We saw a veritable unicorn in the Season 7B premiere of The Walking Dead. No, Carl didn't stay in the house. The sight so rare it made us wonder if we were watching the right show came in the final moments of the episode, when Rick (Andrew Lincoln) *gasp* smiled.
While tracking down Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) after the preacher man took off with a bunch of Alexandria's foodstuffs, Rick and several of his pals came upon a clearing. Nothing worth smiling about there, but seconds later, dozens of previously unseen people decked out in dark clothes and armed with guns and weapons plucked from the shelves of a hardware store surrounded his group without saying a word but wielding their arms ready for a fight.
And Rick smiled. Not just a slight smirk, but a massive "I just saved money on my car insurance" grin. Maybe I'm crazy here, but being surrounded by hostiles doesn't make me chipper one bit. So why did Rick smile?
My take is that Rick never saw these people as the enemy, they were — in his mind — just people who didn't already know that they would be later joining forces with him in the fight against Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). See, Rick's focus that Negan and the Saviors are the one true enemy means anyone else is an ally in the war that's about to be waged. But am I sensing that right? I asked executive producer and the episode's director Greg Nicotero if I was on to something.
"That's exactly what it is," Nicotero told me. "[Rick] spent the episode recruiting, and it was a loss. He lost The Kingdom, and they get back to Alexandria and then Negan's guys show up again, and then they track Gabriel and they come upon this group, and that's exactly what it is. He smiles, and we've never seen Rick surrounded and react in any other way than the gun is up and [war cry] but the fact that he smiles, and it's a big genuine smile. He's like, 'Alright, I got this. These people will be fighting at my side, without a doubt.'"
Numbers and arms are going to be huge in the forthcoming "All Out War" storyline as the fight against Negan will become the most tactical and militaristic battle we've ever seen in the show. More than anything, Rick needs soldiers as the Saviors are all trained bullies, and though we don't know how many of them there actually are, we do know that the Savior outpost that Rick cleared out — when he thought it was their headquarters — was just one of many. With the Kingdom lukewarm on allying with Rick's group, Hilltop consisting mostly of farmers and Tara (Alanna Masterson) not mentioning the all-female camping ground Oceanside (yet), Rick seeing all these junkyard punks ready to throw down was a sight for sore eyes.
As for who these people are, they appear to be new characters who weren't in the comics. Nicotero says we don't know them yet, but we'll find out who they are soon.
That's something to smile about.
The Walking Dead airs Sunday nights at 9/8c on AMC.