It's no secret the first half of The Walking Dead's Season 7 was a lot to handle. Our favorite characters were broken, bullied, and scattered (the first two would have been more tolerable if that third wasn't a factor). With Sunday night's midseason 7 premiere, one thing is clear: that is all over now.
Right off the bat, the second half of The Walking Dead's seventh season has a completely different tone by comparison to its Season 7 premiere on October 23. What started as Rick's group being slaughtered by the merciless Negan and his Saviors all lead to Rick rallying Gregory's Hilltop community in an effort to take down the menacing group. If taking on the Saviors wasn't enough of a task, getting Alexandria's surrounding communities on board to go to war is going to be just as much of a challenge. Gregory is having none of it in Xander Berkeley's best scenes yet. For the first time, his nicknames and misnaming came across as humorous for the audience while Ricky and Margaret (err…Maggie) were doing anything but laughing.
With this conversation, The Walking Dead introduced something it hasn't dabbled in so far: politics. Sure, debates have been held within the group, such as Shane and Rick's very different leadership perspectives a few seasons back, but multiple leaders making game changing decisions with trust issues tied to each statement has never been present. Of course, the clear cut coward Gregory is, the "leader" turned down Rick's plea for soldiers but the Hilltop's citizens were very much on board. The best part of their rally? Enid was behind it. The continued growth of each character is one area where Season 7 has flourished, seeing Tara become a prominent part of the bunch, Maggie all but conquering the Hilltop, and Father Gabriel stepping up back home.
Speaking of Father Gabriel, the episode started off with a major question mark which was left unanswered when the credits popped up. The man of God cleared out Alexandria's pantry and hit the road, opening up a brand new mystery for The Walking Dead to explore in the next few episodes. If he did, in fact, head to the boat Rick and Aaron has previously found, how did he know about it? And why did he bring literally all of the food? It would be hard to believe he's crossing Rick, seeing as he finally earned the man's trust when he stepped to the plate and covered up Maggie's trip to the Hilltop earlier this season.
All storylines aside, what made Rock in the Road so great was the fact that it was outright enjoyable. Nobody had to die for the episode to keep our attention through its slightly extended run time. This is largely credited to Khary Payton and his King Ezekiel character. Every scene involving the extravagant tiger taming leader demands full attention from viewers as he belts out phrases like "Rick Grimes of Alexandria!" in a manner just close enough to parody that it is believable and still a blast. That said, Ezekiel shut Rick's plan to go to war down firmly, displaying The Walking Dead's new political layout once again and forcing Rick to revisit his campaign.
Now, which one of these guys is in love with Carol? Is it Ezekiel or Daryl? The subtle look of sadness on Daryl's face when Morgan told him she had came and gone from the Kingdom indicated a true desire to reunite with the woman but it's Ezekiel who has been trying to cozy up with her. Despite wanting to be left alone, Carol finds herself being courted by two of the show's best men. To top it all off, Daryl stayed behind to hang with Ezekiel in an effort to avoid the Saviors' search parties having recently escaped their Sanctuary. Conversations between those two survivors are something to look forward to as Ezekiel's positivity will be challenged by Daryl's aggressively blunt and often hostile demeanor.
The highlight of the episode, though, was when The Walking Dead reminded us that zombies are still a threat and we have only scratched the surface on Greg Nicotero's ability to come up with epic ways to kill them. As a herd approached Rick, Michonne, Sasha, Jesus and others on a highway, Nicotero improvised an unscripted sequence from the director's chair which might become one of the most iconic of the AMC series. The apocalyptic power couple used cars connected by wire to mow down hundreds of the undead at the waist, quickly dispatching a huge portion of the more enormous herd. The moment was cause for cheer (and awe). Plus, Rick's group came out of it with a new supply of much needed explosives!
The return of The Walking Dead on Sunday indicated one thing above all else: the show we love is back. All of our core characters, even Carol, made the cut for Sunday night's episode and it helped the episode roll on all cylinders. Rick speaking to Ezekiel was only enhanced by Daryl's "We're wasting our time!" quips as level-headed Jesus kept them all in check and Morgan begged the opinion of keeping people alive. The characters we love are slowly starting to resemble themselves again as we hit the road toward a war which will likely take some of them away from us.
Sunday's belong to the dead, again.
MORE THE WALKING DEAD:
How Tom Payne Plans To Make Negan Look Stupid / Season 7 Finale Cliffhanger? / Rock In The Road Recap / How Will Rick Convince King Ezekiel? / Khary Payton Explains Ezekiel's Decision / Ross Marquand On Aaron And Eric's Emotional Scene / Those Epic Zombie Kills Almost Didn't Happen!
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 pm ET on AMC.