Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Walking Dead Season 7, Episode 9: Rock In The Road

The Walking Dead's back, after its "brief" two month vacation.

This week we get yet another supersized episode, which is fast becoming the norm in Season 7. Unlike the previous extra-long episodes though, this one isn't padded, slow-moving and dull. Rock In The Road actually advances the story just a bit, especially near the end. What a concept!

That said, this episode wasn't without it's tedious moments. Most of the episode revolves around a new inspired Rick as he tries to convince the Hilltop and Kingdom communities to join Alexandria and rise up against their oppressor Negan.

Naturally, since there are seven episodes left in the season, Gregory and King Ezekiel both answer Rick with a resounding "NO!" That's were the tedium sets in. We all KNOW they're eventually going to change their minds and team up with him though, which makes this early refusal feel like wheel spinning. They're just going through the motions here, waiting for the appropriate dramatic moment to reverse their decisions. That's just how drama and storytelling work, I suppose.

At least things seemed to happen in this week's episode, as the story actually took place in 3, count 'em three separate locations! This is a huge change from the season's earlier episodes, which focused on third-tier characters spending the entire extra-long run time in the same spot. Maybe as the season winds to a close, the pace is finally picking up a bit.

Late last year fans were concerned when actor Chandler Riggs, aka Carl Grimes, announced he'd been accepted into Auburn University. Many were convinced this meant the producers were going to kill off Carl so Riggs could attend college. 

I guess anything's possible, but killing him off would cause the show to make a HUGE deviation from the comic. I won't spoil what happens to those who haven't read it, but let's just say Carl and Negan become very important later on. Eliminating Carl would be a huge headache for the writers, as they'd have to find a character to take his place in upcoming storylines.

All the worrying about him may be for nothing though, as Riggs recently stated he has no plans to leave the show, and that the producers have promised to work around his schedule.

Along similar lines, Sonequa Martin-Green, aka Sasha, was recently cast as the lead character on CBS' new Star Trek TV series (the one that's been postponed about five times, which I'm starting to think will never actually air). 


Can Martin-Green star in two different high-profile series at the same time? Eh, I dunno. If she was playing a minor role on Star Trek, I'd say maybe. But she's the main character, meaning she'll likely be in every episode. That's probably not gonna leave much time for zombie hunting. ! have a feeling that Sasha's number is about to come up and she'll be leaving The Walking Dead soon, most likely during the season finale. 

Recently Entertainment Weekly flat out asked Martin-Green if she was quitting the show. Her response was a noncommittal, "Well, I can't say anything," which is Hollywood-ese for "I'm outta here." When asked about Sasha's potential departure, showrunner Scott Gimple said "We've had to juggle before. I will certainly juggle for Star Trek any day of the week." But Gimple's a lying liar who lies, so I wouldn't put much stock in anything he says. Sorry, guys, but Sasha's toast.

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
Twitchy Father Gabriel stands watch on the Alexandria wall. Suddenly he sneaks into the pantry and steals all the foot and weapons, stashing them into a crate. He loads up his car and drives out of Alexandria. As his car speeds away, a second figure rises up from the back seat. Hmm...

At the Hilltop, Rick and Co. try to convince Gregory to join forces with Alexandria to take down Negan and the Saviors. Weasel that he is, Gregory refuses any help, and doesn't even want Rick in his office, fearful Negan will find out and punish the Hilltop. Rick and Co. leave, just as Enid rushes up. She's told the Hilltopians about Rick's proposal, and several of them offer to help.

Rick is grateful for the Hilltopians help, but tells his crew they'll need a LOT more people if they hope to defeat the Saviors. Jesus smiles and says it's time Rick met King Ezekiel. Really? He's just now telling Rick there's ANOTHER large settlement out there?

On the way to the Kingdom, Daryl suggests they just blow up the Sanctuary. Tara objects, saying there are innocent people living there (how the hell does she know that?). Jesus reveals a secret weapon: a walkie-talkie he stole from the Sanctuary, which they can use to listen in on Negan barking orders to the Saviors.

Rick and Co. arrive at the outskirts of the Kingdom. They're met by Richard, who arrives on horseback. Jesus tells him they're a like-minded group, and requests an audience with King Ezekiel. Richard takes their guns and leads them into the Kingdom. Rick spots Morgan in the crowd, and they catch up. Rick asks him about Carol, and he replies, "Carol was here. She got help, now she's gone." Daryl looks upset by this news. Hey, remember Daryl and Carol? How they almost kind of used to be a thing years ago?

Richard leads Rick & Co. into King Ezekiel's theater. As you'd expect, they're all bewildered and amazed by this so-called "king" and his pet tiger Shiva. Rick presents his case, saying that if Alexandria, the Hilltop and the Kingdom join forces, they can defeat the Saviors. Ezekiel realizes that Rick knows about his deal with Negan, which is something even his own people are unaware of. He accuses Jesus of blabbing this to Rick. Jesus apologizes and says it was important that Rick know, and that they all band together.

Rick tells Ezekiel that the time to strike is now, while Negan isn't expecting it. Richard speaks up and agrees with Rick, while Morgan of course says they should seek a peaceful solution. Ha! Ezekiel says Rick's asking a lot, and he'll think it over and let them know his decision "in the morn"

Later on, Morgan and Rosita chat, and she tells him that Abraham, Glenn, Spencer and Olivia were killed by Negan, and Eugene's been taken. Morgan says he's sorry to hear this. Benjamin (the kid who Morgan taught to use a bo staff a few episodes back) tromps through the woods and encounters Carol. She tells him he'd better get back to the Kingdom, as it'll be dark soon. Benjamin tells Carol that Ezekiel is concerned about her, which seems to pique her interest.

The next day Ezekiel gives Rick a tour of the Kingdom. He says he and his people paid dearly to build the Kingdom, many losing limbs in the process (I guess from zombie bites?). He says he won't risk his community. He does offer to give Daryl sanctuary, saying Negan is no doubt hunting for him, and the Saviors are forbidden from entering the Kingdom. Rick's disappointed, but not surprised. Daryl wants to leave, but he tells him to stay and try and convince Ezekiel to fight.

Rick and the others drive back home. Suddenly they come to a roadblock made of cars in the middle of the highway. They begin moving the cars so they can get through. Michonne looks ahead with binoculars, and spots a thick cable stretched all the way across the highway, with bundles of dynamite and other explosives attached to it. Carl thinks back to his time as Negan's guest at the Sanctuary, and says this setup is meant to guide a zombie herd.

Rosita, who's suddenly a demolition expert in this episode, carefully removes the dynamite from the cable. Rick says they'll need the explosives to fight the Saviors, and they pack them gingerly in their van. Carl spots a herd in the distance, and Rick tells the others to move the cars back in place (so the Saviors don't know they've been this way) while he and Michonne finish removing the explosives. He sends Sasha and Jesus to the Hilltop, to tell Maggie that Ezekiel turned them down.

The herd comes dangerously close, and Rick gets an idea. They see that for some reason, the cable is attached to two cars on opposite sides of the highway. They each get in a car, hot wire it, and begin speeding down the highway at the same time. The taut cable mows down the approaching herd. They hop out of the cars and dash through a thick zombie crowd, barely making it to the van. They speed off, as one of the explosives goes off.

Rick and the others arrive in Alexandria seconds before a convoy of Saviors show up. Simon gets out and says he's there for Daryl. Rick says he's not here, and doesn't know where he is. Simon orders his men to search the town, and they tear apart everything yet again. Unfortunately for them, they don't find Daryl. Simon notices the pantry is empty, and says they're lucky he's not here for the monthly supply offering. As he leaves, he tells Rick that he'd better hand over Daryl if he shows up, or else.

Rick asks Tobin what happened to the pantry. He says it was cleaned out the same time Father Gabriel went missing. Rick spots Gabriel's bible on the floor of the pantry. He picks it up and sees a note inside that reads, "boat." For some reason, Rick assumes this means the houseboat he and Aaron found a few episodes back, and wonders how Gabriel could possibly know about that.

Rick, Michonne, Aaron, Rosita and Tara walk to the lake where the houseboat is located. They see fresh tracks in the mud and follow them to a junkyard. Suddenly they're surrounded by dozens of armed people in dark clothes. Rick's grizzled face slowly cracks into a creepy smile, as he realizes he just found the numbers he needs to fight Negan. Either that or he's finally gone insane.

Thoughts:

• At least Twitchy Father Gabriel took the time to close the gate when he drove off, so Alexandria didn't get overrun with walkers.

It's hard to see and easy to miss, but as Gabriel pulls away, a head pops up in the 

passenger seat (or possibly back seat). So who's his mysterious road trip partner, who's apparently talked him into stealing all the food and ammo and leaving?


My money's on the as-yet unseen owner of the boots we saw in Hearts Still Beating. The one who was watching Rick and Aaron as they looted the houseboat in the middle of the zombie-filled lake.

It pretty much has to be her, right (I get the impression it's a woman)? Gabriel leaves a note in his bible that reads, "boat." How could he possibly know about the boat that Rick and Aaron found unless Boots told him?

Why she's spying on Rick, following him to Alexandria and turning Gabriel into a runaway, I have no idea. I still think she may be Cyndie from the Oceanside community, who we met in Swear.

• By the way, I just realized today that Seth Gilliam, aka Father Gabriel, played Sugar Watkins in 1997's Starship Troopers! He had a pretty big role too, so I'm surprised I never recognized him before now. Can you believe that movie's twenty years old? It feels like I just saw it in the theater yesterday!

• If it's so dangerous for Daryl to be seen after he escapes the Sanctuary, why the hell does he go to the Hilltop with Rick and the others? Surely Gregory wouldn't be above scoring a few points by telling Simon that Daryl's back with Rick? Seems like he should have sat out this mission. 

Of course if he laid low then he wouldn't have had any screen time in this episode, which is something his fans just will not stand for.

• As Rick and the others wait for an emissary from the Kingdom, we see a gruesome-looking zombie without a jaw, its tongue lolling obscenely from the bottom of its face as it leans against a wall.

This particular walker should be immediately recognizable to fans of zombie movies. It's a shoutout to Dr. Tongue, the first zombie we see in George Romero's 1986 Day Of The Dead.

Greg Nicotero is an executive producer and makeup supervisor on The Walking Dead. His first job was on Day Of The Dead, where he created many of the zombie designs and makeups, including Dr. Tongue.

Supposedly this isn't the first time Nicotero has slipped a Day Of The Dead zombie into the show. In the Season 4 episode Us, fans spotted "Bub," the hero zombie from Day, as he menaced Glenn and Tara in a train tunnel. I guess I either missed that or forgot about it after all this time.

Nicotero says he's also thrown in the Plaid Shirt Zombie from the 1978 Dawn Of The Dead, the Mud Zombie from Lucio Fulci's Zombie and the Jack Goodman zombie from An American Werewolf In London.

• After Gregory refuses to join Rick, Jesus decides it's finally time to tell him about the Kingdom. Jesus Christ, Jesus! He's apparently known about King Ezekiel and his people for quite a while. So why is he JUST NOW telling Rick about the Kingdom? 

Wouldn't a powerful group of potential allies have come in handy last season when the Alexandrians invaded the Savior outpost? Or tried to get Maggie to the Hilltop? Or any number of other situations? 

Was Jesus waiting to see how things would go for Rick before introducing him to some backup? If I was Rick I'd be tying up Jesus again and asking him how many other secret communities he knows about.

• Rick sees Morgan hanging out in the Kingdom, and asks him about Carol. Morgan succinctly replies, "Carol was here. She got help, now she's gone."

I guess it was too much trouble for Morgan to add, "And now she lives in a little house just outside the gates." Maybe he's finally respecting Carol's wishes and leaving her alone?

• Benjamin is dead. He might as well be wearing a red shirt with a target painted on it. He's way too nice and optimistic to survive for long on this show.

• Rick tries to convince Ezekiel to join his cause by telling him a weird bedtime story. The details vary depending on who's telling the story, but in most versions there's a giant rock in the middle of a busy road inside a kingdom. Every day, people have to inconveniently edge around the rock or risk damaging their carts. Oddly enough, no one ever thinks to move it. One day a little girl decides to finally do something about it. She struggles for hours and finally moves the rock out of the way. She then notices a purse that had been under the rock. She opens it and sees it's full of gold. Apparently the King put the gold there as a reward for whoever finally stepped up and moved the rock. The moral of the story is that every obstacle is an opportunity to improve oneself.

As I said, it's a strange tale and I wasn't sure if this was a real fable or it the writers made it up for the show. I looked it up and it turns out it's an actual story. At various times it's been called The King's Highway, The King's Roadblock and The Stone In The Road.

All I know is the King in the story's a big asshole. He knew about the rock in the road, but instead of ordering his men to move it, he just left it there, letting it damage his subject's carts and hoping one of them would finally do something about it someday. Plus he have offered the gold as a reward to whoever moved the rock years ago, instead of hiding it on the off chance someone would step up some time in the future. And how the hell did he get the gold under it in the first place?

• I've seen this discussed online before, but I really noticed it in this episode— whenever a female walker appears on the show, it's almost always wearing a long maxi-skirt. Apparently they were "in" when the zombie apocalypse started up.

This is most likely a budgetary thing. If the lady walkers wore shorter skirts, the makeup people would have to spend time and money making their legs look rotted and gross. They might even have to CGI them, which is very expensive. Longer skirts means less money spent on legs!

I also think the long skirts are also to help indicate that a walker is supposed to be female. The zombies are all so decayed at this point that it's sometimes hard to tell their gender. The skirts are a helpful visual cue.

• On the way back to Alexandria, Rick & Co. encounter a walker booby trap, rigged with dynamite and explosives. Rosita examines the explosives and deftly diffuses them, adding them to Alexandria's arsenal.

Since when is Rosita a demolitions expert? I don't remember her ever mentioning this before. This seems like a convenient retcon to me.


• I have to admit, the "Zombie Clotheslining" scene was pretty cool and a lot of fun. It was also completely unbelievable and hopelessly contrived. Rick  and Michonne just happen to find two cars with a taut steel cable stretched between them, that just happen to be fully gassed, just happen to be facing the same way on opposite sides of the road, and just happen to be positioned on a curiously empty stretch of highway. It's like the entire situation was set up specifically so they could mow down a herd of walkers. Amazing!

Plus would this even work? It was a thick cable, not a piece of razor wire. It seems like it would just knock them over, not slice them in half. I get that most of the zombies are pretty soft and juicy at this point, but if their legs are that decayed and squishy they shouldn't even be able to stand.

The clotheslining scene also seemed wildly out of place on this show. I could see something like this happening in a comedy/horror film like Zombieland, Scout's Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse or even Z Nation, but not here. Despite its premise, The Walking Dead has always seemed fairly grounded.

• I've said it before and I'll say it again: I think Steven Ogg, aka Simon, would have made a better Negan. He seems more threatening and dangerously psychotic than Jeffrey Dean Morgan.

• As Aaron prepares to help find Father Gabriel, he and his boyfriend (or husband?) Eric have a lover's quarrel. 
This is the first time Aaron and Eric have had an actual conversation with one another in... at least two years.

Note that they both awkwardly stay at least three feet apart from one another all through the scene. That's because the audience will grudgingly accept the existence of gays in the zombie apocalypse, but they won't tolerate scenes of them touching or kissing, because that would be icky, right?

• At the end of the episode Rick & Co. run into yet ANOTHER group of survivors. For those of you scoring at home, whoever these people are, they're the SEVENTH group we've seen so far. Where the hell are all these communities in relation to one another? And how did the Alexandrians go on supply runs for years and never encounter any of them until now?

As always, the producers are keeping the locations of the various groups and the distances between them vague. That's so Rick can spend the entire day driving to the Hilltop in one episode, but walk back in an hour in another. The communities are as far or as close as the script needs them to be.


• As the Alexandrians are surrounded by this new group, Rick slowly breaks into a smile.

He smiles so infrequently on this show that on the extremely rare occasion when he actually does, it looks extremely creepy. That's not a friendly smile, folks... that's the smile of a psychopath!

• As the screen fades to black, an onscreen caption reads, "In Loving Memory Of James Heltibridle." For those of you wondering just who Heltibridle was, he worked in the Props Department on the show.

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