The throat-clearing segment of the season is apparently over. That was the message sent by the mid-season premiere of The Walking Dead

In one hour, the set-up of the second half of the season was nearly complete. We saw the case against the Saviors made to Hilltop and the Kingdom, and the lines drawn by each for their participation in the coming war. We even got a brief glimpse of the Oceanside women’s camp, who undoubtedly will play a big role in the coming conflagration.

As for the walkers, or the wasted, or whatever your group wants to call the living dead that are the whole reason for this universe – they are increasingly an afterthought on the show. In fact, their only danger is when someone takes a foolhardy chance and waits too long to escape their clutches, as we saw in one precarious scene. Otherwise, they are like dog droppings, something to carefully step around as you go from place to place, and serve merely to break up the monologues that increasingly dominate vast stretches of the show.

Of course, (SPOILER ALERT) it was really cool to see what Rick and Michonne did to a herd of them in this episode.

This week’s mid-season premiere recap:

*** Father Gabriel is on late-night guard duty. But the man of many moods suddenly decides on a new course of action. He quickly strips the pantry of its goods, loads up a car, and heads off for parts unknown. Is this another betrayal?  Or has the wily pastor come up with a plan to save everyone?

*** Convincing the Hilltop community to participate in battle is the first order of business. Of course, cowardly Gregory is against any moves against the Empire, having seen a previous attempt blow up in his face. Yet his caution is dismissed, and even some of his Hilltop community members are ready to get down and take another stab (or shot) at the Saviors.

*** Hilltopper Jesus takes Rick and his team to the Kingdom, hoping to enlist King Ezekiel and his community in the cause. The avuncular King is cautious, and even Rick’s story about “The Rock in the Road” – a metaphor for the reward awaiting a triumph in the coming battle – cannot sway him. Yet others in the community seem prepared to fight, and even Morgan, the avowed pacifist, seems to understand that this is one of those situations that can’t be turned away with reason. He does offer an alternative, though – capturing Negan, causing everyone else to stand down.

*** Leaving Daryl behind in the Kingdom for his own safety, Rick and team head back to Alexandria. Along the way, their highway path is blocked by a string of cars and a booby trap laid by the Saviors. The idea is to cut off any herd of walkers, and conveniently, one such herd appears on the horizon. But the temptation of removing some of the explosives is high, and Rick and Michonne spend every last-minute grabbing what they can from the trap. They then devise a unique way to clear out the huge herd of walkers – they hold a cable between two vehicles, and proceed to lawnmower the herd as they drive on opposite sides of the highway. It’s a fascinating segment, although driving and holding a cable tautly as it slams into a huge body mass takes an enormous amount of strength, a bit that seems somewhat impossible.

*** Back at Alexandria, Rick and team are aware that the Saviors will soon be arriving, having purloined a communications device. They are looking for Daryl, but their search won’t be kind, resulting in broken crockery and all sorts of chaos. Of course, evil Simon takes the opportunity to gloat with Rick, warning him that there is no statute of limitations on finding Darryl. And given that the cupboards are empty, he reminds Rick that they will be back soon enough for a tribute, and that Alexandria best get cracking’ on scavengering.

*** Rick and team do set out to seek goods, but along the way, they stumble into a new enclave of destitutes. Even though they are held at gunpoint, Rick manages a smile. Anyone he meets these days is part of his new army, and he knows that he will soon convince them to join his crusade.

Next week: How much is enough when it comes to mobilizing an army against the Saviors?  What was Father Gabriel doing by stealing goods and leaving Alexandria?  Will King Ezekiel change his mind and decide that dying in battle is a far nobler cause than sitting on the sidelines?