“Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last!”
The Walking Dead is back! After a pretty grim first half (albeit with an ending that suggested positive things to come) the second half has a lot of potential to live up to. Picking up right where the last episode ended, we catch up with Rick and the gang on the campaign trail trying to convince the other settlements to take up arms against Negan and The Saviors.
The episode begins with Gabriel, guarding the gates where we last saw him. After staring out into the darkness he leaves his post, grabs all the food from the pantry and high tails it out of Alexandria. But wait! There is a shadowy figure in the car with him. After Gabriel’s increased agency during the first half of season, I’m sure this plan will add up to something worthwhile. They put too much effort into establishing his character from the weak-willed preacher to someone genuinely likeable. It’s certainly not a betrayal, he left his trusty bible behind with a clue for Rick and and guys. One word – “BOAT”. Will this connect to the mysterious person we saw in boots in the last half of the season? Or will it be the trash people from the end of this episode? Or perhaps those two things are one in the same. We’ll have to wait to find out.
In ‘Rock in the Road’ the action follows the entire group for the duration of the episode (not counting the Gabriel cold open). Whereas in the past there has been anger from fans when the show follows just one character for a whole episode, this episode is stuffed full of characters. The first stop is convincing Gregory. In the comics Gregory is an awful human being, and to his credit Xander Berkley plays this type of character very well. From the constant cowardice to the forgetting of people’s names, he is weak. But the people of the Hilltop know this, the worthwhile ones anyway. It’s Maggie and Jesus that have the faith of the people, and can you blame them? We’ve all seen Jesus’ Kung-fu.
The next stop is The Kingdom. With Jesus being friendly with Ezekiel, he gets Rick an audience with the king. It’s always fun seeing these guys. When they first see the group they shout to them in their fancy speech, like a couple of enthusiastic LARPers. The groups reaction to King Ezekiel is great stuff too, with Rick’s nervous mention of a tiger being very funny. It’s a shame then that Ezekiel ultimately declined to join the Alexandrians. I know he’ll eventually change his mind, by either something bad happening at the next Savior pickup, or by Carol convincing him to help, but it’s still sad. Speaking of Carol…
What is Morgan doing?! I know Carol wanted to be left alone and he didn’t technically lie by saying she left The Kingdom, it still feels like a dick move on Morgan’s behalf. Morgan is by far one of the most interesting characters on the show, with his conflicting morality and his badass staff skills. I hope they don’t drag this out too long, Carol has been out of the action for too long. Perhaps after finding out about Glenn and Abe she’ll have a change of heart, or rethink her decision to leave. At the very least she needs to hook up with Daryl again. And with him staying at the nearby Kingdom it should be easy. Make it happen writers! These two need each other.
Now lets get to the coolest part of the episode. And perhaps one of the coolest zombie kills of all time. Say what you want about The Walking Dead but every season, without fail, they outdo themselves with the zombie kills. They engineer the coolest, and most original methods of taking down walkers, in ways I’ve never even thought of before. In ‘Rock in the Road’, the gang come across some steel cable that has been suspended over a freeway between two cars. On it are sticks of dynamite and RPG ammunition. Set there by The Saviors to stop an oncoming herd, Rick knows they desperately need the munitions and sets about untying them all. It all feels very comicbook-y, in the best way.
The tension is cranked to the absolute maximum in this scene, as the gang tentatively handle extremely explosive materials. I was reminded of the bit in Lost where they find the old dynamite in the ship, but this time with less Arzt. Soon the horde shows up and the tension goes through the roof, as the walkers shamble up the freeway towards them. Now this is where it gets awesome. Rick and Michonne jump in two cars with steel cable between them, hotwire them and then drive through the horde, taking down hundreds of walkers with the cheesewire-like contraption. The scale of the scene is really something and it will go down in zombie killing history as one of the most efficient way of taking out the undead.
If that epic scene isn’t proof that Officer Friendly has his mojo back then I don’t know what is. After a wussy and subservient Sheriff Rick Grimes in the first half, we finally have the python-toting psychotic hero back. Though change may be on the horizon for him as, after the close-call with the cheesewire and the huge herd, he seems to be realizing that he is very lucky and taking risks like that won’t work forever. This suggests that he’ll have to play it smart with Negan and maybe going in guns-blazing isn’t the best idea. Maybe Morgan had a good point with the “capture Negan” idea, it would certainly tie in with what happens in the comics.
It’s back! And as brilliant as ever. I loved the first half of the season, even if it was difficult to watch our beloved characters in such horrible situations. Rick is building his army, and if that smile is anything to go by, he just found one.
Reviewed by Jack