The Walking Dead midseason premiere, “Rock in the Road,” reveals that the revolution will be televised, eventually. Every overthrow requires alliance building, the amassing of resources, and mobilization. Now that Rick has decided they must fight, the preparation begins, but with mixed results.
“He who does not know the evils of war cannot appreciate its benefits”- Sun Tzu, The Art of War
At the Hilltop, Rick tries to convince Gregory to join their cause, but the Hilltop leader wants no part of the uprising against the Saviors. He’s a half glass full kind of leader, noting, “Sometimes, Ricky, you have to count the blessings we have.” Gregory claims his people wouldn’t be ready or willing to fight. When Tara offers that people will step up when asked to do the right thing, Gregory interrupts her, “Let me stop you before you break into song.” When he asks who would train his people, he gets many offers of help, but loudly exclaims “Rhetorical!” to end the discussion. This isn’t an argument that Rick and his crew are able to win. Xander Berkeley plays Gregory with just the right amount of arrogance, anger, and disdain, somehow making his portrayal one of comic genius.
Gregory is risk adverse. The Hilltop has faced threats, including orders from Negan to kill Gregory, but they are still in much less danger than Alexandria. Rick’s group are the only ones who have shown that they actually pose a threat to the Saviors, so Negan has really put the screws to them. It’s easy to label Gregory a “walking ballsack,” but he doesn’t have a lot of motivation to put the Hilltop, or his own comfort, at risk. They aren’t starving, nor have they seen any of their own beaten to death by Lucille.
Despite Gregory’s refusal to ally with the Alexandrians, it turns out there are some in Hilltop willing fight against the Saviors. They look to Maggie, not Rick. They are willing to fight with Maggie because she has shown she will fight for them. It’s not clear why Sasha isn’t perceived the same way, but perhaps Maggie’s pregnancy makes her seem more powerful or more authoritative. That might be a generous reading, though. Rick loses the battle with Gregory, but still manages to get some recruits for his war.
Rick’s first priority is preparing Alexandria for when the Saviors come looking for Daryl. That seems about right. Jesus tells Rick it can wait because he has a long-range radio to keep tabs on the Saviors. In the meantime, he wants to introduce Rick to King Ezekiel. One the one hand we’re thinking, “OMG, go prepare for the Saviors!” but on the other hand, we can’t wait to go back to the Kingdom – the only light in the bleak landscape of The Walking Dead. We’re eager for Carol to learn about the deaths of Abraham and Glenn, well really just Glenn. We’re also curious to know if what has transpired will spur Morgan into action. So forget Tobin, Aaron, and the rest. Let’s go to the Kingdom!
“The wise warrior avoids the battle.” ― Sun Tzu, the Art of War
Rick can’t get over that there’s a community called the Kingdom, with a man called King Ezekiel as it’s leader and knights who wear football pads. He’s going to be even more astonished when he meets Shiva the Tiger. Upon arriving at the Kingdom, Jesus is warmly welcomed by Richard and Paul. Who isn’t excited to see Jesus? Jesus is way cool. Everybody likes Jesus. Everybody wants to hang out with him. Jesus introduces the Alexandrians to Richard, telling him they have something in common, “We live. We trade. We fight the dead. Sometimes others.” Wink wink nudge nudge. Richard wants to go to battle against the Saviors. Jesus tells him, “You know Richard I’ve never seen you smile. I think that’s going to change today.” Jesus may be way cool, but he also might be a little overconfident.
Once they’re in the Kingdom, Tara is the first to see Morgan. Hugs all around, well not quite, but at least with Tara and Sasha. It’s not the warm reunion we were expecting. Rick and Daryl want the scoop on Carol. Morgan tells Rick and Daryl he killed one of the Saviors, “I had to.” Morgan keeps Carol’s secret, revealing only she was treated at the Kingdom and then left. No mention of Carol being right outside the gates.
Rick makes his case to King Ezekiel, suggesting they ban together to attack the Saviors. When they talk about the Saviors’ brutality, Rosita reveals that Negan killed Glenn, Abraham, Olivia, and Spencer and that Eugene was taken. To be honest, we kinda forgot about Olivia and Spencer. We love Eugene, but until Rosita reminded us we also forgot he was in the Saviors’ custody. Luckily there’s lots of opportunity for exposition in this midseason premiere. We keep waiting for the characters to feel as shocked and angry at losing Glenn as we do, but it never seems to happen like we expect. We’re holding out for Carol’s response.
Attacking the Saviors hasn’t gone great for Alexandria, so it’s not really surprising others are reluctant to do the same. When Ezekiel asks Morgan’s advice, Rick and Michonne can barely keep from rolling their eyes like teenagers. Rosita gives Morgan a death stare. Learning about the loss of their friends hasn’t changed Morgan’s commitment to peace, love, and understanding. We kind of love that about Morgan, and aren’t convinced he should change. If he wasn’t such a badass with a staff, no one would care about his peacenik beliefs.
Rick shares a story his mother told him about a rock in the road, where the episode gets its’ name. This might be what led Rick to become a cop (not for the gold, but the spirit of public service). It’s a pretty good story, and we wonder if he’s done enough to convince Ezekiel. Rick wants to get back to Alexandria, but King Ezekiel won’t deliver his decree until the morning. We’re also getting worried about Alexandria.
Carol is out in the woods, so doesn’t run into her old crew. She does run into Benjamin, who’s trying to step up by learning how to fight. He offers her food.
Benjamin: “I carry extra in case I run into someone who needs it.”
Benjamin: “There’s not a lot of us left. Have to help each other.”
Carol isn’t moved by Benjamin’s idealistic stance, nor by his assertion that Ezekiel cares about her. She just warns him to be quieter as he walks through the woods.
Rick isn’t the only one with a parable to tell. Later that night, Ezekiel is putting Benjamin’s little brother to bed, reciting Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech. When Benjamin returns he also has a story to share, about seeing Carol in the woods and why the Kingdom should join Alexandria in the fight against the Saviors.
“You saw their eyes. They’re gonna risk everything if we help them or not. And if we don’t help them, if we turn away, then they can’t win. And if they do, somehow… they will have saved us, and we won’t have done a thing. My dad always said that if you’re asked to be the hero, be a hero. You wanted me to be ready for anything, and I am. We are.”
In the morning we learn that despite Rick’s allegory and Benjamin’s moral appeal, Ezekiel decides that he won’t risk his people’s lives. It would make for overly simplistic storytelling if the Kingdom, Hilltop, and Alexandria came together so quickly, so it feels right that he says no. At least for now. King Ezekiel may not be willing to join the quest to fight the Dark Lord Negan, but he does offer Daryl asylum.
“Attack is the secret of defense; defense is the planning of an attack.” ― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Heading back to Alexandria, they come across a set of explosives strewn across the road that is meant for a walker herd. Rosita, who has been amazing to watch this entire episode, is able to disarm it so they can take most of the explosives, except for those Rosita doesn’t like the look of. Then they still need to move all the cars back so the Saviors won’t know they’ve been there. They’re still fighting the clock, both in terms of an approaching herd and the Saviors heading to Alexandria to search for Daryl.
Sasha and Jesus head back to the hilltop on foot, while Carl, Rosita, and Sasha head back to the car. When Michonne and Rick get cut off, they use the wires between the two cars and cut the herd in half like butter. We don’t normally love zombie gore, but this scene was amazing. Michonne and Rick have to fight their way through the walkers crowded around the van, which seems crazy. Once they get inside with the others, they all take off. Remember back when being in a car surrounded by walkers was terrifying? As they drive away, the explosive left behind goes off and Rosita, clearly the star of the episode, mutters, “Yeah I didn’t like the look of that sh*t at all.” Michonne comforts Rick, “You can smile. We made it home. We can make it. We can. We’re the ones who’ll live.”
“Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.” ― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
They return to Alexandria moments before the Saviors drive up. Simon tells Rick, “We’re here for Daryl.” When Rick acts innocent, Simon points out, “Your son showed up, Daryl went missing – might those two things be connected?” Strangely, no one is worried about Carl. The Saviors tear apart Alexandria in their search for Daryl. When they can’t find Daryl the Saviors prepare to depart. Simon warns:
“Oh! And, Rick… if Daryl does turn up here two days from now, two months from now… hell, two years from now, just know there’s no statute of limitations on this. Keep that hatchet handy. You’re gonna need it if he turns up with you people. And it won’t turn out the way it did for your boy.”
The Search for Gabriel
“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.” ― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
At the start of the episode, Father Gabriel seemed to be getting into some shady behavior. Grabbing all the food and weapons and then driving off with a stranger in the back of his car. Though Rosita is all ready to hang Morgan without a trial, Rick sticks up for his new BFF, “I don’t believe it. That’s not Gabriel. He wouldn’t do that to us.” Rick finds some clues that lead to Gabriel’s trail.
Rick, Rosita, Aaron, Michonne, and Tara find themselves in the middle of a field surrounded by buildings. They seem incredibly exposed. Suddenly, the field is full of armed people. They are completely silent and dressed drably. They have the look of well-fed walkers. Rick looks up and smiles, something we’re not positive we’ve ever seen before. Mirth looks creepy on Rick Grimes. Does Rick see someone he knows? It can’t be Heath since he’s busy on 24: Legacy. Is it Morgan? Some ex-girlfriend of Rick’s from college days? There could be someone he knows, but it’s more likely that he smiles because sees an opportunity to build his army with these stealth humans. Hopefully, his creepy smile won’t scare them off.
Rock in the Road Kinda Rocks
“Great results, can be achieved with small forces.”― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
“Rock in the Road” finally gave us some joy in our The Walking Dead viewing. Sure there was some bad stuff, like losing all the food and being surrounded by a silent, but deadly army. Despite this, there was lots to love in “Rock in the Road.” We could watch Gregory being an ass all day because he’s hilarious. The cowardly but powerful Gregory leaves the overly earnest but angry Rick dumbfounded, which is something new and interesting.
We also can’t get enough of the Kingdom. Sure Richard is a bit of downer, but Benjamin is cool and King Ezekiel is fantastic. It’s a delightful community in a land full of strife. If Rick destroys the Kingdom with his plan, we’re gonna be pissed.
We have to admit we’ve kinda been hating on Rosita lately, especially when she bullied Eugene into helping her and then got him captured. But in “Rock in the Road” Rosita was amazing. Her death stare, her fearlessness, and her sarcasm, all made it her episode. This girl is ready for war.
Let’s hope the war doesn’t come too soon as we’re not ready to go back to the pre-midseason finale version of Walking Dead. Talk about a downer. Here’s to hoping for a return to a character-driven The Walking Dead we love, with “Rock in the Road” leading the way. Gregory isn’t the only glass half-full one around here.