“The Walking Dead” kicks back off with a bang

The mid season premiere, “Rock in the Road,” was watched by an estimated 12 million people, making it the third most watched episode this season. (Courtesy of AMC)

Andrew Sciascia
Connector Editor

Football season is over. That means the zombie-slaying, skull-crushing, narrative-driven survival horror has returned to Sunday nights.

After a two-month hiatus, AMC’s hit television program “The Walking Dead” is back with the second half of its seventh season. The newest episode, “Rock in the Road,” hits on all cylinders, providing an emotionally impactful episode and a nail-biter all in one.

After an emotionally charged, brutal and downright jarring first eight episodes, with the introduction of Negan, the subsequent horrific deaths of Glen and Abraham, and Negan proceeding to dominate Rick’s group, the back end of this season has a lot to live up to.

The B-side of the season picks up where the A-side left off: Rick Grimes, ex-sheriff and leader of the Alexandria Safe Zone, finally deciding to take on his bat-wielding, potty-mouthed, sociopath enemy Negan.

After weeks of being forced to pay tribute to The Saviors and having his friends and fellow survivors beaten or slaughtered and being degraded Negan, Rick is ready to do the unthinkable: go to war.

However, without key weapons, resources and significant man power, Rick and the gang are sure they cannot stand up to Negan. They will have to go behind their enemies’ backs to scavenge for and hide supplies for the war effort, and also recruit other communities to aid in the fight.

The episode, for the most part, revolves around three key points: Rick and the gang attempting to secure alliances with Gregory at the Hilltop and King Ezekiel at the Kingdom, an excruciatingly intense highway sequence, and the Saviors searching for Daryl, who has just recently escaped imprisonment.

Despite receiving no aid from a cowardly Gregory at the Hilltop, Rick finds support from many of the community’s members. He especially finds it in Jesus, who in turn introduces Rick to King Ezekiel.

In an incredibly well-written scene in the throne room of the Kingdom, Rick supplicates the King, who seems none-too-thrilled at the idea of risking his people’s safety for the prospect of battle. However, Rick delivers a beautiful story his mother used to tell him about a large rock in the road on the way to a massive kingdom and the unlikely hero who removed it. He also tells of how despite the great effort and loss suffered by the hero, she was rewarded beyond her wildest dreams.

Rick’s clever and inspiring story does not, however, sway the king and the group leaves the Kingdom empty handed.

Yet, on the way home, the group stumbles upon a “rock in the road” of their own: a highway-spanning explosive rig set up by Negan’s men to destroy a large herd of walkers traveling in its direction.

The result is possibly the most intense scene of the entire series. Deciding that the explosives are too useful to pass up, Rick and the gang decide to disarm the bomb and take the RPGs and dynamite. With a massive heard bearing down on them, tense violin music on a crescendo throughout the lengthy scene, and the intensity of multiple bomb defusals, the scene will keep viewers on the edges of their seats.

The scene comes to an explosive finish and contains one of the most interesting mass walker killings the series has ever seen. It was simply a masterpiece.

With the rest of the extra-long 51-minute episode centered around strong dialogue, the Saviors’ visit to Alexandria in search of Daryl and a cliffhanger ending, it was everything its fan base could have asked for and more.

“Rock in the Road” was well-written and visually masterful. There was a mix of captivating storytelling and intense, bloody action sequences. The episode incorporated everything that makes “The Walking Dead” great. Its ability to captivate an audience with meaningful dialogue and Rick’s occasional stunning monologue. Its ability to scare us and keep us on the edge of our seats.

Foremost, this series is best when it sticks to its roots and acknowledges what it is and is not. It is not a mindless zombie-slasher. It is not a drama. It is a character-driven survival-horror. Sunday night reaffirmed commitment to that. Never taking itself too seriously, but never delving into the weeds for gratuitous violence or meaningless action.

If the rest of the season continues on this track, filling each moment with meaning and excitement whilst avoiding excessive filler content, these next seven episodes will make this the greatest season the show has ever had.

Final Grade: A+

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