It’s mid-season finale time, folks, and finally the various strands of narrative were woven together and separate factions reunited, as the stage was set for war. Indeed, while the focus has been shifting each week, leaving many episodes feeling rather sparse and sluggish, numerous events this week meant that even with an extended run time, this installment glossed over many major plot points which could have been afforded more screen time.
Still, “Hearts Still Beating” wrapped up this half of the seventh season in a nice festive bow, and promised a return to fighting form for our core gang of survivors, who are back together and planning a mutiny. The inciting incidents have left some viewers rather cold, with critics claiming that the deaths of secondary characters as motivation for Rick’s change of heart regarding The Saviors felt like cheap shocks, given the lack of our emotional investment in them. Spencer’s death can’t have been a surprise to fans of the comic books (or anyone with access to the internet), and it was heavily foreshadowed, as was Olivia’s.
However, it could be argued that the killings in Alexandria, on top Aaron’s beating, Eugene’s capture, and Negan’s proximity to Rick’s kids, him settling down to shave and eat in Rick’s house, had a cumulative effect after everything that’s gone before. Negan’s demand for more supplies after the treacherous trip Rick and Aaron had to make across the zombie-infested moat might have been the final straw, bringing forth the epiphany that nothing will ever be enough for Negan. Compliance is not the key to dealing with someone like the leader of The Saviors. As Daryl told Jesus at The Sanctuary, “It ain’t just about getting by here. It’s about getting it all.”
As well as the motive, Rick’s group now have the means to hit back at Negan, with Michonne having found out his location, Daryl having stolen a gun from poor Fat Joey, and Tara having gained knowledge of the Oceanside settlement and their cache of weapons (although whether she chooses to share this information remains to be seen). While the alliance between Alexandria and Hilltop seems a foregone conclusion, the Oceansiders’ hostility, and Carol’s reticence to help Morgan, Richard, and the people of The Kingdom rise up against the biker-jacketed bully suggests some epic, Lord of the Rings style fellowship building will need to be done. Personally, I’m hoping Ezekiel is going to ride into The Sanctuary on his tiger mid-battle at some point.
It’s also worth noting that Negan himself added some complexity into the mix this week. While his behaviour was scarily unpredictable, he made a good point when he told Rick he’d brought his son home safe, despite Carl killing some of his men. He also took out Spencer who would have undoubtedly seen Rick dead in his efforts to usurp him as leader of Alexandria, even showing some admiration for the way Rick was out with Aaron trying to provide for and protect his people. He also showed restraint with Rosita, seeming almost shaken by her assassination attempt and the damage to his beloved baseball bat. The whole ‘eye for an eye’ idea of retribution came into play again, with Negan scarring her for the bullet ‘wound’ to Lucille but sparing her life only to take Olivia’s, as the most capricious of gods might do.
Negan surviving the attempt on his life added to this notion of him as almost supernatural or immortal, and restored the sense of menace that weeks of goofing off and over-exposure to his character had eroded. But it also introduced the possibility that things might not be as straightforward as Negan v. the rest of the surviving world. By showing us new facets to his character, this episode seemed to be an attempt to garner some sympathy for the devil. As he said himself, Negan’s violence in the season opener mean he and Rick can never be bosom buddies, but there were clear hints that their relationship might get complicated…
So with Rick, Carl, Michonne, and Rosita reunited with Maggie, Sasha, Daryl, and Jesus at Hilltop, rebellion brewing in The Kingdom, Tara harboring knowledge of a new tribe, and Eugene having taken Daryl’s place as resident captive at The Sanctuary, the second half of season seven looks set to pick up the pace. We’ve seen many variations on the theme at this point, so let’s hope this show still has some tricks left up its sleeve.
Final Grade: B-
+ I said previously that Rosita’s character was doing nothing for me. She definitely elicited more sympathy this week, with her belief that she had to be the one to take Negan down because her life was expendable.
+ Rick and Daryl’s hug in the final scenes definitely gave me the warm and fuzzies. Nothing I love more than a good bromance.
+ Aaron and Rick stabbing floating walkers with a plank spray painted with the word ‘asshole’ was a nice visual! One thing this show does superbly is come up with apparently endless new ways for zombies to bite it.
– Daryl’s escape was pretty anticlimactic. The fact that he was able to just run past some Saviors kind of made his entire imprisonment feel a tad pointless.
– Poor Olivia must have been the most abused character in the history of the show. After all the fat jokes and a couple of death threats, to be unceremoniously shot for someone else’s actions was a pretty sad end. I also felt super bad for Joey. Plus size people get a raw deal in this show.
– The notion that The Saviors are ‘all Negan’ (as reiterated by the woman Michonne ambushed) hasn’t really been utilized effectively so far this season. Most of his people are either living in fear or self-serving thugs. It’s a shame that the show hasn’t made good on its promise of a leader so charismatic that his people almost operate as one homogenous entity. While this episode gave us some light and shade in Negan, I’d have loved for this character to have been more of a cult figure, and for The Walking Dead to have explored the idea of a man doing atrocious things but for the greater good.
Extra Thoughts: Who is the mystery person stalking the Alexandria camp? A Savior? An Oceansider? A familiar face presumed dead? We’ll have to wait ’til February to find out!
So what did you think? Has this season reanimated your love for the undead so far, or does it stink worse than a bloated moat zombie? Sound off in the comments, or tell us on Twitter.