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The Walking Dead – Rock in the Road Review

"Drowning in exposition"

With the way in which The Walking Dead structures their season, I suppose I should have expected “Rock in the Road” to be heavily laden with exposition. And, normally, I’m someone who is asking for more dialogue and less over-the-top blood and gore. But man, was “Rock in the Road” a dull hour of television.

There was a lot of logistical groundwork to lay throughout the episode, so I sympathize with the episode’s writer, Angela Kang, in that she wasn’t given the flashiest story to tell. But there had to be a better way of crafting the story than having Rick and company jump from location to location, introduce various characters to each other (and rehash a number of things we all already know), and then throw Rick, Tara, Michonne, and Aaron into potential peril at the hands of the Emo Gang. The episode felt very disjointed and, despite it’s longer running time, didn’t provide us with much new story or any character development.

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Jason Douglas as Tobin - The Walking Dead _ Season 7, Episode 9 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Jason Douglas as Tobin – The Walking Dead Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

The most disappointing element of the episode was the last-minute introduction of a new community. One of the major problems with The Walking Dead at this stage is the ridiculously large cast of characters. Between The Kingdom, Hilltop, Alexandria, Oceanside, and the Saviors, we already have a whole host of forgettable characters who can easily be canon fodder in the upcoming war. Why must the show give us an entire new subsection of people, of whom we will learn the names of only a few, only to inevitably kill off the bulk of the group at Negan’s hands (no one honestly thinks this new group will be an actual threat to the good guys, right?). On the list of continuing problems with The Walking Dead, a lack of characters resides at the bottom of a long litany of issues the show simply refuses to address or acknowledge.

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Ross Marquand as Aaron, Steven Ogg as Simon - The Walking Dead _ Season 7, Episode 9 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Ross Marquand as Aaron, Steven Ogg as Simon – The Walking Dead Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

While I was disappointed with the overall structure and pacing of the episode, there were some bright spots. Steven Ogg continues to absolutely kill as Negan’s henchman, Simon. While Negan has been a major miss this season, every time Simon appears on screen I’m legitimately scared as to what he might do. Ogg has found the balance between commanding presence and deranged psychopath that Jeffery Dean Morgan still can’t locate (his radio broadcast this episode just continued making me roll my eyes rather than be even remotely frightened of him). Ogg is so darn good that I can’t help but assume the show will have him be one of the first major Savior deaths in the coming war. Which is a shame.

Finally, the highlight of the episode was seeing both Daryl and Carol on the road to becoming their awesome selves again. Daryl’s journey into subservience was one of the biggest missteps on the first half of the season, as it didn’t do anything to increase our understanding of Negan (or increase our fear of him), and it took one of the show’s best assets off the gameboard for long stretches of time. As for Carol, despite her desire to hide away from the world, her conversation with Benjamin showed us that she still can’t help herself from protecting others. Now that Daryl and Carol are finally in the same place, I cannot wait for their reunion. After all, the only person who will be able to persuade Carol to give up her hermit life and fight the good fight is Daryl- especially if he tells her the story of his capture.

Christian Serratos as Rosita Espinosa - The Walking Dead _ Season 7, Episode 9 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
Christian Serratos as Rosita Espinosa – The Walking Dead Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Final Thoughts:

— The whole Father Gabriel Steals Everything and Leaves a Cryptic Clue plot just annoyed me. Did Rick and Aaron tell everyone where the boat was? Did they give clear directions to everyone? Rick’s clearly not big on the communication now (which I’ll get to in a minute). So, why steal everything and bail? Did he know there was another group out there? Nothing about Father Gabriel’s story up to this point has indicated that he would know any of these things. It makes absolutely no sense. Unless there was some threat made by the person hiding out in front of the gate while he was on watch, I’m super skeptical of this arc.

— Eric (Aaron’s boyfriend) was pretty spot-on in his assessment of Rick as a leader. Since Rick took over full control of Alexandria, nothing good has happened. The Wolves attacked and killed people. The Saviors attacked and killed people. The Saviors forced Alexandria to tithe. Negan came into Alexandria and took people and killed more people. And now Rick has decided to step-up and fight them, when fighting them was what brought Alexandria into their crosshairs in the first place. Now, sure, we know that the only way to stop the Saviors is to band together and fight them. But I completely understand Eric’s perspective: to the people of Alexandria (who are largely kept in the dark about what’s happening), this looks like lunacy. I have absolutely zero hope that the show will address this, outside of potentially breaking Eric and Aaron up over it, but Eric isn’t wrong.

— Did we know that Rosita was an expert in explosives?

— I’ll admit to cracking a smile when Tara noticed Morgan. The show is so much better when the core group is together in one place- or at least knows where all its members are.

— Finally, I just want to touch on the lack of emotional stakes on the show one more time, as it’s really started to grate on my ability to watch the show and buy into any iota of suspense. When Rick and Michonne were taking on the walker herd, I did not think for one second the show was going to kill them off. Not for one second. Because a “pointless” death like that wouldn’t be good enough for Michonne (the only one of the two that the show would even think of killing off).

At this point, the list of potential future victims is so short and full of characters we don’t really care about (Benjamin is pretty much toast at this point, Aaron is on the chopping bloc after that chat with Eric, and since Sonequa Martin-Green is the new lead in Star Trek: Discovery, we know Sasha isn’t long for this world), any time one of our core characters is facing danger, it’s hard to care. We know Daryl and Carol will survive for however long the actors want to be on the show (considering they are the show’s two best characters, I don’t have a problem with this in the least). But it means that there are no stakes when they face danger.

How does the show remedy this? Well, it has to start parting with fan favorites. And it has to take the time to develop new characters. Rosita and Sasha deserve more screen time than they are getting at this point. Father Gabriel’s “betrayal” would matter more if we cared more about him. But the show continues to refuse to develop characters who have been on the show for years, and that is a problem they need to address if they want us to actually worry when there’s danger afoot.

Rating
6.5
Pros
  • Daryl and Carol are finally becoming real characters again
  • Simon is still creepy and awesome
Cons
  • Too much exposition
  • No stakes when main characters face danger
  • Adding another group of survivors is unnecessary at this point

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Meet the Author

About / Bio
TV critic based in Chicago. When not watching and writing about awesome television shows, I can be found lamenting over the latest disappointing performance by any of the various Chicago sports teams or my beloved Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Follow me @JeanHenegan on Twitter.

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