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The Walking Dead S714: The Other Side

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[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. I mean, come on, you know how this works]

 Well it had to happen eventually, didn’t it? After five solid episodes of The Walking Dead in a row we were probably overdue for a dud. That’s not to say “The Other Side” is without its moments, but it’s far too late in the day (and the season) for such a meandering, talky episode.

The cold open is played mostly without dialogue, which works very much in its favour. We see a montage featuring Maggie (Lauren Cohan) teaching classes in knife yoga (and blade chuckin’), we get a glimpse at the bun in her oven via an ultrasound. We see Sasha (Sonequa Martin) sketching a map of Negan’s HQ with help from Jesus (Tom Payne) and even a beat where Maggie gives some food to a brooding Daryl (Norman Reedus). The message of this latter beat is clear, Daryl may still blame himself for Glenn’s death but Maggie doesn’t. Then Rosita (Christian Serratos) arrives and joins up with Sasha and the talking begins, along with the eye-rolling. I’ve dubbed this idiotic pairing of Sasha and Rosita ‘The Spite Girls’ and their grand plan ‘Operation Dipshit’. Proceed accordingly. Cue opening titles.

After a brief bit of dialogue where Jesus reveals to Maggie that he’s gay (which middle America must just love!) Sasha spends a whole scene trying to rationalise Operation Dipshit to Jesus and Enid (Katelyn Nacon), but it falls flat. It’s hard to believe any character would think Rosita’s plan is a good one, much less Sasha who, while moody, has proven herself capable and intelligent before this.

Then the Saviors arrive, headed by Simon (Steven Ogg) and the Spite Girls exit through a previously unseen secret tunnel hidden under a woodpile that looks like something out of Get Smart. The Saviors want Daryl but he and Maggie hide in the basement.

Operation Dipshit gets off to a slow start because the Spite Girls can’t find a car that works. The problems are further compounded by the fact the pair don’t actually like one another very much, and after Rosita spies Sasha’s necklace from Abraham, she snipes: “Like it? I made it.” Later Sasha suggests that maybe this suicide mission would be better with less suicide, and Rosita harrumphs like a moody teenager who just had her Joy Division collection confiscated until she cleans her room.

Back with the Saviors, Simon menaces everyone while slimy Gregory (Xander Berkeley) brown noses to an embarrassing degree. Eventually it becomes clear that Simon needs to take Doc Carson (R. Keith Harris) who is the brother of the other Doc Carson (Tim Parati) that Negan turned into a woodfired pizza in “Hostiles and Calamities”. Gregory almost stands up to Simon but buckles like a belt when Steven Ogg turns on his “Trevor from GTA V” crazy eyes.

Daryl and Maggie have a slower, less elegant version of the scene in the cold open where Maggie affirms that she doesn’t blame Daryl for the death of Glenn. It’s an adequate moment but in an episode that struggles to find momentum it’s not exactly adding anything new.

The Spite Girls flog a car from some rowdy zombies and make it to The Sanctuary. Looking through the sniper scope they see Eugene (Josh McDermitt) supervising security near his metal-headed zombies. Rosita seems to think Eugene is “playing an angle” but Sasha doesn’t look as sure.

Then the Spite Girls remember they used to be pretty decent characters and bond over shared memories of Abraham, with Rosita filling in her backstory on why she’s so good at defusing explosives and flogging cars. Spoiler alert: it’s because she’s had a lot of shonky exes. The ladies attempt to take a shot at Negan but can’t get a clean one off. Looks like it’s time for Operation Dipshit to begin!

Moving in close, Rosita attempts to “rescue” Eugene who literally starts crying and runs away, apparently to tattle to Negan. Jesus, Eugene, that Stockholm Syndrome kicked in fast, eh mate? Sasha pretends like she’s breaking through the fence but is in fact trapping Rosita on the outside. Sasha has decided it’s not “Rosita’s time” and runs off, shooting a henchman on the way. Rosita looks like she’s ready to have a massive dummy spit when she turns and spies a figure with a crossbow nearby. Is it Daryl? Is it Dwight? We don’t know because flabbergastingly that’s where the episode ends.

“The Other Side” is an adequate 45 minutes of television but for the ante-penultimate episode of Season 7 it can’t help but feel like a bit of a fizzer. Hopefully this will mean the next two eps are thrill-filled crackers, because god knows we don’t want another season six finale cliffhanger situation. Don’t let us down, Walking Dead, or there will be strongly-worded tweets, by crikey!

 
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Feud

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The relationship between the highly prolific showrunner Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story, American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson) and US cable network FX has been a largely fruitful one. When Murphy pitched the idea for his latest effort, Feud, a themed series that depicts famously combative relationships with the maiden series covering the filming of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and the bitter rivalry between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, FX head honcho John Landgraf immediately gave the thumbs up. It’s intended that each series will cover a different real-life feud, with the next series focusing on the tumultuous relationship between Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) trawls dozens of novels that feature strong female characters in order to find a project for herself, given the dearth of decent roles for women of her age and stature. She stumbles across Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? about two sisters and decides to offer the co-lead to her arch rival Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon). She ropes in Robert Aldrich (Kiss Me Deadly, Flight of the Phoenix, The Dirty Dozen, played by Alfred Molina here) to direct. Aldrich ends up as the meat in the emotional sandwich as these two golden age goddesses hammer away at each other’s neurotic self-image and deep-seated sense of inferiority. Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci) is adamant that Aldrich keep the two former screen sirens at each other’s throats because of the tremendous publicity that gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Judy Davis) is giving the production. As every day throws a new headline and a new volcanic meltdown on set, Aldrich does his best to play the two off against each other as the actresses both begin to fray at the edges. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Kathy Bates plays actresses Olivia de Havilland and Joan Blondell respectively.

The show looks fantastic and it is clear Murphy and his team relish the production design and style of the era. As a slice of old Hollywood history, it’s nice to bask in the recreation of the period.

 

 

 
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The Walking Dead S7E13: Bury Me Here

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[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. I mean, come on, you know how this works]

 Morgan has in recent seasons become one of the more annoying characters on The Walking Dead. The blame for this rests not on the shoulders of actor Lennie James, who consistently delivers A-grade performances even when he’s working with shonky material, but rather in the maddeningly inconsistent writing for his character.

This is a character who has been with us since the beginning, has featured on one of the best episodes ever, “Clear” from season 3, and still provides solid thrills in his better moments. However his recent conversion to pacifism has gone from mildly interesting to frankly idiotic, but with “Bury me Here” it looks like Morgan’s ready to make war not peace.

The episode begins with a bunch of characters from the Kingdom glaring at a rockmelon. We’re not sure what the piece of fruit has done wrong, other than be the least interesting part of a fruit salad, and the credits begin before we can find out.

We move through dual action of Carol (Melissa McBride) heading into the Kingdom (dispatching zombies with a street sign, bless her heart) and Morgan teaching stick fighting to Benjamin’s younger brother. Carol grills Morgan about Daryl, wanting to know if her best bud was withholding information in his previous visit. Morgan replies that it’s not his secret to tell, leaving Carol frustrated. Benjamin (Logan Miller) tries to bond with Carol on the way out but she wants none of his nonsense and brushes him off. Then Ben gifts Morgan a thoughtful painting and those of us who have been watching The Walking Dead for a while know the little tacker’s days are numbered.

A number of Kingdom members, including Benjamin, Morgan and Richard (Karl Makinen) head off to the drop point to pay their tribute to the Saviors. They’re stopped by a barricade constructed of shopping trolleys and find an empty grave nearby with a sign saying “Bury me Here”. Creepy.

They arrive late at the drop and are one rockmelon short a tribute. The Saviors are none too pleased and it looks like they’re going to kill off one of our heroes. Richard steps forward to take one for the team but the arsehole Saviors shoot Benjamin in the leg instead. Ezekiel and Morgan attempt to save Benjamin at Carol’s place but it’s too late, Benjamin bleeds out and Morgan goes dark. Really dark.

Morgan soon puts the pieces together and realises the whole caper was set up by Richard, who wanted his own death to start the war with the Saviors. Morgan takes Richard’s explanation on the chin, but there’s something going on behind his eyes. Savior tribute round two and the gang deliver one rockmelon (so that explains it!) but before it goes on too long Morgan leaps on Richard and chokes him to a messy, gasping death in front of everyone.

Members of the Kingdom and Saviors alike are frankly horrified, even after Morgan explains the whole nasty business was Richard’s fault. Still the war is delayed for the moment and Morgan decides to obey the sign and buries Richard where the grave was dug. Then Morgan goes on a wild-eyed zombie bashing spree and it’s deliriously wonderful, but he’s clearly unravelling.

Morgan heads back to Carol’s place and finally tells her the truth about Glenn and Abraham. Carol tears up but manages to hold it together long enough to offer the now near-psychotic Morgan use of her halfway house. She won’t be needing it anymore.

Back at the Kingdom Carol arrives in time to plant new life in Ezekiel’s garden where the pair of them agree they will need to fight soon but “not today”. Carol also mentions that she’s moving into the Kingdom. She’s ready to be part of the community. To fight for it and to die for it.

“Bury me Here” is a solid bit of piece-moving that finally gives us back Morgan and Carol ready to fight. It’s a little rough around the edges, and Richard’s plans were deeply dubious, but it seems like the Kingdom’s finally ready to join the war – which is good news for everyone. Except, you know, Negan.

 
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The Walking Dead S7E12: Say Yes

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[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. I mean, come on, you know how this works]

It’s almost always good news when Greg Nicotero directs an episode of The Walking Dead. Nicotero started out in the world of special makeup effects, learning under the tutelage of the maestro, Tom Savini, and honed his craft on the set of George Romero’s Day of the Dead (1985). What this means in practical terms is that Nicotero knows how to shoot zombie action and always delivers something fresh and memorable, which isn’t bad for a television series in its seventh season.

Nicotero’s latest, “Say Yes”, is also his nineteenth episode and the man shows no sign of running out of new ways to deliver fresh twists on ambulatory corpses, but more on that in a moment. First a quick recap.

The cold open has Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Michonne (Dana Gurira) moseying around the countryside in what could quite honestly be its own spin-off show called Scavengin’ and Lovin’ with the tagline “they loot, shoot and occasionally root!” It’s a jaunty little sequence and really plays to the rarely-seen lighter side of both characters, although as Rick suggests they keep on pushing further out the ominous music clues us in to the fact this might be a terrible idea. Cue titles.

Back at Alexandria, Rosita (Christian Serratos) is being unnecessarily dickish to Tara (Alanna Masterson). There’s nothing wrong with Rosita being mad that her ex was clobbered into a fine patch of skull porridge but her petulant, adolescent reaction is winning her no friends. She pops off to find firearms (a recurring motif of “Say Yes”) and is almost eaten by a large mama zombie that looks like it washes itself with a rag on a stick. Rosita lives but scores nothing for her troubles except a kid’s toy gun. Damn you, American children and your realistic-looking toy weapons!

Back with the A plot, Rick and Michonne fall into some supplies. Literally. The roof of the building they’re on collapses and it’s food for all. Even better the nearby carnival is brimming with military zombies who are all packing some serious heat. The loved up duo enjoy each other’s company, and the freshly-found food, as they prepare to take down the zombies in the light of day. Michonne asks Rick “What happens after we win?” Rick claims he doesn’t want a continuation of the Ricktatorship, but would be happy to rule as partners with Michonne. This seems like a sensible course of action.

Meanwhile in the B plots, Rosita is unnecessarily dickish to Father Gabriel for a while and Tara wonders aloud to baby Judith (aka Lil’ Ass-Kicker) if she should tell Rick about the Oceanside community.

Back at the carnival of the damned, Rick and Michonne embark on a mission to clear out the fairground and claim their weapons. At first things run smoothly, with the dead going down nice and easy, however when a well-armed walker accidently pops off a few rounds things turn south and the pair have to improvise. This is the meat of “Say Yes” and it’s totally worth the wait. Seeing two of the show’s most capable characters dispatching zombies, changing weapons on the fly and just managing to escape from certain death is a thrill. Sadly, however, Rick falls off a ferris wheel and is devoured by zombies.

Oh, alright, that doesn’t actually happen – but for a few moments Michonne thinks it does and it sours the mood from dry levity to something darker. Later Michonne laments that she can’t lose Rick, but Rick disagrees. “You can lose me,” he says in a surprisingly nuanced argument for The Walking Dead, “It’s not about us anymore, it’s about a future.”

Then we’re back to Junktown where Rick does some more sexy bartering with Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh), queen of the Scavengers (aka Heapsters) who agrees to fight but only after she receives yet more weapons. Tara has wrestled with her demons and approaches Rick, apparently to tell him about the Oceansiders. Things are moving forwards and the plan appears to be gathering steam.

The episode concludes with Rosita approaching Sasha (Sonequa Martin) but instead of being unnecessarily dickish, she proposes the pair of them join forces and take out Negan by themselves, alone, with a single sniper rifle. It’s a plan so bad that the term “face-palmingly fucking stupid” is woefully insufficient a descriptor and yet apparently rendered simple-minded by grief Sasha agrees as long as she can fire the killing shot. Odds are high that at least one of this pair won’t be back for season eight.

“Say Yes” is a solid, fast-paced and frequently funny episode that skillfully matches striking imagery – fairground zombies, a walker falling to pieces in Rick’s hands, a wandering deer amidst the carnage – with genuinely solid character work in the A plot. The notion that society could, and indeed has to, continue after our heroes are gone is a strong one and perhaps hints at a potential endgame for the series.

 
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The Walking Dead S7E11 – Hostiles and Calamities

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[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. I mean, come on, you know how this works]

What’s it like to be the henchman of a truly evil person? That’s the question that underlies every scene in this week’s quirky detour, “Hostiles and Calamities”. The theme is explored through the experiences of two of the show’s most eccentric characters, Eugene (Josh McDermitt) and Dwight (Austin Amelio) with a number of tense appearances from Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who is a much more effective villain when used sparingly, but more on that later.

We open with Dwight discovering Daryl has flown the coop and Eugene getting delivered to Negan’s compound aka The Sanctuary. It’s a nice juxtaposition, as Dwight is one of Negan’s favoured acolytes and Eugene is a hostage, literally bound with a sack over his head, but we’re about to see a rather neat reversal of fortune.

Eugene is dragged towards what we imagine will end up being a grim and grisly cell but is in fact a totally terrifying… comfortable-looking room! He’s then offered a meal and is left to his own devices. His fridge is full, the stereo works and Eugene cranks that bloody ‘Easy Street’ song. Enjoy having that stuck in your head for another week. Thanks a bunch, Walking Dead.

The Walking DeadDwight meanwhile ponders the note Daryl received that reads “Go now”. Does he recognise the handwriting or is he just an ardent fan of neat penmanship? His train of thought is abruptly derailed as Negan is at the door with a group of Saviors. Poker night for the boys? No, actually it’s a savage beating for Dwight. Negan is evidently displeased by Daryl’s escape and perhaps something else? Cue the opening titles.

The next day Dwight, found lounging in Daryl’s old cell, receives a visit from Negan. Apparently Sherry (Christine Evangelista) former wife of Dwight and current “wife” of Negan, has done a runner. Negan wants to know if she helped Daryl and, perhaps more importantly, where she is. After reestablishing his dominance over Dwight with a classic “Who are you?”, “I’m Negan” exchange, Dwight says he’ll find Sherry and bring her back, first paying creepy, gaunt-looking Dr. Carson (Tim Parati) a visit to get his busted mug fixed. No shade, Dwight, but that’s like pouring perfume on a pig, mate.

Eugene meanwhile gets a brief tour of what looks like the most depressing post-apocalyptic version of Paddy’s Markets imaginable and scores a jar of pickles for his troubles. He’s then lead outside where Negan quizzes our clearly-on-the-spectrum hero about just how smart Eugene really is. Initially, it does not go well, and Eugene delivers a stumbling, flustered monologue about his own intelligence to little avail. As if to punctuate just how badly he flopped a nearby zombie drops its guts, leading Negan to ask how Brains Trust would fix the problem of fence zombies falling apart like poorly-rolled burritos. Eugene comes up with an insane plan that involves pouring molten lead over the walkers. Naturally Negan loves it, praising the idea as “not only practical… it is just badass!” Eugene lives to eat more pickles, but just what game is he playing?

As a reward for his grand idea, Doctor Smartypants (Eugene’s new nickname) gets a visit from three of Negan’s wives. Frankie (Elyse Nicole DuFour), Tanya (Chloe Aktas) and Amber (Autumn Dial) all purr and coo at Eugene who plays Yar’s Revenge on an old Atari 2600. Eventually the ladies convince Eugene to perform a few explosive science experiments and the mulleted one delivers, getting awkward hugs and mild sexual tension for his efforts. Eugene, you lady killer.

Meanwhile Dwight searches his old house and finds a note from Sherry. Sherry apologises for leaving, but claims they never should have returned to the Saviors. Even though that course of action was Sherry’s idea, the note concludes with “I loved who you were – I am sorry I made you into who you are” and Dwight finds his former wife’s wedding rings inside. It’s a surprisingly emotional moment and one can almost sympathise with Dwight’s plight, although a lot depends on what he does next.

Meanwhile back at The Sanctuary, Frankie and Tanya beg Eugene for a suicide pill to give Amber. Amber has fallen into a dark and abiding depression and wants to shuffle off this mortal coil painlessly and soon. This seems a lot to lay on the big fella, but Eugene mumbles and nods his assent and uses his newfound status to score meds at the market, not to mention a bedpan, flyswatter and cuddly toy.

Dwight returns and tells Doc Carson that Sherry was torn apart by walkers. Carson is about as sympathetic as a particularly callous brick and one wonders why the scene exists at all. The question is answered in the next sequence where Negan is heating up the branding iron in the furnace. It seems a note has been found in the not-very-good doctor’s belongings, implying that he wanted to impress Sherry by releasing Daryl to curry her sexual favour. A ripped bit of paper seems a fairly thin piece of evidence, but Negan is convinced and offers Carson the iron or the apology. Because Carson has clearly never watched the show before, he admits his guilt, apologises and gets chucked into the furnace.

Eugene gets a final visit from Frankie and Tanya but it doesn’t go well for the ladies. Eugene is hip to their plan, which is to poison Negan, and will not be a part of that. “You’re a coward!” the ladies spit, “That is a correct assessment” Eugene replies. Later Negan visits and it’s time to ask Eugene the big question, but Eugene is so ready to answer he doesn’t even let Negan finish asking: “I am utterly, completely, stone-cold Negan.” Oh, Eugene, say it ain’t so.

The final scene shows Eugene’s molten-lead-on-the-walkers plan being implemented while Eugene munches on a pickle. For him there is a sense of belonging here, even if it comes at the cost of personal freedom and dignity. Dwight sidles up next to him and the compromised pair chat awkwardly. “We are Negan” Eugene says. “Yeah,” Dwight replies.

“Hostiles and Calamities” is a strange episode, offering a mixture of deadpan humour, quirky dialogue and genuinely threatening Negan all at the same time. It’s light on zombies and violence but it does offer an interesting glimpse into the henchman’s dilemma. Is it really is it better to die on your feet than live on your knees? For Dwight the court’s still out, but for Eugene – when slavery comes with an Atari 2600 and all the fresh pickles you can eat – it seems he’s all too willing to bend the knee.

 

 
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The Walking Dead S7E9 – Rock in the Road

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[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. I mean, come on, you know how this works]

The first half of season seven was a little rough for The Walking Dead. After the borderline insulting cliffhanger that ended season six, we had one of the most shocking and divisive premiere episodes in the show’s history, “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be”. In a particularly sadistic twist Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) and Glenn (Steven Yeun) were both dispatched in a visceral, shocking fashion by Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his barbed wire-wrapped “vampire bat”, Lucille.

The Greg Nicotero-directed episode alienated a lot of fans and critics but, honestly, this was the episode the season six finale should have been. The problem was after it was all over the rest of the season became wildly uneven and strangely directionless. Grief is hard to define visually and even harder to make entertaining. So we ended up with a lot of choppy, stop/start episodes where Rick (Andrew Lincoln) channeled his mopey inner goth and the other characters just kinda wandered around talking about “stuff and thangs”.

To make matters worse Negan, the villain of the piece, became curiously likeable, especially compared to our inert lead characters. That’s not to say there weren’t some decent moments along the way, but did we really need an entire episode dedicated to Tara? In a show already stuffed with too many characters it was a weird move.

Things seemed to be getting back on track with the mid-season finale, however, as Rick regained his mojo and the band got back together. So can 7B shake the lack of forward momentum and bring the goods? If the first episode back, “Rock in the Road”, is any indication… yes, actually!

Rock in the Road“’s cold open is a curious one. Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) is on watch in Alexandria at night but something is wrong. He goes from reading the bible, to looking tense to raiding the pantry, flogging all the food and drink and piling it into his car. He drives off to destinations unknown. It’s an odd way to reintroduce us to the world of The Walking Dead but we’ll come back to that in a bit.

After the opening titles, we have Rick and crew talking to the gloriously, hideously slimy head of the Hilltop, Gregory (played to perfection by Xander Berkeley who clearly loves being a scumbag) about taking the fight to the Saviors. Gregory is the worst so, naturally, he doesn’t want to join the battle, but he seems okay with Rick doing all the work and him taking all the credit later: classic Gregory. Initially, our heroes are frustrated but when they leave the G-man’s office the “sorghum farmers” of the community express their willingness to fight. Score one for the good guys.

Rick’s visit to the Kingdom is less successful. Rick pitches his united front against the Saviors spiel and initially, King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) is attentive. He tells the band to crash over and he’ll let them know in the morning. In that time we get to see a little more of the idyllic existence at the Kingdom: a community that, for the most part, is unaware of the backdoor deal they have going with Negan.

The Kingdom, in many ways, represents the better, more optimistic version of Alexandria and society in general in the zombie apocalypse. King Ezekiel reads the “I have a dream” speech by Martin Luther King to children as a bedtime story, which is wholly mawkish yet utterly charming. He’s the kind of man who teaches amputee children archery and raises crops. Despite this, or perhaps because he doesn’t want to lose hope, the King says no to Rick. He offers Daryl asylum (which Daryl accepts with a classic Norman Reedus grumpy glare) but says he will not fight. It’s a bummer but it would be surprising if the King and Shiva (Ezekiel’s tiger) don’t join the fight down the road a spell, they just need some more convincing.

This brings us to the episode’s best moment: the explosive roadblock. Rick and crew come across a Savior-rigged stretch of freeway where an explosively booby-trapped length of high tensile wire is stretched between two cars. The gang disarm the explosives with Rosita (Christian Serratos) doing most of the work (because that’s something she can do now, I guess?) but just as the last stick of dynamite has been grabbed a massive horde of zombies descends. Rick and Michonne (Danai Gurira) manage to hot wire the trap cars and drive headfirst into the undead herd, the wire tearing the stinking shamblers asunder in a splattery cloud of limbs and gore – and it is amazing.

This is the kind of gloriously gory and slightly silly stuff The Walking Dead should be about. Fighting obstacles, problem-solving and outrageously over-the-top gore realised by Greg Nicotero, who himself learned the art of zombie dispatch at the feet of the master, Tom Savini, during the filming of George Romero’s Day of the Dead. To be honest, I watched this sequence a half dozen times and will probably do so some more, it’s cathartic and fun, something The Walking Dead should be more often.

The band arrives back in Alexandria just to have the Saviors appear looking for Daryl. Led by Simon (Steven Ogg aka Trevor from GTA V) the visit is brief and comparatively cordial (just a few plates smashed, no one shot or gutted – it’s progress!) but full of potential menace. It looks like Negan will not forgive the death of Fat Joey soon, so Daryl better beware.

This, of course, brings Rick’s attention to the cold open and the lack of goods in the pantry. Rosita figures Gabriel is just a dick and has flogged the food and done a runner but Rick refuses to believe it and finds a clue in Gabriel’s diary, the word “BOAT”.

Rick and the gang investigate, looking for the missing padre, but before you can say “ongoing mystery” a band of scruffy-looking cultist types, armed with spiked weapons, surround our heroes and Rick, somewhat inexplicably, breaks into a big smile.

So who are these grimy newcomers? Yet another group? The post-apocalyptic version of Scientologists? More cannibals? Hopefully, we’ll find out more next week.

Overall “Rock in the Road” is a pacey, intriguing course correction for season seven of The Walking Dead. Honestly, the wire vs zombies sequence is worth the price of admission alone, but the general sense of cautious optimism of the episode echoes my own. Hopefully, the back half of this season can continue the upward trend and stay focused on characters we care about, doing things that make at least a vague amount of sense.

Oh and if we could kill Negan in a spectacularly gory fashion, that would be great too.