Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Walking Dead Review: ‘Rock in the Road’

(Photo Credit: AMC)

The Walking Dead
Season 7 Mid-Season Premiere
By Garrett Yoshitomi

Aaaand we’re back! That's right, sports fans- it’s been a long winter, but spring is right around the corner, and that means your favorite fall shows are finally awakening from their mid-season slumbers. So, dust off your crossbows, fire up those "Easy Street" playlists, and Rise Up™ for season 7B of The Walking Dead. When we last saw our heroes, they were convening on the Hilltop Colony- finally reunited after spending half a season separated; scattered to the four winds by Negan, and aimless in the wake of Glenn and Abraham’s deaths. However, the mid-season finale offered an unfamiliar sense of hope, with Rick leading the march towards Gregory’s house, with the expectation of enlisting the help of The Hilltop for the brewing war with the Saviors.

This sense of hope is short lived, however, as the mid-season premiere opens with Gregory quickly shooting down the group’s pleas for aid. And, though he reluctantly admits that life would be better without the Saviors, Gregory refuses to join Alexandria’s fight against Negan, forcing Rick to search for redshirts, elsewhere. Upon Jesus’s suggestion, Rick takes his search to the Kingdom, where the group meets King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) and Shiva(!) for the first time. In just his second appearance of the season, Payton delivers another solid performance- going toe to toe with the likes of Andrew Lincoln and Norman Reedus, while commanding every scene with a larger than life, though honest, sense of regality. After such a memorable first introduction, it feels strange that we haven’t seen King Ezekiel since the second episode of the season. However, with the series progressing towards an eventual showdown between Negan and the communities he’s subjugated, it’s likely that we’ll be seeing more of Ezekiel, whether the Kingdom joins the fight or not.
(Photo Credit: AMC)
It’s disappointing that we didn’t get our long-awaited Carol reunion, it’s what I’ve been looking forward to most from the group’s inevitable first visit to the Kingdom. As necessary as it is for The Walking Dead to move forward from Glenn’s death, I still believe Carol learning of, and reacting to, Glenn’s fate is important for both fans who have been watching these characters since season one, and for Carol’s future character development. Carol’s quest for self-exile has been driven by a sense of helplessness- no matter what she does, or how ruthlessly she defends the group, those around her will always be in danger. Glenn’s death certainly fits into this paradigm, but will Carol eventually decide that trying to protect as many people as possible, even against unfavorable odds, is a better option than doing nothing? If there’s any one death that could galvanize her, my money’s on Glenn’s.

Meanwhile, the character we do get a group reunion with is everybody’s favorite wet blanket. Morgan should be such a compelling character, but it’s clear that the writers have a hard time fitting him into the overall narrative. He reminds me a bit of John Locke, from Lost. Both have all the makings of a valuable group member (Morgan’s combat abilities and Locke’s survival skills), but the two purposely isolate themselves from their fellow survivors due to a disagreement in ideals (Morgan’s pacifism and Locke’s desire to never leave the Island). The main difference, though, is that Locke played an incredibly crucial role in Lost, ranking only second behind Jack in terms of narrative importance. Locke’s actions consistently drove the story forward, shaping the plot and significantly affecting other characters, even long after his death in season five (spoiler alert for Lost, I guess?).
(Photo Credit: AMC)
I suppose it ultimately comes down to a lack of commitment. In the one and a half seasons since Morgan’s rejoined the series, his pacifism has been an integral part of his character, but not necessarily the rest of the show. You can’t have someone like Morgan, whose refusal to kill is so strongly juxtaposed with the core of what The Walking Dead is, and only half-heartedly tie him into storylines. Sure, there have been a couple of times when Morgan’s refusal to take a life creates a relevant chain of events that would have never existed otherwise. But, for the most part, he’s left along the periphery, only brought to the forefront for the occasional group meeting to declare how there “needs to be another way,” while offering no semblance of an alternative, viable plan of his own. Unless, of course, you consider “just capture Negan” a well thought out, tactically sound strategy.

We get some random bits of interesting supporting character development throughout this episode, as well. Rosita seems to have inherited Abraham’s role as the resident one-liner machine- although, hers aren’t nearly as memorable. Aaron also continues to have a steady presence, and it appears that he’s assumed Glenn’s primary runner responsibilities (much to the chagrin of his boyfriend, Eric). Finally, Benjamin, Morgan’s Aikido apprentice from the Kingdom, only appears in two short scenes, but they’re both memorable. He strongly reminds me of an early Glenn- eternally optimistic, slightly naïve, but incredibly kind and selfless. Alas, I fear The Walking Dead usually isn’t a show long for characters like this, and he would admittedly be a good choice to kill off- not a major enough character to cause waves, but likeable enough to be missed in the short term.
(Photo Credit: AMC)

The Walking Dead typically produces strong mid-season premieres, and this week is no exception. Sure, we might not get to see Daryl blowing up a lake, like in season six’s “No Way Out,” but “Rock in the Road” has more than its fair share of action, and most importantly, moves the plot way forward, making the first half of season seven seem glacial, in comparison. If there’s anything that six and a half seasons of The Walking Dead has taught us; though, it’s that things tend to slow down prettttty quickly after a premiere, and there’s nothing leading me to believe that this time might be different. War with the Saviors is coming. But, it’s almost impossible that it will arrive any sooner than next season. I expect a fairly slow burn of events to take place over the next seven episodes, with Rick slowly, but surely, fortifying his army, culminating in a small lead-in skirmish with a portion of Negan’s forces (possibly in Alexandria) during the season finale.

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