Guess who’s back….back again….
Gene Page / AMC
Here we are, folks! 100 episodes of The Walking Dead! It was just like losing your virginity, wasn’t it? I mean, dude, it’s super exciting, right? It’s finally about to happen! And then it happens, and you’re like…well, yeah…I mean…that was cool, I guess. Don’t get me wrong; it’s incredible, it’s monumental, it has historical significance! But, was it everything your friends’ hype led you to believe it would be? Hindsight, it was a little awkward, wasn’t it? The pacing of it kept you feeling like something big was about to happen, but then, oh wait…not yet. Such is life. Let’s be honest, though, even mediocre ‘relations’ with Rick is still worth bragging about. Just don’t lose your head over it. Zing!
Confused yet? Fantastic. CLICK HERE for a spoiler-filled recap of the episode “Mercy” and once you’re all caught up we can continue.
As pumped as I am to be kicking off another new season of TWD, I truly feel like AMC shot themselves in the foot with all of their ‘special looks’, ‘sneak peaks’, and convention trailers and teasers. First off, I expected the 100th episode to be at least 90 minutes, if not 2 full hours. Hell, Grey’s Anatomy just started back and they’ve already had a 2-hour episode. TWD gave extended episodes to Tara and the Oceanside camp, as well as to Morgan and the Cheese-maker. The 100th episode should be monumentally huge. However, it was a standard length episode that can be broken down into equal parts: 1/4 of the hour went to commercials, 1/3 were full scenes or clips that we had already seen over and over since July, and that makes up a little over half the show right there, leaving the remaining half as scenes with little to no surprise whatsoever. I don’t know. Math. The point is, since they revealed so much, they didn’t leave any room for my heart rate to increase or my imagination to run wild. By comparison, the season 6 premiere (which people either loved or hated) was a greater thrill ride for me. In fact, those first few episodes which constantly hit rewind over the same set of circumstances in order to show different perspectives (played out like the film Vantage Point) were incredibly well made. All at once we had a half-baked Rick plan (let’s face it, plans were never his strong suit), we had literally thousands of walkers, we had Wolves, we had random mystery Saviors firing on Daryl, Sasha and Abe, we thought Glenn died. Holy crap! So many things happened! I guess I was expecting it to at least be as exciting as the season 3 premiere when they swept the prison, or season 2 with the horde on the highway. But, I digress.
I did appreciate the many nods to season 1 (something the show started doing in season 6). The shot-by-shot recreation of Carl/Rick walking up from the intersection to the gas station and discovering a walker–played both times by our friend, Addy Miller. Way to go, Addy! Other walkers from the first few episodes also returned for the milestone episode.
While I loved the communication via bolt system that Daryl and Dwight have developed, I must confess something. It irks me to no end seeing Dwight in Daryl’s vest. I know, I know. I’ve read the comics. It’s Dwight’s vest and crossbow because Daryl doesn’t exist. But this is TV, not the comics. And I hate seeing him in it. To that end, I know that in the comics universe Michonne becomes-for lack of a better term-queen to Ezekial’s king. Again, this is TV, not the comics. And, on TV Michonne has Rick. But for the love of all things holy, can Ezekial just not make physical contact when he talks to Carol? Just look away, sir. Look away. That’s right. 100 episodes in and I’m still holding tight to the impossible dream. TeamCaryl4Life.
I was wondering how long it would take for the Saviors’ loss of Fat Joey to be felt. You remember Fat Joey, right? Daryl mercilessly beat him to a pulp during his escape from their Sanctuary last season. The thing is, Fat Joey was the Saviors’ very own walker-wrangler. The man had important work to do, that in the weeks since his death (yes…weeks…all of season 7 took place in a tiny span of time). It seems our survivors got wind of this (maybe through Dwight? Daryl?) and began using his own techniques of herding walkers away to actually herd them towards the Sanctuary. Well played.
Speaking of which, I have read multiple articles where authors have had raised the same concerns about Rick’s mental state as I have. He stood outside the Sanctuary promising…um…sanctuary, to Negan’s lieutenants if they surrendered. What would have happened if they had? Would Rick and the gang (ha! so much funnier to say now, thanks Robot Chicken) have found a way to protect them all from the impending horde? Daryl and Dwight had to have let them know that there are innocent people living inside those walls. Was Rick just going to kill them all? Maybe make up for his mistakes back at the prison? (Attack, let the leader live, offer sanctuary to the Woodbury people, have a lot of death because the Woodbury people have the flu, get blown to bits by the returning leader). I mean, he only counted down to 7 before opening fire. It just begs the question, what were Rick’s true intentions with this great ‘plan’ of his?
Which brings us to the title of the episode: Mercy. I’m tempted to jump back into the religious studies aspect of these blogs of old, but for now, I’ll stick with the details surrounding the episode at hand.
At the gas station, Carl and Rick have an encounter with a man of middle-eastern descent. He is seeking help. His requests are denied. Carl later goes back and leaves some canned food and an apology note for the man. Did you know his name is Siddiq? I read an interview with Greg Nicotero, who refers to the character by name. This means we will see him again. Characters of insignificance get names like “Girl on bus” or “Man at bar”. But Siddiq has a name. He has a role to play. Now, he references the Quran during his rambling. In one of the flash-forwards, we see Rick. He is disheveled, possibly injured, he has sweat and tear-filled bloodshot eyes. He, too, is rambling now, “Let mercy prevail over my wrath.” Did he hear what Siddiq had said and is now quoting it by happenstance? Is his condition a result of something Siddiq did…er…will do? Is Siddiq just a red herring? I’m pretty sure the stained glass sign is a red herring, though they made a point of showing it in detail behind Rick’s head, which means I will absolutely not stop until I find the meaning behind that image. To get a better understanding of Rick and Siddiq in this moment, we need to take a look at what that phrase means, and in particular, how ‘mercy’ is defined by the Quran. It’s fascinating really, with a two-fold meaning, either of which can be applied to the circumstances unfolding around Rick.
God assures us that whoever commits a sin will be forgiven if he repents and ceases this act, where He says:
“Your Lord hath inscribed for Himself (the rule of) mercy: verily, if any of you did evil in ignorance, and thereafter repented, and amend (his conduct), lo! He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful” (Quran 6:54)
This verse is affirmed by the narration of Prophet Muhammad, in which he said that God said:
“My mercy prevails over My wrath.”
Reward for kindness and compassion was also assured by the Prophet Muhammad:
“The merciful are shown mercy by the All-Merciful. Show mercy to those on earth, and He Who is in heaven will show mercy unto you” (As-Suyuti).
Mercy in Islam also extends to enemies, in times of war and peace, as Prophet Muhammad used to urge his Companions to maintain family ties with relatives who were still disbelievers by calling on them and giving them gifts.
As for times of war, God commands Muslims to grant refuge to enemies if they should ask for it, and forbids anyone to harm them. This is stated in the Quran, where God says what means:
“If one amongst the pagans ask thee for asylum, grant it to him, so that he may hear the word of God; and then escort him to where he can be secure. That is because they are men without knowledge” (Quran 9:6)
omg I can’t remember proper citations from high school, but those passages and more in-depth exploration of the concepts of mercy in the Quran can be found by CLICKING HERE.
God will grant mercy on those who confess their sins? Well, we know (thanks AMC teaser trailers) that Father Gabriel will receive a confession of sorts from Negan, as this is how we-the audience-are to learn Negan’s backstory. Has future Rick done something that needs confessing/absolution? Or, should we look again at the phrasing. “God said, “My mercy prevails over my wrath”. Rick’s wording more closely resembles that of the word of god in this particular passage. We know that Rick is indeed full of wrath and vengeance. He will do unspeakable things to protect those he loves. Is future Rick in a position where he needs to put his wrath in check and offer mercy to someone else? Is this our first glimpse at the Magneto/Xavier the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend relationship that will be Rick/Negan? In the comics, we know that this war will not end with Rick killing Negan, as he vowed. Negan will, in fact, become a POW and live out the next few years in that cozy jail cell that Morgan built back in Alexandria. Negan will also become somewhat of an ally in the fight against a greater threat, the Whisperers.
And, that leads me to future-future Rick. “Old Man Rick” the media calls him. Sounds like Old Man Logan. (more XMEN references!) and we all know how that story line works out. Your one major hint at the arrival of the Whisperers was Michonne’s use of the word “festival”. In the comics, all of our happy go lucky communities gather for a post-apocalyptic county fair. No, really. They do. I know, I know. It’s during this unguarded time that the Whisperers make their first truly dramatic move against the survivors. It’s gruesome. And, it’s heartbreaking. And, it’s the reason I keep making jokes about not losing your head.
Here’s the thing: I know a series can’t go on forever. It’s better to go out on top. TWD ratings have been slipping. They dragged out the back half of season 6 and all of season 7. The entire Negan story could have happened in season 7 and season 8 could have started with our impending time jump. What I need to happen is this: The war needs to end and Negan needs to be captured in the mid-season finale. Period. Mid-season premiere can then jump us in time. We can (hopefully) explore the creepy dynamic of Negan and Carl’s friendship. And season 8 can end with the aforementioned festival. Season 9 can kick off with the Whisperers. The pacing of the show needs to increase. There’s no two ways about it. Oh, and Caryl has to happen.
I did like the use of colored arm bands so that survivors could differentiate between strangers who are on their side vs. Saviors (Alexandrians wore white, Kingdom wore orange, and Hilltop wore green). This season will definitely be a lesson in morality and in the lead-off concept of mercy. To and from whom it is given…we’ll have to wait and see.
Lastly, an aside to a certain population of TWD “fans”. I use quotes around the word “fans” because some of them have just gone too far with the threats against actors on the show, the possessive and obsessive behaviors, threats against other fans. It’s enough. You’re embarrassing yourselves and ruining it for everybody else. And for those “fans” who claim they will “stop watching if Rick dies”, give it a rest, won’t you? Seriously! It is really tearing some people up at the fact that Robert Kirkman and Andrew Lincoln have both expressed their thoughts on TWD without Rick Grimes. Consider for a moment that maybe Andrew Lincoln would like to move on to something else. Perhaps he is growing tired of the physical abuse his body takes filming this role. Perhaps he is growing tired of living between two continents. Regardless, it’s a zombie apocalypse; no one’s life is guaranteed. And to all of those “fans” who claim that they “can’t kill Rick because it’s his story”, is it really though?
I present to you, the ER principle. For 15 seasons, ER ruled the airwaves. The show unfolded, predominantly, in the perspective of Dr. Greene (Anthony Edwards). Fans thought the show was done for when, in season 5, Dr. Ross (George Clooney), left for greener pastures. But, it was still Dr. Greene’s show. And then, Dr. Greene got a tumor. He became very sick. He died. It was awful. I still cry over that scene. Fans were beside themselves. But the show went on, successfully. Because without them even noticing, for years the series was actually telling the story of med student Dr. Carter (Noah Wyle). And, in time, as his story arc began to close, we realized that the series had been telling the story of nurse turned med student turned Dr. Lockhart (Maura Tierney). It is possible that TWD is not Rick’s story, rather it is Carl’s. Whichever way it goes, while he would be sorely missed, I do not think the death of Rick Grimes will be the death of TWD as a whole. Prepare for it though; they have done a lot of talking about it. And, even though we were given a glimpse of future future festival Rick, that scene did have a background score consisting of Weird Al’s Another One Rides the Bus (the EW article I linked to earlier mistakenly referenced Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust, however if you listen closely you will hear the timing is sped up and the accordion is clearly present). Weird Al being the king of all things bizarre, can this be a sign that what we were seeing/hearing wasn’t what we thought it was at all? Was it Bizarro world TWD?
Stay tuned to find out. The truth is out there. Even if it is disguising itself as a bad episode of Lost.