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Spoilers below for The Walking Dead's midseason premiere. Don't read on until you've watched!
If you ask any person to name a handful of the darkest shows on TV, there's a good chance The Walking Dead would come up, as post-apocalyptic death isn't generally subject fodder for the small screen's more lighthearted fare. And the first half of Season 7 was perhaps the most distressing and joy-free batch of episodes for Rick's group yet, thanks to all things Negan. But for tonight's midseason premiere, the AMC drama signaled a (presumably temporary) changing of the tonal guard.
With "Rock in the Road," The Walking Dead delivered a surprisingly fun and hilarious - or at least wildly amusing - first step on Team Family's path to declaring war on Negan and his Saviors. Here were the 7 moments from the midyear premiere that definitely had us hooting and cheering at the screen.
Gregory Saying "Rhetorical"
To this point, Gregory has been a self-obsessed tool as Hilltop's head honcho, and that one-note personality didn't change here, but actor Xander Berkeley let loose with a perfectly over-the-top performance that will make it more fun to hate him as the show goes forward. His "cowardice posing as strategic bravado" is to the point of parody throughout the early scene when Rick & Co. try to earn Hilltop's inclusion in anti-Negan propaganda - "They grow things." - and Berkeley's delivery reaches a fever pitch when he bellows "Rhetorical!" as if he were channeling his inner teenage daughter from 1997. How many times did I end up watching that line? RheTOR-ca-a-a-al.
Rick Meeting Ezekiel And Shiva...And Jerry
If viewers know anything about Ezekiel, it's that he's consumed by his own public image, convinced his monarchic visage is implicit in the peaceful success of The Kingdom. So you KNOW he wanted to make a strong first impression for Rick, Rosita, Michonne and the rest, but his big opening - a welcome to Jesus - was immediately undercut by Jerry also wanting to look important. Good ol' Jerry! Thankfully, everyone's deadpanned astonishment over Shiva made up for any second banana outbursts. The Walking Dead should have absolutely filled its hiatus with short webisodes centered solely on Ezekiel and Jerry doing menial tasks around their lively community.
After Ezekiel declined to offer support for Rick's plan to face Negan head-on, the group's dispersement was perhaps most notable for Daryl getting left behind, but viewers no doubt got the episode's biggest "Oh, snap!" moment when Sasha offered a conversational olive branch to Rosita, who politely avoided interrupting before snapping necks with this line.
B-b-b-booyah! Not that Sasha needs to be shut out for Abraham's actions, but the world ending doesn't mean that relationship-driven saltiness has gone away. Also, am I wrong about this being the first time that, all the enormous implications aside, The Walking Dead made it explicitly known that Abraham and Sasha had sex?
Fat Joey's Radio Eulogy
With the survivors now in possession of a radio allowing them to listen into Negan's communication with the Saviors, The Walking Dead now gets to insert Jeffrey Dean Morgan's enjoyable deliveries in audio form, too. And as Team Family are about to discovery the explosives that Fat Joey had set up to divert walker herds, Negan is heard giving the character - whose head Daryl turned to pulp - a properly non-sentimental eulogy, complete with a reference to having oral sex with Lucille. I'm not even trying to picture that. Only the most maudlin laughs come at the price of "goddamn tragedy" like a dead character, but they're still laughs.
The Walker Wire Plan
Already, The Walking Dead was prepping viewers for this awesomely disgusting use of CGI with the Mission: Impossible-ish sequence preceding it, as the synth-infused score added a form of ridiculous tension to everyone disarming explosives. And once Rick and Michonne started scheming how to use that wire to put a dent in the oncoming walker herd, my glee began expanding. The big moment did not disappoint, either, as audiences got to watch The Walking Dead doing a non-sports arena version of The Wave, only using hundreds of decaying bodies being sliced in half. So, not really like The Wave. But still one of this show's most applause-worthy massacres.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan's Negan is currently The Walking Dead's king of uncomfortable comedy, but Steven Ogg's Simon is just behind as the equally sardonic and menacing head of Savior middle-management, Simon. The mustachioed threat visited Alexandria tonight not for supplies - fortunate, since Father Gabriel caused a sitcom-like misunderstanding by taking it all - but to find and kill Daryl. Not a welcome time for laughs, but Simon is constantly a hoot, with the standout moment being his "litany of bullshit to attend to" line. Even the overstated bounty he put on Daryl's head felt more funny than dangerous, now that Rick is set on taking them all out. I mean, not funny for Daryl, maybe...
Rick's Big Grin
The Walking Dead's midseason finale ended by introducing yet another new community of survivors with potentially dangerous intent, and Team Rick found themselves surrounded by a hysterically large group of rough-looking folks brandishing a cornucopia or weaponry. (Seriously, I think one of them was holding a pot of boiling coffee.) After all the stress and drama he'd already experienced in the immediately recent past, Rick should have suffered a panic attack. But his face went the opposite route by settling into perhaps the biggest smile that the man has ever known. Whether his mirth was spawned by abject hopelessness or a plan to acquire new allies, mine came from knowing we're definitively past the Era Of Mopey Rick Grimes. Huzzah!