Plot Lines of The Walking Dead: Season 8, Episode 8 “Mercy”

By: Casey Johnston (@DarthHockey)

WARNING: There are spoilers ahead for the latest episode of The Walking Dead.

A Plot: The War Has Begun

This episode was mostly driven by the A plot and that’s always a good thing for The Walking Dead. This show is always at it’s best when it’s singularly focused on one plot that involves the whole group and tonight was no exception. From beginning to end we saw the group as they picked off Savior lookout posts one-by-one in preparation for the big attack on the Sanctuary. At this point in the episode, I thought we were going to get another hour that focused on the run-up to the war and I was prepared to be annoyed at that, but the writers came through in the end.

The attack on the Sanctuary was great. We don’t know how many people Alexandria has now that the Kingdon and Hilltop are involved in the fight, but I suspect Negan was telling truth when he said Rick doesn’t have the numbers to take on the Saviors. This was a crucial moment for the writers. So many shows would ignore the fact that the protagonists are outnumbered and simply have them win the war seemingly through sheer force of will. The Walking Dead writers, thankfully, didn’t give into that lazy writing temptation and instead concocted a plan for the group to use their environment to fight the Saviors. The walkers, who are basically a manageable nuisance at this point, are a force waiting to be weaponized and Rick did just that. For all its problems, this is a little detail that sets The Walking Dead apart from other shows.

Finally, I want to focus on Rick’s speech to his people. Since season three, fans have been debating if Rick and his people are really the good guys. The Governor was the first antagonist (and until Negan, the only antagonist) with a group of followers that we got to spend multiple episodes focusing on and analyzing. With that came the thought that Rick was really just one bad day away from being the villain himself if he wasn’t already. We all wondered if from an outside perspective Rick was someone who roamed the dystopian landscape of this new world terrorizing people he deemed untrustworthy. I think Rick’s speech went a long way to answering that question. I don’t think it’s debatable whether or not Rick would ever harm an innocent person to protect or feed his people. That’s a line he will not cross. I’ve long said that The Walking Dead is really a show about what happens when the world returns to a state of nature. You have groups that seemingly subscribe to the Hobbsian view that the strong deserve to fight for power at the expense of the weak, and you have other groups that subscribe to the Lockeian view that believes that people will naturally form alliances for the greater good and punish those that bring imbalance to that order. I think it’s pretty clear from Rick’s speech that he believes in forming a new society built on alliances and cooperation. In that society, the Saviors are the ones that bring imbalance to the world. Rick is the good guy, and that’s more clear now than ever before.

B Plot: Old Man Rick

Are you confused? I’m thoroughly confused and I’m not ashamed to admit it. This appears to be a fantasy that Rick is having in the midst of some sort of crisis (I never bought into the idea that the show would feature a massive time jump). When this is happening is unclear. The writers did mess around with the timeline of the episode tonight so I’m guessing we were seeing Rick in a future moment when Negan regains the upper hand. What the Old Man Rick fantasy means is lost on me right now. He’s aged but Michonne and Judith are not (well Judith is aged a little, but not nearly enough to account for Rick’s advanced age). I’m guessing we will either get little snippets of this fantasy throughout the season or it will be abandoned until one of the finales. Until then, I’m not going to spend too much time thinking about and I don’t think you should either.

Thanks for reading!