Hearts Still Beating (The Walking Dead 7×08)

As many viewers will have longed for, we finally get another escalation with Negan after many episodes in this half season focusing on one character or location. Not that these episodes have been particularly boring but there was some less intriguing stuff and therefore the pacing has been a bit off. Last week’s Sing Me A Song nicely built up to this episode, which provided an escalation of tensions pent up throughout this half season and which provides the long-awaited glimmer of hope in the last section of the episode after all the desperation and grimness the characters and the viewer had to endure.

The episode starts with Maggie hanging out at Hilltop who is told by Gregory that she shouldn’t let all the praise she gets from everyone for saving Hilltop get to her head. Maggie wittily replies he shouldn’t let it bother him as one clearly sees it does. He even has to give away his apple to the pregnant usurper (in his opinion). Later, we see Sasha lie to Maggie about Jesus and argue with Enid about that lie. Given the situation at the end of the episode, I do not think this will be of any more interest.

Rick and Aaron agree to use a boat, which is full of holes, to reach the houseboat. On their way, they are attacked by the many walkers in the water and Aaron even falls out of the boat. If this were any nameless character, they would have kicked the bucket but Aaron manages to escape unharmed.

Copyright: AMC (Photo: Gene Page)

Although this would have been a pretty pointless death and we already had a water walker victim with Bob (tainted meat!), the show has done that too often for the viewer to really worry about the safety of our characters in such situations. Anyhow, Rick and Aaron load the supplies in a cargo truck and find a note (“Congrats but you still lose”) and talk about their situation. Aaron agrees with Rick that it is most important that “your heart is beating”. They are being watched by a person with two different boots. This little side adventure with all the messages to hold off intruders now makes me curious who is behind all this. I’m not even sure if this will be an enemy or an improbable ally. We have quite a number of antagonists already so the introduction of a new character savvy in survival could be interesting. At the very end of the episode, we see that guy again, watching Gabriel, who is on watch, through binoculars and stepping towards Alexandria.

Michonne is led to the Sanctuary and is flabberghasted at the sight of the sheer mass of Saviors. Following the advice from the woman she had at gunpoint, she ditches the car and kills her.

Morgan delivers groceries to Carol and wants to leave unnoticed but Carol has him come in. Sir Richard also arrives at her place and wants to involve the two of them in his plans. He fears the Saviors will one day disrespect their agreement and destroy their community so his plan is to disrespect the agreement themselves and preemptively attack the Saviors. Morgan is still struggling to cope with the life he took and Carol wants to be left out of everything. Richard angrily leaves into a secret container (I wonder if that will ever be of any relevance again…). Carol urges Morgan not to tell anyone about her whereabouts. I don’t quite get where she’s coming from and why she is THAT determined to live in isolation. Anyway, the breakout character of season five hasn’t been of any interest to me this half season.

Daryl manages to escape his cell, eats a lot of peanut butter and arrives at the motor bikes, which are being watched by Fat Joey. Unfortunately for the latter, Daryl is very eager to escape and beats him to death with a pipe. Jesus, a bit shocked at this sight, shows him a secret way out.

Back to Alexandria: Negan eats spaghetti and has Olivia serve him lemonade. Rosita offers Olivia to switch positions but Olivia sucks it up and even dares to slap Negan, who, of course, is even more turned on by that. Thank God that this monotonous Negan show has probably come to an end with the end of this episode as it was beginning to become too one-note.

Spencer, in his ultimate douchebag manner, suits himself up and tries to impress Negan with booze and his pool table. Negan apparently seems to enjoy Spencer’s brown-nosing or at least we’re led to believe so. After Spencer acquainted Negan with his plan to take Rick down as a leader, Negan transforms back to menacing psychopath and reveals that while Rick puts his life on the line during his scavenging missions despite his loathing towards Negan, Spencer is gutless in his opinion for asking Negan to do his dirtywork. And then, in a horrendous and shocking moment, he literally makes Spencer gutless by stabbing Spencer to the stomach. As unexpected as that came, that was the much-needed and much-awaited escalation of the tension between our group and Negan, who now again embodies the unpredictable menace he was in the season 7 premiere.

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Copyright: AMC (Photo: Gene Page)

After just having kinda reconciled with Spencer at the start of the episode, Rosita is infuriated and sees the moment to use her one bullet (although Gabriel bade her to hold back until they can fight back together). Unfortunately and inevitably, she doesn’t kill Negan as the bullet hits Lucille. Negan is livid that he has just stood on the verge of death and shows an emotional outburst we haven’t seen from him before. He quickly regains control over himself and quickly deduces that they have someone who can produce bullets. One of his minions is to shoot a random person unless Rosita tells him who it is. As Rosita asserts it’s herself, Negan gives the command and the woman shoots … Olivia. Although the arbitrariness adds a layer to the feeling of peril, TWD needs to avoid killing off such minor characters in such important situations. The stakes don’t feel high enough even though the feeling of not wanting to mess with Negan at all is salient again after Carl noticed that Negan doesn’t punish the group appropriately hard. In hindsight, the show has too often been hesitant to lose important characters when the group oversteps boundaries or risks too much.

Tara wants to sacrifice herself but Eugene can’t let his best friend take the blame and is taken by Negan. The question is whether Negan just wants to weaken his enemies or will he be able to manufacture more bullets with Eugene’s help. Negan decides that anything Rick has brought today will not be sufficient after the several acts of disobedience by Carl and Rosita.

After the Saviors leave, Michonne talks to Rick after her return and informs him about the scale of the Saviors’ population. She insists that they should still fight, together(!), for the sake of their loved ones. Rick agrees and so do the others as we see one of the best scenes of the scene: A big reunion of our group members, who were completely scattered throughout the season. Rick, Tara, Carl, Rosita and Michonne arrive at the Hilltop and are welcomed by Maggie, Sasha and Enid. Seeing Rick, Maggie and Daryl, who arrives with Jesus, hug it out after all they’ve been through was a very heartwarming and hopeful scene. TWD can prove that one of its biggest strengths are the character bonds within the main cast. Similar to season 4b when the scattered people reunite, the half season ends on a note of optimism and determination, which is a good idea after all the unpleasant (to say the least) events. If you’re nitpicky you might want to criticize that the death of characters of so little relevance moved our group to finally resist. I feel that’s unfair though, as all were absolutely overwhelmed by their inferiority in that fateful night in the season premiere. In my opinion, the sum of events was decisive and the resulting anger was bottled up and we now reached the point that tipped the balance.

Since most Alexandrians are reunited at the end of the episode, the back half of the season might be more action-packed as we head full frontal towards confrontation. I guess the kingdom, probably including Morgan, will join the fight as will Oceanside when they gather forces to face the sheer numbers of Savior. The question is what will Carol do.

© by AMC, images taken from imdb.com

title image: © by AMC (Photo: Gene Page)


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