After the show's lengthy two-month holiday hiatus, The Walking Dead returned on Sunday with the Season 7 winter premiere Rock In the Road. The episode ended on quite the bizarre note, which has had fans scratching their heads about what the ending could mean for the rest of this season, as Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and his crew prepare for war against Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his Saviors. If you still haven't seen last Sunday's episode of The Walking Dead, there will be SPOILERS below, so read on at your own risk.
At the end of Rock in the Road, Rick and his group return to Alexandria, where they find a note left behind from Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) that only reads "Boat," which Rick and Aaron (Ross Marquand) know means that the owner of the boat they stole from earlier this season is still alive, and he wants revenge. When Rick, Aaron and the rest of the group goes looking for Father Gabriel, they run into an ambush by a new group we've never seen before. The episode ends with Rick cracking a huge smile. Entertainment Weekly caught up with executive producer Greg Nicotero, who directed Rock in the Road, to find out why Rick is smiling as the episode comes to a close.
"Of course he is. It's the perfect ending for the episode. You know, we see him at the beginning, he's pretty dedicated to putting an army together. He needs people to fight, so he goes to the Hilltop. He has a loss with Gregory, but then he has a win with Maggie. Then he goes to see King Ezekiel, and the king was not necessarily willing to fight, but Rick knows they're there. Then they find all the explosives on the freeway. So the whole episode is really based on that series of wins and losses for Rick, but Rick's not giving up. When they get back to Alexandria and they realize that Gabriel's gone and strange things are afoot at the Circle K, when they are surrounded by that new and mysterious group that we've only caught a quick glimmer of, Rick sees soldiers. That's why he smiles. I don't think he's worried for a second. I think he looks, and he's like, okay, I need a win here, and there are a lot of people here, and they have weapons, and this is what I need. So the gears are clicking. The gears start turning, and then, boom, we're out."
While there still isn't much that has been revealed about this new group, we saw in the new episode preview that this group thinks they "own" the lives of Rick and his group, while we also hear Rick trying to get this group to join his fight against the Saviors. As for Father Gabriel, Greg Nicotero was asked why he was loading up supplies into the car, before leaving Alexandria. Here's what he had to say below, teasing that fans should re-watch that particular sequence and you'll find even more clues.
"There will be more information as you view it more than one time, because, if you notice, there is a moment when he gets in the car, and the car's driving away, and somebody sits up in the seat next to him. Not alone. So what we like is playing with the idea that it was always intended to be sort of uncertain. Has Gabriel gone a little crazy? What's going on? Did he come up with or brainstorm some plan and he's going to take all the supplies? But then, as soon as he drives away, you see somebody sit up in the car next to him. There's even a little subtle thing when he's putting gas in the car. You might see the reflection of somebody in the car. So I think after a couple viewings, it's sort of apparent, especially even after Rick says Gabriel wouldn't do that and Gabriel would never leave, that something must have happened. So then they go back to where the boat was, and they find tracks, they realize that they're following the scent backwards and that Gabriel's clue sort of leads them to believe that whoever was essentially watching them may have made a move."
Showrunner Scott M. Gimple had teased in previous interviews that fans will get to meet a whole new group this season, and it seems to be this large group that ambushed Rick and his people. When asked about next week's episode, New Best Friends, Greg Nicotero teased that it features one of the "coolest zombies" in the show's seven-year history. Here's what he had to say below.
"Well, episode 10 was directed by Jeff January, and it has a walker character that we did that is probably one of the coolest walkers that we've done in seven years. We're also going to get a chance to meet a lot of interesting new characters and another locale. That's what's great about the show. We have Oceanside, we have the Hilltop, we have the Kingdom, we have Alexandria, we're populating our world with a lot of really unique locations and unique civilizations, the hopes are that these are going to all sort of meld together in one group, but nothing ever goes down the way you want it to. So some great stuff coming up."
With Greg Nicotero mentioning the Oceanside community, who Tara (Alanna Masterson) met earlier this season, it seems likely that they'll come back into the fold again, although we're not sure when. The back half of this season is certainly leading up to a massive war with Negan, which has been teased since the mid-season finale, when the "Rise Up" artwork debuted, although it's likely that the all-out war will be saved for Season 8. Hopefully we'll find out more about this new episode of The Walking Dead, "New Best Friends" before it airs Sunday, February 19 at 9 PM ET on AMC.