Warning: major spoilers ahead for The Walking Dead. If you haven't seen "Rock In The Road" yet, we advise you to check out one of our other excellent articles!
AMC's The Walking Dead has mastered the art of the cliffhanger over the course of the last seven years, and the recent midseason premiere upheld that longstanding tradition. Rick Grimes and the rest of his team found themselves cornered by a mysterious ensemble of survivors, but the final moments of the episode saw the former lawman crack a sly smile that undercut the tension. Why the hell would he seem cheerful in such an objectively bad situation? According to showrunner Scott Gimple, these people represent the solution to Rick's biggest problem, and we will understand why when the next episode airs. Gimple explained:
That smile has a lot to do with the next episode. Rick is caught in this awful situation and you'd think somebody wouldn't be too happy about it --- but all these people aren't just a threat; they're an answer. It's an interesting story and we don't leave the audience on pins and needles about it and we go right into what that smile means in the next episode. There's tough stuff in the next episode but there's straight up fun and attempts are made at humor from the situation that these characters get in. A whole new world is discovered. It's a cool turn of the story.
Scott Gimple's recent comments to THR don't necessarily give us too much insight into how Rick and the rest of the Alexandria survivors will get out of this situation, but his explanation tells us what's going through Rick's mind. While there's clearly a "here we go again" element to Rick's grin, Gimple's words seem like a strong indication that Mr. Grimes will use his finely honed diplomatic skills to convince this mysterious group of survivors to side with Alexandria, The Kingdom, and The Hilltop against Negan and his Saviors.
Everyone's favorite bat-wielding bad guy has done some pretty thorough accounting when it comes to the weapons and supplies owned by nearby settlements. He apparently doesn't know about this new group of (heavily armed) people, and they could become Rick's trump card in the coming battle -- along with the explosives that the group stole at the climax of the episode. The resistance is growing, and All Out War has become inevitable. At least we now know that The Walking Dead seems to be moving beyond the nasty habit of going weeks without returning to a given storyline; that was a major downside of Season 7A.
Of course, plenty of fans have also started to theorize that Rick may be smiling at a particular person in this group. It's unclear if Rick is specifically looking at someone when the episode ends, but the arrival of a familiar face could signal to him that a friendly discussion is possible. Maybe that's why Father Gabriel absconded with the supplies in the first place; he needed a peace offering.
We will see how this seemingly dire situation pans out when The Walking Dead returns this Sunday at 9 p.m. EST on AMC. For more information regarding all of the remaining spring 2017 TV debuts, make sure to take a look at our midseason premiere guide!