[Warning: This story contains spoilers for the season 7B premiere of AMC's The Walking Dead.]
Before the midseason premiere, The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Walking Dead showrunner Scott M. Gimple about what's in store for Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and the rest of the Alexandrians in the back half of season seven. His answer was somewhat surprising, given the dark violence that's blanketed the past eight episodes of the series.
"Season 7A was tough stuff to feel, by design," he said. "But getting to the other side and not forgetting what was lost and being able to take action, there will be this joyful rebellion. There's evil with everything they lost but happiness that they're alive to fight against what took so much from them. These characters are coming alive again. Remarkably through the trauma they've gone through, they can smile again."
Indeed, Rick and the others are cracking smiles left and right throughout the midseason-seven premiere, called "Rock in the Road." Even though they're outgunned by the Saviors, and even though the episode ends with Rick surrounded by a new group of potential adversaries, there's a sense that victory is still possible with the right combination of effort and attitude. But getting to that place certainly isn't easy street, as multiple obstacles throughout the episode make plainly clear. Here's how it played out.
1. Gabriel Goes Back to Basics
The episode begins with Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), who spent much of seasons six and seven stepping up, taking a huge step back. Last seen standing watch over Alexandria, Gabriel begins the premiere by abandoning his post, raiding the community's supplies, stealing gasoline and driving off to who the heck knows where. It's hyperbolic to describe Gabriel driving away from Alexandria as the single most enraging image in Walking Dead history, but whew! It's close. Of course, as we'll discover later, there's more to Gabriel's departure than meets the eye, but it's certainly some epic trolling on the writers room's part.
2. Recruitment Drive
We catch back up with Rick and friends at the Hilltop, where they were last seen reuniting with Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus), fresh from fleeing the Saviors. (Emphasis on fresh, too. Daryl could not have gotten rid of that dog food stained sweatshirt soon enough.) Rick and the gang plead their case to Gregory (Xander Berkeley) to get him on board with going up against Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), but Gregory refuses the pitch, thanking them for attending this meeting that never took place. Even if Gregory's not on board, Jesus (Tom Payne) knows some people who might be interested in challenging the Saviors. A road trip ensues, leading to...
3. The King's Tale
...the Kingdom, where Rick reunites with his old friend Morgan (Lennie James), and meets a possible new friend in Ezekiel (Khary Payton). King Ezekiel, rather. Rick lays out the argument for why it's time to strike out against the Saviors, articulating the case by way of a parable he heard when he was younger: "Once upon a time, a king once installed a rock in the middle of a road, one that caused great problems for the people of the kingdom. One day, a young girl who loses everything to the rock decides to dig it out, and after an insane amount of effort, she recovers a bag of gold at the bottom of the hole - placed there by the king, believing that anyone had the will to overcome such an obstacle deserved a lifetime of happiness." Rick's speaking Ezekiel's language here, and the king tells the Alexandrians to stay overnight while he ponders the next course of action.
4. A Sane Asylum
The next morning, Ezekiel makes his decree. Despite Rick's best sales pitch, and despite his own trusted advisers telling him to follow Rick's lead, Ezekiel decides that the Kingdom can't afford to go to war against the Saviors. It's a shaky peace, but it's peace, he reasons. On the bright side, he offers to protect Daryl from Negan; the Saviors are forbidden from setting foot inside the Kingdom, but who knows how long that rule will hold. Before he leaves, Rick tells Daryl to keep working on Ezekiel. With that, they part ways again. Daryl does not seem at all happy about separating from his group, but when he inevitably reunites with Carol (Melissa McBride), perhaps he'll whistle a different tune - please not "Easy Street," for the love of Lucille.
5. Fast and Furious
Rick and company hit the road back to Alexandria, listening in over the Saviors' radio as Negan gives a eulogy for the late Fat Joey. They come across a blockade of cars, and just past that, there's an enormous tripwire armed with explosives. The group disarms the bombs, while simultaneously battling back a herd of walkers. At one point, Rick and Michonne (Danai Gurira) clothesline a ton of walkers by driving the tripwire straight through the herd. It's among the most absurd visuals in recent Walking Dead memory, and a moment of pure elation for our heroes as they finally score a win.
6. Simon Says
As soon as Rick returns to Alexandria, Simon (Steven Ogg) and the Saviors show up looking for Daryl. Of course, Daryl's back at the Kingdom, so the group has nothing to hide. That being said, Simon sees that Alexandria's supply stock is shockingly low, thanks to Gabriel sneaking off with everything in the night. As he leaves, he tells Rick to send up the signal if Daryl comes crawling back. Whether it's two days from now, two months from now, or even two years from now, the Saviors are going to want Daryl's head - a bad sign for everyone's favorite bad boy.
7. Boat or Die
When Simon and the Saviors leave, Rick turns his attention to the missing Father Gabriel, refusing to believe that he would punk out on the group after all this time together. It turns out, he might be right. Gabriel left a one-worded message scrawled in the back of a notebook: "Boat." Rick and Aaron (Ross Marquand) immediately suspect it's a reference to the boat that they raided one episode earlier, and so they go back in search of Gabriel...only to find themselves surrounded by a group of haggard and heavily armed individuals. It's an odd note to end the episode on, so much so that even Rick can't help but crack a smile.
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