There is something to be said for The Walking Dead’s more tempered episodes. What they lack in action and spectacle, they more than make up for in character building and refining its – at times – capricious narrative. That’s how Greg Nicotero and co. elected to open their second half of season seven but perhaps as gesture of good faith or maybe a sign of the big budget set pieces we’re on the verge of seeing, closed the episode with a bang.
Rock in the Road opens with Father Gabrielle gathering up Alexandria’s supplies and driving away, presumably never to be seen again. It’s an odd turn for a character who has been the recipient of a very drastic metamorphosis; accepting the way things are and the things that have to be done to combat them, shedding his former cowardly disposition and gaining Ricks trust. This transition isn’t lost on the group either as they incredulously attempt to decipher why Gabrielle would have left.
It’s a small thing – Father Gabrielle’s exploits are hardly the groups biggest concern at the moment – but for what its worth, having everyone acknowledge a characters transformation and question his motives is rewarding.
The first three quarters of the episode basically act as a recruitment drive, as the group tries to form an offensive alliance between the three communities under Negan and the Saviours rule: Alexandria, The Hilltop and The Kingdom.
The Hilltop goes as expected because Gregory is…Gregory. Showcasing the absolute pinnacle of cowardice and stubbornness, he flat out refuses to help. Upon leaving however, a small band of the Hilltop civilians offer their assistance to repay heir debt to Sasha and Maggie.
This moment offered up something extremely cringe-worthy that unveiled itself ten-fold in last weeks episode. Those shots where the camera cuts to everyone looking at a certain person, slapping on a corny smile and gazing admiringly into their eyes; it isn’t doing it for me. It’s something I’m assuming most people won’t even notice but The Walking Dead suffers when it tries to be cute. These scenes have only popped up in recent seasons but there is an extreme disconnect between the world it’s trying to establish which is grimy, dark and void of happiness and light-hearted moments. Perhaps they just need to be done better, or sparingly but as it stands they just feel jarring.
For some reason the Kingdom works in this aspect. It could be that it’s because King Ezekiel has openly admitted that the royal shtick is merely a facade to inspire and lead. Whatever the case, the show paints the group as utterly cognizant of how ridiculous it all is, jaws dropped at the sight of the tiger, a hesitation before saying ‘King’, still unable to comprehend that this pretense is actually happening.
It’s all moot though because Ezikiel shuts them down, stating that though the “peace is uneasy, it’s still peace”, but offers Darryl asylum so that the Saviours can’t get to him. It’s all quite disheartening. There was a real sense of hope in the mid-season finale, a preview of of a rallying call that would finally see the tide turn in Alexandria’s favour. Presumably they’ll still get that help but dashing expectations and throwing a curve-ball into the mix was just the kind of momentum sapper the show needed to maintain its tension and for the group to still be major underdogs.
Rock in the Road did do a nice job of leaving allegiances and willingness to partake in the fight up in the air. Benjamin (Ezekiel’s padawan) got some shine in this episode imploring his King to help Rick in his fight. He also ran into Carol who is just stumbling around in the woods at this point like drifter. Benjamin’s empathetic words on helping each other due to there not being many people left will ultimately be the spark that galvanises Carol into doing something. Just anything, c’mon Carol.
Morgan, despite his admission of murder, still thinks there is another way (groaaaaan) and doesn’t back the groups plans at all, much to Ricks visible frustration. At this point I think I speak for everyone when I say that Morgan should just stay out of it, lest he do something (or nothing) that has repercussions later on, *cough* Denise.
The latter portion of the episode is a tense affair, with walkers no less. Man, it was so refreshing to see the undead, in a lumbering horde, prove to be the biggest enemy for a change, just like the old days! As the group happen upon an explosive trap fashioned together by a thick steel wire that the saviours have left for a pack of walkers they see it as their chance to bulk up their arsenal. What follows is a masterclass in tension -backed by a fantastic score – as they frantically try to disarm the bombs and gather all the ordinance before they get their flesh ripped off and devoured.
What happens next could arguably be the most grandiose action sequence in the shows history. It’s the type of scene that deserved an audible response from everyone watching it due to its extravagance and cinematic camera work (I was partial to the classic “OH MY GOOOD”).
As Rick and Michone stay behind to finish the job, their situation becomes dire and they resort to hot-wiring the two cars that the steel wire is attached to. You see where I’m going with this? The two accelerate simultaneously and slice the ever loving shit out everything in their path. It is majestic in it’s execution and the best part is how organically it all comes together.
The show of course can’t close without a visit from the Saviours however, sans Negan. Simon is in charge this time as they try to locate the recently escaped Daryl. I just need to shout out Steven Ogg here. He is cut from the same cloth as Negan, charming in his repulsiveness but he’s almost…nice. Rick certainly seems a lot more relaxed around him. I feel that if Jeffrey Dean Morgan never got the part of Negan, that Ogg could have done it with ease. At least when Ogg ham’s it up, it seems a lot more natural.
Rock in the Road road ends with the group stumbling upon a very large, mysterious gang brandishing all types of weapons. And Rick smiles a smile so big, it damn near looked like a blooper. He sees numbers and with that, the dwindling hope that permeated the episode is suddenly restored as the war inches ever closer.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
- Group remains at a disadvantage
- Steven Ogg
- Sticking to coninuity with character development
- One of the best set-pieces yet
- Corny moments
- Morgan just being Morgan
- Carol needs something to do