Now that’s more like it. While a bold proclamation that the second half of The Walking Dead’s seventh season is going to be nothing but great seems like a bit much, I was very satisfied with what “Rock in the Road” had to offer. Coming off of the slog that was the first half of this season, here’s an episode that caught us up with everyone, featured all the characters I personally really like seeing and only featured some of the consistent issues this series has in small doses. All of that and major characters even had a chance to smile.
When we last left Rick and the gang, everyone had a big Kumbaya moment, which thankfully didn’t have the characters break out into song. This week, Gregory actually has to go out of his way to tell characters not to break out into song, while continuing to exhibit the kind of behavior that makes him seem like a real cowardly jerk. The funny thing is, he’s serving what he believes to be the best interests of his community. One could say the same thing about Ezekiel and his Kingdom and yet no one would argue over which character we are supposed to like.
That’s what has been a grating issue with The Walking Dead. What holds the show back from being more than a very good-looking (and mostly well-acted) genre TV series is its inability to move off its own path. Rick is always going to be the good guy who has all the plans. Even when he trips up, he still manages to eventually get it together with the help of his friends. Because of this, the show needs us to see eye-to-eye with him more than anyone else. That means we have to support the idea that Gregory is a dick, because the show really hammers that idea into the ground. It also means we have to want Ezekiel to eventually come around to Rick’s way of thinking, but still like him, because the show doesn’t treat him poorly.
What works about this is how well-handled these characters are. Xander Berkley is putting in some terrific work as Gregory. You don’t have to like the guy, but this is what The Walking Dead could use more of – eccentric performances that make a character interesting and watchable, not just another sad and gloomy individual that mopes around all the time. As for Khary Payton’s Ezekiel, well just listen to the man speak and you get the idea. The whole first act of this episode does well to provide plenty of info related to both the Hilltop and the Kingdom thanks to these characters (and some others), despite continuing to function in the way The Walking Dead is used to.
Additionally, while the plot of this episode basically boils down to, “Rick asks for help and is mostly rejected,” we get some significant character moments. Morgan learns of the deceased Alexandrians, in addition to Glenn and Abraham. Richard’s desire to be less peaceful than Ezekiel wants to be is well-noted. Daryl will remain in the Kingdom for sanctuary, hopefully getting the message across to Ezekiel (and presumably find Carol). Sasha and Rosita are not friends. Jerry is awesome. All of these things do plenty to continue to flesh out the world in ways more enjoyable than seeing everyone pushed into traumatic situations all of the time.
Carol even gets one major scene to remind us what’s going on with her. She’s continuing to hold onto her isolation, even if that means telling walker-killer-in-training Benjamin to leave her alone and learn how to be quieter. It doesn’t add a whole lot, but it does allow us to keep following Benjamin, who stumbles upon Ezekiel reading Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech as a bedtime story. Rather than pointing out how ridiculous that sounds, ‘dI rather just put focus on how happy I was to be back in the town that is the Kingdom. It’s the kind of silly a nihilistic series like The Walking Dead could do better to balance with.
Speaking of things to balance, the episode’s major action sequence was a real good one. Built off a suspenseful ticking clock device involving an approaching herd, Rick and the gang work to solve their lack of weapons problem. This means dismantling a string of dynamite and moving a bunch of cars, before the zombies can catch up to them. It all builds to a great moment where Rick and Michonne drive two cars, attached by some thick wires, through a path of walkers – dismembering a whole lot of them. It’s gross and morbidly funny, as well as a big win, which is a nice change of pace.
That whole set piece was enough to make me not concern myself too much with how the Saviors are basically a convenient threat for whenever the scripts call for them. There’s logic to their presence (Daryl’s gone missing) and using Steven Ogg’s Simon as the face of the Saviors this week continues to be welcome. I guess I’m just hoping that with all of the communities in play, there is a better establishment of where everyone is and how seriously I want to take Negan. He’s made his authority clear, but given how uneasy I’ve been with getting to know the Saviors, I look forward to getting that clearer sense of what Rick will be up against and who will be helping him.
The final bit of this episode certainly helped provide more excitement. It builds off what was established at the top of the episode, as Father Gabriel randomly left his post and raided the supplies. Rick, Aaron and some others use a clue he left to go back to that random boat house, only to be ambushed by a large group of armed people who don’t look friendly. For whatever reason, Rick gives this great smile that could not have me more intrigued. I may not have been won over by Rick’s folksy “Rock in the Road” story, but whatever was going on in his mind at the end of this episode had me wishing an episode of The Walking Dead didn’t have to end for the first time in a while.
- Zombie Kill of the Week: Without question, Rick and Michonne destroying a chunk of the herd with the wire was outstanding.
- “Rhetorical!” – Gregory is easily one of my favorite people to watch on this show.
- I like how the men from the Kingdom immediately dropped their regal accents when they realized it was just Jesus they were talking to, whom they already knew.
- Rick and the gang reacting to the tiger was wonderful.
- Jerry is who everyone on this show should want to be.
- “Without Fat Joey, Skinny Joey is just… Joey.” – There’s only a small bit of Negan this week and I liked that.
- So Rosita is a demolitions expert?
- Even Aaron and Eric got some development this week.
- So who’s this new group?
- Good to be back writing about this show and feeling so positive about it. Let’s keep that up!
- Thanks for reading and feel free to hear what myself and a few other fans of the show have to say about the series on the The Walking Dead TV Podcast.