‘The Walking Dead’ Midseason Premiere: An Explosive Confrontation, a Royal Pain and a Huge Reveal

Danai Gurira as Michonne, Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes Gene Page/AMC

Aw, isn’t it nice to see Rick smiling again?

In the final moments of the midseason premiere of The Walking Dead on Sunday, January 12, fans were treated to a rare sight: Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) sporting a cheerful grin, the likes of which we haven’t seen in some time — and particularly not since the start of season 7, which kicked off with two devastating deaths and has been seriously bleak ever since. What’s happened to give our hero such a hopeful look? We run down the biggest moments from episode 9, “Rock in the Road.”

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Frustration at the Hilltop

Let’s get the bummer news out of the way first: For the time being, Gregory (Xander Berkeley) is still top dog at the Hilltop colony, and he’s still being a complete butt-head about it. When Rick and the rest of the Alexandrians suggested they team up to topple the Saviors once and for all, Gregory’s response was a resounding, condescending “nope” (and a poignant reminder that this guy cannot suffer an unfortunate disembowelment at the hands of a rogue walker soon enough). However, a handful of folks at the Hilltop offered to join up, anyway, bringing Rick’s numbers up by … five. Hey, it’s something.

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An Audience With the King

Still trying to raise an army, Rick’s next stop was the Kingdom, where Jesus (Tom Payne) introduced the group to King Ezekiel (Khary Payton). Rick made quite the plea for help in battling their common enemy, telling a super-cool and setting-appropriate fairy tale that just happened to perfectly illustrate his point. But despite that — and the fact that Ezekiel’s closest advisers, Richard (Karl Makinen) and Benjamin (Logan Miller), were keen on an alliance — the king said nay. But with Daryl (Norman Reedus) left behind at the Kingdom with instructions to glare at Ezekiel ’til he changes his mind, let’s not be royally disappointed just yet.

Katelyn Nacon as Enid, Danai Gurira as Michonne, Tom Payne as Paul ‘Jesus’ Rovia, Chandler Riggs as Carl Grimes, Sonequa Martin-Green as Sasha Williams, Lauren Cohan as Maggie Greene, Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Alanna Masterson as Tara Chambler, Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, Christian Serratos as Rosita Espinosa Gene Page/AMC

Tick, Tick, BOOM

After a leisurely visit at the Kingdom, things got rushed when Rick and the gang realized that Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) was sending his goons to look for the missing Daryl back in Alexandria — and when their way home turned out to be blocked by a giant, dynamite-rigged trip wire designed to take out a walker herd. Fortunately, Rosita (Christian Serratos) had some surprise bomb-defusing skills, which means that the Grimes gang is now in possession of some serious firepower for their upcoming war.

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Plus, a Big Surprise

When Rick and the rest returned to Alexandria, they made an alarming discovery: Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) had vanished, along with most of their remaining stores of food (which Gabriel was seen loading into a car at the start of the episode, while a shadowy figure watched him from the passenger seat). But when Rick tracked Gabriel back to the pond full of zombies where he and Aaron (Ross Marquand) had previously ransacked a supply of goods, he and the gang were swiftly surrounded by a giant, silent group of cold-eyed strangers. And that is when Rick, bizarrely, began to grin. Has our hero lost his mind? Or has he just found his army?

The Walking Dead airs on AMC Sundays at 9 p.m. ET.

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