Warning: Spoiler Alert!
Turn back now if you haven’t seen this week’s episode, if you have, come walk with me.
The Rick Delegation
Finally, some forward momentum!
The mid-season opener did not waste time on an overlong recap of the first half of the season, and thank The Wasted for that (man, how do they keep coming up with new zombie synonyms; that must be one writer’s full-time responsibility!).
Instead, after a brief interlude where Gabrielle proves himself yet again the worst (or does he?), we are dropped immediately into Rick and his restored group meeting with Gregory at Hilltop, where the cowardly leader feigns a cavalier attitude as he dismisses Rick’s plea for All Out War on Negan. Their freedom, and many of their lives, are literally at stake. However, Rick’s war would also be a large commitment in lives with no guarantee of success (they’ve all been outmatched by the Saviors before).
Gabrielle: you just keep on being the worst. (or do you!?)
The choice presented, and theme of this season, is whether it is better to live in relative comfort and insecurity under a brutal authoritarian regime or take the larger risk of war for freedom and safety. Gregory, the coward, chooses stability. Jesus and several of the locals, however, choose resistance.
It was nice that Enid rallied the local Hilltop resistance and organized the meeting with Rick’s group. Each character in Rick’s entourage had a role to play in this episode, however minor, and they were all directed towards a single goal: organizing the effort to take down Negan. It was refreshing to see everyone on the same page and working towards resolving the same conflict.
The Hilltop Resistance: “No, no, Gregory must go!”
Rick’s delegation then moved on to the Kingdom, where they were introduced to the majesty that is King Ezekiel and Shiva. Rick got to tell his moving fable about the rock in the road, a story told him by his mother when he was a kid (a great callback to a simpler time before the zombpocalypse). It’s easy to step around the rock in the road, Rick counseled, but the real reward comes from taking the effort to remove it. It was a community-minded message and a good theme for survival as a counterpoint to the save your own skin kill-or-be-killed mindset of the wilderness, the Wolves, Terminus, etc.
Morgan offered his own two cents: why not just go after Negan and hope taking him out brings the Saviors to heel? Not a terrible suggestion, especially since Negan likes to go face-to-face with everyone who wants him dead, but he has at least a few faithful lieutenants who might take up the torch. Would cutting the head off the snake work? Or would it be like a hydra and sprout two more?
After deliberation, King Ezekiel proclaims that he will not join the war effort, but he will shelter Darryl from the Saviors. Wisely, Rick forces Darryl to stay, telling him to work on convincing Ezekiel to join the fight (wait, is that going to work? Darryl isn’t the most diplomatic, not to mention courtly, guy I could imagine for the job. An opportunity for character growth? Darryl the diplomat!).
The burdens of Kingship: Can he commit his people to a war they might not win against a foe they do not know they have?
An Explosive Encounter
Moving briskly forward, Rick and crew get eyes on the Savior base on the road from the Kingdom back to Alexandria. They also find a dynamite trap setup by the Saviors, which they expertly dismantle thanks to Rosita’s explosives expertise (which I guess she has? Eh, like I said, everyone had something to do this episode, so not going to complain).
I really wanted someone to lose a hand with all those knives and bombs at work, but they actually managed to disarm and steal a lot of the explosives successfully. Michonne and Rick then got to drive a chain straight through the front line of a herd, demolishing hundreds of zombies at once! It was a pretty great visual and definitely a laugh-out-loud highlight of the episode. You could also tell Michonne loved being in the thick of the action again, as opposed to Rick’s breathless terror.
This puts a new twist on zombie chain-gang!
A Non-Explosive Encounter
Barely are the gates open for our heroes’ return to Alexandria before the Saviors come looking for Darryl. Thankfully, Rick isn’t lying when he tells them Darryl isn’t there. Even turning the place inside-out, the Saviors have to admit Rick’s group isn’t harboring him. Of course, this also gives everyone the chance to see that Gabrielle has emptied out the Alexandrian food and weapon supplies before taking off. He did leave a mysterious map, though, so maybe he’s got a good reason?
A Fifth/Sixth Settlement?
In addition to our four main players (Alexandria, Hilltop, the Kingdom, and the Sanctuary), we have seen an all-female coastal settlement that has been terrorized by Negan. Now, following Gabrielle’s map at the episode’s final act, Rick and co. find themselves surrounded by another group wielding guns and improvised pointy things. As the episode fades to black, however, Rick gets a big smile on his face. Does he know these people? Has he found the army he’s looking for? Is he just stark-raving mad? Tune in next week to find out!
The hell you smiling for, Rick? You’re surrounded by hostile faces and lots of weapons.
The mid-season opener for season 7 of The Walking Dead was a refreshingly focused rejoinder that finds our heroes in sync and working as a group towards the same goal: overthrowing Negan’s tyrannical regime. Now they just have to convince everyone else to go along with them.
Photos by Gene Page/AMC