by Transmute Jun
Warning: this review contains multiple spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 8, Episode 1.
The title of The Walking Dead comic book arc (and the hook for at least the first half of season 8 of the Television Show) is All Out War, and the 100th episode certainly delivered on this front. While the war itself began at the end of season 7, the first major battle took place in the premiere episode of season 8, with Team Rick (the allied communities of Alexandria, Hilltop and The Kingdom) gathering their people and setting up a multi-pronged attack on The Sanctuary, the Saviors’ compound. While it could be argued that Rick declared war on Negan last season in a spur-of-the-moment realization of the reality of a world under The Saviors’ collective thumbs, this 100th episode attack was clearly well-planned and carefully executed. Rick and his allies approached The Sanctuary, calling out Negan and his top people, warning them that they might die if they didn’t give up now. While this might have seemed to be a useless gesture (we were all certain that Negan would refuse, although Eugene’s face-palming suggests that he might have been on the fence) it highlights Rick’s basic character, harkening all of the way back to his days as a sheriff’s deputy. He didn’t just roll in shooting; he gave a chance for an out, a way for Negan to approach with his hands up. Much like a police officer, Rick gave fair warning before taking action.
And take action Rick did. The hail of bullets that followed was extreme, blanketing the area and sending the leaders of The Saviors scrambling. In the comic books (and to a lesser extent, in the TV show) there is much to-do made about the dwindling stores of ammunition, to the point that the Saviors do not even use bullets on walkers, due to the waste; what little they have is saved for human enemies. Yet the shortage doesn’t seem to exist for the Alexandrians (despite having their entire weapons cache raided by the Saviors not that long ago) as Team Rick sent bullets flying everywhere, even after their enemies had retreated. Strangely, they made a point of breaking all of the glass in a massive second storey window in the building, although it was unclear why they persisted in shooting long after everyone was gone. Was it to destroy the building, since it is difficult in the apocalypse to obtain enough glass to replace such a large opening? Was it to make it easier for the coming herd to get in (although with the window being on the second storey, this wouldn’t have been the best strategy). Or was it simply a show of defiance? It seems that this last possibility was most likely, but the wasted ammunition to destroy the window may be a sign of Rick’s defiance outweighing his common sense, at least in the moment.
What impressed me about this attack was the multiple stages all enacted at about the same time: taking out the lookouts revealed by double-agent-Dwight, corralling the herd, leading it with carefully placed explosives, and timing it to arrive just as Team Rick was confronting the Saviors in their den. Rick even thought to leave a line of defense back at Alexandria in case of counter-attack, with Michonne and Carl taking on the lead at the homefront. I was impressed with the thoroughness and effectiveness of this attack.
Of course, not everything went perfectly. King Ezekiel’s team of Hilltop people encountered unexpected resistance, and it looks like next week they’ll be caught in the middle of their own herd, although I’m sure it’s nothing these experienced warriors can’t handle.
But the most obvious setback was the unexpected detour for Father Gabriel. At the end of season 7, I don’t think anyone doubted that Gregory’s quiet departure from the Hilltop was to meet with the Saviors and throw Team Rick underneath the bus. Therefore it wasn’t a surprise to see him allied with the Saviors and telling the Hilltop people to leave. Yet Jesus’ simple, “We stand with Maggie!” was enough to show the Saviors that Gregory had no value whatsoever, as they literally tossed him onto his ass when Simon shoved him down the stairs. I know I wasn’t the only one glad to see that gutless slime getting what he deserved!
When Father Gabriel saw Gregory running for his life, he uttered a word that was atypical of a man of God. And the audience did the same, because we all knew that when Gabriel went back for Gregory, it would come back to bite him in the butt (good thing he was wearing his s*****n’ pants, as Negan likes to say). Yet as Gregory ran for the car, clearly ready to take off solo, I had a vision of him scrambling in the driver’s seat, searching desperately, only to look across the bullet-riddled yard to see Father Gabriel holding up the keys. Need those, Gregory?
While that would have been satisfying to watch, it is clear that the producers of the show wanted Father Gabriel to be left behind. In the comic books, when Team Rick attacks The Sanctuary and unleashes a herd onto it, one of their team (a character other than Gabriel) is left behind. I suspect that in the television show, Gabriel will take on that character’s story arc, at least for the next little while. One thing is for certain: Negan, while wounded, is getting out of this alive, and he’ll be keeping Gabriel alive as long as Gabriel is useful. Hey, did you ever think that Father Gabriel would be useful? How times have changed… And for the moment, Negan does believe that Father Gabriel is useful. After all, he could have locked the door and left Gabriel to die out there, amongst the herd, but he let him into the trailer. Negan isn’t stupid enough to leave the door unlocked in the middle of a herd for no good reason.
One of the stranger aspects of the episode was the interspersed scenes of what fans have come to call ‘Old Man Rick’. Ever since the Comic Con preview trailer was released last July, people have been wondering what was up with the image of Rick waking up with a long, white/grey beard, hoping against hope that it didn’t mean that the entire storyline of the series was a coma-dream of Rick’s. Yet it seems that this was not the case. Rather, the ‘Old Man Rick’ scenes seemed to be the dream-like ones, with a soft focus and too-bright colors that we are unused to seeing on this harsh, post-apocalyptic show. Yet to my surprise, ‘Old Man’ Rick was met by a Michonne who barely seemed to have aged, and a young (not too old) Judith. According to the post-episode credits, Judith is supposed to be 6 years old in these scenes, which would place them approximately 4 years into the future. Therefore, it seems to me that this aging Rick covered in old wounds and leaning on a cane is one who has (relatively recently) survived the war with Negan, who has built a better tomorrow for the Alexandrians (and presumably the Hilltop and Kingdom as well). The war took a toll on him physically, but it was worth it when he sees the joy that he has brought to the lives of his family, and to the Alexandrians.
So are these scenes a glimpse of the actual future? My guess is that they are only a fantasy of Rick’s, much like the dream sequence of everyone seated at a table eating together in the first episode of season 7. They are what Rick is hoping for: his dreams for everyone who fights on his side. Of course, there could be something more to them, and for that, we will have to wait and see later episodes.
Of course, this episode, while full of action (and a little internal retrospection on Rick’s part) also had its fun moments, such as Darryl purposely sending his crossbow bolt message into Dwight’s motorcycle tire, Maggie’s declaration that she was safe to wage war through the second trimester, Rick taking a Polaroid of The Sanctuary’s destruction, the metal-coated RV looking like a post-apocalyptic Transformer vehicle as it bore down on The Sanctuary, full of explosives, and the inclusion of the fun (yet oddly chosen) Weird Al classic Another One Rides the Bus in the ‘Old Man Rick’ sequences. I also appreciated how this episode gave a quick glimpse of almost everyone (save Jadis and the Heapsters), such as Jerry giving armor to Enid, or Carol noticing the flower graffiti on the wall (don’t look at the flowers, Carol). And I’ll admit that I felt a vicious thrill when I saw Morgan stabbing a Savior through the heart.
Most interesting to me was the character development of Carl as a contrast to his Dad. This episode included the homage scene from the beginning of season 1, episode 1, with Carl holding the gas can and searching through cars in a shot-for-shot recreation of the opening with Rick 7 years ago. But the end of that scene was different. While Rick caught sight of a walker-woman in a nightgown (an older version of the ‘little girl’?) he also chased away the person who needed help, afraid that they were a spy for Negan. Carl was upset by his father’s callous actions, even though Rick insisted that he only ‘shot over his head’. But Carl is the one who returns with food and an apology for the man. When this is combined with the fact that Carl is the leader in Rick’s absence from Alexandria (Michonne confirms that she will be following Carl, not the other way around) it demonstrates an interesting contrast in leadership styles, highlighting the compassion that Rick has lost. During a time of war, there is less room for trust and compassion, but in a time of peace, such things become necessary to rebuild civilization. Perhaps then, this is a nod to Carl being the one to lead Alexandria into the future, after Rick leads them through this war.
There was so much packed into this one episode, and if this is a sign of what is to come during the rest of season 8, I can hardly wait to see more!
For those who play the Walking Dead: No Man’s Land mobile game, the season missions have returned! Each week the game will release a season 8 mission highlighting an ‘additional scene’ from that week’s episode. Playing all of the missions for the first half of season 8 will unlock Jerry as a playable character in the game. This week’s episode 801 mission shows Aaron, Maggie and Rick fighting their way out of the remains of The Sanctuary’s front yard, taking out walkers and Saviors alike. Interestingly, the names of the generic Saviors in the game are randomly generated, but one of mine was named Glenn.
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