The following contains spoilers for The Walking Dead comic.
Perhaps the most iconic armor in all of pop culture is that of the storm troopers in Star Wars. Clean, imposing, yet disposable, the shiny white duds perfectly capture the sanitized yet all-powerful nature of The Empire. It only makes sense then that, when introducing its own Empire of sorts, The Walking Dead looked to those same storm troopers for style inspiration.
When Eugene, Yumiko, Ezekiel, and Princess arrive in The Commonwealth in The Walking Dead season 10, they know that they are immediately dealing with a formidable community. While folks back in Alexandria starve, The Commonwealth apparently has enough resources to allow its guards to cosplay as white-armored super soldiers. What’s more is that one of the those soldiers gets distinctive orange armor. It’s through that armor that we know the character wearing it, Mercer (Michael James Shaw), is not to be trifled with.
In The Walking Dead season 11 premiere, “Acheron Part I”, we get to see a bit of Mercer in action. As our characters are subjected to invasive entrance interviews, Mercer mostly looks on from the background and scowls. It’s clear that he is not only the leader of The Commonwealth military but also an imposing presence to begin with.
“His audition was so interesting,” Walking Dead showrunner Angela Kang says of Shaw. “He was able to play unpredictable. He was able to play vulnerable. He could do everything from A to B. He’s just a lot of fun to watch on screen. I think he’s bringing a lot to that role.”
While Shaw does bring a lot to the role, what else will that role entail? In short, who is this Mercer and what is he all about? For an answer, we must turn to the comic series once again.
Mercer (it’s unknown whether that is his first name or surname…not entirely unlike the similarly mononymatic Negan) is introduced in the comic’s New World Order arc and remains in the series through to the very end. Yes, we’re coming up on the end of the written material for The Walking Dead. After New World Order comes The Rotten Core, and then the final Rest in Peace. Mercer is around for each one and plays a pretty enormous role throughout. Mercer is the lead officer of the Commonwealth Military.
The Commonwealth is a sprawling collection of communities with a population nearing 50,000 people. It’s first discovered by Eugene via radio in the comic and is where Eugene, Ezekiel, Yumiko, and Princess find themselves now. The Commonwealth is essentially the first nation-state in The Walking Dead universe and by far the largest society in the series. A community of that magnitude requires a lot of martial backing to keep citizens safe from both the undead and the social strife of living among so many other people during the post-apocalypse. Mercer just so happens to be the one man capable enough to lead that military effort.
Mercer comes from a military background, having been a marine in his previous life. He’s very much the strong, silent type of sidekick that The Walking Dead has enjoyed bringing into the fold over the years including characters like Tyreese, Abraham, and Dwight. Mercer might be the most dynamic of them all though. For while Mercer is the consummate soldier, he also realizes that something is fundamentally wrong with the society in which he lives. The Commonwealth is pretty close to a utopia as far as post-apocalyptic societies come in The Walking Dead. People within The Commonwealth’s walls are able to do things like eat out at restaurants, watch live football games, and just generally live their lives the way they were before. That peace in serenity, however, comes at a cost.
The Commonwealth is a severely stratified society with very clear haves and very clear have nots. Mercer is technically among the elite of this society as head of the military and Governor Pamela Milton’s right-hand man. But he is an intelligent, sensitive person and realizes the social inequality is unsustainable long-term. He’s also just sick of having to act as Pamela’s rotten son Sebastian’s errand boy. Mercer is just itching to stage a military coup, overthrow Pamela, and install a more equitable form of government for all of The Commonwealth’s 50,000 citizens. Thankfully, that opportunity arrives in the form of some useful interlopers from Alexandria. What happens next is a political conflict that sees The Walking Dead through all the way to the end of its run.
Ultimately, Mercer is more than just a tool for The Walking Dead’s political commentary. He’s a fascinating, dynamic character in his own right. He is a creative fighter, utilizing his futuristic armor and a finely-sharpened axe to take care of walkers with ease. Seems like a useful gut to have around until the bitter end.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.