So here was progress, at least, though the Hilltop sorghum brigade would hardly be enough to take into battle against seasoned thugs like the Saviors. “We need more hands,” Rick said, at which point Jesus delivered the assembled unto the Kingdom. Unfortunately the one thing the Kingdom doesn’t have enough of is hands.

I mean actual hands — Ezekiel used an array of children with missing limbs to illustrate why his group couldn’t join the fight. In the process he sketched out the back story of his colony’s policy of protectionist Savior appeasement, which was inspired by heavy losses sustained during a more expansionist era. Those casualties came via the dead, but the disfigured youngsters carried chilling resonance with Negan’s threat to disarm Carl in the season premiere, and with the angel statue at the Sanctuary adorned in severed arms.

More metaphorically, the Kingdom kids, maimed but training for the future, represented both the costs the walker apocalypse has extracted from survivors, as well as their will and ability to persevere.

Ezekiel is, understandably, still scarred by the former. Within the show’s broader narrative the characters each trace their own paths toward postapocalyptic self-actualization — see also: Carol’s ongoing ethical vision quest. Sometimes the trick is getting these arcs to align in order to achieve larger goals. Plus from a narrative standpoint, there are seven weeks left in the season and it would be too easy if Ezekiel went along with the plan now. But he’ll have Richard, young Benjamin, perhaps eventually Carol and definitely Daryl in his ear, advocating for action.

“Try to talk to Ezekiel. Or stare him into submission — whatever it takes,” Rick told Daryl before leaving him behind, because the show requires them be separated at least 50 percent of the time in the name of dramatic tension. (Theirs is the one enduring love story in “The Walking Dead” — check out the swollen gazes they exchanged as the Kingdom gate closed.)

The drive away from the Kingdom led to a zombie dilemma so baroque in its threats and suspense, I actually laughed out loud. It was a pressure cooker overstuffed with explosives defusing, unstable dynamite, R.P.G.s, multiple strategic roadblocks, car hot-wiring, a walkie-talkie crackling with Savior threats and a roving walker herd, all of it culminating in Rick and Michonne turning a steel cable and a couple old cars into a high-speed zombie decimation device.

Which is to say, it was worth it! However ridiculous the machinations that led up to it, the Great Walker Harvest of 2017 was one of the more enjoyable zombie gimmicks the show has yet offered. The explosives and the herd will definitely come into play later, but the scene was more broadly a reassurance for fans that, even though the show got bogged down in angst earlier this season, it hasn’t forgotten that it’s part sociological drama, part horror thrill ride.

After a brief interlude in Alexandria to remind us that, gee, those Saviors are real jerks, we revisited the Gabriel puzzle from the episode’s opener. Rosita, who’s not much fun to be around these days, assumed the worst but soon a clue was revealed. A message in Gabriel’s bible said “BOAT,” suggesting that he somehow knew about Aaron and Rick’s adventures on zombie pond.

Photo
Danai Gurira in “The Walking Dead.”

Credit
Gene Page/AMC

After coming to the same conclusion, Rick led a search party into the area. But instead of answering the question of Gabriel’s flight, the trip raised several more. Who was the armed group that surrounded the Alexandrians? Were they related to the boot man we glimpsed in the midseason finale? (We saw a bootprint nearby.) Their foreheads were unmarked, so they’re not Wolves. They included men, so they’re presumably not from Oceanside.

And finally, what was Rick smiling about? The man hasn’t grinned like that since the time he wooed a walker with mushy poster boards. (I may be confusing my apocalyptic fables.)

Earlier Michonne told him he was allowed to smile, because they were the ones who would live. Does that mean in that moment, Rick glimpsed a path to survival in the form of an armed force he could bring in to the effort? Has Gabriel been amassing an army of holy warriors on the side?

Or did Rick recognize someone? (The hooded figure with the rifle and face mask might have been the boot man.) If so, any guesses who it could be?

A Few Thoughts While We Check SitterCity

• Olivia’s dead. Gabriel’s gone. Rick, Carl and Michonne spent Sunday gallivanting across the countryside. So who’s watching Judith these days?

• If Sasha thought she and Rosita reached an understanding in last episode’s tender reunion, she should think again. “We both had sex with the same dead guy,” Rosita snapped at her as they left the Kingdom. “Doesn’t make us friends.” Rosita’s working through some things.

• Jerry, King Ezekiel’s doofus herald, has his moments.

• So what did you think? What really happened to Gabriel? What was Rick grinning about? Is it really a tragedy that “Skinny Joey” is only “Joey” now? Please fire away in the comments.

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