WARNING: This article contains spoilers for the Season 8 premiere of The Walking Dead, "Mercy," which as of publication has not yet aired on the west coast, and for The Walking Dead comic series.
AMC released a trailer in July for the eighth season of The Walking Dead that introduced what the Internet lovingly dubbed "Old Man Rick," an aging version of the drama's lead character, which immediately raised a lot of questions among viewers. After all, at the end of Season 7, the Saviors finally pushed everyone, especially Rick, to a breaking point, and "All Out War" was on the horizon. That confrontation is now in its beginning phase, so the sight of an older Rick leads us to wonder whether everything turns out fine, or if there's some misdirection going on.
If the AMC series proceeds like the comic books, it's safe to say that it's both.
Here, we examine the events of "Mercy" and what's been happening in the long-running Image Comics series to explain what may unfold in the eighth season of The Walking Dead.
The Season 8 premiere, titled "Mercy," has a central theme: hope, which suggests that Alexandria may survive. We see Rick & Co. take the fight to Negan's Saviors with a horde of walkers, a hail of gunfire and the promise of more to come.
In the comics series, by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard, the war is the biggest fight the survivors faced up to that point; we're talking huge. The living who fight number in the hundreds. At this point in the comics (Issue 172), the war is over. That's what we are seeing with the flash-forward: a time beyond the Saviors, but that's not all we're shown in "Mercy."
Several times throughout the episode, Rick is depicted distraught and crying. The final time, he says, "have mercy ... prevail ... over my wrath." Earlier in the episode, Carl meets a man who says this very thing amid a flurry of words at a gas station before Rick arrives, firing over his head to shoo him off.
It's difficult to pinpoint exactly what's going on with Rick when he says that, but the words derive from the Quran and describe God's willingness to forgive and not to punish. If you've been keeping up with the comics, you know that Rick lets Negan live following the war. This line may be an additional foreshadow of that mercy he shows his enemy, whom he promised to kill. Twice. It also ties into the title of the episode, suggesting the concept of mercy may be a flash-forward in and of itself.
Later, we see an older Judith escort Old Man Rick outside into a pristine village where everything looks, in a word, perfect. This is the "tomorrow" Rick is looking toward beyond the Saviors and the conflicts he has endured up to that point.
Old Man Rick is a visualization of hope. He is the manifestation of the possibility of peace. Even so, knowing, or believing, that the war concludes with Rick and the gang prevailing doesn't take away from the incredible conflict that's sure to play out throughout Season 8.
Airing Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on AMC, The Walking Dead stars Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, Lauren Cohan as Maggie Rhee, Chandler Riggs as Carl Grimes, Danai Gurira as Michonne, Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier, Lennie James as Morgan Jones, Alanna Masterson as Tara Chambler, Josh McDermitt as Eugene Porter, Christian Serratos as Rosita Espinosa and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan.