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The Walking Dead recap: Rick recruiting trip goes awry on Rock in the Road

Michonne and Rick Grimes in Season 7, Episode 9 of The Walking Dead
Michonne and Rick set up their walker-maiming cable in Season 7, Episode 9 of The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead Season 7 mid-season premiere, Rock in the Road, aired last night picking from where the first half left off as it was clear that Rick Grimes’ (Andrew Lincoln) group would be trying to bond the Hilltop and Kingdom communities with Alexandria in a unified effort to topple Negan and get out from under the Saviors’ grip on their collective throats.

If viewers thought the premiere would be a rallying point and all of the different groups of survivors would band together, they would be mistaken.

Both the Hilltop and Kingdom communities turned down Rick’s request to take on the Saviors as both King Ezekiel and Gregory were satisfied with their standings with Negan, not wanting to risk their own lives or others they are responsible for.

Obviously, the leaders don’t accurately represent all their people very well as Gregory’s people have started to have hope when Maggie is speaking, after being saved by her and Sasha, which leads us to believe we’ll see her assert her power more and more. Though she can’t take up complete control because she’s still a refugee unbeknownst to Negan and that’s an advantage they’ll continue to use.

Jesus continues to be the conduit that Rick needs to reach out to these communities but is unable to influence the leaders in any meaningful way. So far he’s just another pretty bearded face.

Ezekiel was a disappointing refusal as we see Morgan not throw his complete support in taking out the Saviors, proposing that they isolate Negan away instead of taking on all of them. Oh, Morgan, why are you so slow to acclimate to this world?

Rather appropriately, Rick tells Ezekiel a fable about a rock in an oft-travelled road repeatedly ruining people’s lives but no one taking the initiative to improve the situation until one girl finally does, and she is rewarded for her efforts.

You feel like this could be a tipping point but Ezekiel witnessed too many casualties the last time he fought back and that’s made him gun-shy.

Negan is aware of Daryl’s escape of the Sanctuary, and sent out a goon squad to Alexandria, but since the Saviors are not allowed inside the walls of the Kingdom, it seems like the next stop on the manhunt would be the Hilltop.

Given Gregory’s hubris, it does seem like he’s going to be a goner and it’s just a matter of time before he’s wiped out to send a message.

If that were to happen, maybe that’s enough to push Ezekiel into action and join Rick’s rebellion and push Maggie or Jesus to rally the Hilltop.

How Rick gets out of his latest predicament, (as he’s ambushed by a new group of survivors — all women) could be the tipping point.

They were hoping to rendezvous with Father Gabriel but instead must talk their way out of another hard place. They look as lean and mean as any of the camps that we’ve seen so far.

Perhaps that’s what leaves Rick smiling despite being surrounded at gunpoint. More on that below.

After having Season 7 begin by being split up into several point of views after the massacre of Glenn and Abraham, the writers finally got into a good place by juggling multiple parts of the story but maintaining the focus on one through-line goal.

The focus meandered aimlessly about and there was more telling how bad a guy Negan was instead of showing.

So the mid-season premiere places viewers in a much stronger place than most of what the first half gave us. In any basic rebellion storyline, the assembly and preparation for a big confrontation can be as entertaining as the conflict itself, so the recipe is there for a bounce back as long as they don’t draw out the Hilltop and Kingdom’s decision to join.

Walker shocker

The episode really took an upswing once the group found the Savior highway roadblock and raced to disarm the herd trap and get all of those explosives safely loaded into a car, before a giant swarm of walkers headed right for them.

For the first time in the episode there was a race against the clock and zombies. Rick overheard on the walkie talkie Daryl took from Fat Joey that a manhunt has been ordered by Negan for Daryl and Rick and the group needed to get back to Alexandria before Negan’s crew does.

Then Michonne and Rick proceeded to drive the cars connected by a steel wire to literally mow down half of the herd.

It’s a little unclear as to how Rick and Michonne fought off the swarm and suddenly came up on the SUV with the rest of the group, but that shouldn’t take away from one of the more creative way to slaughter a bunch of walkers quickly.

Chomping at the bit for answers

  1. Who was that group who ambushed Rick’s group and left him smiling? — An all-woman group who looked armed and tough enough to take on the Saviors. I think Rick’s smiling because either a) he knows he can convince them to join their fight and/or b) he sees a familiar face amongst the crowd, maybe Father Gabriel.
  2. Where’s Father Gabriel and has he really betrayed the group? — I doubt he’s betrayed them but he has taken upon himself to do something on his own, which is the biggest move we’ve seen out of him in a long time. As mentioned above, maybe he’s with the new group of survivors because he did give them the clue about the boat. Or maybe he brought the supplies to help buy their help.
  3. What was Carol doing all by herself in the woods? — Doing what Carol does, I’m sure. Probably hunting. Ready to kill something for sure, but it’s likely for her own sustenance. Now, there’s a chance that she could be scoping out her surroundings for her immediate needs of survival or is doing some of her own assessment of the Saviors on whether or not to get involved.

Dead noteworthy

  • The amount of f***s Rosita has left to give is at an all-time low. She’s snapping at Sasha (“Just because we had sex with the same dead guy doesn’t make us friends” — Wow!), jumps the gun with Father Gabriel and is giving nearly every other character the stink eye.She has had a bad streak after being cheated on, dumped, witnessing her last two lovers killed by Negan. After being a background character for so long, Christian Serratos is finally finding a voice; we just hope it isn’t too one-note, since those characters don’t have longevity in this show.
  • Rick and Michonne’s relationship shows that when the writers of the show want to show good partners, like Maggie and Glenn’s or Aaron and Eric’s, they really do them well.When relationships are bad, they walk in all too familiar paths. Rick and Jessie felt forced and led to some stupidity, but what he has with Michonne has been some of the show’s better work regarding lovers.
  • With the efforts being bigger, supporting characters are required to do more legwork than before, like Daryl being left in the Kingdom to convince Ezekiel (and Morgan) to get into the fight.Enid did her part to round up Hilltoppers to join the fight. They may not be getting the screentime that some would like, but they are still being active in the story.The aforementioned Rosita and Gabriel have taken the initiative to act on their own instead of waiting for Rick to decide what’s best. Prior to Carol and at times Daryl and Glenn, that hasn’t been the case but it’s good to see that starting to change.

We’ll see what Rick and company have up their sleeve to get out of their current jam and find a tribute to give to Negan while they continually try to build bridges with other communities.

Next week’s episode of The Walking Dead, New Best Friends airs Sunday at 9pm on AMC.

Ernie Estrella is a TV and film critic. He is also a contributing editor at SyfyWire (formerly Blastr) and has also written for USA Today.
Ernie Estrella


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