Gene Page/AMC
February 12, 2017 at 10:13 PM EST

A few deaths, plots of rebellion, trips to hidden colonies, and countless tense encounters later, and the stage is finally set: Rick is ready to rumble against Negan and the Saviors. The problem is that not many other key players are on the same page just yet.

When last we saw Rick, he was looking a lot closer to his former self and assembling his crew on the Hilltop doorstep to make the first move in reclaiming their freedom: enlisting the aide of other colonies. But before we get into that, there’s a small piece of business with Father Gabriel.

We pick up right after that post-credits scene with the mystery boatman (or boatwoman) in boots, who spies Gabriel standing on watch duty. If you need a refresher, here it is:

The good priest is still there, but he soon makes off with a crate full of food and weapons and leaves Alexandria. Yup. The shift is so stark that it doesn’t make all that much sense on the surface. Last we saw, he was the kind of person to leave Spencer in a car for speaking ill of Rick — the kind of person to try to instill hope in everyone as Negan ransacked their homes. But his physicality has changed: Gabriel walks calmly to the food pantry before hustling to lift as much as he can out of there. He even leaves his Bible on the ground, perhaps a metaphorical shedding of his holy order — or perhaps a purposeful breadcrumb left behind for Rick?

Was his whole change of heart just a ruse? Has he always been devious? Did he see whoever it was skulking around beyond the wall? If so, do they know each other somehow?

Rick is scratching his head over questions of his own about Hilltop. After triumphantly signaling to his crew that he’s finally (finally!) ready to take action, Gregory refuses to help, but he does at least offer his complacency. In Gregory’s defense, that was a dead end from the beginning. Maggie and Sasha should have realized he wouldn’t be on board with their plans after he tried handing them over to the Saviors. Why ask him at all, for that matter, when he’s so shady? Jesus and the others were so keen on usurping him as leader of Hilltop. They should’ve been more forceful.

However, others in the colony do want to help, thanks to Enid, who wrangles together people outside the mansion. Maybe they can overwhelm the Saviors if they have the forces. Forces. Hmm. Well, Ezekiel has forces. Jesus declares it’s time to meet the King, and because he happens to have a long-range walkie he lifted from one of Negan’s men, he knows when is the right window to seek an audience. It’s about time, but already this immediate shift in pacing feels at odds with the slog that was the first half of the season: Ezekiel was barely in the first batch of episodes, and now, minutes into the show’s return, we’re already there.

Richard and another guard meet Rick’s group at an empty parking lot to size them up, and Jesus is their liaison. (Side note: Jesus earned some points for that display of parkour at Hilltop, but his dialogue could use some work.) The trip serves another purpose by reuniting them with Morgan, who tells them about Carol.

She’s still off on her own, but I’m already predicting a moment of self-realization that brings her out of this funk and changes the tide in the war ahead. That was Rick’s whole thing in the first half of the season, and Morgan admits here that he, too, underwent a similar transformation by killing a man because he had no other choice. Another likelihood is that Carol is the one to sway Ezekiel into making moves: As they soon learn, the King is still very much afraid to launch his people into a battle that may not be a necessity.

Rick makes a good case, bolstered by Richard’s interruption, but Morgan proves to be a barrier when he suggests there’s another way to solve the problem. And here I thought he knew when you have to kill and when you don’t. Before they leave, Rick tells a childhood story about a young girl who’s the only one in her kingdom to dig up a treacherous “rock in the road” (look, it’s the episode title!), and it proves to be a test from the king, who bestows her with well-deserved riches.

NEXT: Ezekiel’s decision

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AMC’s zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.
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