From the very first scene of the first episode to the last scene of the 100th episode, The Walking Dead has always been Rick Grimes’ story. Though it’s, by and large, an ensemble series, its focal point has been on the former sheriff’s deputy and his occasionally unstable approach to life in a zombie apocalypse.
Season 8’s first episode, “Mercy,” showed us three different sides of Rick. They’re likely all going to play a significant role in how Rick’s war with Negan shakes out. And one scene in particular highlighted one of the most important reasons for Rick’s continued fight for survival: his relationship with his son, Carl.
But it also may have foreshadowed some big changes for Rick in Season 8, not only in how he related to Carl, but in how he handles the world.
1. The first glimpse we got of Carl in Season 8 felt familiar
In The Walking Dead Season 8 premiere, “Mercy,” we saw a scene that felt very familiar. Carl Grimes, wearing his father’s old deputy hat, approaches an abandoned gas station in search of fuel. He peers in a few rusted-out cars, taking stock of the decaying bodies inside them, before being startled by another man’s voice.
Comic book fans know him to be Siddiq, but as of yet, he and Carl haven’t been properly introduced. He’s too busy trying to appeal to Carl’s better angels. That is, he informs Carl that he’s been on his own for days, without so much as a scrap of food. And that he’d very much appreciate any help the teen can provide.
Carl raises his gun in defense, but before he can decide whether he’s going to pull the trigger, the cavalry — in this case, his dad — arrives and scares him off. The younger Grimes is less than grateful, though. He seems to think that his father should have offered more help to the stranger.
The scene didn’t just serve to establish a little bit of tension early in the 100th episode. Carl’s moment in the premiere also mirrored (often shot-for-shot) the very first scene in The Walking Dead. It’s a fun Easter egg for longtime fans. But the parallels between Carl and Rick’s experiences could also be foreshadowing some changes in their relationship.
2. Carl and Rick have often been at odds
From the very beginning, Rick and Carl have had a close, but often contentious, relationship. They’ve suffered tremendous losses together and fought side-by-side. And they both have a common priority: protect their family at all costs.
That doesn’t mean it’s been easy. Rick has experienced tremendous highs and lows. And often with his son has had a front row seat to witness his myriad meltdowns. When you combine that with the fact that Carl has often defied his father’s wishes and tried to handle the more dangerous aspects of post-apocalyptic life on his own, their relationship has been understandably fraught.
But there is hope for the Grimes’ men. And it comes from the wisdom of experience.
3. Carl and Rick have both changed significantly
For all their struggles, and less-than-stellar moments, Rick and Carl have forged a pretty strong relationship. Rick’s come a long way from, say, talking to his dead wife on an equally dead telephone. And Carl has grown up surprisingly well, given his environment.
In earlier seasons, for example, Carl would have likely shot Siddiq on sight. And most recently, Rick would have almost certainly done the same with little hesitation. While they’re both still fairly quick to make potentially life-altering decisions, they’ve both cooled down a bit.
Their measured response to a potentially dangerous situation says a lot about who both of them have become. But these days, it’s also where their similarities seem to end.
4. How Carl and Rick chose to handle Siddiq says a lot about their differences
Rick’s first instinct is to shoot at Siddiq and scare him away. Though he makes sure to remind Carl that he shot above Siddiq’s head, he still refuses to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Carl, on the other hand, finds his dad’s unwillingness to help Siddiq to be deeply frustrating. Rick says that if he isn’t a spy, he hopes he’ll make it. But Carl has been around their hellish landscape long enough to know that hope isn’t going to be enough to help Siddiq survive. And he tells his father so.
This scene in “Mercy” may seem like a bit of a throwaway. But it clearly outlines both Carl and Rick’s perspectives on how to deal with the world. In Siddiq, Rick saw a threat. Carl, on the other hand, saw someone who needed help. He was so preoccupied with the idea of Siddiq being alone that he went back to the gas station at the end of the episode and left him food and an apology.
In other words, even though the scene so closely mirrored Rick’s earlier experience in Season 1, Carl’s reaction couldn’t have been more different from his father’s. And that could be a sign of a bigger change in how they’re going to handle everything with Negan and even what comes after.
5. Carl and Rick’s gas station conversation could be a turning point
This schism in their perspective may not be new. But it’s the first time it’s come to the forefront in a while. It’s too early to tell how these differing viewpoints could play out in Season 8. But it’s a safe bet that it will come up again, in one way or another.
Carl has never had a problem letting Rick know when he disagrees with him. But his decision to go back to the gas station could be a sign that Carl is done doing things his dad’s way. And while the incident in “Mercy” ended without any real trouble, that may not always be the case.
6. Carl may end up putting himself in real danger
The last time Carl went against his father’s advice, he wound up in the middle of the Saviors’ compound. He was lucky to make it out of that situation unscathed, and it may only be a matter of time before that good fortune runs out.
If Carl is going to spend Season 8 taking his own approach to the impending wars, it could go a number of ways. He may wind up helping his friends and allies and proving himself as a valuable strategist. He could wind up messing up, and getting someone else hurt or killed. He could even put himself in grave danger, and require Rick to rescue him.
The Season 8 premiere may have offered us a clue that Carl’s stubbornness will lead to tragedy.
7. Rick may have to learn to show more mercy
In the closing moments of “Mercy,” we see Rick at some future point in time. He’s crying and clearly devastated, repeating something similar to what Siddiq shouted to Carl at the gas station: “My mercy prevails over my wrath.”
It’s a clear callback to the earlier scene between Rick and Carl. And The Walking Dead has never been particularly subtle with its subtext or foreshadowing. So it’s possible that Carl — either mortally wounded or already dead — is the reason for Rick’s emotional turmoil.
Even if it isn’t, and Carl is just fine, it’s clear that the moment with Siddiq and the words he recited will come to be meaningful to Rick. And it appears as though he will at least be contemplating his son’s point of view: It’s not enough to just hope for others’ survival, and that revenge is not the only way.
The biggest question that remains, though, is whether Rick will chose mercy or wrath.
The Walking Dead airs Sunday at 9 p.m.Eastern on AMC.
Follow Katherine Webb on Twitter @prufrox.
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