Season 8 of The Walking Dead premiered Sunday, October 22, with an episode as action-packed as it was mysterious, bouncing back and forth between the dawn of an epic battle, a devastating aftermath, and a distant, peaceful future (or fever dream) that looked like it’s been put through a Glamour Glow filter on Snapchat.
The show opened on the eve of Rick’s (Andrew Lincoln) next big showdown with Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and the Saviors — which hasn’t historically worked out well for Rick’s side, but this time, they had advantages: a bigger army, a cache of weapons, and not one but three leaders to rile ’em up before the battle. Rick brought the Braveheart-style inspirational speech. King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) brought the melodrama. Maggie (Lauren Cohan) brought the grit … and a little much-needed context on just how much time has passed and why she’s not visibly pregnant yet. (Sorry, baby fanatics, but she hasn’t even entered the second trimester yet.) While the plan to take the Saviors down was an elaborate multi-parter, the ultimate goal was conveyed by Rick in three simple words: “WE END THEM!”
The gang didn’t end them. After shredding the Sanctuary’s windows with dozens of bullets and blowing apart its defenses with a homemade car bomb (goodnight, sweet RV), a horde of hungry zombies entered. Rick and his gang definitely left the Saviors in a rare, vulnerable position. But the plan wasn’t without hiccups: Gregory (Xander Berkeley) threw in his lot with the Saviors last season, but got kicked down a flight of stairs when he failed to convince Rick to leave Negan in peace. Despite the fact that literally nobody on the show deserves a messy death more than Gregory, Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) risked his life to rescue him. What did he get in return for his selfless good deed? He ended up trapped in a trailer with Negan, who is not just profoundly evil, but also really needs to get some new material. Pro tip, Neegs: maybe learn a joke that isn’t about people soiling their pants. Just one. Please. So no, Negan did not get killed in this war — but he may be limping these days.
This is where the plot thickens: This episode also flashed to multiple different time periods. In one, Rick stood in the woods with a stained-glass window hanging in the trees. With red, glassy eyes, he prayed for peace. “My mercy prevails over my wrath,” he said, which is a phrase mentioned by the man Carl met earlier in the episode at the gas station. Clearly, the all-out war with the Saviors wasn’t (and won’t be) without casualties. Every time we saw that Rick, who looked feverish, viewers then got a flash to another time period — is it a flash forward? Is it a hopeful dream? Is it a fever hallucination?
And The Beard?
Now to that multiyear leap forward into a peaceful morning at what looks like the Hilltop. Rick, sporting a beard that looked to be borrowed from a pre-Raphaelite painting of God, woke up to Weird Al‘s “Another One Rides The Bus” and spoke to Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Judith (now fully verbal and probably preschool-aged), before stepping outside to investigate the plans for some kind of celebration. Carl (Chandler Riggs) was even there, and said he was “playing hooky.” There were a couple very interesting mysteries in this scene: Why does Rick walk with a cane? Why does the family live at the Hilltop now? Is this a real future?