There were a few interesting elements in the season eight premiere of 'The Walking Dead' that aired on Oct. 22.
But the bad definitely outweighed the good.
The episode, 'Mercy,' jumps back and forth between a time in the indeterminate future with an older version of main character Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) reflecting on his past and the main characters preparing for battle with a group of villains called the saviors. The good guys, who successfully defended their sanctuary from the villains in the previous season, prepare to bring the fight to the doorstep of the saviors and their bat-wielding leader Neghan. From their it all goes downhill.
While the acting, editing and other production values for the series remain consistently good, the writing has gradually taken a dip since the fifth season. The last season, which essentially consisted of Neghan tormenting the good guys until they form a united front of survivor communities against him, was an unpleasant parody of itself.
Rick's plan to attack the saviors is kind of clever, bu once the good guys arrive at Neghan's stronghold they behave like idiots, not shooting Neghan when they have him dead to rights and inexplicably wasting bullets by shooting out every window in a factory. And where do these guys find a seemingly endless supply of ammunition and gasoline?
Neghan was a serviceable villain in the sixth season when he was used sparingly. But once he became the focus of the show he quickly wore out his welcome despite some decent acting by Jeffrey Dean Morgan. And yet the opener actually contrives to spare his life and draw out the conflict between he and Rick.
Rick makes a point of telling everyone in a Braveheart-esque speech that the only one that has to die is Neghan (yeah, right!) but he not only passes up perfect chance to shoot him, he inexplicably becomes a lousy shot when a firefight breaks out despite being a good one throughout the rest of the series!
At one point Neghan trots out the cowardly Gregory (Xander Berkley, who lendsdignityt to a cliched character) to threaten members of the Hilltop Community with expulsion from his sanctuary if they do not cease and desist the siege on the saviors. But hasn't he already been discredited and practically deposed? Talk about bringing an empty gun on the stage!
I did enjoy the scenes with Gregory and Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) despite a predictable course of events. But having Gabriel fall into Neghan's clutches seemed contrived and unsatisfying.
Although the season seven finale of the show was absurd, it at least had a sense of catharsis and yielded some guilty pleasures.
Mercy' was just anti-climatic, unconvincing and dull.
I still have hope for the show. I like Neghan's creepy right-hand man Simon and would not mind seeing him emerge as the next big bad (I think it is Steven Ogg's redneck demeanor and the character's delusions of class -- he is a more scaled-back, believable version of Neghan). The subordinate bad guy Gavin actually interests me because one gets the sense there is more to him than meets the eye, but I suspect he will be used as cannon fodder. I also really want to see he sadistic Jared get his just desserts as well.
But I dread the idea that the scavengers, who are too video-game to be convincing, will be the next big threat. Or worse, that the presence of Neghan will become further protracted. Hopefully the show runners will get it right.