By Henry Schecker
“The Walking Dead” returned for the second half of its seventh season on Sunday night, competing against the Grammy awards for ratings.
Episode 9, entitled “A Rock in the Road,” didn’t quite deliver the chills and thrills that the season 7 premiere did last October.
Instead, it felt no more special than any other episode, despite the advertising for the last two months featuring the rally cry “RISE UP” and clips showing
Rick rallying the other camps of survivors towards rebellion against the Saviors.
Well, that turned out to be trimmed scenes taken out of context.
First and foremost, Rick’s pleas to the Hilltop’s leader, Gregory, fall on deaf ears. Gregory, played by Xander Berkeley, is more than content to stay in
the Saviors debt rather than risk incurring Negan’s wrath.
Although Gregory won’t even entertain the thought of joining Rick’s revolution, the citizens of The Hilltop let Rick’s group know they’re willing to lay
down their lives to put a stop to Negan and The Saviors.
The episode takes a detour to The Kingdom and King Ezekiel, played by Khary Payton, who is absolutely charming and steals every scene he’s in.
Rick, along with the main cast and Ezekiel, have an intriguing face-to-face over the Saviors issue, which left me wanting to see an episode with Rick and
Ezekiel interacting one-on-one.
They had good chemistry, so perhaps an episode where they look for Carol together would be well suited.
In any case, Ezekiel decides that he doesn’t want to go to war with The Saviors, but offers refuge for Daryl who is hiding from The Saviors after his daring
episode 8 escape.
The action quota of this episode was met by a third act race back to Alexandria.
After listening in on a stolen walkie talkie to Savior broadcasts, the group discovers that The Saviors have assembled a search party to find Daryl.
They’re heading towards Alexandria as our heroes are just leaving The Kingdom.
After stumbling upon a jerry-rigged explosive trap on the highway, Rick declares that they need these explosives to combat The Saviors, leading to a bit of
forced conflict as a horde bears down on the group frantically disarming sticks of dynamite.
They could have just left once they got the road cleared but they remain unrealistically dedicated to collecting these sticks of dynamite.
Rick and Michonne drive tandem cars linked by steel cable that behead, split and shred the horde.
This is comically grotesque, but that’s not the most unrealistic part.
The most unrealistic part is that both Rick and Michonne abandon their cars and run to the truck holding the rest of the group while being groped and
grabbed by hundreds of walkers and neither get so much as a scratch.
I counted at least 20 times where a walker mouth was in close contact to Rick and Michonne’s arms, and quite simply I tuned out because there was never any
threat to either character here.
For a show that relies on an anything-can-happen attitude, it gets boring when you know certain characters have plot armor.
The Kingdom still needs to be fleshed out more.
As of right now, we only know three or four of its citizens, and much like the Hilltop, it just seems like it’s a storage box to put characters in until the
plot calls for them to reappear.
I would like it if there was a B or C plot that could focus on these secondary locations, like how in the second season of “Fear The Walking Dead.”
The episodes jumped between two main locations with converging storylines that felt wholly more cohesive and helped establish a larger secondary cast that
could potentially become part of the main cast.
It’s easy to forget that the show is seven years old, and many other shows have failed in a lot shorter spans of time.
What the show really needs to knock it out of the park is a focus on its secondary characters to fill out the B-plots and give the individual episodes that
sense of urgency that has been lacking from the last two seasons.
Rick’s rededication to being a badass and the introduction of a fascinating charismatic big bad in Negan were steps in the right direction to give “The
Walking Dead” the shot in the arm it desperately needed.
Now the writing staff just needs to build on that momentum going into season 8.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.
Catch up on AMC.com, Netflix or replays on the AMC network.
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