Well, The Walking Dead is back and again, I am going to try to watch and review each episode for the Shattered Lens. You may remember that I attempted to do this during the first half of season 7. I reviewed the first five episodes of the new season and then…
Well, how to put this?
I got bored.
Seriously, I tried to make excuses for the glacial pace of season 7. I kept telling myself that it was actually a brilliant narrative decision. I defended the controversial first episode and I’ll continue to do so. I enjoyed the second episode, largely because of the tiger. But, after that, I started to get bored. Each episode introduced us to a new community of boring people. Each episode featured a lot of conversation but little action. And what little action there was regularly interrupted by Negan popping up and screaming for half an hour. As much as I like character development and conversation, this is a show about the end of the world. There’s only so much time that I can spend watching Rick look depressed.
And so, after five episodes, I gave up on the first half of season 7. It was just too slow and the show was spending so much time on what a badass Negan supposedly was that the zombies had become an afterthought. Did season 7 really need a special 90 minute episode of Negan acting like a dick? I still watched the show but mentally, I checked out. And, judging by how the ratings cratered between the 1st episode (8.7 million viewers) and the 8th episode (5 million viewers), I was not alone in being dissatisfied.
But, in the break between the end of the first half of season 7 and tonight’s return, I’ve had time to recover. Today, as I debated whether to actually watch the new episode of The Walking Dead, I considered that this show has hit rough spots in the past. It’s never been a perfect show. I wasn’t a huge fan of season 1 and, in later seasons, I thought they spent way too much time at Herschel’s farm. But, in the past, when The Walking Dead has needed to deliver, that’s exactly what it’s done. In short, I decided to give The Walking Dead a second chance.
And, having just watched tonight’s episode, I’m glad that I did. Rock in the Road was a good episode. In fact, it may have been the best episode since The Well. There were still flaws, of course. As any true Walking Dead fan knows, this show has always been uneven. The Walking Dead is a gloriously imperfect show but, at its best, it’s the type of show that can almost make those flaws seem admirable. It’s easy to get frustrated with The Walking Dead‘s leisurely pace and rambling narrative. But, ultimately, that leisurely pace has also led to some of The Walking Dead‘s most resonant moments.
Much like every other episode so far in season 7, Rock in the Road told its story slowly but, at the same time, it at least had a destination in mind. Rick has finally snapped out of his self-pity and is now trying to build an alliance to fight Negan and the Saviors. As this episode showed, it won’t necessarily be easy. But, at least Rick is actually trying to do something!
There are several reasons why Rock in the Road was a noticeable improvement over the first half of the season. Here’s a few:
- Action Rick is more fun than Shellshocked Rick. As an actor, Andrew Lincoln is far more compelling when he’s standing up for himself than when he’s being grimly morose. To be honest, I’ve never been sold on Rick as a leader. When I watched him trying to build up his anti-Negan alliance, I found myself wondering if people were aware that Rick doesn’t exactly have a great track record as far as keeping people alive is concerned. But, in the end, it didn’t matter. Action Rick is fun, even if you know all of his plans are doomed to go terribly wrong.
- This episode actually had a few moments of humor. The first half of season 7 was way too grim. Just because the world is ending, that doesn’t mean people are going to stop being snarky.
- Ezekiel! The first community that Rick and his group visited was the Kingdom so they got to meet King Ezekiel and Shiva. Ezekiel and the Kingdom were the highlight of the first half of season 7 and it looks like that might be true for the second half as well. I loved the entire sequence at the Kingdom, everything from Ezekiel’s promise to have an answer by “the morrow” to the wonderful moment when Jesus realized that he had forgotten everyone’s names.
- No Negan! Well, that’s not quite true. We heard Negan’s voice but, for the first time in a long time, we had an episode where the entire narrative didn’t have to stop just so Negan could launch another one of his insane gym coach monologues. Like most great villains, Negan works best in small doses.
- That final scene! I’m going to guess from the lack of men and children that those were Oceansiders who were surrounding Rick. Rick’s smile provided a wonderful final shot for this episode. When he flashed that smile, I realized that the old Rick was finally back.
I was really happy with Rock in the Road. In fact, I’m happy enough to actually watch next week as well. Hopefully, this episode will be the start of season 7’s redemption.