Last night’s episode of The Walking Dead picked up immediately where the mid-season finale ended. Entitled “Rock in the Road,” a reference to a story Rick tells in the episode, the mid-season premiere left me with one lasting impression; The Walking Dead just isn’t fun without Negan. Pacing issues, the lack of any real stakes or action, and very little resolution lead to a weak return to season 7.
If you missed out on last night’s The Walking Dead you can watch it on AMC without a login now.
*There will be some spoilers to this episode so proceed at your own risk!!!
First of all, let’s talk about that cold open. We start with a solemn Father Gabriel, contemplating his role in all this. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, he steals a bunch of canned goods, hops in a car, and drives off. As the series’ signature title music cues up, another person slowly rises up from the passenger side of the car. We are left hanging for the remainder of the episode, and when it’s finally semi-resolved, it leads to this episode’s cliffhanger.
Negotiating with the Hilltop
The leader of the hilltop, at this point by title only, Gregory is complacent. He is comfortable with the deal they have with the “Saviors,” and continues to blame Maggie and Sasha for the trouble they’ve been experiencing. When Rick and everyone else, including Jesus, try to reason with Gregory, all this would be leader is interested in doing is washing his hands of this lot. Gregory calls Rick “Ricky,” and Maggie “Margaret,” and insist that this meeting never happened. Eventually they leave his office deflated, their army is off to a bad start.
Upon exiting the house on the Hilltop however, it is clear the townspeople have other ideas. They now look up to Maggie and Sasha and believe that they can in fact defeat the Saviors. They vow to help the crew regardless of what their “leader” says. This news reinvigorates the squad, and as their time is short, they head straight to the Kingdom with the guidance of Jesus. It is also at this point where Jesus reveals he has snagged one of the radios from Negan’s “Sanctuary” which will allow them to keep track of the “Saviors'” movements.
An Audience with a King
The bulk of this episode takes place in King Ezekiel’s “kingdom”. When this location was first introduced, I was able to take it with a grain of salt. Now, as the medieval theme carries on, this whole place is coming off as a little silly. “Thees” and “Thous” are thrown about as people talk about “official audiences” and “decrees”.
As hard as it was for me to take the Kingdom seriously after awhile, it did have some really great moments. Namely, Morgan finally learns about what happened while he was out searching for Carol. Morgan also keeps Carol’s whereabouts a secret, leading Rick and the gang to believe she’s alive, but gone. When Rosita tells him the news of who Negan has killed, you can see Morgan in pain. He is a conflicted man who is still wrestling with the fact that he has killed someone. Each name Rosita lists off, you can see it physically impact him as he questions himself.
During the audience with King Ezekiel, Rick makes a desperate appeal and begs for the King to join in the fight against Negan and the “Saviors”. Ezekiel is reluctant which prompts Rick to tell a story, it is in this story the title for this episode comes from. As Ezekiel’s distractingly obvious CG tiger is trying so hard to look intimidating and not like a cartoon— Honestly, in a show with such amazing practical effects, this tiger stands out like a Walker in a library— Rick tells the story about a “Rock in the Road”. It’s a long one that seems to have had its desired impact on Ezekiel, however the King invites them to “Sup” with him and stay the night as he will make his official decree in the “morn.”
The rest of the scenes in the Kingdom lean heavily on making you believe that Ezekiel will inevitably say yes, so when he ultimately says no to helping it does come as a surprise. Despite members of the community urging him to fight the King is not swayed. Ezekiel does offer asylum to Daryl (who’s had very little to do the entire episode) claiming that the “Saviors do not set foot inside our walls”. After some urging from Rick, Daryl agrees to stay if, only to try and persuade Ezekiel to fight.
Back to Alexandria
Walkers make their debut nearly at the end of the episode, but not before the gang stumbles upon a blessing of sorts. Stretched across the road is a steel cable rigged with explosives. This trap was set to stop an ensuing hoard of Walkers, but Rosita and Rick come to the conclusion that they need those explosives. Rosita goes to work and discovers the set-up is amateur and instructs the rest how to disarm the bombs.
Meanwhile, Rick and Michonne are trying to deal with the hoard which is growing ever closer as the slow work of bomb disarming goes on. The way they handle the Walkers is kind of awesome. They tie a portion of the steel cable between two cars on either side of the road and both of them gun it. The cable slices through the bulk of the hoard as limbs and body parts fly into the air. This was a definite highlight of the episode.
On the way home, the radio Jesus stole becomes useful and they learn the “Saviors” are on their way to Alexandria to find Daryl. The crew hightails it home in order beat the “Saviors” there.
They arrive literal seconds before Negan’s gang. So far this season it’s been an “oh shit!” moment every time any of the “Saviors” show up. This time, especially with no Negan, it was little more than a nuisance. They knocked over some shelving, broke some glass, made a vague threat, then left. Obviously, they didn’t find Daryl.
Finally, at the tail end of the episode, Father Gabriel is mentioned. Noticing that the pantry is now barren and Gabriel is MIA, the people of Alexandria put two and two together. They comb the priest local haunts and find a solitary clue. In Father Gabriel’s notebook is a hastily scrawled word: “BOAT.” He’s alluding to the place Rick and Aaron visited last year before the break.
Rick, Aaron, Michonne, Rosita, and Tara embark on the journey to find their errant priest. What they find is a group of armed people waiting for them. The sight of these people brings a huge grin to Rick’s face, and the episode ends.
If last night’s episode of The Walking Dead proved anything, it’s that this season needs Negan. Without his special brand of crazy and the “Saviors” stirring thing up, there isn’t much for the gang to do. “Rock in the Road” is the weakest episode of season 7 to date, but it is the lead-up to something that promises to be spectacular – All out war.
What did you geeks think of last nights episode of The Walking Dead? Let us know in the comments below, and while you’re here, check out the preview for next weeks episode, “New Best Friends,” below. I can’t wait to see what that armored zombie is going to do!