Aptly titled ‘Rock In The Road’, today’s Walking Dead mid-season premiere of season 7 crosses over a few bumps in the road before finding its feet. The first half of season 7 was, undoubtedly, the most disappointing half-season of The Walking Dead to date – the explosive and gruesome season premiere permeating the subsequent episodes with low morale and slow pacing as our Survivors grieved and got used to life under Negan’s thumb. In today’s episode, Rick’s rebellion is finally underway as he states: “Alexandria, The Hilltop, The Kingdom – all three of our communities have something in common. We all serve the Saviors.”
The episode picks up directly from the post-credits scene of 7×08 where Father Gabriel is on guard duty in Alexandria. Gabriel then raids the food and weapons storage before leaving Alexandria in the middle of the night, and as we learn later in the episode, not returning. This is the first of two major fake outs in the episode that just don’t work – after Gabriel’s majorly belated moment of triumph last season I can’t possibly believe that he would suddenly abandon his people in the middle of the night.
In ‘Rock In The Road’, the score stands out as awkward and sometimes ill conceived. I have heard it said that onscreen music is most successful when you don’t notice it there, however in today’s episode there are multiple music cues that don’t seem to gel with the action onscreen. In The Hilltop, while the Survivors are discussing their need for more people and weapons, a strange country twang underscores the scene. Similarly, in The Kingdom the music cues are so light and happy; a strange contrast considering that the Survivors are joining forces for total war against Negan and the Saviors.
True to Walking Dead form, the show slows down and lingers in moments it simply doesn’t need to. The scene between Rick, Morgan and Daryl is simply boring: recounting Carol’s plot from the last season. It slows down the pace of the entire show and condescends the viewer – as if they’re not clever enough to remember the plot for themselves. Before today’s episode, I was ready to put money on the fact that they would linger for far too long in The Hilltop and waste time on slow-paced, unnecessary scenes between important characters like Rosita and Sasha. Instead, the show gave me some slow, unnecessary scenes between characters that I don’t care about like Jesus and Richard, Ezekiel and Benjamin, and Benjamin and Carol.
Rick’s metaphor about the rock in the road is a wonderful one to explain what’s happening in Washington during the zombie apocalypse, although I’m not sure if it’s used enough throughout the episode to earn the episode title. Rick gives an impassioned speech to King Ezekiel, talking about the rock in the road that everyone would just avoid even though it constantly disrupted travellers on the road. From Rick’s speech onwards is where the episode gains momentum for me. Despite Rick’s metaphor, King Ezekiel denies Rick’s offer of a triumvirate rebellion on Negan, which brings me to the second fake out of the episode. It’s a false conflict. As viewers, we all know that Ezekiel will say yes eventually, especially as Daryl has been manipulated into seeking asylum in The Kingdom and will undoubtedly cross paths with Carol.
Where the episode truly comes alive is in its large-scale action scene. The Survivors encounter an explosive trap that has been set by the Saviors to ensnare a herd of walkers. The Survivors, desperate for ammunition, strip the trap of the explosives. I’m genuinely excited about the prospect of seeing some interesting guerilla warfare from the Survivors as they desperately seek out weaponry under pressure from walkers and enemy soldiers. Rosita knowing how to disarm the explosives is an excellent character moment, which calls back to her army training from Abraham and continues the trend of female leadership in the show. The challenge of the Survivors, all working together to unwrap the wires under the threat of looming Saviors is a new and interesting development that I am excited to see play out in different ways throughout the season – and of course, the steel cable destruction of the walker herd goes down in the top five special action scenes of the entire series.
The episode ends as the Survivors encounter a new, heavily armed group and a smile blossoms over Rick’s face. My exasperation with this show is fading away as Rick’s smile grows and I’m genuinely excited to see what happens next week.