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(Warning: The following article contains spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 8 premiere.)
Before The Walking Dead's Season 8 premiered, almost every cast member from Andrew Lincoln to Danai Gurira had been heralding that fans will be in for a treat as the new season will be "deeply different and unpredictable". And judging by the season premiere on Sunday night - which is also its landmark 100th episode - it was certainly a "different and unpredictable" episode in more ways than one.
The #AMC blockbuster series headed straight into the "All Out War" story arc, in which Rick, King Ezekiel and Maggie led the good people of Alexandria, The Kingdom and Hilltop respectively to take the fight head-on with arch-villain Negan and his Saviors at The Sanctuary. Though the 100th episode was much more inspiring and exciting than half of its wretched Season 7, there were still a few baffling head-scratching moments alongside some truly stunning imagery. To elaborate further, here's a look back at the hits and misses from #TheWalkingDead Season 8 premiere, "Mercy":
Hit: Carl's Gas Station Adventure
The celebratory 100th episode boasts a few callbacks to past episodes, especially Season 1's very first episode which kicked off the series in 2010. Straight after the opening titles, we see Carl carrying an oil can and checking out the cars at an abandoned gas station, before pointing his gun at a hungry man quoting a phrase from the Quran. The sequence is an almost frame-for-frame re-enactment of a sequence from the Season 1 pilot that sees Rick carrying an oil can to an abandoned gas station where he met a little girl Walker, which made the then Sheriff realize that the world he lives in is no longer the same.
Hit: Taking The War To Negan
After seeing them bullied left right and center by the Saviors in Season 7, it was exhilarating to finally see members of Alexandria, Hilltop and the Kingdom coming together to bring the war literally to Negan's doorstep at the Sanctuary. Not only were the colonies armed to the teeth with weapons of various sizes and range, they also rigged vehicles with large sheets of metal as shield protection. Add to that, thanks to Dwight, a willing traitor within Negan's midst, Rick and Daryl also took out most of the Saviors' outposts, ensuring that there will be no surprise attacks from the sides and back. Let the war begin!
Miss: Why Didn't Anyone Take A Shot At Negan?
From exhilaration to exasperation. During his rah-rah speech to the unified forces, Rick attests that only one man has to die, and that man is Negan. So, when the evil dude himself steps out with his usual swagger onto a non-shielded platform at the Saviors' hideout, why didn't Rick or any of his armed comrades take a shot at him? Seriously, why was so much time wasted on talking when the Smug One could be shot right there and then?
Considering Rick already killed Saviors at the outposts, trying to give lifelines to the five lieutenants was a moot point. When Rick finally does fire at Negan, with a semi-automatic no less, Lucille's master manages to get away without a single scratch because, as Forbes critic Eric Kain observed,
"Rick shoots with the accuracy of a Storm Trooper from 'Star Wars'."
Miss: Incredulous Wastage Of Bullets
Aren't bullets precious and scarce in this post-apocalyptic world? At the Sanctuary, after eventually taking aim at Negan (and missing utterly), the colonies army proceeds to fire hundreds and hundreds of rounds into the side of the building, shattering loads of glass windows, but without seemingly aiming at any specific targets - Negan's goons, henchmen or even noncombatant Saviors. In fact, there were hardly any retaliation from the bad guys - another odd scenario.
In another similar scene at an outpost, instead of taking aim at one armed Savior hiding behind a car, the Kingdom troop led by Carol proceeded to plummet hundreds of rounds into the side of the car. Not only did the Savior came out unscathed, he also had the time to ignite a bomb on them. Why the reckless waste of ammunition? Does the colonies now have a factory that produces an endless supply of bullets? Even so, any good leader of an army worth its salt would have told their soldiers to make every bullet count 'cos you never know when the next one might just save your life.
Hit: Daryl's Explosive Ride With The Walker Horde
Thankfully, an earlier news report that The Walking Dead will have less Walkers in Season 8 proved to be false. In a sequence reminiscent of the leading-zombies-out-of-a-quarry parade in the brilliant Season 6 opener, "First Time Again", we see Carol, Tara and Morgan attracting a massive horde of Walkers onto a highway, before macho Daryl on his trusty motorbike leads the hundreds of undead towards the Sanctuary, nonchalantly firing up explosives along the way.
Miss: Jarring Flashbacks & Flash Forwards
Thanks to the Season 8 teaser trailer, we did expect to see "Old Man Rick" but no one foresaw other Rick-related fast-forwards and flashbacks sprinkled throughout the episode. Many of these were also slotted right after present situations, which one would have wanted to know more about. Instead, focus was shifted to a curious scene where the viewer has more questions than answers.
From Rick standing over the graves of Glenn and Abraham to a seemingly distraught Rick squatting under a stained-glass sign, are these in Rick's future or are they just his dreams or hallucinations? Even though Andrew Lincoln has explained that the grey, older Rick means that "it's in the future", the message doesn't come across that clearly in the show.
Hit: No Annoying Jadis And The Scavengers
Unlike several times last season, the Season 8 premiere succeeded in giving every member of the communities involved who matters a look-in - from glimpses of Rosita and Michonne in Alexandria (both are recovering from injuries sustained in the Season 7 finale), to showing members of the unified colonies bonding in a field prior to taking the war to Negan. As for the bad guys, though it was strange not to see the bloodthirsty Saviors in full force, not seeing the annoying, double-crossing Jadis and her Scavengers in the mix was very much welcomed. Of course, with actress Pollyanna McIntosh being promoted to a series regular, the Scavengers will definitely feature in future episodes. Until then, leaving them out of the premiere episode was a big plus.
Hit: Walkers Surrounding Negan And Gabriel
Father Gabriel has come a long way since we first saw him as a cowardly priest who had to rely on Team Rick to rescue him at every turn. In this episode, after making a stupid move to rescue the ingrate that is Hilltop's ex-leader Gregory, Gabriel finds himself having to escape a zombie-infested Sanctuary only to be trapped in a trailer with none other than vile Negan. Although the scene's shocking "surprise" was kind of ruined by its disclosure in the show's episode trailer, what came after was arguably the most memorable image of the entire episode. The camera zooms out skywards scarily showing dozens of walkers surrounding the RV, which is a brilliant throwback to the memorable scene in Season 1 Episode 1 when Rick was trapped in a tank, whilst Glenn (may he RIP) attempts to help him escape by providing instructions through a telecom.
The Walking Dead's landmark 100th episode should have ended on that glorious Season 1 tribute shot rather than on a puzzling "Old Man Rick" flash-forward, coupled with a Rick "We've already won" speech flashback.
All in all, the Season 8 premiere wasn't a totally brilliant episode but it nonetheless shows promise that for the rest of the season, things will be more uplifting for those rooting for the good guys. Needless to say, I'm looking forward to what's to come in next week's episode!
The Walking Dead Season 8 Episode 2, "The Damned", will be shown on AMC on October 29.