The Walking Dead: 7:09 Rock In The Road

The Walking Dead is finally back. Not just in the sense that the show has returned from its mid-season hiatus, but also in the sense that it finally feels like we’ve returned to the post-apocalypse we know and love. With Rick back to his former self, tail distinctly out from between his legs, Rock in the Road saw him lead the group on a recruitment mission to the Kingdom to seek assistance from Ezekiel. It was the first time in what feels like forever since we’ve seen most of the main group stick together for a whole episode, and actually have some life and drive in their actions.

The pre-opening credits scene set up the minor mystery of the episode: where is Father Gabriel? We saw him skulking around the pantry and stealing supplies before driving off into the night, not to be seen for the rest of the episode. When Rick and co. go looking for him, it leads to an exciting and intriguing scene that rounds the episode off, which we’ll get to later.

Once the credits (that I’m still not used to seeing Steven Yeun’s name missing from) were out of the way, we caught up with the gang at Hilltop where the midseason finale left off. Having decided that Maggie was right and they need to fight, Rick tried to convince the uncooperative Gregory to join the cause, to no avail. Gregory remains as frustratingly spineless as ever, and I for one am itching to see him officially unseated already. Though he’s supposedly in charge at Hilltop, it’s apparent that the real ones in command there are Maggie, Sasha, and Jesus. Gregory may not be willing to stand up to Negan, but his people are. I wonder if we’ll be seeing any training montages as Rick’s group teaches them to fight.

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The Hilltoppers stepping up to the plate was a feel-good start, but as Rick said, the group still doesn’t have the manpower to take on Negan’s might. So Jesus finally decided to take them to the Kingdom, a group he’d conveniently neglected to mention he knew of until now. Ezekiel and his tiger and the jovial Jerry have been absent from our screens since the second episode of the season, so it was thoroughly pleasant to see them again (and have another moment of hilarity as the group stared at Shiva, not having been told about her in advance).

Arriving at the Kingdom also meant a reunion between Rick and Morgan once again. Aside from one short scene in the woods, Carol was absent from the episode, and the others still have no idea how close by she is given that Morgan withheld that information, choosing a most inconvenient time to respect her wish to be left alone. We can only assume this is because the writers are deliberately leaving Carol out for now, saving her for later like an ace up their sleeves, but it’s incredibly frustrating knowing she still has no idea what’s been going on. One of the most simple yet powerful moments of this episode was seeing Morgan hear about what had happened to Glenn and the others. His expression was heartbreaking and made the audience feel the loss all over again.

Despite a moving story from Rick and a heartfelt chat with Ben (who it was nice to see again but is probably going to die at some point, given how nice and optimistic his character is), Ezekiel wasn’t convinced that joining the fight was the best thing to do, and disappointingly rejected the request. It seemed like he’d be on board at first, but realistically we knew it wouldn’t be that easy. Of course he’ll change his mind later - I’m just curious as to what the catalyst will be. Either it’ll be because some of his men will have a run in with the Saviours that doesn’t turn out well, or when he, Carol, and Rick finally end up in the same room. Something tells me Carol will be less reluctant to come out of hiding once she learns what happened to her friends, and given how Ezekiel seems somewhat smitten with her, if anyone can talk him round, she can.

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Though Ezekiel may not be ready to charge into battle, he still helped our group by offering Daryl asylum. The Saviours haven’t yet ventured inside the walls of the Kingdom, so hopefully Daryl will be safe there. Maybe have some bonding time with Morgan.

Important story arc stuff aside, the most memorable moment of the episode happened when Rick and co. stumbled upon a trap set up by the Saviours intended for a large zombie herd heading down the highway. The trap was rigged with explosives, which with the help of Rosita (who we still know next to nothing about in pre-apocalypse terms, but is possibly ex military) the gang safely salvaged for their own use. I can’t wait to see when they’re going to show up again later. Stealing bombs wasn’t the exciting bit though. As the herd slowly descended upon the group, Rick and Michonne teamed up in a truly awesome moment and a great bit of teamwork that couples everywhere should aspire to. They drove the cars with a cable suspended between them straight into the herd, mowing down a small army of walkers with ease in an extremely satisfying visual shot that will go down in walker-killing history.

The undead seem to have taken a bit of a back seat for a while now, so while it was fantastic to see a herd again (and such a creative approach to dealing with it), I’m starting to feel like we may need to have a walker-related death again sometime soon to properly reinstate some of the fear factor they used to hold. Yes, Rick had a close call that shook him up a bit, but it’s gotten to the point now where I don’t remotely feel the intended suspense in scenes like this as we know people (well, main characters) don’t get killed by walkers any more. Obviously the plot of the show can’t hinge on people battling zombies, but they still shouldn’t be disregarded completely. I’m hopeful that in the upcoming war with the saviours, at least one side might use the dead as a weapon.

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Alive and significantly more armed than they were before, the gang arrived back at Alexandria just in time to be greeted by a Saviour squad on the hunt for Daryl, that unceremoniously searched the town for our favourite former redneck fugitive. Aside from a cameo over the radio giving a humorous eulogy for Fat Joey, Negan was absent this week. Instead we were once again forced to face the repulsive Simon, fortunately only briefly before they drove off again.

The episode concluded as Rick and a few others set out to the boathouse to look for Gabriel, after finding out he was missing (along with their supplies) but had left a clue to find him there. While looking for the Father, the group were ambushed by a large number of heavily armed strangers, with no Gabriel in sight as far as we know. This may seem like a bit of a dire situation, given Rick’s lot is lacking in weapons, but the midseason premiere ended as Rick smiled with the audience. Unlike what some people are saying, this new group is notably NOT Tara’s all-female colony, Oceanside, as men could be seen in the throng, meaning this is yet another bunch of potential recruits for Rick’s side.

Personally, I’m really excited to see where this leads, and I hope the next episode picks up right from the end of this one. I want to know more about this entire situation. The boathouse Rick and Aaron scavenged from seemed to only be only occupied by one person, so who are all of these people and where did they come from? What does the boat and the mystery person in the boots have to do with it all, and what did they want with Gabriel specifically? Do they have prior experience with the Saviours?

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My only major fault with this episode was the completely unnecessary conflict between Sasha and Rosita that seems to have been written in for no reason at all. The throwaway line about having slept with the same dead guy not making them friends seemed downright vicious as well as out of place, given how they recently shared a reconciliatory look. I understand grief making people angry and emotional but this small thing felt like a major step backwards in terms of character maturity, and was a bit of a jarring moment in what was otherwise a lighthearted episode overall.

Rock in the Road was a world away in tone and feel from the season premiere, and the entire first half of season seven at large. There was a single cohesive episode plot that moved at a steady pace, and almost all of the main cast were working together at the same time. It was amazing to finally see Sheriff Grimes back to his old self again and with this episode’s themes of teamwork, resourcefulness and perseverance, things at long last seem to be looking up for the rest of the season.