Be warned! This review will cover aspects of the episode. Spoilers will lurk like groaning walkers..
Welcome back to the United States of Walkerdom. And yes, this episode, we are reminded that there are actually zombies around and they occasionally – if briefly – pose a threat. More promisingly than that, however, Rock In The Road continues the hopeful and even sometimes humorous tone that ended the last half-season. We return, however, in darkness, with Father Gabriel, having apparently been plannomg to do so for a while, driving away in the night after looting supplies from Alexandria. Does he have a secret base somewhere else? Or even a tree house? Who knows at this point, but it firmly, at least in the eyes of Rick and co. shoves him back into the category of The Worst, or so it seems to the others. On a related note, is Alexandria security truly, really that bad? Come on, people...
Beyond that, though, there is still The Negan Problem. Thankfully this week, all we as viewers have to put up with on that front is hearing him on the radio that Jesus helpfully stole during his ninja mission at the Saviours' base. So we get a couple of quick examples of Negan as the world's least entertaining shock jock, and we could quite easily see Negan And The Luce at 103 AM The Save.
No, most of the episode is taken up with Rick and the gang travelling to different communities and effectively being turned down when they ask for help. Quite why they thought Gregory would be of any assistance is beyond us, but at least it gives Xander Berkeley (and writer Angela Kang) the chance to smugly dismiss their hopes. Who doesn't enjoy him calling Rick "Ricky"? Fortunately for "Ricky", Enid has found some of the Hilltop folk who do want to help fight. So... that's five people and maybe someone has a hoe? This is going to be a very short fight.
Next stop is The Kingdom, and there's some fun to be had with Rick and the rest getting their first look at the place and reacting how any rational person might. They strike out with King Ezekiel, who makes them wait all night for his no, but again there is one of his men, Richard (Karl Makinen) offering to keep trying. Plus, after an offer of asylum, Rick leaves his man-crush Daryl behind to keep asking, or "stare him into submission". Rick made a funny, everyone! He's one step away from showing back up at the King's gate with a series of placards explaining how Ezekiel to him is everything...
Also during the Kingdom segment, we reconnect with Morgan (who annoyingly is keeping to his semi-pacifist stance, suggesting they try to kidnap Negan and see what that does – nice plan, dude) and Carol, who stays out of sight but does have a sweet moment with young Benjamin, who has been walking the woods as part of his training. Yeah, we figure that kid's going to die at some point.
Returning from the Kingdom, our heroes spot a two-level booby trap across a highway, planning to get through it without letting the Saviours know they were ever there... Before using two cars to slice up dozens of walkers from an approaching horde and blowing the dynamite. So... that was their attempt at stealth. Still, if you were wondering when the traditional Big Moment would arrive (as it tends to do in Greg Nicotero-directed premieres and finales), you won't be disappointed with the walker-chopping scene. It slices! It dices! It gets blood everywhere! At least our heroes now have some explosives they can deploy in the coming fight.
Upon their return to Alexandria, they receive a visit from the Saviours (specifically Simon and some backup) on the hunt for Daryl. It's as though a little of the annoying past few episodes leaks into this one, as they go through Bog Standard Saviour Behaviour: threatening, cocky and trying to funny. And then, upon discovering the missing supplies (seriously, how did Gabriel pull this off?) Rick and a few of the others go searching for him, as he left a clue to his whereabouts in his all-purpose Bible. Upon heading back to the boat and house Rick and Aaron discovered in the last half of the season, they come face to face with.... a mysterious new community. And despite being under threat yet again, Rick smiles! Hooray for Rick smiling!
A much more satisfying episode, this one. Partly because it finally feels like our main characters are back as proactive protagonists and not just staring miserably as Negan does terrible things. The fight will not be easy, and it felt more than a little repetitive for both the leaders of Hilltop and The Kingdom to turn them down, only for others to offer help. But at least these people are doing something, and occasionally being positive as they do so. It won't wipe out the sheer nihilism of the last eight shows, but it's a step in the right direction.
Who are the new people?
There's a suggestion they're a group fans who haunt are calling the Garbage Pail Kids. An invention of the TV show, they may end up helping... Or they may be more trouble.
Will Oceanside get involved?
That's a pretty safe bet, though we do have to wonder if it'll involve Rick (or maybe Tara) asking for an alliance, getting turned down and then furtively offered help by some of the community.
Is The Rock In The Road an actual story?
Yup. A parable, and you can find another version here.
Read this season's previous reviews below...
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9pm on AMC in the States and Mondays at 9pm on Fox.