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Review: The Walking Dead 7×09 “Rock in the Road”

It’s been a while since we’ve kicked undead ass with Rick and the gang, but the seventh mid-season premiere of The Walking Dead saw them return with a renewed vigour after a rather slow-burning and fragmented first half.

With Rick on a mission to form an alliance of communities prepared to help the people of Alexandria take down the tyrannical Negan and his band of Saviors, several groups were brought together and new relationships formed. There were also new mysteries as the opening scenes saw an anguished looking Father Gabriel raiding the food store and armory before taking a car and fleeing the compound, but not before dropping a clue – the word BOAT written in a Bible. And was that a shadowy figure in the passenger seat next to him as he drove away?

With sniveling Gregory (Xander Berkeley) unwilling to take a stand, it was up to Jesus to guide Rick, Michonne, and co. to The Kingdom to meet with King Ezekiel. This meant a reunion with Morgan, him learning of Negan’s murderous escapades, and Rick’s troupe receiving news of Carol. I’ve never been a fan of Rosita, but she forfeited her last brownie points bitching out Morgan for no good reason, other than he looked quite upset to hear lots of their friends had died. Morgan is one of the most decent and right-thinking characters in The Walking Dead, and frankly they could all do with taking a leaf out of his book. This interaction also offered an opportunity for more awesome tiger reaction faces as Rick’s group stayed the hell away from Shiva, and I laughed out loud when Jerry got slapped down for enthusiastically parroting his leader. Jerry might be my new favourite character from the entire show.

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Understandably, Ezekiel was a little reluctant to ride his big cat into battle against the Saviors, He-Man style, at Rick’s mere request, having lost people to fighting before. He did, however, offer Daryl sanctuary, understanding that Negan and his men would come searching for their escaped prisoner. There’s something inherently likable about Ezekiel, despite all of his ridiculous pomp and ceremony, and his care for Benjamin (the world’s most adorable zombie apocalypse survivor) makes me worry that the boy’s death is going to be the incentive needed for Ezekiel to join Rick’s cause. Benjamin is too pure for this world. And that’s making me pre-emptively angry at Team Rick for bringing the fight to The Kingdom. I’m mad about Benjamin being fridged before it’s even happened. What is my life?

Leaving Daryl under the protection of Ezekiel, the others left The Kingdom and discovered a zombie booby trap consisting of a trip wire and some explosives near one of the Savior’s outposts. These scenes were pretty tense as Rosita (who’s now a bomb disposal expert apparently) guided the others through loading the dynamite into their car before an advancing zombie hoard or Negan’s men caught up to them. This culminated in an epic set piece in which Rick and Michonne decapitated hundreds of walkers by driving two cars in parallel with a wire strung between them. I’ve said it before, but whatever flaws this show may have, it still manages to be inventive with its ghouls and methods of dispatching them seven years down the track. The sense of threat here came more from the fact the group could be blown to smithereens at any second rather than from the shuffling dead, or the disembodied voice of Negan coming through Jesus’ walkie-talkie, delivering the most sarcastic eulogy of all time:

“Without Fat Joey, Skinny Joey is just Joey.”

But I did like the sense of omnipotence and menace which hearing him brought to the episode.

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Returning to Alexandria, the group found Simon and a band of Saviors waiting. After ransacking the place in search of Daryl, they left empty-handed and Rick discovered Gabriel had absconded but left the book, leading him back out to the boat he and Aaron used while out looking for ‘tributes’. I’m not sure how Gabriel would have known about the boat, but maybe this all has something to do with the shadowy figure that’s been dogging him. Indeed, following the trail led Rick and chums into a throng of similarly dressed people, armed to the teeth, but in the enigmatic closing shot, Rick could be seen grinning which makes me think either he recognised one of the mob, or he’s planning to recruit them as part of his army.

After six and a half seasons, it’s safe to say The Walking Dead has become somewhat formulaic. While Andrew Lincoln is fantastic, there’s only so many ways we can see Rick Grimes get beaten down, pick himself up, and lead a group of survivors to overcome a common threat. The problem with the first half of this season, was after the initial shock horror, it largely consisted of moving chess pieces around which made for a fractured and frustrating narrative. Now the various communities are beginning to unite, the characters have purpose again, but it remains to be seen whether the end game will be something we haven’t seen before.

Final Grade: C+

+ I liked the brief interaction between Carol and Benjamin – Carol’s brand of tough love training for softhearted kids is legendary at this point.

+ It was good to see Aaron and Eric talk about Rick’s crusade, and Eric’s reluctance for Aaron to keep putting himself at risk. It’s worth remembering not everyone sees Rick and his friends as heroes.

+ The SFX and monster visuals were amazing. Cheese-wired zombies FTW!

– The dialogue was pretty patchy this week. “You’re sitting over there talkin’ out both sides of your mouth!” What, Daryl? “We both had sex with the same dead guy.” Come again, Rosita??

– While the segment with the rigged trip wire was fun and added some palpable tension, it was a little too convenient that Rosita suddenly knew everything there is to know about explosives, and that the cable was tied to two cars full of gas, in good working order. It all got a bit MacGyver in places. Where is all this gas coming from these days? Surely they are about to run out of petrol?

– Three words: Not. Enough. Jerry.

Extra Thoughts: Was Gabriel’s message to Rick and the others supposed to lead them to him, or was it an act of treachery, leading them into a trap. Gabriel is one of those characters who could go either way, so it’s a nice bit of intrigue. We also haven’t seen Heath since he and Tara were separated. Could he have something to do with it?

What did you think? Did this episode put a tiger in your tank? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!

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Katie Young

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