The Walking Dead, S07E09

The Walking Dead, S07E09

Mid-Season Premier “Rock in the Road” (alternative title: “Stick in the Mud”) is Very Much What You’d Expect


“Let me stop you before you break into song!”, cuts in Gregory when Tara starts giving a very typical speech for this show, talking about the resilience and strength people can exhibit when their backs are against the wall. Up there with “We have to survive!” and “I’m not the way I once was…”, this frequently employed pep talk is such an overwrought and now totally unnecessary part of The Walking Dead that Gregory’s interruption is something of a miracle; I honestly almost reached through the screen and kissed the dude.

Gregory (Xander Berkeley): hero amongst men. (AMC)

Beyond that tiny bit of meta commentary, this episode is fairly representative of the show’s most glaring problem seven seasons in: we have seen all of this shit so many times before, and it wasn’t all that great the first few times. Yet again, there’s a major threat (outside of the zombies) that Rick and co. have to band together to fight. Yet again, there are internal struggles that will take 90% of the next seven episodes to resolve, before everyone finally and hastily decides what we all know they’re gonna decide. Yet again, discussions of the cost of survival, the need for goodness in the world and an emphasis on forging strong communities will be paired with a counter-intuitive, masturbatory fixation on violence. And, yet again, the stakes exist only in the sense that the TV turns on and things technically happen, and we all slip closer to the inexorable pull of death. God, fuck this show.

An episode largely concerned with table-setting for future installments, “Rock in the Road” moves with an ungainly obviousness towards a far-off climactic battle (isn’t that always the fucking way?), with the Alexandrians attempting to sway the citizens of Hilltop and The Kingdom to fight with them against Negan’s Saviours (it sounds like a shitty Roller Derby competition). In support of this, the title of the episode comes from an almost painfully heavy-handed parable Rick tells about a little girl who digs an obtrusive rock out of a dirt road and finds a bag of gold buried underneath (Jerry, the show’s new comic relief character, responds with a grinning, “Hah, alright!”). It’s legitimately shocking how seriously the show frames this moment, with Rick standing centrestage, joined by a swelling, revelatory score to let you know how much of a big deal this is. Fuck, you guys remember Mad Men? It’s like if every episode had a scene where Don Draper turned to the camera and said, “Maybe… I’m my own greatest ad!”

I’ll concede, however, that during the all-too-brief scenes at The Kingdom, King Ezekiel shows exactly why he’s such a fantastic addition to the show, being a rare example of a unique, charismatic character who is not overused or run into the ground (like, uuuh, fuckin’ Negan!). In fact, knowing Ezekiel’s humble backstory is what lends such a well-balanced dynamic to the dude: a zookeeper trying to live up to the larger-than-life image his pet tiger cultivates, he knows fully how ostentatious and outlandish he seems, but commits for the good of the people in his charge. They need a hero, a mythical figure to lead them who they believe will protect them, even if he is full of shit. Real-world parallels aside, it’s an interesting twist on a character that the show – even after all this time – somehow hasn’t mined before, and Khary Payton’s layered performance is probably the best thing The Walking Dead currently has going for it.

Also, while we’re looking for bright spots, it’s worth saying that the sequence where the group disarm the explosive trap on the highway under Rosita’s instructions (who’s, like, a bomb specialist now, I guess?)* does generate some genuine tension, if only in anticipation of how badly someone’s gonna fuck it up. Then again, it does lead to another of Rick’s bright ideas, this being the second time that he’s elected to try and manage a giant herd of zombies, which didn’t exactly go fucking well last time

Remember? I remember. (AMC)

In the end, everyone lives through the exercise and – as far as piss-funny, ludicrous action sequences go – watching that cable stretched between two cars mow down a fucktonne of zombies was stupidly amazing. By the end of the episode, however, we’re back to an unforgivably miscalculated setpiece, of Negan’s men searching Alexandria and threatening to kill Daryl when they find him… but, of course, we and all the main characters know he’s not there, so what’s the drive to this scene? Even if the point is trying to hide the newly acquired explosives, the show doesn’t push for that to register, and if it’s simply so everyone can realise the pantry’s empty… I mean, really? Was that the only way for that discovery to be made?

In the end, these moments exist simply as a further example of Negan and his cohorts pushing everyone around just so we can be turgidly, clumsily reminded of how much we hate them in time for their inevitable defeat. I, for one, can wait. Like, forever.

And ever and ever and ever and… (AMC)


Quotes & Random Thoughts


  • *After some follow-up research, it turns out that the show has previously alluded to Rosita’s military background. I forgot this because I don’t care.
  • In the cold open, Gabriel absconds with everyone’s food. I’ve always hated Gabriel but, if this leads to Rick and Carl starving to death, he might be my new favourite character.
  • Rhetorical!” Shutting down Tara and Carl. Yeah, Gregory’s my hero now.
  • “We both had sex with the same dead guy; doesn’t make us friends.” Daaaaamn, Rosita, chill!
  • That tracking shot that followed everyone walking out of The Kingdom was kinda cool, I guess.
  • Why the fuck does Daryl always split up with the main group now? What good has ever come of this, Rick, you fucking moron?
  • Loved Carl and Rosita slowly winding up their windows after quickly jumping into the car surrounded by zombies.
  • “You can smile.” Jesus, Michonne, have you met Rick?!
  • Aaron’s boyfriend (Eric, apparently) thinks we should stop doing what Rick says. Aaaaaand cue the death clock.
  • I would pay a handsome sum of money for a GIF of that twirl Rick does at the end of the episode, right before that heavily armed crew gets the drop on them all. Also, who are these people? Also, who the fuck cares?
  • Looking up the character to make sure I got her name right, I discovered that Tara’s surname is “Chambler”… what?
  • Credit where it’s due: holding off on more Negan at this juncture – when he went well past the point of overexposure last year – is a smart move. Also, Steven Ogg as go-between Simon is always a treat.

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