The Walking Dead: Rock in the Road


As we move into the back half of the seventh season, our “heroes” are in trouble.  No, I’m not referring to Rick Grimes and his scrappy band of apocalypse survivors.  I’m talking about Scott Gimple and the gang responsible for creating the top-rated show on cable.  Over the first half of the season, The Walking Dead‘s ratings have been in decline.  While the show remains popular, this is a trend that needs to be reversed and the show-runners know it.

For years, they have shouted down any and all criticism of the show.  But in the face of slipping ratings, they have changed their tune.  Producer Gale Anne Hurd has acknowledged that the show will be toning down the violence.  Apparently she attributes the decline in ratings to the over-the-top violence in the season seven premiere rather than the show’s numerous creative failings.  Whatever the case, the message was clear.  “We’re righting the ship.”

The mid-season premiere, “Rock in the Road” is the first step in moving the show away from the non-stop nihilism of the first half of the season.  The episode attempts a difficult balancing act.  On the one hand, it has to offer viewers hope that the show can be about something other than people getting their skulls caved in with a baseball bat.  On the other hand, there are still seven more episodes left in the season (and you know a few of them will be extra-long affairs).  So our protagonists can’t make any significant progress in their struggle against the Saviors.

The meat of the episode consists of Rick and his posse paying visits to the neighboring communities.  Instead of asking for a cup of sugar, Rick wants the leaders of these sanctuaries to declare war on their mutual oppressor.  Both Gregory of the Hilltop and Ezekiel of the Kingdom decline Rick’s offer, but the audience is clearly intended to be angry at Gregory and forgiving of Ezekiel.  They both reached the same decision, but Gregory was an over-the-top jerk about it while Ezekiel at least offered to let Daryl stick around.

If you have been paying attention at all, the show is telegraphing where the story is going.  Gregory is obviously going to come to a gruesome end ala Spencer so that Maggie can take over really for real.  Meanwhile, Ezekiel’s Lando Calrissian-eqsue deal will get worse and worse until he has no choice but to throw in with the Rebellion.

On the way home from their diplomatic mission, Rick and company come across the big action set-piece of the week.  It’s a doozy.  There is a roadblock consisting of cars, wires and explosives.  This has been set up as a trap for an oncoming herd.  Low on weapons, Rick decides that the group needs to disarm all the explosives to start rebuilding their cache.  The “tense” music starts to play signaling that the audience should be worried, but we all know Rick isn’t going to blow anybody up on the midseason premiere.

The payoff is absurdly over-the-top.  That’s not necessarily a criticism, by the way.  Rick and Michonne hop in separate cars with the wire pulled tight between them.  They drive the cars in unison with stunt-driver precision and use the wire to mow down I don’t know how many zombies.  Hundreds?  It was a lot.  When they ditch their vehicles, they are still surrounded by entirely too many zombies.  The only reason they survive this mob is that they are wearing their “plot armor”.

The whole thing is beyond implausible.  Do I care?  No, not really.  But it feels like a scene from a different show – one with a sense of humor which TWD lacks.  The capper is a small explosion and a zinger from Rosita which in isolation is pretty funny.  Makes you wish the show would stop taking itself so damned seriously all the time.

When the gang returns home, they find Negan’s goons are right behind them.  The Saviors have realized Daryl escaped and they have come to Alexandria looking for him.  Fortunately, he stayed behind at the (Not-so-Magic) Kingdom.  Even though there is no sign of Daryl, the goon squad tears up the joint.  Seriously, if they are going to keep breaking plates twice a week, what are the Alexandrians going to eat off of?

The head goon (his name escapes me) observes that the pantry is low on supplies.  That’s because Father Gabriel packed up everything that was valuable and ditched town during the episode’s cold open.  For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, Rick is confident that Father Gabriel wouldn’t betray the community despite his long history of looking out only for himself.  But since Rick is always proven right even when he’s wrong, you know there’s some explanation for Gabriel’s action.  The priest even left Rick a clue that points him back to the boat he found a few episodes ago.

The episode wraps up with Rick and company tracking Gabriel back to the boat.  Just before the credits roll, they are surrounded by a (new?) community with primitive weapons.  And before you can say “ewoks”, Han Solo, I mean Rick Grimes, smiles in recognition that he has found future allies.

Before I bring this write-up to a close, I want to do a little plugging for a friend of the blog.  Readers of these write-ups probably know JRiddle who comments here frequently and posts his own write-ups at The Dig.  JRiddle has been an active participant in the Walking Dead and Z-Nation communities that formed at the soon-to-be-defunct IMDB message boards.  This time next week, IMDB will be pulling the plug, so JRiddle has set up a FB community for anyone looking for a place to discuss these shows.  Check it out.



Posted on February 13, 2017, in TV, Walking Dead and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. As far as TWD goes, I found this episode actually plugged along pretty well plot-wise, with hardly any of the typical soap opera bore-speeches. But then there’s the moronic story Rick tells Ezekial to inspire him to join forces, I guess, but I fail to understand how such a hillbilly parable relates to their present situation. There was a ‘kangdom’ involved. There was a wise ‘kang’. But other than that… I mean, how ‘wise’ was it to reward someone with a bag of gold who was too stupid to navigate around a huge obstacle in their path in the first place? And the moral of the story being that if you expend a lot of time, effort and energy on such a basically pointless and redundant task, the wise will reward you for it?? At least such ridiculous blather is consistent with Rick’s overall character. At least there’s that.

    Now I have to admit, my attention to detail on this show will sometimes wane, so excuse me if I’m missing some obvious points here, but as far as the ‘action set-piece’ as you put it, what was the entire point of doing it again? Why didn’t they just GTFO if they could hotwire cars like that? Why did they put themselves in so much danger after mowing down all those zombies by getting out of their cars amongst the densest part of the huge herd? The cars were still running. Couldn’t reversing a few hundred feet go a long ways towards avoiding becoming a picnic lunch for the traveling horde? And if they disarmed the trap, what triggered the explosion as they were leaving?

    And why was Rick ‘tracking’ Gabe if he already knew where he was going? How did Gabe know about the boat’s location in the first place? (Maybe this last one will be revealed later on…)


    • Last season, Gabriel was on a run with Spencer, got pissed off when Spencer dissed Rick and got out of the car, saying he was going to walk back to the Safe Zone. When Rick and Aaron were on the boat adventure, someone was watching them from the show–we were only shown the feet. Presumably, this was Gabriel, having, by one of those trillion-to-one coincidences, stumbled upon them.

      Since the Z NATION gag with the car worked, there was no reason they couldn’t have just run down the entire zombie herd but Rick said they’d need the herd on the road. Which, of course, entirely undermines his rationale for taking out so many of them but like the physics involved in that stunt, we’re not supposed to thing about that. I thought that sequence was the highlight of not only this ep but one of the highlights of the last 2 1/2 seasons. TWD needs more ZN.


      • It seems Gabriel was kidnapped and forced to do what he did by the boat person. A lot of people missed this (so did I) but when Gabriel is driving off a man gets up in the back of the car.


  2. I don’t think that viewers jumped ship because the violence was too much for them; I think viewership is lagging because all the stuff that came after the exciting yet excruciating premier was pretty boring, and it’s taking too long to get an emotional payoff from sitting through that.


    • The lackluster season has definitely bled away the audience but the show lost nearly 5 million viewers between the 1st and 2nd ep of this season–people who just didn’t come back (and haven’t yet). That’s not only the biggest drop in its history, that’s about as many people, in total, as were watching it during its 1st season. The violence definitely had a major impact on this.

      That said, I think the violence was probably only a straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back sort of thing here. TWD has been in serious decline since season 5. Arguably, this extends back into the second half of season 4, though there was still some solid work there (and, in fact, the season 5 opener was one of their better eps as well). When Scott Gimple took over the show, he started some pretty radical reforms. The problem was that all of those were allowed to fizzle and the bad habits of the Mazzara years were allowed to creep back in. TWD continues to be plagued with all of the problems I identified from my own first article on it way back in season 2 and this was eventually going to start wearing on even the most devout and uncritical fan. I think that’s what’s happened here. The show has always watered down the violence of the comic to near non-existence in order to aim for a soap opera audience and just as people were getting tired of the series, TWD threw at them the kind of brutality one finds in the book. It shouldn’t be a surprise that many fans of DAYS OF OUR LIVES don’t care for that level of gore.


  3. So –

    In addition to touring the Southland with Sgt Abe (for something like two years while escorting pretend scientist Eugene) and learning how to use firearms so effectively she missed a stationary target at ~10ft with her handgun – Rosita became a “cut the red wire not the blue wire” EOD expert as well?

    Well, I guess she and Sgt Abe had to pass the time away somehow between escortin’, love makin’ (while being watched by Eugene) and calming Eugene in the aftermath of a bad mullet day.

    She is a jewel with many facets (though considering her handgun abilities – she may need glasses).


  4. I honestly don’t get the hate and the complaints this show gets. I’ve been watching since the pilot first aired and my wife and I still looked forward to it as much as we ever did.

    Excessive violence? It’s a zombie show, on cable, of course it’s going to be violent. I think anyway going into a zombie show that’s not expecting graphic violence is kidding themselves.

    Meandering plot? I’ve never seen this show as being about getting from A to B. To me it was always about the experience of the zombie apocalypse, not about finding the cure, or trying to get to the safest place. To me it’s been a character study of people facing the zombie apocalypse. Some of the best episodes IMHO were between the fall of the Prison and their arrival at Terminus.

    The only complaint I would have about this show is that the walkers have become less and less of a threat and the focus has shifted too far towards people being the real threat. Walkers seem to be more of a prop now than a real threat. Shane and Otis trying to get meds for Carl is probably the best example I can think of where the Walkers are a clear and present danger. Need more of that . The walkers have shifted too far into the background.


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