“Rock in the Road”
Maybe it was the show’s mid-December to mid-February break that finally did it in. Granted, it takes that break annually, and has since the show’s second season, but this year, with it managing to be both too grim and too cartoonish, The Walking Dead’s attempt to get back on track seemed to amble on even more incoherently and illogically than before.
Structurally, it’s as paint-by-numbers as ever, with Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) abruptly leaving his post, clearing out the pantry, and sneaking off in a car — one that sure seemed like it had another passenger in it. So, right off the bat we can check off the semi-intriguing cold open that won’t pertain to the rest of the episode.
The rest of the episode is Rick (Andrew Lincoln) trying to rally enough people to join with him to do battle with The Saviors. That’s it. That’s the extent of his plan. It’s obviously a tough sell for Gregory (Xander Berkeley), who is the actual worst, but somehow Enid has rounded up a handful of members for the Hilltop who agree to side-step their leader. Here enters the running theme of the week, which is “it won’t be enough.”
Conveniently, Jesus (Tom Payne) happens to know everyone at The Kingdom, and leads Rick and company to meet Ezekiel, the community theater king who’s out of place enough as it its, but also has a fucking tiger. (Seriously, this fucking tiger).
The only thing more conspicuously awkward during this exchange, aside from the failed attempt at humor when Rick reacts to this fucking tiger, is him launching into some folksy story his mom told him about a rock in the road. It’s clumsy, heavy-handed, and completely unnecessary, not to mention the most detail Rick has about this plan of his, which is more or less ‘get people, fight Negan.’
Ezekiel is hesitant, prompting such stirring dialogue as Daryl (Norman Reedus), who then calls his… kingship into question, but is offered sanctuary nonetheless.
So, with The Kingdom stuck in the “maybe” pile for now, we get the moment of zombie terror right around the 40-minute mark, which involves the group disarming a series of explosives using cooperation, then taking the steel cable and turning it into a large, messy, and wholly unnecessary (outside of the show’s weekly kill quotient) clotheslining of an incoming zombie herd.
After both Rick and Michonne (Danai Gurira) race their respective cars down the freeway, severing several zombies at the mid-section, they find themselves — wait for it — in the middle of a zombie herd. But never fear, no one can push their way out of a zombie herd like Richonne — The Walking Dead’s resident power couple now that both Glenn and Abraham are dead.
Side note: the exchange between Sasha (Sonequa Martin) and Rosita (Christian Serratos), specifically the line “we both had sex with the same dead guy, doesn’t make us friends” is post-apocalyptic pettiness at its goddamn finest.
Anyway, after the group has to return to Alexandria to prove to the Saviors that they’re not hiding Daryl, they go back out on another scavenging mission, only to find themselves surrounded by a massive group of well-armed survivors. Rick smiles because his master plan of ‘Fight Negan’ looks like it might have a real chance, assuming that all these well-armed survivors pointing their weapons at Rick and company agree to A) forming an alliance and B) go to war alongside someone they just formed an alliance with.
Meanwhile, I was smiling, too. Mostly because it meant the show was over, and I got to savor the longest possible stretch of time before the next episode of The Walking Dead.