This Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead Season 7 Episode 9
Every eight episodes The Walking Dead reinvents itself, whether it be through a new setting, an unforeseen enemy, or some other new development. The Rick Grimes we meet in the midseason premiere is always a different Rick Grimes. This has been a rule for pretty much the entire run of the show. “Rock in the Road” follows through on this rule, giving us a renewed Rick, who has finally snapped out of whatever spell he was under during the dreary first eight episodes of the season. The result is a Rick ready for war (the best kind of Rick), and he needs all the help he can get.
While the episode is a bit heavy-handed at times, credit must be given to the writers for at least trying to liven things up a little and going for a bit of a tone change. But even as early as the second scene of the episode, the show begins to hit us over the head with a superficial hope – as if to counteract the overwhelming hopelessness of 7A.
“I’m going to stop you right there before you break into song and dance,” Gregory tells Tara, interrupting what’s undoubtedly a very inspiring speech – and it’s a line that summarizes my feelings toward the overt way the writers want you to know that things have CHANGED. Now we have HOPE.
Throughout the episode, different characters break into mini-speeches about being strong, staying alive, keeping hope alive, and helping others. It’s a can-do attitude that gets kind of annoying by the time Michonne repeats her speech to Rick from a few episodes ago. And as if that weren’t enough to remind you that now there’s HOPE, there are at least five or six shots in the episode devoted to showcasing how cool these reenergized characters look marching together with a sense of purpose from one town hall meeting to the next. There were those of us who complained that the Walking Dead writers didn’t know how to tell a story about hope anymore – or one that featured more than one character, for that matter. Well, “Rock in the Road” gives us all of that in droves, and it’s just so painfully on the nose.
I’m actually surprised at myself for complaining so much about this specific episode, which on the surface is a welcome relief from the dark, gritty, boring nothingness of the first half. It just also falls into the same traps in terms of the heavy, slow writing that doesn’t allow anything to ever be fun.
And this episode is totally slow, especially in the first 30 minutes of the extended 61-minute runtime. (Again, and until the end of my days, I will always argue against an extended episode of The Walking Dead – the show that doesn’t like to edit itself.) There’s a bunch of annoying exposition sprinkled into the mostly boring meetings between Alexandria, the Hilltop, and the Kingdom that don’t need to be there. The fact that we have to spend minutes at a time recapping the season 7 premiere – THE BIGGEST THING that’s happened on TV since the Red Wedding – as well as how Morgan saved Carol when those things happened less than 10 episodes ago is ridiculous.
Sure, you could argue that it’s the first time Rick and the group have seen Morgan in a while so they need to catch him up on some importants details (e.g. Glenn and Abraham getting bludgeoned by a bat that happens to be female), but couldn’t that happen off-screen? Like right before Rick et al walked into King Ezekiel’s court, couldn’t they have cut right after Rick asked Morgan about Carol? We know what happened so it doesn’t have to be recounted on screen. It’s little time wasters like these that make the extended runtimes so unnecessary.
To speak quickly of baggage – this show can’t seem to escape it. If the writers are trying to reboot the show tonally, they probably shouldn’t touch the season 7 premiere with a 10-foot poll. It’s happened, we’ve seen the awful aftermath, move past it and on to the next thing. I know Glenn and Abraham’s deaths are what kickstarted this season’s story, but the midseason break is so often a wonderful thing for this show. It’s a time for the show to heal itself – or the quiet before the storm like with the equally boring season 2. I hope that “Rock in the Road” is the last stop on the Glenn and Abraham mourning tour. It’s time to kick some Savior ass.
Moving on to things that did kick ass in the midseason premiere: another awesome action setpiece from Greg Nicotero. Seriously, thank the heavens for a goddamn walker scene. It seemed for a minute there that the show had almost completely forgotten that it contained zombies. Too much time was given to the leather jacket-clad meme machine and not enough to the walkers. While I’ll always agree that this show should always center on the human threats, it shouldn’t completely remove the walkers as a source of danger. Especially when a talented make-up effects artist like Nicotero is directing.
The action sequence with the two cars and the wire rope is wonderful campy goodness, something that could be straight out of a George A. Romero Dead flick if it ever had the budget. This was The Walking Dead having fun again, and it was absolutely lovely. It’s the single most important spark of hope in the entire episode. While the show is ultimately about hope at its very core – something the writers will need to remember and reintroduce in the second half of the season (although perhaps not by shoving it in our faces) – it should also be fun to watch. No more moping.
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