Warning: Spoiler Alert!
Turn back now if you haven’t seen this week’s episode, if you have, well then come on in.
TWD ended its midseason run with (another) 90 minute episode. At this point it’s unusual for the show to only be 60 minutes, including commercials. The bloated run-time is likely a side-effect of the expansive universe of places and characters, as discussed in previous weeks.
At this point, though, each episode requires the same time commitment as Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. Let that one sink in for a second. Watching TWD is no longer any small feat, and that doesn’t even include Chris “Twinkly-Eyes” Hardwick’s The Talking Dead, which runs another 60 minutes afterwards.
Perhaps this is a reason for the show’s viewer attrition: the Season 7 finale was a very strong 17.03 million (second highest ever for an episode), but it fell off to about 10.5 million by episodes 6 and 7, down from about 13 million in Seasons 4, 5 & 6, when the show was at its peak in ratings. A symptom of luster and hype fading or viewer exhaustion? Even as someone who feels invested in the show and wants to keep watching, each 90 minute installment makes me cringe a little.
The Elements Come Together
With the use of some snazzy fade-ins-and-outs, TWD has finally brought all of their main settlements together in one episode. Maggie continues to lead from the shadows at Hilltop. Daryl makes a daring escape from captivity at Sanctuary. Morgan and Carol are asked to rally The Kingdom to war. Rick and Aaron go on a daring zombie-boat rescue. Oh, and Negan makes Carl spaghetti and biscuits in Alexandria. While the stories were all given smaller focus, the ability to see the pieces moving in unison gave a better sense of time and overall plot momentum. It’s hard to connect these disparate cogs when we don’t see them for 6 weeks.
The epicenter of this episode was definitely Alexandria. Over the past several weeks, we learned of numerous individuals plotting to take down Negan in light of Rick’s passive leadership. Daryl tried to beat him to death after he killed Abraham. Didn’t work. Carl tried to machine gun him. Didn’t work. Michonne wanted to go out on her own to get him. Didn’t work. Rosita wanted to shoot him in the face. Almost worked. Damn, Lucille makes for a good shield! I thought a bat would explode when impacted by a bullet at close range. Alas, Negan’s power (and his symbol of the same) is too strong.
Speaking of strength, Spencer finally made his coy political play to endear himself to Negan. Except Negan doesn’t respect coyness, he respects strength. He (correctly) called Spencer out for being a wuss who didn’t have the guts to do his own dirty work to take Rick out. Of course, as he said this he scratched at pool even as he sunk his ball. A nice metaphor: he scores the point but misses the bigger threat Spencer is relaying: that Rick will never submit and a puppet like Spencer (or Gregory at Hilltop) would make for a more harmonious relationship.
Negan would have none of it, however, instead opting to confirm whether Spencer had any guts. He did, indeed. A nice gruesome death followed by Olivia taking the deathblow for Rosita. Sorry, minor characters, but it looks like you must pay for the sins of the major players. Seriously, all Rosita got for trying to kill Negan was a cut on her face. Aaron got a worse beat down for leaving (accidentally?) the hoarder’s mean note in their supplies. Does Negan want to fight a war? Does he want to die? Because he keeps leaving the ones who try to kill him alive and free.
As Spencer fell, Negan stepped up to ask the assembled cast who would step up to continue the pool game. He was winning, he boasted. Notably, he hadn’t won yet (thanks, extended metaphor!).
How Rick Got His Grove Back
Rick seemed to finally come to grips with his people’s refusal to submit. He knows now that they would rather fight and die than live in slavery to Negan and the Saviors.
It was a powerful moment when the main players (minus Carol and Morgan) all came together at Hilltop. The embraces felt real and earned, and you could feel their strength returning. Daryl handing Rick back his signature revolver was another powerful symbol of his returning strength.
Together they walked back towards Hilltop, ready to honor their deal with Gregory and eliminate the Saviors once and for all. It was a good mid-season capper that gave hope for the future after so many humiliations.
“Hearts Still Beating” was a good way to bring together all of the elements of Season 7 and give us hope that Negan hasn’t won the game yet. Rick is now ready to step up and finish it, because his people are the ones that get things done. That’s the heroes we know and love.
Photos courtesy of Gene Page/AMC.