The Walking Dead 7.9 – A Rock In The Road

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Fans have been waiting for the ‘back end’ of season seven to begin, in lurid anticipation after the significant character deaths that have colored the ‘front end.’ Diverting from the comic book, communities like Oceanside – and the new garbage-heap group introduced in today’s episode – have surfaced, keeping fans engaged and completely disrupting the prognostications of comic-book fan-boys like yours truly.

For the first half of the season, the narrative has been exceedingly involved in illustrating the psychological wounds endured by Rick Grimes and the entire Alexandria contingent in the wake of their brutal first encounter with Negan and The Saviors. Regardless, audiences have been waiting to see the Rick Grimes character rediscover his courage and fighting spirit, and it seems pretty evident that this is exactly the theme of ‘Rock In The Road.’

Unfortunately, it also appears that this episode is falling victim to the program’s tendency toward slow-paced “filler.” Character development is important, but when the pace is slowed, it’s important for the character interactions to feel authentic and significant, and there’s something about the scripted dialogue in the opening scenes of this episode that feel painfully wooden and inauthentic. The way Jesus explains his knowledge of another community, “The Kingdom,” feels light and casual, with absolutely no gravity (even though he is forbidden from revealing details about the community). It is also important to remember that the Alexandrians have been isolated survivalists who were, just one season prior, completely shocked by the existence of “The Hilltop.” And there is something about the frenetic and exasperated utterances by The Hilltop’s leader, Gregory – “rheeee-tor-i-cal” – and the interjections by the lovable hayseed “Daryl,” that just don’t ring true when we examine the character.

“Yer either with us or you ain’t! Yer talking out of both sides of yer mouth!”

Watching those words come out of that particular character just seemed awkward and completely out of style for a reasonably unthinking rough-and-tumble man who relies on his instincts and skills and not his diplomacy and intellect. Action set-pieces like a herd of walkers being sliced apart by a taught cable strung between two cars, while visually impressive and undeniably fun, seemed like an implausible afterthought designed to help the episode recover from its painfully shallow dialogue.

Yes. We now have a unified group of people who want to fight – exactly what audiences want – but we also have flagging character development and the introduction, at the tail-end of the episode, of yet another underdeveloped community of people who may or may not aid our heroes in the war to come. And let’s face it – we know that the hooded garbage-pickers are going to fall in line, eventually, in armed conflict with Negan’s Saviors. Little has been left to the imagination and characters are being rewritten and yanked from the thoughts and actions we would naturally expect from them after seven seasons of development.

There is absolutely no reason why Rick would smile after his group is besieged by hooded, gun-wielding kidnappers. But hey, it sure does make for a great cliffhanger.

Has the show jumped the shark? Certainly not. It’s engaging and entertaining, and I can promise you that I’ll be tuning in next week. But something about this episode just didn’t feel right. Let’s see if the ship corrects itself.