a handy list!). Various people from Alexandria, the Hilltop and the Kingdom hop into their DIY armored vehicles and a transformer RV to block off the front gates of the Sanctuary, while Daryl, Carol, Morgan and Tara herd the walkers towards Negan by setting off well-timed explosions. Negan doesn’t think Rick’s people have the manpower to attack, but it doesn’t matter: their plan is to have zombies swarm the Sanctuary rather than engage in actual combat.
Before the action even begins, we have a nice little standoff between the two rival groups, because of course we need the requisite dose of Neganisms. Once again, JDM doesn’t disappoint: he comes out feeling cocky and is then flanked by his lieutenants, including Dwight, who has switched sides.
A couple of problems with this:
- I assume that Dwight’s purpose is to supply Rick et al with information, hence their ability to take out the lookouts and guards at Negan’s other outposts, but what exactly is his role once Rick’s people actually show up?
- More to the point: if Rick has thought this whole thing through and taken time to modify a number of cars to fend off gunfire, why the hell didn’t he have the foresight to post a couple of sharp shooters around the Sanctuary to plant a bullet in Negan? Was Sasha the only sniper they had? Daryl’s pretty lethal with that crossbow, why not shoot a bolt straight at Negan the minute he stepped out of those doors? Why didn’t Rick just riddle him with bullets the minute they started measuring their dicks?
Obviously the only reason why Negan is out in the open and no one’s taking a shot at him is that Negan has plot armor for at least the next 7 episodes, but still, wouldn’t it be more plausible to have Negan address Rick through his beloved megaphone from the safety of his compound and just have his lieutenants go outside so Rick could have a chance to ‘turn’ them? Sigh.
I guess the whole scene wasn’t a complete bust, because we did get a couple of chuckle-worthy quotes from Negan. I loved his “I’m sorry, I was in a meeting” line, although I have to say, the pee-pee and poo poo novelty has worn off by now, so his comment about Rick and “his little piss patrol” and, later, his quip towards Gabriel about having his “shitting pants” on just didn’t have the same impact. (Nor did Rick’s tired line about how “this is the end of it“: we’ve heard it before, it wasn’t true then, and it’s obviously not true now, because we have at least an entire half season worth of footage to get through before it actually IS over).
What stole the show in this scene for me, however, was Gregory’s little rehearsed speech to the group, with a bit of prodding from Negan, and Simon’s reaction to its utter failure: just push Gregory down the stairs. It cracked me up more than any single Negan line this episode!
Also lacking impact: Rick’s gunfire attack when he starts the countdown. Was his plan to just bust every window at the Sanctuary? It would make sense if they were at ground level to allow the zombies entrance, but what’s the point in breaking 3rd or 5th story windows other than the cool factor?
Regardless, what little was accomplished by firepower was definitely made up for by the transformer RV going up in flames in an awesome explosion that broke down the Sanctuary gates. I can’t decide if I’m sad to see the RV go or happy to see it blown to smithereens, but one thing’s for sure: this marks an end of an era for our group much more than those weird flash-forwards with old man Rick playing house with Michonne and the kids.
And then we come to the not-so-unexpected twist, because of course Rick’s plan couldn’t possibly be foolproof, or, rather, because of course he couldn’t help but screw it up. For some incomprehensible reason, Negan, who had gone inside the Sanctuary the minute bullets started to fly, is back out again and hiding behind some rubble, so naturally Rick has to stay behind and try to take a shot, but not before he takes a polaroid picture for some mysterious reason. It would be far less ridiculous had he taken that damn shot while Negan was still in plain view, but again, plot armor.
And then, for some equally confusing reason, Gabriel stays behind to get Rick out of there but somehow ends up lingering much longer than needed, just in time to see Gregory stumble around the yard. In yet another callback to befit the episode title, Gabriel decides to show Gregory the mercy he had denied his parishioners, and of course Gregory doesn’t even think twice before he stabs him in the back and takes off in Gabriel’s car. This scene oddly worked for me, not least because I loved the short exchange between the two:
– Thank you.
– Thank God.
– Sure, whatever.
The next shot, however, just ruined the whole thing: Gabriel somehow manages to avoid the oncoming walkers and finds his way into a container where, ta da! Negan is also hiding and waiting in the shadows to give his little “shitting pants” speech. Gabriel has a freaking machine gun AND DOESN’T EVEN TRY TO TAKE A SHOT. Seriously, that’s like what, the third missed opportunity in a single episode? Ugh.
These head-scratchers didn’t completely ruin the episode for me, but they sure came close. It’s not the first time we’ve had to sit through Rick & Co’s colossal mistakes, after all, but it wouldn’t hurt if the writers and director had paid the same attention to other ‘details’ as they do with their zombie SFX.
To wit: Judith has grown considerably since last season, yet Maggie’s baby bump isn’t even showing yet, and she’s still in her second trimester. How does this make sense? How did Rick’s old man hair and beard magically turn straight? I’m not even upset about Rick’s hair because I didn’t care for the entire scene all that much to begin with, but Maggie’s pregnancy is a joke at this point. If the last two seasons have only spanned a few weeks, then for fuck’s sake just recast Judith because she’s starting to look like that bizarre vampire baby from Twilight who looked 14 when she was a few months old. And please, for the love of God, give Carl a freaking haircut while you’re at it!
I realize this was a hell of a lot of whining about an episode I actually enjoyed, so I guess I’ll just chalk this up to my expectations of this show – or, rather, the expectations the showrunners want to set for TWD. I’ve rambled on and on about how The Walking Dead has been letting us down for the past few seasons, not because it’s a bad show, but because it could be so much better. And, given that everyone involved in TWD seems to believe that the ratings suggest it’s a much more well-made show than it actually is, then I have no choice but to hold them to their own standards and demand greatness.
So, was Mercy great? Not really, but it was good enough for TWD. I guess.