The Walking Dead: “Rock in the Road” (S7, E9 review)

Weighty decisions are weighty no matter how theatrical your persona (image courtesy AMC / Gene Page)




Ladies and gentlemen step right up, step right up!

It’s time to play everyone’s favourite apocalyptic game “Kill the REALLY Bad Guy!” Yes, yes we’ve played it many times before, to varying degrees of success, but the rules are essentially the same every time.

(1) Declare yourself the paragon of virtue, truth, justice and whatever the hell is left of the American Way.
(2) Assemble an avenging force to right wrongs, seeking justice (screw mercy) and vengeance and a few other fairly instinct blood-soaked motherhood statements.
(3) Venture forth with a sort of plan in mind, kill lots of people and walk confident you have rid the world of yet more Bad People.
(4) Look yourself in the mirror and say “Gosh Rick you are are virtue and truth and justice incarnate.”

Wash, rinse, repeat.

That is essentially the way Rick and the gang have done things over and over and honestly, you begin to hope at some point that they might realise that while they are relatively not as bad as the Governor or the cannibals at Terminus, that they are, in fact, still morally trouble, and ethically stained.

That’s not to say they haven’t mea culpa’s a few times along the way but the basic premise has been “We’re not as bad as you are and you must die.”

It was tempting for a while, especially early on before we met Negan and his psychopathic ways to assume he was yet another cookie cutter baddy, the slightly more evil yin to Rick’s not quite virtuous yang.

But as that torture porn of a season 7 opener demonstrated rather too graphically, this time the person’t they’re facing really is EVIL (capital letters, flashing neon, bold type).

Granted that doesn’t quite absolve The Walking Dead of its great moral conundrums nor of its lack of storytelling nuance and propensity to repeat roughly the same narrative over and over and over again, but at least this time there is somewhat of a stark divide between Us (Alexandria, Hilltop and The Kingdom et al) and Negan’s Saviours.


And even though they were saved too Hilltop ain’t playing the kill Negan game either (image courtesy AMC / Gene Page)


Alas that’s not quite stark enough a demarcation for the leaders of Hilltop and The Kingdom – Gregory (Xander Berkeley) and King Ezekiel (Khary Payne) – both of whom demur to follow Rick (Andrew Lincoln) into ill-planned battle.

To an extent you can’t blame them – all Rick, accompanied by the likes of Darryl (Norman Reedus), who due to his fugitive status has to hide at The Kingdom, Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), Maggie (Lauren Cohen), Tara (Alanna Masterson), Jesus (Tom Payne) and others have to offer up is a rousing cry to take it to the evil Saviours.

Because they’re evil, and they’re enslaving us and … you know, EVIL!

Kinda empowering yes but short on details, and whatever you might think of Ezekiel and Gregory, and the appeasing decisions they make – as Neville Chamberlain demonstrated in 1938, appeasement never really gets you very much; psychotic evil still comes for you anyway – their decisions not to join Rick’s Caravan of Avenging Murderous Joy (he may or may not call it that; OK he doesn’t, but he should) are borne at least of being well acquainted with the devil they know.

Like any endemic bully, Negan’s demands are simply escalating over time and it can’t be too long before he enters The Kingdom (currently a bucolic idyll that makes other bucolic idylls look like war zones), wipes Hilltop completely from the map (he’s tried already; that he didn’t succeeds owes little to Gregory’s dubious leadership and everything to Sasha and Maggie’s bravery) and takes everything but the kitchen sink (OK he’ll probably want that too) from Alexandria.

But right now things are “peaceful”, and while a number of grateful Hilltopians and some sympathetic Kingdomites such as Richard (Karl Makinen) are ready to side with Team Rick, the official word from Gregory and Ezekiel is to stick with the status quo.

It doesn’t go down well with Rick et all but to be fair, and granted Hilltop and The Kingdom don’t know this, but Rick isn’t exactly the king of un-problematic outcomes; in fact his involvement, which never involves anywhere near as much planning as it should, almost always guarantees vanquishing of the enemy but with a shitload of consequential problems in their wake.

Quite whether Hilltop and The Kingdom will step up remains to be seen – that they didn’t at least saved The Walking Dead from being reduced to some happy-clappy everything will turnout roses show which, whatever it may be now, isn’t that – and whether the new group that surrounds Rick, Tara, Aaron (Ross Marquand), Michonne (Dania Gurira) and Rosita (Christian Serratos), who may be The Whisperers and are great in number (that’s why Rick smiles at the end – look at all these people he thinks!) joins the fight remains to be seen.

One thing is for sure though – the times they are a-changing and one way or another, that applecart of security, tenuous thought it is that Ezekiel and Gregory value so much, is about to topple.


Nothing rounds off a hard day of not making alliances like a walk through a zombie herd (image courtesy AMC / Gene Page)


The most spectacular part of the episode though wasn’t all that realpolitik wheeling and dealing and ultimately near-useless finagling.

No, what really set the episode alive, and to a fiery zombie-exploding extent, was the discovery by the Alexandrians of a string of explosives across the road, carefully rigged by the Saviours to stop a herd of walkers in their shambling tracks.

Too good an advantage to pass up, Rick instructs everyone, under Rosita’s oversight, to strip the heavy metal cord string between two cars of its explosive gifts but mindful of not wanting to tip the Saviours off – at least he is thinking ahead of the next pithy invocation to war and valour – he and Michonne engage in what is quite possibly the most fun destruction of hundreds of zombies ever when they gun the cars on either side of the freeway, floor it and use the metal rope to slice and dice the herd who are all helpfully walking on the grassy median strip.

It’s a whole lot of fun, that let’s be fair owes a whole lot to Z Nation‘s comically freewheeling ways, and it signals the fact that maybe the Saviour’s days are numbered (as well as adding some full bore action to a nicely-rounded, well-modulated episode that gave us narrative, character moments and forward momentum; more of that please!).

Admittedly, hilariously over the top spectacular as it is, it doesn’t mean much beyond they now have some explosives – but no food and few weapons thanks to Gabriel, played by Seth Gilliam, absconding with them and a car after the end of his shift for reasons unknown – and are taking it carefully but it’s a nice little “f**k you!” to Negan, disguised as just another day in the apocalypse and it goes down a treat.

Quite where they go from here isn’t certain although, smiles aside, the first thing Rick and his companions have to do is convince the people surrounding them in the junkyard to play nice.

Yeah that’ll be easy …

  • Next up is “New Best Friends” which may signal brighter days are ahead or that Rick got a long of work before he can legitimately say he’s ready to take on and beat Negan … or let’s be fair, BOTH …




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