Share All sharing options for: The Walking Dead season 7, episode 8: midseason finale “Hearts Still Beating” can’t crawl out of the show’s rut

Look, it’s Carol! Everybody loves Carol! AMC
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.
There’s this ancient tradition called “flyting.” The word comes from the Old English, and we mostly associate it with England, but the idea is so basic that we have it in every culture.

Two people — often leaders or battlefield heroes — line up opposite each other, usually with some barrier between them, and trade insults back & forth. Each boasts of his own prowess và the weakness of his opponent. No blows are landed, only words. They trash-talk, essentially.

Bạn đang xem: The walking dead season 7, episode 8: midseason finale “hearts still beating” can’t crawl out of the show’s rut

There’s more ritual to lớn it than that — & once again, I’m greatly oversimplifying something in order to lớn talk about it in the context of the effing Walking Dead — but that’s the idea. Insults. Verbal boasting. Cheers and jeers. We see this all over the place in our current world, whether it’s two athletes snapping back & forth or friendly wars of words on Twitter. Flyting can be driven by antipathy; usually is. But it can also break out between friends. It’s fun.

If there’s one thing I have never believed about The Walking Dead’s Negan, it’s that nobody really tries lớn give back what he dishes out. He tosses around insults lượt thích there’s no tomorrow, và for the most part the other characters stand there meekly and take it. Where’s the pushback? Where are the return boasts? Where’s the sarcasm?

As my colleague Aja Romano pointed out last week, Negan is just a bully, and not a particularly inventive one.

This has reduced the show to a rut. Negan says something, other people cower before him, and sometimes these encounters escalate to violence. Then Negan gets the best of everybody else. Over and over again.

“Hearts Still Beating,” the midseason finale of The Walking Dead’s seventh season, offers a small steps in the right direction, but not nearly enough. Or, put another way, the show might not be out of the rut, but at least seems aware that it was in one.

Stories this baldly repetitive aren’t fun khổng lồ watch, no matter their intention

Going khổng lồ the Hilltop. What a thrill to be alive. AMC At its best, The Walking Dead is a pulpy, involving show. There are series that can get away with long strings of repetition, because they have stronger storytelling or are more visually inventive or what have you. You might think of how Better gọi Saul built much of its second season around the drudgery its main character felt while working at a big-ticket law firm, then explored both his anomie and his attempts khổng lồ get out of a job he didn’t want.

The Walking Dead is not a show that can get away with repetition. It’s already pretty repetitive, in that there are only so many ways to lớn stage a zombie attack. (“Hearts Still Beating” actually comes up with a pretty solid variation, which I’ll get khổng lồ in a bit.)

Add khổng lồ that the fact that every story arc is some variation of “a promising settlement actually isn’t promising once Rick meets a enemy (who is sometimes himself),” & you have a recipe for things starting to lớn feel old, fast.

So the strength of the show — at least when it’s at its strongest — has always come from its examination of how the characters either strengthen or crumble in the face of this dark world. It hasn’t always been terribly graceful at that, particularly when it comes lớn the endless wars about leadership the characters have, but when it works, that’s the space it lives in.

This made it slightly baffling to lớn me to lớn have Talking Dead — the post-episode talk show recap that AMC airs every week — on while writing this và hear Robert Kirkman, an executive producer of the TV show và writer of the comic it’s based on, talk about how we’d been watching a full season of Rick realizing he needed to lớn fight, or that we should be freaked out that Daryl no longer wants lớn make peace. Both of those things seemed so deeply buried that I’m surprised the show wanted us khổng lồ be cognizant of them at all. The Walking Dead is many things, but it’s not particularly subtle.

Instead, season seven has been the Negan show. He struts and preens and tells awful jokes, and we wait for him to vì something bad to make the plot lurch forward again.

In the midseason finale, he kills Spencer by disemboweling him after Spencer tries lớn get Negan’s tư vấn in a coup against Rick. Then, after Rosita finally fires her single bullet và hits Lucille instead of Negan, the man has a follower shoot a random Alexandrian. (Said follower picks Olivia, which feels especially random, given how little time the show has devoted lớn her beyond “Negan made her cry.”)

“Hearts Still Beating” tries khổng lồ make the argument that all of these events were enough lớn finally push Rick toward fighting back, toward drawing together with Hilltop in an alliance that will, presumably, eventually include the Kingdom & that community of Water Women with all the guns that Tara found a couple of weeks ago.

But is there anyone in the audience who didn’t get there ages ago? Is there anyone for whom this is a surprise? Rick’s alliance with Hilltop doesn’t carry the feeling of “Finally!” It carries the feeling of grudging acceptance of what’s about to lớn come: more Negan.

Despite all that, there’s some pretty good stuff in this episode

Not Eugene! He knows how to lớn make bullets! AMC & yet “Hearts Still Beating” has its moments. (I daresay that at a standard length, instead of an overstuffed 85 minutes, this episode might have been genuinely good.)

I loved Rick and Aaron’s adventure through the zombie-infested lake in a rapidly sinking boat, which felt lượt thích a challenge out of a brain teaser but made for one of the most purely entertaining action sequences the show has managed in a while. Michonne’s road trip with the abducted Savior wasn’t quite as compelling, but Danai Gurira sold the hell out of it.

It was nice to lớn see Carol & Morgan again, & I’m glad Daryl is no longer a Savior captive, even if I have no idea what his story was supposed khổng lồ be about. & there was some great cross-cutting between the Saviors beating the hell out of Aaron and Spencer trying to cut a deal with Negan.

If you’re going to do an episode whose entire point is, “Rick decides it’s time for the show khổng lồ have a plot again,” there are probably worse versions than this. (There are also better versions.) There were some genuinely pulse-pounding sequences, and everything with Negan gutting Spencer, Rosita shooting at him, & things just getting worse from there finally gave the show the queasy sense of very bad things going south in a hurry.

That’s good, because The Walking Dead has struggled to lớn truly convey any of the weight of what Negan does. Thanks khổng lồ some combination of his jokey dialogue, Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s performance, & the other characters just watching him bởi vì his thing, he’s come lớn feel like an enemy in a video clip game cut scene — where you wait & wait for the screen lớn say “Press X to lớn continue” so you can finally fight the dude.

My guess is that this is very much intentional. Showrunner Scott M. Gimple & his writers want us khổng lồ feel like there’s no hope — Rick và company have even lost Eugene, their bullet maker! — before they offer the tiniest glint of a silver lining around that very dark cloud.

But it’s all miscalibrated & logy. Did we really need that lengthy, lengthy montage of the characters hugging at the kết thúc to know they were all glad khổng lồ see each other? Nah. We probably could have figured that out on our own.

There’s been much written about how The Walking Dead’s ratings have sagged this season, blaming that on the grim hopelessness of the Negan storyline. I would quibble with this a bit. The show’s ratings were already down last season, by a bit, which those of us who follow TV ratings would tell you usually presages a steeper fall in future seasons. But even I’ll admit a show that was once kinda fun even when it was actively bad is now a slog.

We’re just wise to how this show works now. We know a battle with Negan is coming. We know Rick will win, và some of his friends will die. We know that good will triumph, until some evil enters the story. We know, we know, we know. That’s usually an invitation for a TV show to push pedal to metal, but The Walking Dead shuffles more & more slowly with each passing year, just lượt thích one of the creatures in the title.




This season of The Walking Dead hasn’t been easy to lớn digest. What began with an emotional blow slowly slogged through standalone episodes for unpopular characters, while the fan favorites licked their wounds and the show dropped in ratings along the way. Though the midseason finale bore some of these same markers, it ended with a genuine feeling of hope that maybe the back half (returning in February) will be better. Maybe now all its laborious groundwork will pay off.

People died, others escaped, another was imprisoned, & more still plotted for something we’ve been anticipating since the second episode finally happened. In other words, just your typical midseason finale during the time of walkers.

We begin at Hilltop with Maggie — still feeling the high from when she và Sasha saved the community from the Saviors’ walker attack — as she kneels by Glenn’s grave. The moments here are brief; some may even wonder why include them at all, but it attempts khổng lồ tie it back around in the end.

Making her daily peace at the gravesite, she then walks up lớn her lookout post atop the colony’s wooden walls. Gregory calls up from below, suggesting she not let her heroics the other night go to her head. She’s quick to hotline out how he’s clearly bothered by how many of his own people seem khổng lồ prefer Maggie và Sasha — the other person on lookout duty even pressures Gregory into giving Maggie her apple, since she’s pregnant.

Negan is also enjoying his leadership at Alexandria. Carl và Judith watch as he shaves in Rick’s bathroom, while he recommends always moving the blade against the grain. We continue khổng lồ see flashes of some of the characters: Daryl looks over that mysterious note and key he received one more time before breaking from his cell at The Sanctuary; Tara brings Olivia (frightened but still determined to watch over Judith) the lemonade mix Negan commanded her to lớn prepare; Rick và Aaron plan to cross the lake of walkers in a canoe riddled with bullet holes; & Carl helps mix the dinner table for a spaghetti supper after playing house with his tormenter.

The episode picks up in time directly where we last saw Rosita, Eugene, and Spencer returning from their little excursions to find Negan has arrived. As the one who can’t hold a poker face, Eugene is on the verge of tears as he walks through the gates, while Spencer tries khổng lồ make nice with the Saviors. He even returns one of the women’s advances, but Eugene is told lớn scurry off.

Carol is enjoying a far simpler life. The last time we saw her was when she first entered Ezekiel’s Kingdom in the second episode, and she’s continuing whatever semblance of a solitary existence she can muster. Ezekiel and Morgan can’t help but drop fresh fruit và vegetables at her doorstep. She catches Morgan before he leaves khổng lồ quickly check on his well-being before letting him loose. But his stay is prolonged when Richard, one of the warriors close lớn Ezekiel, arrives asking to speak lớn them both.

Rick và Aaron continue their race across the lake before they capsize, và it’s not easy. Their canoe is taking on more water than expected as walkers reach for them. They make it lớn another boat, but are caught off guard when a walker pops out from under the supplies. Based on what we know about walkers and water, they don’t swim, but one pops up from the water và brings Aaron into the lake. So, it’s not all too clear what’s keeping them afloat. Still, Aaron lives và is able to lớn swim khổng lồ the massive boat in the center. (Last episode, the shot made it seem lượt thích some sort of land structure, but it’s a boat filled with supplies.)

Back at The Sanctuary, Daryl is trying lớn be as sneaky as he can. He hears voices before water spills from around the corner, so he hides in a room filled with loosely lain clothes and food. He quickly changes and starts scooping peanut butter out of a jar with his bare hands when what looks lượt thích chess pieces catch his eye.

The scene cuts back khổng lồ Rick và Aaron, who find among the stash of guns and food a handwritten lưu ý that reads, “Congrats for winning but you still lose,” next lớn a sketch of a middle finger. Rick remarks the only thing this guy must’ve ran out of is ammo, while Aaron notes the uptick in wind will make it easier khổng lồ drift back lớn shore on the boat.

Meanwhile, Daryl prepares to lớn make his next move as he’s now fully changed và using a spoon to lớn finish off the peanut butter. But before he goes, he grabs a hat & flips over the chess table.

By this point, Rick & Aaron have already ridden the boat back to their truck and are loading supplies into it. Rick says he wouldn’t have blamed Aaron if he didn’t want khổng lồ continue lớn risk his life lớn gather supplies for Negan, since any responsible person who’s been accustomed to lớn their lifestyle would object. He notes that even Michonne takes issue with his But Aaron reminds him he was there when Negan killed Glenn và Abraham, so he understands they’re saving lives by complying with his demands. “It’s giving up everything,” he says, “but either your heart’s beating or it isn’t, either your loved ones’ hearts are beating or they aren’t.”

As they leave, the camera shoots to lớn the other side of the lake, showing a pair of boots belonging to lớn the mysterious figure who laid the traps.

We then check in on Michonne và her solo mission. She’s still aiming her gun at the Savior who’s driving her to lớn see Negan. Michonne tries lớn ask how long she’s been with Negan and why she was out on her own, but the woman remains silent. Despite her threats, she eventually puts down her weapons & points her gaze at the road ahead. She remarks she’s not going khổng lồ kill Negan today, but she’s going lớn find a way that will change how her personal story ends.

At Hilltop, Enid is cooking dinner with Maggie at the table when Sasha walks in carrying an hãng apple pie. Maggie can smell it under the covering & ravenously cuts into it. Sasha mentions a man in the colony made it for them as a thank-you for saving them from the walkers, while another suggested Maggie campaign for president of the colony. Maggie is already thinking like a leader: She notes the colony needs writing utensils for the kids & asks Sasha if Jesus can go out & get some. She lies by saying he already went out on a run early in the morning and forgot to lớn tell Maggie.

Enid calls out Sasha when Maggie leaves the room, saying how she heard Jesus left yesterday. Sasha reiterates it’s for Maggie’s own good to lớn be kept out of the loop; otherwise, she’d want lớn help. Though it’s not the soundest rationale, she wants khổng lồ keep the operation small in case any accountability falls on others, which has been the same frustrating súc tích keeping Rick from acting. Enid retorts that Sasha isn’t alone và isn’t the only one who wants to see Negan killed, but Sasha is steadfast và says they both need khổng lồ protect Maggie.



Rosita similarly wants to make a move, even if that means her own death. She’s sitting in the church at Alexandria, staring at the bullet Eugene made for her và speaking with Father Gabriel. He presses her khổng lồ explain why she should be the one to die, why she has lớn be the one lớn pull her trigger and get caught in the process. She notes that Aaron has Eric, Michonne & Carl have Rick, và Daryl’s a strong fighter. Gabriel brings up her relationship to Sasha, & Rosita remains silent. Trying to lớn dissuade her from her suicide mission, he promises they’ll find a way lớn win together when the right moment comes along — or they create it themselves — but they need her.

A brief scene continues Daryl’s escape route. He runs down a hall, stopping only to slip past an mở cửa door with men distracted by gambling. He finds a better weapon along the way in the size of a metal pole & sprints onward.

Back at Carol’s home, Richard emphasized their advantage over the Saviors, which is the element of surprise. He remarks Carol must be khổng lồ the world of violence & fighting, but she simply responds with “You’re wrong,” while Morgan calls her the most capable fighter in the room. For his part, Morgan’s hesitant to join Richard’s side because he doesn’t want to kill; Carol doesn’t want anything to vị with this whatsoever. Ezekiel’s man argues they’re saving lives by taking lives, và it’ll get even worse if they don’t act soon. Before leaving, he warns that whatever blood is spilled by their inaction is now on them. Carol, still, seems unfazed và asks Morgan lớn tell everyone they’ve met that she’s left so no one else arrives at her doorstep.

At Alexandria, a still blood-stained Spencer walks into his home to find it completely ransacked. On a small note, the computer effects used in this scene made it scene lượt thích a flashback sequence. So, it was a bit jarring lớn realize it was a flash-forward, with Spencer now in a pair of khakis and a xanh polo, standing in front of a mirror holding a bottle of whiskey and practicing how he’ll say hello.

Defeated, Richard now walks towards a “no camping” sign he knocks down to lớn reveal a camouflaged trailer. The inside is littered with supplies, including his crate of empty milk bottles he was seen carrying earlier. He picks one up & flings it on the floor before taking a moment to lớn wallow. The moment feels unnecessary, given Richard seems more lượt thích a background character, but he’s fearful for the future of his home and perhaps his secret hideaway will have significance down the line.

Meanwhile, Spencer walks down the street of Alexandria when he’s stopped by Rosita. Sitting on a bench, she asks if he has a hot date. He says he wants to continue the good momentum he has with the Saviors by trying to lớn get closer to them, & maybe one day — months or years in the future — they’ll try lớn fight back. He then asks why Rosita started và then so abruptly ended their fling. Even though she admits she was just using him for his body and occasional sweetness, he asks her for a no-strings-attached dinner. If you hadn’t already read the comics, this was another indication he may not make it back khổng lồ have that dinner he promised.

But first, we find Daryl escaping out of the same door he tried in an earlier episode — only this time, there isn’t a gang of Saviors waiting lớn ambush him. As he fiddles with one of the parked motorcycles, a stray guard wanders over và tries lớn plead for his life. He promises to not stop him or tell anyone he fled, saying how he’s just one of those people trying khổng lồ get by. Taking no chances, Daryl swings his pole and bludgeons the man to death as Jesus runs into “It ain’t just about getting by, it’s about getting it all,” Daryl says. He grabs a gun that looks a lot lượt thích Rick’s pistol from the man’s holster before he và Jesus ride off.

Approaching Rick’s home, Spencer wants to lớn speak with Negan but is blocked by one of his guards, a woman named Arat. Negan eventually makes a crack about how she shouldn’t be rude & allows him to pass, excited by the whiskey in Spencer’s hand.

Back on the road, Michonne’s driver brings her to lớn the desired destination. Up ahead, they can spot Negan’s Sanctuary và the walkers guarding it. The Savior says, “We’re all Negan,” và warns that whatever plan Michonne is aiming for won’t work, because Negan will outnumber her. She advises Michonne to make this car completely disappear by burning it & rolling it down a hill, in addition lớn using the silencer hidden in the glove compartment. In a bit of a surprise moment, the camera cuts out to a distance, but we see and hear Michonne shooting the woman before she turns the car around to lớn drive home.

Rick & Aaron finally make it back to lớn Alexandria và are caught off guard by Negan’s men, who taunt them as they enter the gate & make them wait as they sift through their offerings. Meanwhile, Negan is enjoying a drink on the porch with Spencer, toasting to the day when he gets himself a vacation home in Alexandria. He mentions the only thing missing is a pool table, & Spencer points out the neighbors across the street have one in their garage. Negan is thrilled by Spencer’s eagerness khổng lồ please, but wants to lớn stay outside, so he has the table brought out to the street.

The men continue lớn detain Rick, but turn on Aaron when they find the middle-finger message in their batch of supplies. He tries lớn explain they didn’t write that, but the Saviors hold Rick at gunpoint while they make their point by brutally attacking Aaron. Though Rick’s red, tear-splotched eyes are the same ones he used to have before exploding on an enemy, he watches helplessly. Aaron fans needn’t worry, but Spencer fans should.

On the street, Spencer sets the pool table as the Alexandrians gather khổng lồ watch. He mentions the real reason he came to see Negan was to lớn talk about Rick. While he may not agree with Negan’s methods, he says he understands he’s trying khổng lồ get communities contributing lớn a greater good. But Rick, he argues, doesn’t have the best history with following the rules, nor was he the original leader. Spencer recalls how his family all died shortly after Rick arrived, and that his out-of-control ego will cause him lớn try & take over once again.

He asks Negan khổng lồ put him in charge instead, so he can be the leader his mother was. Negan, however, isn’t persuaded. In fact, everything he just heard proved Spencer doesn’t have any guts, since he waited for a moment when Rick was away lớn slither in and swindle the leadership of Alexandria away from him. As Rick is finally allowed to collect a bloodied Aaron, Negan decides khổng lồ see if Spencer has any guts at all — by cutting open his stomach in a moment comic-book readers have been mentally preparing for. However, the clues were there: Negan applauds toughness và looks down on the weak. So, when he asked why Spencer wasn’t brave enough to lớn go & take what he wanted — something Negan advised khổng lồ Dwight many times — it was the over of the Monroe family.

He then asks someone to lớn clean up the mess & continues to lớn taunt the silenced crowd with Lucille. Spencer’s death further pushes Rosita to her breaking point as she watches in angered horror, & she whips out her gun with the single bullet & fires. Of course, we already know Negan will appear in later episodes, so the bullet gets lodged in Lucille.

Negan screams at Rosita for disfiguring his beloved weapon as Arat pins her khổng lồ the ground with a knife. He picks up the bullet casing and concludes it was handmade, but doesn’t believe she was the one who made it. He threatens khổng lồ cut up her face, but not if she squeals on whoever crafted the bullet. She insists it was her, leaning her cheek into the knife as blood leaks from the cut. Negan commends her “badass”-ery, but is never one khổng lồ let things slide — unless it’s Carl. He tells Arat lớn shoot someone, & she turns và fires at Olivia.

Rick & Aaron reach the scene in a rage, but are forced khổng lồ swallow it as Negan recounts how reasonable he is for bringing Carl back trang chủ after his assassination attempt, killing Spencer for trying lớn usurp him, and giving him one less mouth khổng lồ feed by shooting Olivia. Rick spits out that the supplies are waiting at the gate và tells Negan’s men lớn leave, but Negan still wants the name of the bullet-maker. Tara tries lớn take the blame, but Eugene chokes through tears that he’s the engineer. Negan takes Eugene as a prisoner, no doubt lớn improve his arsenal, và deems whatever Rick gathered for him as insufficient — he’s in a “serious, serious hole.” He then departs, leaving Rick lớn knife Spencer in the head when he emerges from his pool of blood as a walker.

Later that night, Rick kneels over a small axe và the mysterious note in one of Alexandria’s prison cells. Michonne walks in from the shadows và embraces him. She says she wanted to lớn go with him & Aaron on the run, but “had to go my way.” What she found made her realize she doesn’t want to vì things her way, but their way (her and Rick’s). Though worried about the Saviors’ sheer numbers, she isn’t swayed from her feelings. “We’re gonna keep standing, so what vì we do with that?” she asks. “How vì chưng we make that mean something? We’re the ones who get things done. You said that.”

For the first time in a long time, Rick agrees & falls into her embrace. After fading khổng lồ black, the scene picks up with Maggie, who climbs up to the same lookout post và sees Rick, Michonne, Carl, Tara, and Rosita arriving at the gates. They join Sasha and Enid, and while the reunion consists of some clich&#x
E9;d hugs & head nods, you couldn’t help but become emotional watching Rick embrace Daryl after seeing him safe & sound next to lớn Jesus. His longtime friend hands him his gun, signifying the return of the old Rick, though perhaps one a little less impulsive và a little more strategic.

Negan’s biggest blow was making all these characters feel cut off from each other, because — and this is a paraphrased Harry Potter movie quote here — they’re not much of a threat if they’re alone. Rick, Michonne, Carl, & now Spencer and Rosita have all failed in trying lớn attack Negan on their own. But their arrival at Hilltop means they’re ready khổng lồ merge colonies, & a teaser trailer for the second half of season 7 confirms they’ll try and bargain a giảm giá with King Ezekiel lớn increase their numbers.

Xem thêm: Cách Vẽ Hình Chiếu Đứng Bằng Cạnh Và Hình Chiếu Bằng Của Vật Thể Đã Cho

It’s a move many of us have been waiting for — but the first seven episodes were such a slog, you have khổng lồ wonder if it was worth the wait. So far this season, we’ve been bogged down with side stories that led khổng lồ minimal payoff. Will next year’s return be just as taxing, or will the momentum finally pick back up with the Rick we know & love back lớn his semi-normal self?

While you on that, there’s an added threat khổng lồ all of this. Just after the end credits, the episode revealed a final scene: The man Rick & Aaron stole from at the lake followed them back to lớn Alexandria. His face is still hidden in shadows as he spies Father Gabriel on lookout duty, but his shoes give him away. The final moment is simply him walking towards Alexandria’s front gate. I guess soon we’ll learn what he meant with that middle finger.