What's Up With The Walking Dead: "Rock in the Road"

After that LONG mid-season break we are back off and running…well at least Father Gabriel is running. We open to the aforementioned holy man leaving his watch on the wall, loading up some crates with food and bladed weapons, gazing up a car and rolling out. He was just coming around to being respectable. Now I write while I watch so I’m sure later on I’ll recount that statement as this opening scene will end up being misdirection, but we’ll see.

Did you have any questions about the true nature of Gregory, the leader at the hilltop? If so, consider them answered. We join back up with the main crew at hilltop pleading their case for war to that anthropomorphic vial of summer’s eve, Gregory, who is more then happy to bend over and take it from Negan. Thankfully it begins to look up almost immediately when they exit the building as the rest of Hilltop doesn’t see it the same way as their tan suited fearful leader. Then Jesus, possibly the most awesome addition in the last two years, drops the name that we’ve all been waiting for since the second episode when he says to Rick “I think it’s time you met King Ezekiel”. This is a perfect place for me to post a quick aside about the FX folks at TWD, their skill has always been lauded but I think they need some special recognition for always staying at the top of their game. It’s easy to forget with the walled communities and human drama that this is a zombie show, then on the side of a scene you’ll see a particularly decrepit zombie. As the crew pulls up to the Kingdom the shot lingers on a walker missing his entire lower jaw, tounge just hanging down among the gore, damn these guys are good.

I’ll tell you, the Kingdom scenes are batting 1000. Not only are they impressive in size but they bring some of the most truly funny moments in the series. If it was only seeing the groups reaction to Shiva when entering King Ezekiel’s “chambers” then it would still maintain the funniest of all TWD sets but that doesn’t even factor in everyone’s favorite court jester, Jerry. I’d be lying to you if I didn’t tell you that I got goosebumps listening to Rick’s sales pitch to Ezekiel, he is unsurprisingly resistant to war. Rick proceeds recount a story his mother used to tell him about a rock in the road that everyone just ignored no matter how much trouble it caused. Moments like this are always the most important character progression scenes in Rick’s arc, we mostly just see him brooding and occasionally being bad ass…but moments like this, these moments are the ones that make you realize just why Rick Grimes is the leader everyone looks to. Next up we run into Benjamin, Morgan’s new protégé and young Ryan Gosling look-a-like, as he meets up with Carol in the woods who is being just as moody as ever. His optimism is so endearing that it pretty much seals his fate…no way he’s making it until next season. He makes a plea to King Ezekiel to join with Rick, a moving plea that would be a top moment of the night had it not been for Rick’s previous speech. Sadly, the plea falls on deaf ears as King Ezekiel offers to house Daryl where the Saviors won’t find him but will not join the fight. Rick and co leave Daryl and the Kingdom behind, but it’s pretty obvious that their stance of neutrality won’t last long. Either the Saviors are going to push them too far, maybe by killing Benjamin, and they’ll realize there is no option, it’s fight or die.

We get our first look at the Saviors base from afar as the group comes upon the traps Negan has had setup along the four lane highway leading to them. Turns out they aren’t security for human intruders but rather protection specifically designed for herds of walkers. Not willing to give up an opportunity to stockpile the explosives they set to disarming them and stealing them. Holy shit! This lead to one of the most tense scenes that I can remember and hands down one of the coolest zombie fights yet. Close to finishing with the explosives, that are attached to a steel cable that’s wrapped between two cars setting up basically a tight rope lined with TNT, they find out just why this protection was necessary when a gigantic herd of walkers begins to round a corner toward them, I’m talking like 10,000 of the decayed smelly bastards. Remember how I said earlier in this recap that it can be easy to sometimes forget that this is a zombie show? Yeah, scenes like this bring your RIGHT back to the horror roots of the show. I mean, we know Rick and Michonne aren’t going to die but still, seeing them surrounded by literally thousands of the dead it’s hard not to go white knuckled. In one of the most fist pumping moments Rick and Michonne hot wire the cars holding the steel cable and proceed to drive down the road chopping down the walkers by the dozen. I mean really, watch that shit without getting the steamies.

Our episode ends with the Saviors showing up at Alexandria lead by Simon, who I couldn’t place but knew I knew him from somewhere. Thank god for IMDB, Simon or Steven Ogg more rather is none other then Grand Theft Auto V’s favorite deviant Trevor. It’s unsettling how much he resembles his digital counterpart. They tear up the place looking for Daryl, make some threats, and hit the road. The real impact of their visit was the revelation from the open of the show that Father Gabriel had absconded with all of their food and weapon stocks. To make things all the more strange Rick finds that Gabriel had left his notebook behind with a note just saying “BOAT”. Thinking that he means to head to the house boat that we saw earlier on in the season the group heads that way. In a twist I hadn’t seen coming the group is surrounded by an unknown new band of survivors, and this new band rolls deep! While it doesn’t look good for our survivors, seeing as how they have all manner of firearm and blade stuck in their face from this new group, we end up with the best shot of the episode…Rick slowly showing a gigantic grin. Obviously he sees these new folks as new soldiers for his Negan army, but I think he’s the only one thinking it at this point.

A very solid mid-season premier with more questions than answers, like who the hell is the guy that was watching Gabriel from the bushes during the end of the mid-season finale? The rest of the season is looking solid, especially during the preview of next week where we finally see that Mad Max style walker that everyone has been talking about since the beginning of the season, no doubt a tool of this new group.