At long last, the war between Rick and Negan on “The Walking Dead” finally kicked off with the premiere of Season 8, episode one, titled “Mercy.” As always with this series, the stakes have never been higher.
Before the action could kick off full-tilt, a little bit of establishment needed to happen. The episode opens with a rousing speech from Rick, along with King Ezekiel and Maggie, the respective leaders of The Kingdom and The Hilltop. With their combined forces behind Alexandria, war was declared on Negan and his Savior in the last season. Now, it’s time for the good guys to take the fight to the enemy.
“When I first met him, Jesus said my world was going to get a whole lot bigger,” Rick says. “Well, we found that world. We found each other. That ‘bigger world’ is ours by right,” Rick declares in an effort to fire up his troops.
As he talks, the audience is treated to a few jumps through time, including an old-man Rick with a cane, and a version of Rick from what looks like the not-too-distant future that’s standing over two graves. He explains that the new rule of law, as these three civilizations see it, is that those who want to control the world for their own benefit must go. With that, the battles lines were drawn, and the wheels got in motion for an offensive.
Morgan, Carol, Carl and Tara all work together to fortify cars and stealthily take out guards stationed at strategic outposts for the Saviors. Daryl, meanwhile, is communicating with Dwight through notes wrapped around arrows. It seems the two archers are leaning into their gimmick. Rick says goodbye to Michonne, who is still injured from the last encounter, and Carl before setting off to dispatch a guard himself and link up with the two other factions. Their numbers and fortifications seem good, but it’s all going a little too according to plan. Rick’s promise that this all ends today was more than enough to set the average viewer on edge. After all, it’s only the premiere episode.
The plan takes a while to get into full swing, but eventually Rick’s plot comes into focus. Carol and the gang set off a bomb to draw the Saviors' big guns away to investigate. Later, the search party is taken out thanks to a well-placed trap. Meanwhile, Rick and the army pull up right in front of Negan’s front door and fire 5 times into the air to get the big man himself outside.
When he comes, he’s too confident about their ability to whether whatever storm Rick has planned. Rick offers The Savior’s generals one chance - surrender now and survive. Negan, however, makes a pretty interesting counter-offer. He reveals that Gregory, former leader of “The Hilltop,” which makes up one third of Rick’s army, has turned to the Saviors. He lets it be known that anyone from the colony who continues to resist the Saviors will be banished. Additionally, their families will be kicked out and forced to fend for themselves.
It’s a tense moment behind Rick’s line, but the members of the Hilltop stay strong. Eventually, Jesus declares his and the rest of the Hilltop’s loyalty to their new leader, Maggie. With that, Rick returns to his original ultimatum. He starts counting backwards from 10 until he reaches 7. After that, an impatient Rick opens fire and the battle is on.
They trade bullets with the Saviors, but it becomes clear that a firefight is not what’s going to win the day, nor is that the extent of Rick's plan. Daryl begins leading a walker herd right into the Savior’s gates, while Father Gabriel sets an explosive-filled RV on a collision course with the fortified front. Apparently, the plan is to make the Saviors homeless. However, Rick is brought to a decision point when he notices that he has Negan pinned down and injured. Sadly, he’s not able to get a shot and has to settle for leaving him to the walkers. Thanks to Father Gabriel's wise words, Rick remembers that this isn't all about his vengeance. Following his lead, the army makes a tactical retreat.
Just when it looked like things were going off without a hitch, Father Gabriel spots Gregory. Being of no use to the Saviors or the Hilltop, he’s been left to fend for himself in the battle. Unfortunately, the former priest isn’t able to let die another man he has a chance of saving. He exits his armored car and runs over to Gregory.
In his worst act of cowardice yet, the former leader panics and runs to the car, leaving Gabriel behind. He makes his way into a trailer, the only safe haven, as the Savior’s compound gets overrun. He’s not inside for more than a second before the low, scary voice of Negan greets him. It's hard to think of anyone worse to be trapped in a small space with.
Meanwhile, Carol and Ezekiel are leading some members of The Kingdom against an outpost when a Savior lets loose a lucky grenade. With Father Gabriel, members of The Kingdom and several Saviors’ lives all in question, the episode ends with the finale of Rick’s speech from the beginning, unifying everyone in their hope for a better tomorrow.
The only question now is, will hope be enough to give the good guys a victory in this all-out war?