“All Out War” has come to The Walking Dead. The eighth season kicked off with the requisite action, intrigue and zombies AMC’s hit series is known for, as Rick (Andrew Lincoln) continues his rivalry against Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), the barbed wire baseball bat-swinging Big Bad. In the season 7 finale, on the cusp of defeat with Negan about to kill his son Carl (Chandler Riggs), a defiant Rick promised Negan that he would find a way to kill him and the Saviors, “maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow…” With season 8 now in full swing, has the day come that Rick made good on his promise?
The season 8 premiere ‘Mercy,’ which is also the 100th episode of The Walking Dead, kicked off with Rick and all of his assorted family, followers, and various allies preparing for war against the Saviors. When season 7 ended, Maggie (Lauren Cohan) led the forces at the Hilltop to the rescue of her friends in Alexandria. Meanwhile, Ezekiel (Khary Payton) led the Kingdom, including Carol (Melissa McBride), Morgan (Lennie James), and his pet tiger Shiva to Alexandria as well. Together, both factions joined with the Alexandrians forced the Saviors to fall back to the Sanctuary, where Negan rallied them for war.
In ‘Mercy,’ Rick’s personal struggle is between protecting his people but also wanting to kill Negan once and for all. The former can’t be achieved without the latter, but war is a course that will lead to death, not just to the Saviors but also to some of his own people. Nevertheless, Rick and the Alexandrians, the Hilltop, and the Kingdom move ahead in their war preparations with a multi-step plan:
With Carl and Michonne (Danai Gurira) (who is still recovering from her injuries in the season 7 finale) staying behind to protect Alexandria, Rick and his team decide to use the Walkers to their advantage and draw a herd to the Sanctuary. Working for Rick from within the Saviors is Dwight (Austin Amilio) – Rick’s inside man who cut a deal with Rick, Darryl (Norman Reedus), and the Alexandrians last season. Rick, however, is obsessed with killing Negan, to the point where it places him in danger. Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) has to snap Rick out of it and remind him that, ultimately, none of this is about Rick or his revenge, but about getting rid of the Saviors so that their people can begin to build a better world for themselves.
Meanwhile, Gregory (Xander Berkeley), who used to be in charge of the Hilltop, betrays Rick’s group, claiming the Hilltop supports the Saviors, but Maggie now leads the Hilltop. In the chaos of the battle, Gabriel shows mercy on Gregory and tries to save him, but Gregory, in turn, abandons Gabriel, steals his car and saves himself, and leaving Gabriel for dead surrounded by Walkers. Gabriel manages to find refuge in a trailer, only to find a typically cocky Negan opening the trailer door and threatening Gabriel that he’s going to “$#!t his pants.”
‘Mercy’ ends with a flash forward to Old Man Rick, with a white beard, waking up in his room. This represents Rick’s vision for the future he hopes to build after he finally rids the world of Negan and the Saviors. The Walking Dead’s producers promise that Old Man Rick will be explained somewhere around the season 8 mid-season finale. Meanwhile, the war has only just begun and the final outcome of Rick’s vendetta against Negan will yet be revealed.
The Walking Dead season 8 airs Sundays @ 9pm ET on AMC.