The Walking Dead: Hearts Still Beating
“Hearts Still Beating”, the mid-season finale of the seventh season of The Walking Dead, wraps up all the ongoing stories introduced in the season premiere and resets the stage for the back half of the season. Over the course of 90 minutes, the episode checks in with all of the regulars. Maggie is still pregnant and the likely next leader of the Hilltop community, Carol still wants to be left alone, Morgan still won’t kill except when the plot demands that he break his oath, Spencer is still insufferable, Carl still needs a haircut, Tara’s Oceanside community still doesn’t matter, Eugene still likes to watch and Negan still likes the sound of his own voice.
Hearts are still beating (except for Glenn and Abraham’s) and the status quo remains largely unchanged after eight episodes (three of which were extra-long).
Most of this season’s story-lines have been exercises in running in place with a nod towards world building. Carol and Morgan served as our introduction to The Kingdom, but other than setting up shop outside of Alexandria they haven’t changed from last season. Tara got an entire episode to go off and find the Oceanside community which may never come into play again. Maggie, despite showing no signs of pregnancy, is apparently experiencing cravings. Despite depleting Hillside’s food supply, she remains a more popular figure than established leader, Gregory. Carl and Michonne went off on what should have been suicide missions only to return to Alexandria exactly as they had left. For most of these characters, nothing much happened.
That’s not true for Spencer. Spencer had probably the least surprising death in the show’s seven-year history. By now, it is established that if you are critical of Rick Grimes – a leader who is constantly getting those around him killed – you are not long for this world. After telling everyone who would listen how much he hated Rick, Spencer finally got gutted and I’m guessing most viewers cheered. Spencer was never presented as anything but a sniveling worm. Never mind the fact that his arguments were valid, Spencer was a douchebag. He was always going to end up getting gutted.
But really, was Spencer wrong? The Alexandrians had managed to live in relative peace through the first couple years of the apocalypse with very few fatalities. As Negan points out, Rick’s arrival lead to the death of Spencer’s entire family as well as several other citizens of Alexandria. Rick’s tenure as leader has been a complete disaster. Spencer really couldn’t do any worse.
Both Rick and Spencer went on supply runs this episode. And both of them brought back goods with the intention of handing them over to the Saviors. The only difference between them is that Spencer seems to be happy to do it whereas Rick looks like a wounded animal. When Spencer approaches Negan and asks to be put in charge, Negan spills his guts in the street. Why? Because it happened in the comic book. But then in the comic book, Spencer hadn’t just handed over a bunch of supplies to Negan. In either case, we’re supposed to chalk this up to Negan being a wild card.
Spencer and Rosita had some kind of flirtation going on. It was never fully fleshed out on the show which is a shame because both characters could use the added depth. Truth is, I forgot they had a relationship until Spencer brought it up out of the blue. This might have helped explain why Rosita fired her single bullet at Negan following Spencer’s death. Somehow, despite the fact she is standing just a few yards away, Rosita misses her target and hits Negan’s bat instead. Understandably upset over the attempt on his life, Negan orders one of his hench-people to “kill somebody” which leads to the quick death of another Alexandrian redshirt, Olivia. If anyone cared at all, it’s only because Olivia seemed more like a real person than most of the characters on the show.
Quick aside: This entire interlude only shows how ridiculous it is that Negan is still in a position of power. Several characters have had ample opportunities to kill him. Just about everyone around him including his own men have reason to want to do so. Negan is too much of a wild card. If you challenge him, he may burn your face off, kill your friends or he might just make you a spaghetti dinner. But if you fall in line, he’s still going to torment you and your loved ones. So why wouldn’t you take your chances? He’s constantly walking around with nothing but a baseball bat to protect himself. And quite frequently, he hands that to someone who would love nothing more than to bash his brains in. So why is Negan’s heart still beating? Cause the show isn’t done with him.
The episode ends with most of the regular reuniting for the first time since the pilot sent them off in different directions. Daryl, who spent the entire eight episodes in captivity, is finally freed with the help of Jesus. He and Rick hug it out as Rick realizes something that should have been obvious from the first episode of the season: Working with Negan is not an option.
That’s one of the many frustrating aspects of this season so far. Negan is obviously a lunatic. In the first episode when Rick and company were outnumbered and outgunned, the smart thing to do was to play along. Instead, they resisted and people paid the price. After that, when Negan is away, they should have been mounting their resistance in secret. Instead, it took almost ten hours of television (less many, many commercials) for the characters to decide to fight back.