The Walking Dead: What Mercer Means for the Show

Michael James Shaw has been cast as Mercer, a crucial character for The Walking Dead’s comic book endgame.

Mercer on The Walking Dead #117 cover.
Photo: Image Comics

This article contains potential spoilers for THE WALKING DEAD Season 11.

If one needed a firm indication that AMC’s The Walking Dead is on a quick collision course with its climax, the announced casting of fan-favorite character Mercer should certainly suffice. Michael James Shaw has landed the role, which he will field on the upcoming eleventh and final season of the franchise-spawning series. While there have been major divergences from Robert Kirkman’s comic source material, it does seem that Mercer will be as crucial to the approaching endgame of the series as he was to the comic.

The tweeted official announcement of Michael James Shaw’s casting as Mercer, who runs the military side of massive community the Commonwealth, sent a clear signal that the actor will be the most visually comic-adherent adaptation of a Walking Dead character thus far, showing the 6’ 2” African-American actor in jacked form, looking uncannily similar next to a picture of the comic character decked out in his signature crimson armor. The casting was noticeably confirmed just after Season 10, Episode 17 “Home Sweet Home” revealed the vulnerable side of Maggie’s mysterious mask-wearing, kama-wielding cohort, whose name turned out to be Elijah (Okea Eme-Akwari), thereby nixing the widespread fan theory that he was Mercer.

Michael James Shaw on Blood & Treasure

Shaw—last seen on short-lived CBS adventure series Blood & Treasure, as pictured just above—not only looks the part, but brings genre experience from his appearances in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame as Corvus Glaive (Thanos’s formidable right-hand man), and—in addition to a run on CBS’s Limitless—fielded the recurring role of Papa Midnite on NBC’s Constantine. Now, as Mercer, he’ll bring to life the brutal badass introduced in March 2018’s The Walking Dead #177, an issue whose cover (seen in the title image,) he auspiciously graces, foreshadowing his importance for a dramatic coda to which—at least, at the time—only Kirkman and those in his inner circle knew was approaching.

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In the context of the current television timeline of The Walking Dead—notwithstanding the current non-linear bonus episodes—the series seems set to reach the pertinent mark relatively early into the summer 2021 arrival of Season 11. Indeed, the show’s last chronological development, the cliffhanger moment of Season 10, Episode 16, “A Certain Doom,” showed the romantically whimsical sojourn of Eugene (Josh McDermitt)—accompanied by Ezekiel (Khary Payton), Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura) and Princess (Paola Lazaro)—to finally meet with his mysterious CB radio romance, Stephanie (who will be played onscreen by Margot Bingham). Of course, that turned out to be an ambush by a swarm of scary armored soldiers immediately recognizable to comic readers as the Commonwealth’s military—an outfit that is run by, you guessed it, Mercer.

Consequently, we should meet Shaw’s Mercer relatively early on into The Walking Dead Season 11. If the apocalypse-anachronistic sight of uniformed stormtroopers (in Star Wars-esque white armor, no less) with state-of-the-art weaponry wasn’t menacing enough for our survivors, just wait till they get a load of the commander. Yet, if the series follows the comic story’s structure, then the quartet will first be taken to the Commonwealth, where they will meet the community’s leader, Pamela Milton, whose self-designation as “Governor” will likely trigger flashbacks for the dwindled population of series OGs back at Alexandria.

The comic’s subsequent introduction of Mercer immediately depicted one of the canon’s toughest, most menacing characters yet; an introduction immediately stultified by Pamela’s young-adult son, Sebastian, who—clearly thinking that his high place in the Commonwealth’s caste bestows wisdom—proceeded to castigate him in a petty manner over a random walker breach. With that humiliation, Mercer’s comic arc as an ally to our survivors was telegraphed from the get-go, and that seems destined to be replicated on the series. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him stroll into the ominous interrogation room depicted in the recent Season 11 teaser, seen below.

While we won’t get too deep into the Commonwealth and its too-good-to-be-true nature (we have plenty of excellent articles focused on that particular topic if you’re curious), Mercer is known for becoming a key member in the fifth column that will eventually permeate amongst the Commonwealth’s population of around 50,000, most of whom are callously considered expendable to Pamela and the elite. The analogous comic conflict quickly became a powder keg with the arrival of the Alexandrians—who, in the comics, were led by a still-present Rick Grimes—when the era of cordial introductions and Willy Wonka-esque wonderment at their advanced amenities gave way to serious tension over the Commonwealth’s codified class system, which stood in stark contrast to our embattled survivor’s more egalitarian tendencies—“Ricktatorship” era notwithstanding. Yet, amidst the escalating war with a massive de facto nation state, love would bloom for the eventually-side-switching Mercer, who found an unlikely soul mate with the outrageously loquacious Princess, whose television counterpart—unlikely by coincidence—is part of the foursome who first encounters the Commonwealth soldiers.

Of course, when it comes to The Walking Dead—especially in its later seasons—the habit of assuming comic verisimilitude has its perils, as best exemplified by 2019’s tremendous twist to key comic character Dante. Nevertheless, we know that the television series is headed for the finish line, which is a luxury that comic readers didn’t have at this point in the Commonwealth story, which might make the path for Mercer’s arc clearer than that of other characters. For now, barring any alterations, fans of the series await the casting of the aforementioned Pamela Milton and son Sebastian, which should shed further light on the Season 11 dynamic.

The Walking Dead is in the midst of weekly airings for Season 10’s bonus episodes Sundays on AMC, leading to the April 4 season closer, “Here’s Negan.” Yet, the wait for the series-concluding Season 11 will be mercifully short, with the recent tease of a summer premiere.

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