UK TV review: The Walking Dead Season 7, Episode 9 (Rock in the Road)
Neil Brazier | On 13, Feb 2017
This is a spoiler-free review. Read on at the bottom for additional spoilery bits. For information on how to watch it, click here.
Returning from its mid-season break, The Walking Dead Season 7 finds a new and reinvigorated Alexandria ready to rise-up against Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his Saviours. They have come a long way, evolving from cowering and shivering, covered in the blood of their lost ones, to having a new-found defiance for this new world order. This new growth has manifested itself far too quickly, but the long mid-season break has helped to enforce the length of Negan’s torment, seemingly endured for too long.
The first half of the season focused on Negan taking his place at the top of the food chain, as he tortured Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and the other survivors with his violent oppression. Along with Lucille, his barbed-wire-wrapped baseball bat, we learned how Negan ruled through fear, taking supplies and survivors from different communities and giving them nothing in return but a half-empty promise of protection. Although we knew Rick would eventually snap out of it, seeing him broken and beaten by a better enemy was compelling and something different; for once, it felt there was a real threat that could potentially do major damage to one of the show’s biggest stars. But instead of evolving this new side of Rick Grimes, watching him fester and fall apart, he’s back to his vengeful self.
Reunited with Daryl (Norman Reedus), Rick and the remaining survivors are out recruiting, trying to make good on their original promise to the Hilltop to take out the Saviours but to do that, they’ll need numbers. This episode is a much calmer return than the season’s opener, perhaps due, in part, by the absence of Negan. Although his threat always looms heavy over the survivors, his evil charisma and smirk is missed in an hour that is all about revolting against him. Even the Saviours send the B-Team search party when they go looking for their missing captive – Negan must be up to something vile not to have gone looking himself.
One tense scene quickly explodes into a genuine season highlight, but the remainder of this second half premiere grows the world outside the walls, as Rick is introduced to King Ezekiel (Khary Payton). Other than some chuckles from Jerry (Cooper Andrews) of the Kings Court and more awe when meeting Shiva, there is unfortunately nothing much of interest. The potential recruitment of new communities just paints the bigger picture for the remainder of the seasonl, leaving us feeling that this is merely an opportunity to remind us about all the main characters left alive and what they’ve done to get there: Daryl is an escaped prisoner, Morgan (Lennie James) killed a man and Carol (Melissa McBride) just wants to be left the hell alone.
By the time the episode ends, when The Walking is just starting to pull you back into this world, it’s suddenly over and the waiting game begins again, giving us nothing to chew on. Rock in the Road is all set-up, focusing more on the survivors walking in groups towards the camera, as if they’re models on some apocalyptic catwalk, rather than allowing us to re-connect fully with these characters.
The Walking Dead airs on FOX UK on Mondays at 9pm. Don’t have pay-TV? You can also stream it live and on-demand on NOW TV, as part of a £6.99 monthly subscription. The contract-free service includes access to other Sky channels, including Sky 1 (Arrow, Supergirl, The Flash) and Sky Atlantic (Billions, The Young Pope). A 14-day free trial is available for new subscribers.
Entrails and innards (spoilers)
– Does Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) have a plan? He’s always acted with some curiosity throughout the series, but recently had been showing himself to be a useful survivor. Was that an intentional message left in the ledger for Rick to meet him at the boat? How did he know about the boat? Then, are these new people that cause Rick to smile at the end of the episode disciples of Gabriel, or was Rick just smiling because that’s all that’s left to do? Was it a trick of the light in the pre-credits scene as Gabriel drove off, or did someone else appear the car with him? Was it someone he’s in cahoots with and were the supplies part of his bargain with them?
– The Hilltop uprising has begun. Gregory (Xander Berkeley) has shown what an utter failure he is as a leader – although probably one that will still outlive most of the survivors – leaving the residents keen to show their gratitude to put their faith in Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and, surprisingly, Enid (Katelyn Nacon). Although they’ll need to keep one eye on Gregory, who’ll no doubt sell them out as soon as he gets the chance.
– The herd is back! Where have they been since they escaped the quarry? Just circling, taking in the sights? Once again, the show tops itself on zombie slaughter, tearing the group apart – literally – with a steel cable and a lovely point-of-view shot as entrails splatter the screen. Although Rick was so concerned about putting the car blockade back in place, he doesn’t seem so worried that he’s moved and taken apart another Saviour trap. We look forward to seeing more of what’s left of this herd and just what Rick has in store for it.
– The Kingdom holds scars of its former wars, such as residents with missing limbs thanks to Ezekiel putting them in danger, which is why he is hesitant to ask his congregation to fight again. But with Daryl now taking asylum there, along with Morgan – and don’t forget how nearby Carol is now – they may be able to change Ezekiel’s mind on the matter. Consider, also, those who did fight before and lost a part of themselves are seen training with bow and arrow, learning to fight in their new bodies.