Spoiler Alert: The following discusses plot points from Sunday night's The Walking Dead Season 7 winter break return, "Rock in the Road."
Contributing Editor Tara Bennett breaks down the Season 7 winter hiatus return, directed by Executive Producer Greg Nicotero and written by Angela Kang.
Overview: Rick and his core family are in recruiting mode as they try to get the Hilltop, the Kingdom and those left in Alexandria, on board with teaming up to go against Negan and the Saviors. Plus, Father Gabriel seems to have gone rogue when he disappears with Alexandria's last provisions.
The series returns after its normal two-month winter break and quickly reminds us just how expansive the cast and world have gotten. With Rick, Maggie, Michonne, Carl, Sasha, Rosita, Tara and Daryl all on the same page about stopping Negan and the Saviors in order to wrestle back some semblance of a peaceful life, it's now a numbers game. Rick and the Alexandrites are just not enough bodies (not to mention firepower) to stop the Saviors menacing the civilized survivors in the world. They have to travel far and wide to make a case for war.
So, they start with boorish Gregory at the Hilltop in an attempt to persuade him not to be the opportunistic snake he is and man up against the threat. He slithers out of committing to Rick and company, and just insults them more by nicknaming the actual leaders in the room, Ricky and Margaret. No one, including the audience, is surprised by this turn, but there's an eyebrow lift when Enid's underground recruiting amasses a sizeable group of brave Hilltoppers that are all-in to fight if trained. It's not a lot, but even a baker's dozen helps.
Jesus decides to go big and leads Rick and the gang to the Kingdom to meet Ezekiel so they can appeal to him to join their cause, too. As always with a return to this enclave, we get to spend more time with Khary Payton's warm and interesting King, Lennie James' evolving Morgan, and the queen of my character heart, Carol (Melissa McBride). With half of the seventh season unfurled, this storyline and these people are the ones who bring me right back into the story.
And no, I don't want to see episodes with Kingdomers farming, but I genuinely like spending time with these grownups who make measured, mature decisions. Even the dissenting opinion of Richard is being handled well. And seeing Morgan's mentee, Ben, evolve from a sweet kid to a sweet man growing under the tutelage of the sage men of the community has been worth my time. Of course, I'm sure he's gonna get killed and be the impetus for Ezekiel to join the Negan fight, but that doesn't take away the fact that I wish more time in general was spent here this season. Maybe we'll get that, because Rick and his family's impassioned plea didn't move the King to throw more of his people into a doomed fight. However, he did welcome Daryl into the Kingdom for asylum, which Rick insists Daryl accept, and that certainly opens the door for a Carol and Daryl reunion (YAY!). And it's also surely going to doom the peaceful haven into a cesspool of murder when Negan finds out they are harboring his fugitive.
The recruiting aspect to the episode makes for a very talky installment, and the episode feels mighty poky until Nicotero and company set up a roadside gag where Rick and his crew find a Saviors explosive trap for walker herds. With almost no weapons to fight a war, they smartly decide to disarm the setup to strip it of the C4 and dynamite. It's not exactly a knuckle-biter until the stakes are amped when a walker herd comes around the bend, and they also hear on the long-wave radio that Negan has discovered Daryl's escape and a search party is on the way. Bear McCreary's score creates some real tension as the team has to slowly undo the boom sticks. And then Rick and Michonne add to the moment by driving at the herd with an attached metal wire that slashes the undead in half to buy some time for their team. They miraculously make it work, which reminds them all that, when the chips are down and they push it, they can make it out alive when working together. It's a little heavy-handed as a lesson, but it serves the show's blood quota and the ratchet up the character's newfound hope.
Rosita was pretty sour this episode, which came off a little odd. Yes, she's been bristling for a fight, and there's plenty of missing Eugene to point at her simmering anger. But throwing catty shade at Sasha, who just approached her to innocently commiserate, seemed juvenile and out of character.
The episode could have used a more sustained level of energy all-around after the long hiatus away. Plus, not enough Carol.
"Oh S--t!" Moment
The wide shot of Michonne and Rick hacking through a herd of walkers at the waist was an inspired gag for the show. I don't know if that gauge of metal wire would have cut them in half like soft butter, as portrayed, but it still looked pretty cool.
I guess I would also have to say Rick's huge smile at the very end of the episode. Being ominously surrounded by a new community of human survivors (with a penchant for monochromatic hoodies) doesn't seem like a mirthful moment, but it's obvious that Rick sees them as the sorely needed numbers they have been looking for. Not being murdered on the spot by them means there is at least an opportunity to try.
What's Father Gabriel up to? Rosita wants to call him a turncoat instantly, but there's certainly more method to his madness. It will be interesting to see if he's been working on the bridge-building down low with the hoodies, and that's why Rick isn't dead.
With the show going dark for two months, I was hoping "Rock in the Road" would be a returning episode with a lot more oomph. It was very journey-oriented with talky persuasion at its core (as the title parable proves) and that isn't exactly exciting to watch. I did appreciate Rick meeting, and processing, Ezekiel's weird world. And, overall, I know the talk is necessary setup for what's to come, and that's fine. I appreciate the return of Ezekiel, Morgan and Carol to the storyline and look forward to how they contribute to the impending war on the horizon.
What did you think of “Rock in the Road"? Was it what you wanted for the series after the long break?