The midseason premiere of The Walking Dead solidified itself as the return of Rick Grimes, warrior-diplomat. The Greg Nicotero project might have caught flak for its initial bout in the seventh season, but showrunners have promised a return to the series roots in the coming episodes. With a truly menacing villain and plenty of intrigue on the horizon, The Walking Dead is priming itself for a fantastic late-season run.
*SPOILERS for the mid-season premiere of The Walking Dead follow*
At this point, Rick Grimes and company are still struggling against the iron grip of Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan and his fanatical, leather-fixated Saviors. Even timid souls such as Father Gabriel have reached a breaking point under such a dictatorship, as the holy man ransacked the supply pantry and took his leave in the type of spectacular, dialogue free cold open that Nicotero and company have made a hallmark of.
Rick, for better or worse, has been sufficiently pissed off to the point of recalling who he is – a rebel and survivior. The symbolic return of his Python in the mid-season finale might have foreshadowed as much, but this episode made it clear. His initial attempts at bartering with Hilltop leader Gregory fell on deaf ears, but Rick had a natural faith in his allies as he put faith in Jesus and Maggie to sway popular opinion. It took all of five seconds to secure assistance from Hilltop residents, and all of ten to receive Jesus’ decision to be introduced to Ezekiel. In a flash, Rick’s world was opened to a new ally with plenty of resources and almost as much fanatical loyalty as Negan receives.
Jesus clearly knows Ezekiel’s survivors. The exchange between him and The Kingdom’s Richard is a much needed dose of dark humor in the dangerous world the group lives in. Rick’s re-reunion with Morgan, in addition to being as drab as the first, grants itself to a fantastic exchange between Rick and the king. Yeah, the tiger. However, Rick’s explanation of the Savior situation gives a glimpse into Ezekiel’s own shady actions. For all his seeming benevolence, His Majesty never informed his people about the deal between The Kingdom and Negan. Rather than Ezekiel, it is Richard who posits rebellion. Morgan’s pacifistic nature comes through again, but Rick spins his own tale which seems to draw a response. It’s Andrew Lincoln at his finest.
The Kingdom’s seemingly archaic (but clearly effective) way of life is further expanded. Archery and cardio seem to be key fundamentals, something which Darryl’s rediscovered tongue doesn’t seem to take seriously. Even when informed of the involved sacrifice and offered asylum, he disregards it. Negan’s hold has taken a hold on his newfound sense of compassion, though Rick informs him that he must stay in The Kingdom for the foreseeable future.
Sadly, Darryl’s escape from the Savior compound has drawn a degree of ire. Negan is posting alerts with his men via radio and signaling for a raid of Alexandria “in case Darryl ran home like the dog he is.” As it turns out, Rick’s decision to bring Rosita along turns out well when she gives information about how to acquire explosives proves to be invaluable. Rick and Michonne’s use of a wire to take out their legs is, for lack of a better term, beautiful. Michonne sums up the tone of the episode with a simple statement.
“We made it. We can make it.”
Though the expanding world of The Walking Dead has rubbed some fans the wrong way, it appears that the group’s currently split situation will soon recoalesce. Maggie’s solidifying herself among the leadership at Hilltop, and Ezekiel’s shadowy actions are overrun by his desire for justice. Darryl and Morgan’s presence are sure to help spur progress. Rick and Maggie (Margaret?) may have failed at acquiring Gregory’s to assistance, but such a passive leader is known to fall quickly in a world of walkers and danger. Even the flamboyant residents of Ezekiel’s kingdom seem to sense Gregory’s weakness, making them key allies for the coming battle with Negan’s army. Judging by the closing moments of the premiere, a skirmish may come sooner than later, as Saviors appear in Alexandria for Darryl and a sweep of the premises. In other words, to wreck up the place. In the process, it is revealed that Gabriel may have taken more than a few cans of food. Indeed, he’s left a message which Aaron and the runners are set on following. What they find appears to be a whole mess of trouble, depending on how you interpret Rick’s goofy smile.
What we know for certain is that Greg Nicotero and company’s promise for a return to The Walking Dead that fans have come to love seems to be building. The foundation has been lain for a real rebellion against Negan’s rule, something which may take time but is bound to result in the type of wide ranging sequences which made the saga of The Governor worth witnessing. That means more action, more intrigue, and (hopefully) more grisly zombie deaths.