Warning: SPOILERS for The Walking Dead season 8 premiere ahead
The Walking Dead kicked off its eighth season of post-apocalyptic zombie madness last night with "Mercy" and the opener was nothing if not eventful. Immediately pitting opposing leaders Rick and Negan in a tense face-off, The Walking Dead launched into its "All Out War" arc with aplomb and although some viewers may have been surprised by the lack of significant character deaths, there was still plenty to discuss once the credits had rolled.
Rick's violent mentality, the "Old Man Rick" segments, and Gabriel's current pant-browning predicament all made for watercooler conversation topics and the episode felt generally more in keeping with classic The Walking Dead compared to much of the critically divisive season seven.
Of course, despite last night's eventful installment, there is still much more to come from The Walking Dead season eight. Looking at what viewers have witnessed thus far however, what hints can be gleaned from "Mercy" as to how the rest of this season - and indeed the war between Rick and Negan - will play out.
Hopeful Vision Or Flashforward?
Perhaps the biggest question heading into The Walking Dead's return was the nature of the "Old Man Rick" scenes first seen in the season eight trailer. The overriding suggesting coming out of "Mercy" was that these scenes were Rick imagining a potential post-Saviors future, with the leader caught in numerous vision-like reveries throughout the episode.
With that said, it had previously been stated that The Walking Dead wouldn't address the true nature of these scenes until the mid-season point, therefore there could be more to the "Old Man Rick" sequences than first meets the eye. Furthermore, those familiar with the comic series of The Walking Dead will have noticed how similar Rick's vision is to the actual future of Robert Kirkman's world and you could also argue that if these scenes were purely imaginary, why would Rick envisage a future of himself with a busted leg?
Alexandria Aren't Necessarily The Underdogs
The Walking Dead season seven spent an awful lot of time conveying to the audience just how badly outnumbered and outgunned Alexandria were compared to the mighty Saviors and even with The Hilltop and The Kingdom on board, Negan still felt like the overwhelming favorite heading into "All Out War."
However, the playing field appears to have evened out hugely in the time between seasons. Not only are the allied communities well-armed but they appear well resourced too in terms of explosives, raw material and vehicles. Perhaps more importantly, Team Rick's tactical nous and expertise in battle have given them a huge victory from the outset. If Negan wasn't taking his opponents seriously before, he certainly is now and The Walking Dead season eight will likely see multiple victories for both sides in an evenly matched conflict.
Rick's Hungry For Blood, But Taking His Role Seriously
One of the most frequent recurring themes in "Mercy" was Rick's bloody-minded determination to put Negan six feet under and his subsequent attempts to remember that there was far more at stake than his own simple revenge. The Alexandrian leader displayed a ruthless streak throughout the episode and there are surely more occasions where Rick's bloodlust becomes a problem on the horizon.
However, thanks to the efforts of Father Gabriel, Rick does seem to realize that the current conflict is bigger than just himself and he also seems comfortable with the weight of leadership this season. Throughout The Walking Dead, Rick has sometimes struggled with being the responsibility of being in charge, sometimes taking on the role reluctantly and other times leaning too far into dictator territory. As season eight progresses, expect more conflict between Rick's rational side and his inner psychopath.