Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Walking Dead 7x09 Review: "Rock in the Road" (The One Where Negan Doesn’t Have a Monologue) [Guest Poster: Nora Williamson]

"Rock in the Road" 
Original Airdate: February 12, 2017 

The mid-season premiere of The Walking Dead is quite different from the season seven premiere back in October, but that doesn't necessarily means that it was better. "The Day Will Come When You Won't Be" was probably one of the darkest episodes in TV history and definitely the bleakest for The Walking Dead. It was devoid of hope and we were forced to watch beloved characters suffer at the hands of a villain with a penchant for leather jackets, naming inanimate objects, and giving endless monologues.

This week's episode follows our favorite characters as they try to convince the Hilltop and the Kingdom to join forces with them to defeat the Saviors. The episode starts out interestingly enough as we see shady Father Gabriel leave his post in Alexandria to clean out the pantry and all of the weapons left in the community. He gets into a car outside the gate and, as he is about to pull away, a shadowy figure sits up in the passenger's side. It's one of the best images from the episode.

The group — Rick, Michonne, Maggie, Sasha, Rosita, Carl, Tara, Aaron, Jesus, and Daryl — speak to Gregory, trying to convince him to join the resistance against the Saviors. It's a weird scene. What happened to Maggie being semi-in-charge? Gregory is a jerk and is unwilling to help. Daryl lashes out. Gregory certainly isn't much of a leader, so why didn't Rick and co. rally up the Hilltop folk behind Gregory's back like Enid does?

Gregory is useless but apparently Enid is not. When the group leave Gregory's, there are Hilltop people who want the group to teach them how to fight. They're randos, so I don't really care about them. Rick probably feels the same way. They make up numbers, but he has no time to invest in them. It would have been interesting to see what Enid did and said to them to make them want to help out. Supposedly, they think Maggie has done so much for them, but we only know of the one incident a few episodes back where she killed a bunch of walkers with Sasha and Jesus.

The Hilltop folk aren't enough to take on the Saviors alone, so Jesus brings the gang to the outskirts of the Kingdom. They meet with Richard, who knows that the Saviors are a major threat. At this point, I am thinking that this episode is moving very swiftly. The gang will meet King Ezekiel! They'd join forces! Jerry would make a joke! The rest of the season would be all about bonding and rising up, as the promo posters declared!

In reality, this is when the episode starts to drag. Don't get me wrong — I wanted to see more of the Kingdom and for Rick to meet with the king and to also be reunited with Morgan, which happens. I just could have lived without all the cheesy Medieval Times music and the shots of dudes dressed up as knights running around the kingdom's perimeter.

Rick tells King Ezekiel a story his mother used to tell him about a rock in the road put there by a king, which is supposed to get Ezekiel all pumped up to work with the Alexandrians.


I enjoyed seeing Rick's reaction to the tiger, but overall, the Kingdom scenes bored me. Like, we knew that Ezekiel wasn't going to be on board. It would be too easy. Besides, if there are other groups out there talking about the Alexandrians, they would say that they're pretty ruthless, even if they are just trying to protect their own. I get why Ezekiel isn't willing to start messing with something that’s been working.

Daryl seems to be the one most disappointed with Ezekiel's decision and yells at him like a moody teenager. We'll give Daryl a break, though, because he's been through a lot recently. Considering that Daryl is staying at the Kingdom for the time being, I'm sure he will be able to convince Ezekiel to help out the gang somehow. The Saviors have never gone inside the Kingdom's gates, so I wouldn't be surprised if they decide to break protocol and enter the Kingdom's walls. Perhaps Ezekiel will be willing to fight then.

The second half doesn't quite fit with the tone and plot of the episode, but I'm going to let it slide because it is really entertaining. As the gang make their way back from the Kingdom, they run into a barrier of parked cars set up by the Saviors. Rick says they should move the cars, make their way through, and then put the cars back in their original positions so that the Saviors don't know that they passed through. The gang discovers that there are explosives on steel cables between the cars, presumably to stop a herd from reaching the Saviors' Sanctuary.

The next sequence is like something out of an action movie, as the gang attempts to extract the dynamite and safely secure it. The scene should have made me nervous, but I knew that they were going to get the explosives safely. To crank up the tension though, it's heard over the stolen walkie talkie that Saviors are making their way to Alexandria to look for Daryl. To add a little more to the mix, a herd of walkers creep towards them.

What follows is a truly awesome scene in The Walking Dead's history. Michonne and Rick jump into separate cars with a steel cable between them. They race down the highway, through the herd, cutting the herd down to one bloody, awful mess. It's amazing.

Besides that scene, the best part of "Rock in the Road" is that Negan is not in it, except for his voice over the radio. Although Negan is not in the episode, the threat of him is still present. I kept thinking that the Saviors were going to strike while the group cut down the explosives, or as they left the Kingdom. We don't need to see Negan every week to know that he's the Big Bad. I certainly didn't miss the long speeches he likes to give. Negan is a better villain than the Governor, but at least the Governor was multi-dimensional. My biggest problem with Negan is that he has no redeeming qualities and he's overall a bad guy. Everything he does is awful. Perhaps Negan was always morally corrupt, even before the zombie apocalypse — fine, but just give me a little more information about him. Something that will make me think, "Ohhh, so that’s why he named his barbed wire bat Lucille." He shouldn't be so black and white. Where is Negan's gray area? Where do we see a little bit of him that makes him human?

Overall, "Rock in the Road" is a good start to the second half of the season. I'm just so happy that the gang is trying to do something to stop the Saviors. I couldn't handle it when Rick was submissive and tried convincing people, even Michonne, that giving the Saviors what they wanted was acceptable. I'm sure there will be some bad calls in the episodes ahead and that people will die. Nothing ever goes to plan on The Walking Dead. That's fine, as long as the stakes are high and we, as viewers, can feel the tension. There is nothing worse than a boring apocalypse.

Final Thoughts:
  • I totally forgot that Aaron and Eric are together. I really like Aaron, but because we hardly see him and Eric together, my heartstrings definitely weren't pulled on in that scene. 
  • Tara has some of the best expressions on the show. She may not always have much to do (or she'll disappear for half a season) but she makes me laugh. 
  • Rosita needs to stop being such a sourpuss with everyone. 
  • Seriously, how many communities are in the same area? 
  • Benjamin is totally going to die. You can't be that nice in the zombie apocalypse. I give him three more episodes, tops. 


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