Sunday, February 12, 2017

Walking Dead recap: Season 7, Episode 9, "Rock in the Road"

If The Walking Dead were a boxer, it'd be hit-like-a-hammer George Foreman, not float-like-a-butterfly Muhammed Ali, so the sly head-fake that opens “Rock in the Road” comes as a welcome surprise, throwing us effectively off balance. The episode starts where the midseason finale left off: outside at night in Alexandria with Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) just after an as-yet-unidentified stranger, whose face we've yet to see, leaps down from the wall where he or she was spying on him. The ominous memory of that mystery stalker—not to mention the show's penchant for blowing up any post-apocalyptic community that starts to feel safe or stable—primes us for mayhem, as Gabriel finishes pondering a passage in his Bible and heads into the supply room. So when the camera lags behind him as he rounds a corner, the sudden clatter registers as the sounds of a struggle until the camera catches up and Gabriel is seen loading up on canned goods and tools that could double as weapons, which he then puts in the trunk of a car that he drives off into the night.

On the surface, Gabriel going AWOL on the eve of war with the Saviors, after stealing supplies from a community that lives by scavenging, seems like the ultimate act of betrayal. Except one of The Walking Dead's signature moves is staging an unexplained departure by a member of Rick's group that initially appears to be a betrayal but turns out to be something else entirely. And sure enough, the note that Rick finds from Gabriel appears to be evidence that he wanted them to know where he'd gone to if he ever went missing.

We get a welcome break from Negan this week as Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and most of his crew start rounding up allies in the other communities, though the leaders of both the Kingdom and the Hilltop prove harder to convince. Pronouns are important, as people either embrace or reject the notion of becoming part of Rick's “us.” Gregory (Xander Berkeley) does his usual weasel-y Neville Chamberlain bit before bristling at Rick's use of “we” and throwing the group out of his office. King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) is more sympathetic, looking appropriately concerned and aware of the magnitude of the situation as Rick asks him to go to war. He also gives Morgan (Lennie James) the floor, so we get a brief pitch for the nonviolent alternative. Read the rest in Slant Magazine

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