A Look at The Walking Dead- Season 7, Episode 9: “Rock in the Road”

So our main characters have had more than enough of living under the Saviors’ rule.  With the second half of the season underway, it’s time to rise up, gather resources, and prepare for war.  Let’s jump back in with “Rock in the Road.”

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The episode begins in Alexandria.  After flipping through his Bible, Gabriel abandons his post and visits the pantry.  We hear a crash and then see Gabriel loading up as many supplies and cans of food as possible.  He packs up, leaving his Bible behind in the process, gases up a car, and drives off…with someone in the passenger seat.

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Over at the Hilltop, Gregory declares his deal with Rick’s group null and void since they failed to eliminate the Saviors.  As such, they aren’t trade partners and never met. Hell, Gregory feels Rick owes him for taking in Sasha and Maggie…the same people who helped save the Hilltop while Gregory hid.

Rick insists that they can defeat the Saviors.  It’s a better alternative than living under the Saviors’ thumbs while people die.  Gregory would rather continue his arrangement with the Saviors, so Maggie steps in and asks how many people the Hilltop can spare.  Tara insists that people will step up and fight if given the chance, but Gregory doesn’t believe the Hilltop residents are untrained fighters.  They just grow things.

Even though Gregory agrees that life would be better without the Saviors, he’s unwilling to lend his assistance.  Hell, as far as he’s concerned, Rick and his group didn’t even visit the Hilltop today.

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Though Gregory’s bullshit is difficult to bear, it turns out that the survivors may not need him after all.  Enid has told a group of Hilltop residents all about Rick’s plan and if there’s a chance that they beat the Saviors, then they’re willing to fight.  It’s a start, but even if Rick’s group found more weapons, they still lack the numbers.  The distance and geography work against them since Negan has so many outposts.

More than that, the Saviors will no doubt come to Alexandria in order to find Daryl, so it’s imperative that the survivors return.  However, Jesus reveals that he has one of the Saviors’ long range two-way radios, so they can listen in on anything happening at the Sanctuary.  There’s no rush to get back to Alexandria.  Instead, Jesus says that it’s time he introduced the group to Ezekiel…King Ezekiel.

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So Jesus leads them to the outer edge of the Kingdom, where they meet Richard and Alvaro, played by Carlos Navarro.  Jesus tells Richard that he’d like an audience with Ezekiel. Richard is skeptical of these newcomers, despite Jesus’ insistence that they’re good people who want to make the world less dangerous.  Richard will allow the group entrance, but only if they surrender their guns.  All two of them.  No big deal.

Though Richard is glad that Jesus, and not Gregory, has a backbone and a brain to boot, he doesn’t believe these trades or protection pacts will matter until they start dealing with the Saviors.  In response, Jesus believes this is the day that Richard will finally smile.

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So the survivors are brought into the Kingdom, which does have adequate numbers. They reunite with Morgan, who updates Rick and Daryl on Carol’s situation after she left Alexandria.  She’s fine, but just wanted to get away from everything, so after getting patched up at the Kingdom, she left.

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So Jesus brings Rick’s group to Ezekiel and his tiger.  It’s not often you see a tiger, more so in the apocalypse.  Rick states his case- Alexandria, the Hilltop, and the Kingdom all have one thing in common: they all serve the Saviors.  Alexandria fought them once and won, but taking out one outpost didn’t eliminate the entire threat.  So…can you really call that a win, Rick?

Okay, whatever.  Ezekiel is upset that Jesus told others about his deal with the Saviors.  And that only became known after Jesus told Ezekiel about the Hilltop’s travails with the Saviors.  This arrangement isn’t known to the public for a good reason.  In Jesus’ defense, he broke the Kingdom’s confidence so Ezekiel could hear Rick’s plan.

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Ezekiel is hesitant in joining Rick’s fight against the Saviors, but the group points out that they’ve lost good people to the Saviors.  It’s here that Morgan finds out the fates of Abraham, Glenn, Spencer, and Olivia, not to mention Eugene being taken hostage.  And though Daryl escaped, he’s still a target.  Jesus thought this arrangement with the Saviors was manageable, but that’s changed.

For all the strength of Rick’s group, they lack the numbers and weapons.  If they strike first, together, they can win.  Richard likes this idea, as he doesn’t want to wait for things to get worse.  The time to strike back is now.  Ezekiel asks Morgan for his input.  Morgan admits that a lot of people on both sides will die, so he wonders if there’s another way to do this, like capturing Negan.

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Rick then tells a tale that I think he’s been itching to share for weeks: there was this road to a kingdom, and there was a rock in the road.  People would avoid it, but horses would break their legs on it and die and wagon wheels would fall off.  As such, people would lose the goods they wanted to sell.  For example, this one little girl’s family had a cask of beer that fell off.  As her family had no money, this was their last chance to get food.

The girl cried and wondered why the rock was there to hurt others.  So she dig and dug so deep and hard that her hands bled, but she after hours, she managed to remove the rock. However, just as she was prepared to fill the hole, she saw a bag of gold in that hole. The king put that rock in the road because he knew the person who dug it out deserved a reward that would change their life forever.

A bit of a shitty king, but I suppose he had a point.  Anyway, after Rick’s monologue, Ezekiel invites everyone to stay until tomorrow, when he will deliver his decree.

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Out in the woods, Benjamin runs into Carol, who heard him from a mile away because Carol has super hearing.  He explains that he didn’t run because he’s training to be a better fighter.  Carol tells Benjamin not to wander around alone at dark, but he tells her that Ezekiel will keep checking on her to make sure she’s okay since he looks out for the people he cares for, after all.

Benjamin offers her some food and water- he carries extra in case he runs into someone who needs it.  After all, there’s not a lot of people left and you have to help each other.

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That night, Benjamin tells Ezekiel that he’s getting better with the stick, as he managed to take out two walkers.  During his unaccompanied trip, he ran into Carol and said that his reason for carrying food and water is the same reason the Kingdom should work with Rick.  These visitors are willing to risk everything.  If the Kingdom doesn’t help, then Rick’s group may not win.

But on the off-chance that they do, they will have saved everyone and the Kingdom would have done nothing to assist.  And Ezekiel did say that he wants Benjamin to be ready for anything.  With this in mind, Ezekiel thanks Benjamin for his sage counsel.  The king is pleased.

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The next day, Ezekiel tells Rick and company that life at the Kingdom came at a cost, as he sent people to battle the dead when he didn’t have to.  He wanted to expand and create more places like the Kingdom.  Rick counters that the dead don’t rule them.  The world beyond the Kingdom isn’t as good and some people don’t have it good at all. Understatement of the century, Rick.

Ezekiel has to worry about his people.  He’s trying to hold onto this uneasy peace with the Saviors.  He won’t offer aid now, but he does offer Daryl asylum for as long as necessary since the Saviors don’t enter the Kingdom.  Daryl, though, wonders how long that would even last.  The group leaves unsatisfied and empty handed.

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Sasha tells Rosita that saw this coming, but she’s still upset.  Rosita doesn’t see why Sasha is telling her this, though.  Just because they both had sex with Abraham doesn’t make them friends.  Okay, does Rosita have a bug in her ass or something?

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Morgan wants Rick so he can hopefully change Ezekiel’s mind.  Richard, though, is more on board with Rick’s plan.  It doesn’t help the communities are just making the Saviors stronger by giving them food and arms.  Also, Daryl won’t be leaving.  Rick wants him to stay at the Kingdom.  That way, he can hopefully convince Ezekiel or, even better, stare him into submission.  That’s actually not a bad idea, Rick.

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On the road, the group overhears Negan’s eulogy of Fat Joey- apparently without Fat Joey, Skinny Joey is just Joey- and soon arrives at a blockade of cars in the road.  With a base not too far, they figure that the Saviors want to make it hard for people to reach this outpost.  The plan is to move the cars around and move them back so the Saviors don’t know others entered this area.

As the group gets to work moving the cars, they notice some explosives and steel cables needed for dealing with a walker herd.  The group welcomes themselves to these explosives, but they need to disarm them first.  Backing up won’t make a difference if the explosives go off.  At the same time, the group hears on the radio that Negan has ordered a search party to go find Daryl.

So now the survivors need to get the explosives and get to Alexandria before the Saviors. Good thing Rosita is an expert at disarming bombs.  Do you remember when Rosita was a pro at this?  I don’t.  Anyway, they need to unwrap the secondary explosives and make sure the casings aren’t messed up.  The explosives still need to be triggered to be set off, though there’s one in particular that Rosita doesn’t like.  She’s particular like that.

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Then, in the distance, Carl spots some approaching walkers.  There’s still time to disarm them and get the cars back on the road.  Sure, the Saviors will know that their bombs are missing, but this herd needs to stay on the highway.  The group may need it later.

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Jesus and Sasha head back to the Hilltop on foot.  As the others move the cars, Rick and Michonne cut through the wires and try to get as many weapons and explosives as possible.  They soon head to and hotwire two cars connected by the wiring and, in a set piece I’m sure most of us loved, they mow down the herd as the wire cuts through as many walkers as possible.

I guess it’s a good thing there was no rock in the road.  Rick and Michonne soon rejoin the others and head out just as the walkers are engulfed by an explosion.  Nice going, Rosita. But hey, they made it.  As Michonne tells Rick, they’re the ones who live.

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They return to Alexandria in no time.  Rick tells Tobin that everyone needs to get ready, but there’s no time for that, as Simon and a group of Saviors have arrived not for a tribute, but to find Daryl.  And Simon isn’t dumb enough to believe that Rick doesn’t know about Daryl’s disappearance.  So Simon wants everyone to partner up and search for Daryl.  That way, they can all watch him die if he’s found.

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The Saviors go through every nook and cranny of Alexandria, leaving a mess in the process, but don’t find Daryl.  In the now empty pantry, Aaron tells Simon that  but no sign of Daryl.  In the now empty pantry, Aaron tells Simon that it’s getting harder to find things for their community when they spend so much time gathering for Negan.

Again, Simon isn’t here to collect, but that day is coming.  Simon thanks Rick for his cooperation and tells him that if Daryl shows up, there’s no statute of limitations.  Well, at least Simon acknowledges that there’s still a statute of limitations in the post-apocalyptic world.  Tobin and Aaron tell Rick that Gabriel has disappeared, the pantry has been cleared out, and he stole a car.

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Aside from Rosita, no one wants to believe that Gabriel would steal from them.  Not to mention that Gabriel left his Bible, and Rick finds that curious.  He then sees the word ‘Boat’ written in a notebook.  So how would Gabriel know that Aaron and Rick were out there?

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As Aaron packs up, Eric confesses his concern, as Aaron did get the shit kicked out of him.  Eric doesn’t want Aaron to go after Gabriel, but after everything the community has endured, Gabriel is one of them and has proven his worth.  Despite the fear of what could happen if the Saviors returned while Rick and the others were out, Aaron is still set on leaving.

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After Rick and Aaron lead the group to the lake, Rick spots some footprints.  The group follows them and ends up in a clearing where, all of a sudden, they find themselves surrounded by a group of armed men and women.  And through it all, Rick eventually smiles.

So we’re back for the second half of the season and off to a good start as the main survivors get to work building an army to take down the Saviors.  Sure, they don’t make much progress since both Gregory and Ezekiel aren’t on board with this plan, but it’s only a matter of time before Rick has his united coalition to combat Negan.

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Before, when he decided to go for one of the outposts, Rick thought his plan was foolproof.  Attack the Saviors before they made the first move.  And despite doing that and more, the Saviors struck back and hard, so Rick needs to dial back his overconfidence. Rather than do it alone, he’s hoping that the Hilltop and Kingdom are just as fed up with Negan’s reign as they are.

Rick and company have proven time and time again that, when committed, they can overtake any challenge.  Hell, upon first learning about Negan, Rick said that confrontation has never been something the group has had trouble with, and then he met Negan.

So brute strength and heart alone won’t do it.  There’s strength in numbers and like the girl who dug out that rock in the road, Rick has to overcome obstacles in order to get back to some semblance of peace.

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Not just with Negan as that obstacle, but also in convincing the other communities that this is a fight they can win.  At this point, Gregory’s opinion is irrelevant since people at the Hilltop trust Maggie’s leadership and are already willing to put their lives on the line if there’s even a one percent chance that the Saviors can be defeated.

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And Ezekiel has every reason to be concerned.  He’s already kept his arrangement with the Saviors a secret and he doesn’t want to send more people to their deaths.  Why take the risk when there’s no guarantee of victory?  He’s sympathetic to Rick’s plight, yes, but not at the cost of his people.

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While Richard and Benjamin are already on board with fighting, I wager it’s going to take a major incident to push Ezekiel into joining Rick.  As Daryl asked, how long will the Saviors agree to not enter the Kingdom?  Someone is going to get hurt, killed, or the Saviors will break the peace because they can.  And that will what be what convinces Ezekiel that the Saviors must be removed from the equation if there is to be true peace.

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Also, I’m glad we got to spend a bit of time with Morgan, not just to get his reaction to who has been killed, but to see that he’s still keeping Carol’s location a secret.  And he’s still grappling with his stance on killing.  He did it to protect Carol, but despite hearing what the Saviors have done, he’s still looking for alternatives rather than going to war.  But like when he saved Carol, he may have to kill again to protect those going into battle.

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And even though Carol wants to stay out of the conflict- for now- she’s still a skilled warrior, as seen when she tells Benjamin about how to stay stealthy.  I’m unsure if she’s going to remain on the sidelines, but I imagine all that’s happened to her friends will at least get a reaction out of her.  Enough to draw her back into combat?  No idea.

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I like that we don’t spend an entire episode’s worth of Rick and company trying to recruit. It would’ve been easy to spend half the episode at the Hilltop, the other half at the Kingdom, and just end it there.  But these people have to keep moving because despite needing the numbers, they still have to contend with the Saviors, more so now that Daryl is a fugitive.

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Not to mention the fact that they’re desperate for weapons, which made the sequence on the road more hectic…even though these characters have such thick plot armor that we know they were never in any real danger, despite Rick and Michonne being surrounded.

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Plus, The Walking Dead has good set pieces when it comes to eliminating batches of walkers, but cutting through them with wire and two cars?  That’s some inspired ingenuity right there.  A bit ridiculous, but fun as hell all the same.

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Onto some character bits.  I can do without Rosita being such a prat to Sasha.  Where’s this coming from, by the way?  They seemed to be on good terms, last I checked.  If anything, I would think they’d be drawn closer since they both loved Abraham.  But no, she brings up that shared connection as a way to be cold to Sasha, who only expressed her disappointment about the situation.

More than that, she’s quick to throw Gabriel under the bus when he was the one to tell her that she didn’t need to sacrifice herself if it meant killing Negan.

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If I had to guess, maybe Rosita’s just salty that she couldn’t kill Negan from a few feet away.

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But what is Gabriel doing, anyway?  I wonder if it has to do with this new community we see at the end of the episode.  And though Rosita has turned her back on Gabriel, I’m happy that the others, especially Rick, trust that Gabriel wouldn’t just betray them.

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As for this new community, just who the hell are they?  At a first, quick glance, it’s easy to think these were Oceanside residents, but we saw men among them, so that rules them out.  But judging from Rick’s smile, he sees some advantage in this group.  Potential cannon fodder-I mean, soldiers for the war against the Saviors?  Who knows?  Here’s hoping we find out next time.