Hopefully, it’s time for fans of AMC’s The Walking Dead to breathe again—in more ways than just one. The newest half-season of AMC’s hit show premiered last Sunday night with an extended, 50-plus minute runtime. And while the execution was not perfect, of course, it appears that the showrunners have taken huge steps toward addressing the concern that the show was on the decline.
“Rock in the Road,” last Sunday’s premiere, comes on the heels of a heavily-criticized first half of Season Seven. Viewers and television critics alike have expressed doubts, many of which have revolved around the show’s pacing and character development. For the time being, however, it appears that these doubts have largely been remedied. “Rock in the Road” moved at a shockingly quick pace, developing multiple storylines at once without ever feeling fractured or spread thin. The Walking Dead shines the most when its characters operate in tandem to progress their stories, and last Sunday’s episode is Season Seven’s shining pinnacle of that reality.
The second layer to common Walking Dead criticisms is the sometimes weak writing, but “Rock in the Road” is one of the strongest episodes of the show in recent memory, both writing and character wise. Andrew Lincoln’s (Rick Grimes) rock-in-the-road speech, for which the episode was named, was the most memorable protagonist monologue this season.
Likewise, both Xander Berkeley and Khary Payton (Gregory and King Ezekiel, respectively) have become two of the strongest assets the show has with their exceptional acting and delivery. Berkeley in particular lends some serious clout to the annoying bureaucrat that he plays—the unceasing stupidity of his character is almost tough to believe sometimes, but Berkeley skillfully drives home the true spinelessness of some human beings.
And, naturally, Jeffrey Dean Morgan deserves an honorable mention as well. Portraying the show’s main antagonist, Negan, he is one of the most praised elements of The Walking Dead right now—and rightfully so. His hilarious eulogizing of the recently deceased character Fat Joey was off-the-charts funny, an association that seems strange for such a menacing individual.
Along with these much needed changes to character development and tone, longtime fans will be happy to hear that The Walking Dead has not toned down its propensity for realism in violence that has helped make the program so well-known. The main action sequence of “Rock in the Road,” involving two cars, explosives, a connected steel cable, and a gigantic herd of “walkers,” was one of the most intense moments Season Seven has had to offer. It is too early to ascertain whether or not this will be the status quo in the episodes to come, but the show has a good track record—if it keeps it up, this will unquestionably be one more step in the right direction.
With all of this in mind, the most important point to address here is the way in which these changes and continuations have already affected the tone of the show. Several of the opening episodes of Season Seven were something of a slog to get through—not because they were poorly shot or executed, but because the overarching theme of the content was so centered around the soul-crushing defeat (and ensuing depression) that the main characters had experienced at the end of Season Six. Opening the second half of Season Seven with such a fast-paced, quickly-developing, progression-oriented episode injected new life not only into the protagonists of The Walking Dead, but the viewers as well. Especially now, when both action scenes and themes of rebellion are being tied into the plot so expertly, it feels as though fans of the show have reason to smile again.
In some ways, the deaths of Walking Dead mains Glenn Rhee and Abraham Ford feel like a metaphor for the growth of the show itself. Bad things are bound to happen along the way (be it tyrannical rulers, the reanimation of the dead, or just questionable sound design), but there is genuine good to be found by the end of all this mess. Ultimately, The Walking Dead seems to be a show of redemption, both for its characters as well as its own production. As long as the writers and showrunners stay on the path they have now begun to pave, the world is looking rather bright—even if the dead are still trying to feast on the flesh of the living.
Featured Image by AMC