The Walking Dead: 7.08 Hearts Still Beating
The mid-season finale of The Walking Dead featured most of the characters we’ve seen so far this season, of course including the notorious Negan. Hearts Still Beating followed up with Rick and Aaron on their scavenging trip before returning to Alexandria, where Negan had been relaxing in Rick’s home. We also saw the outcome of Michonne’s carjacking escapade last week, checked in with Morgan and Carol, caught up with Maggie and Sasha at Hilltop, and witnessed Daryl break out of the Sanctuary. After seven drawn out episodes that mostly each focused on a single plotline, it was finally all systems go.
Firstly, Sasha and Maggie. The two didn’t feature that much in the episode, but it quickly became obvious that they’re gaining popularity among the people of the Hilltop colony. One of them defended Maggie in front of Gregory, another baked her and Sasha a pie, and apparently one child had said that Maggie should be president of their community. This kind of feel-good thing isn’t too common in a show with such a miserable theme, so as well as being relevant to the plot, it was super cute. Maggie’s been through so much, she deserves people to think highly of her. We don’t see Maggie and Sasha again after this until the end of the episode, but these small things tell us a lot about how they’re perceived by the people at Hilltop, and how Maggie is oh so ready to unseat Gregory as leader.
Carol and Morgan were also only in the episode a little, when a Kingdom member came to ask them to speak to Ezekiel about preemptively attacking the Saviours. He began by addressing Carol, with “I imagine violence and fighting isn’t something you’ve really been a part of…” - a line that was nothing but hilarious to any viewer that’s been remotely paying attention the last several seasons. We all know that Carol is a certifiable badass, and Morgan’s response that basically consisted of “um, lol, no” set him right about that. That amusing line aside, it was quite a serious scene. He insisted that something would go sour with their deal sooner or later and that they needed to strike first and even though we all know he’s right, Carol and Morgan wanted no part in it. If the purpose of that discussion was to generate audience frustration then it was very successful, and I mean the good, engaged kind of frustration as opposed to the type that makes you want to stop watching. Knowing that Carol and Morgan have no idea that Glenn and Abraham are dead is incredibly exasperating, and everyone still watching is surely beyond antsy for them to just check in with Rick and the rest of the gang already. The day that the groups all learn of each others existence has been awaited from the moment we were introduced to the Kingdom. Even though that day is yet to come, just to hear one of its members finally verbalize the obvious truth that’s been building this whole time - that the Saviours need to be taken out, pronto - was its own kind of satisfying.
Daryl’s only role this episode was to get the hell out of the Saviours’ camp. After so much focus earlier on his grueling time inside the Sanctuary, his escape felt a bit rushed and far too smooth. He heeded the words of the note slipped to him at the end of last episode (we still don’t know who by, or what consequences it will bring for them) saying “go now,” and made it out almost completely unseen until an unfortunate coincidence had him made by Fat Joey. He said he wouldn’t tell anyone he’d seen Daryl, and that he was just trying to get by, but instead of letting him go, the usually somewhat reserved reformed redneck laid into him with an iron pole as a stunned Jesus (who had miraculously just appeared) looked on. Seeing such violence from Daryl was slightly jarring, to say the least, but clearly he had an awful lot of pent up rage after everything that had happened. He took Rick’s gun from Joey’s body, and the scene ended with a killer line that landed perfectly; “ain’t just about getting by here, it’s about getting it all.” Fat Joey’s violent end, coupled with that line, perfectly illustrates the Saviours’ incoming comeuppance. It does however beg the question of whether or not when the time comes, the good guys will go in guns blazing and take no prisoners, even though at least some of the Saviours are essentially prisoners themselves.
With Negan lounging around in Alexandria, sneaky Spencer decided to attempt to get close to him and replace Rick as leader in one smooth motion. He tried to weasel his way into Negan’s good books with some liquor and a game of pool, but once he started badmouthing Rick, Negan wasn’t too pleased. It was obvious that things had taken a dodgy turn once Negan started asking Spence why he didn’t just kill Rick himself, and insisting it was because he had no guts. Then he immediately slashed Spencer’s stomach, literally gutting him. Spencer’s innards fell out in a most visceral fashion as he fell to the floor and Negan yelled “YOU DID HAVE GUTS! I'VE NEVER BEEN SO WRONG!” After all of the intimidation, joy at violence, and crude sex jokes to come out of his mouth, this line was easily one of the best and funniest, and many viewers will be glad to see the end of Spencer at his hand. Spencer’s character has basically done nothing but disparage Rick and his leadership the whole time, but at least his death served a purpose. However cruel it may sound, motivating Rick by being killed is the most useful he’s ever been.
His death also spurred Rosita into using that bullet Eugene made for her. She shot Negan with a handgun at point-blank range, yet still somehow managed to only hit Lucille. In the comic books, Lucille was meant to get caught in Carl’s onslaught of bullets from a machine gun, and while I understand the desire to still include this cool moment in the show, incorporating it this way didn’t seem to make that much sense. To fully enjoy the moment, disbelief had to be suspended, which was a bit difficult really, and I wonder if it couldn’t have been done some other way. Or maybe being the luckiest son of a bitch on the planet is supposed to be part of Negan’s charm. Being shot caused him to have Eugene taken and Olivia killed, and while her death was quite sudden, it was hardly a surprise. Olivia has been cannon fodder this whole time and her death seemed somewhat inevitable, if a bit sad, given how nice she seemed.
The last character we caught up with was Michonne. Instead of driving her to Negan, the woman she held at gunpoint showed her just how many men he had, and essentially gave Michonne licence to shoot her and drive away while she still could. In a heartfelt conversation with Rick once she got back, she acknowledged that they were outnumbered, but insisted that they could find a way to defeat Negan together. Rick said he knows that now, and it was as though we could see the old Officer Friendly return before our very eyes. They then headed to Hilltop, where Rick told Maggie she had been right about fighting the Saviours from the start, and hugs were exchanged all around. It was a scene of unity and hope, and the possibility of happiness in a future free of Negan’s reign.
Though this episode felt a bit all over the place hopping between so many plotlines, especially in contrast to the isolated, single plotline episodes of late, everything came together at the end. After the haphazard events of the season so far, finally everyone joined together (Carol and Morgan aside) in a perfect reunion at Hilltop in one of those beautiful, emotional moments that really demonstrates how The Walking Dead’s appeal lies not with the zombies, but with its characters and their relationships. Hopefully we’ll see a lot more teamwork and camaraderie once the show returns, and Rick will really take charge once again.