Let me start off by saying that I actually like The Walking Dead. Ever since Rick Grimes woke up out of his coma and introduced me to a world where it was perfectly fine to play whack-a-mole with human zombie walker heads I was hooked. It wasn’t just the blood, guts, and gore that piqued my interest, though, it was the characters and how the situations they found themselves in inspired bouts of self-reflection. Each week the show caused me to wonder about what I would do if faced with the same post-apocalyptic decisions. Would I become a low-key badass like Glenn (#RIP) or Carol or a high-key jackass like Shane or Merle? Or, worse yet, would I just be a “redshirt” who was taken out before anyone even knew my name.
 
It was the constant life or death situations and how they impacted the characters that cemented The Walking Dead (and Talking Dead) as a cornerstone of my Sunday nights. So I was one of the 17 million viewers who tuned in for the season 7 premiere last October and experienced the loss of not one but two main characters at the hands of jackass du jour, Negan. In the wake of Glenn and Abraham’s brutal deaths, the storylines of our remaining protagonists slowed down as we were introduced to new characters and “kingdoms.” Some of this led to exciting moments like the introduction of Shiva (dude, it’s a frickin’ tiger!) while others were just splintered storylines that were uninteresting at best and just bad at their worst (I’m looking at you Oceanside community). Gone was the crisp writing and character development that made the back half of season 4 responsible for some of my best Sunday TV nights of 2014. Two years later, instead of ending an episode of The Walking Dead and wondering what would I do, I found myself asking: What have I done?
 
Still, unlike the 6+ million non-believers who bailed on season 7 thus far, I’m loyal to Grimes and co. While I’m not in love with the storytelling approach thus far, I understand that The Walking Dead can’t be all peaks and no valleys after 7 seasons. With that said, I remained hopeful that the midseason premiere, aptly called “Rock in the Road,” would trigger an upswing (no pun intended). After metaphorically having Negan slip his d*ck down Rick’s throat, this episode would surely deliver on the hype and be the start of Rick’s road to redemption and episodes that didn’t suck (pun intended). Well, yes… and, no.  
 
A good chunk of the 73-minute premiere is spent tying up loose ends from the clunky first half and connecting corners of this world that the audience has long been aware of but the characters have not. It’s been so long since Glenn and Abraham met their fate that I almost forgot that Morgan, who’s been holed up in The Kingdom, was totally unaware of their brutal demise, as well as that of Spencer and Olivia.
 
As Rick and co. continue their world tour to all of the neighboring communities under the Saviors’ rule in an attempt to gain support in their quest to finally fight back, the episode delivers subtle nods of nostalgia. There are The Kingdom’s amputee archers who apparently got their prosthetics from the same place as Merle Dixon minus the detachable knife. Then, there’s the highway scene that harks back to the beginning of season 2 when Sophia got separated from the group and created the emotional gravitas of those early episodes. It’s a theme that picks up from the midseason finale where a still unidentified shadowy figure is lurking in the woods just like Morgan and even Aaron did a few seasons back.  
 
While these callbacks to the good ol’ days of great storylines remind me of why I love(d?) the show, it also leaves me with a been there, done that feeling—especially when it takes 40+ minutes of walking and talking to get to any sort of tension or excitement. I watched a bulk of the episode with more are-we-there-yet eye rolls than I-don’t-wanna-blink-because-I-might-miss-something focus.
 
Thank God for the aforementioned highway scene where the Grimes gang carefully procures some dynamite from a Saviors booby trap, leading to an epic scene where Rick and Michonne—connected by a chain strung across two moving cars—mow down dozens of walkers. The resulting bloodbath provides the oh-sh*t moment the episode, and truthfully the season, needed. That along with the callbacks to better times, remind fans that the show they know and love is not completely dead. And if the devilish grin on Rick’s face at the end of the episode—despite being surrounded by a new group that’s armed to the teeth—is any indication, then maybe the show’s been playing possum with us all season long. Fans of the original comic series know that the punkass Rick Grimes we’ve had to suffer through the past eight episodes is a short-lived torture. As we inch closer towards the All Out War story arch, it’s only a matter of time before the badass (and hopefully bearded) Rick of old comes to the fore. Here’s hoping that after a slow start at the beginning of the season and even last night, that The Walking Dead reanimates as quickly as Shane when Rick gutted him or we’ll just have to put this sucker out of its misery once and for all.