Editor’s note: This post contains spoilers for the latest episode of The Walking Dead! Proceed with caution, survivors. For reals, if you haven’t yet watched this week’s episode, “Hearts Still Beating,” we highly suggest you do so before proceeding. Okay? We good? Let’s go.
It’s been a long, rough year for many of us, and that most certainly includes The Walking Dead fans. After the buildup to Negan’s debut and the deaths we knew would come with it last season, we were denied the opportunity to grieve for those deaths until season 7’s extremely polarizing premiere. Ever since then, with the exception of King Ezekiel’s introduction, we’ve been subjected to a non-stop barrage of misery. It’s one thing for the show to abuse its characters; it’s another to abuse viewers. But watching Rick and his friends subjected to a never-ending torrent of physical and mental torture has been brutal with a capital B. In true Walking Dead fashion, however, just when many of us were ready to write the show off entirely, a ray of hope finally shines at the end of this week’s midseason finale. Its brightness might simply be due to the sheer contrast against the darkness that’s preceded it, but it’s a brightness that can’t be denied.
“Hearts Still Beating” begins with Negan still playing house at casa de Grimes, tormenting Olivia and Carl even as he continues presenting himself as a twisted alternative to the latter’s father. (Just in case it wasn’t made clear enough in last week’s episode, the point is rammed home with a scene of Negan teaching the boy to shave.) Meanwhile, Rick and Aaron manage to retrieve the ammo they’d spotted in “Sing Me a Song”; Daryl breaks free of the Sanctuary with the help of Jesus (though not before taking out all of the torment he’d stored up on the least threatening of the Saviors); and Michonne has an epiphany, which, instead of sending on her suicide mission to take out Negan, prompts her to return to Alexandria and convince Rick to join her in fighting him. She arrives just in time, too, because in violating his home and making himself a dad to his kids, Negan’s clearly violated Rick in just about every way a man can be violated. Thankfully, he sees the wisdom in her words and realizes his greatest strength, and the show’s, has always been community.
Yet part of me is disappointed that “Hearts Still Beating” ultimately concerns itself with Rick’s feelings rather than Rosita’s, since so much of this episode focuses on her revenge plan, from her meeting with Father Gabriel to her final flirtation with Spencer to her firing a bullet right into the heart of Lucille. That last action gives us what is by far the best commercial fade-out of the season. We know that actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so we know Negan won’t die. Yet we also know Rosita’s a superb shot. So kudos to whoever came up with the idea of letting Lucille stand between Rosita and her man, even if the science makes no sense whatsoever. (Had she fired an arrow, then sure, Negan could be left holding his baseball bat. But a bullet bat, when she fires at close range?)
As for Spencer’s fate…I knew he’d signed his death warrant as soon as he decided to make friends with the Saviors, but it was still entertaining as all hell to watch the show’s least likable character smugly sipping drinks and shooting pool with Negan, confident that he stood even the slightest chance of usurping Rick’s position at Alexandria. Negan’s response–that Rick’s actually working for him while Spencer’s simply trying to kiss his ass–illustrates the modicum of respect this season’s Big Bad holds for the former lawman. So it’s a gruesomely satisfying kill indeed when Negan shows the pretty boy what guts really look like. Though it might disappoint those who watch The Walking Dead only to satisfy their blood lust that the second Alexandrian to die in this episode, Olivia, is the only other recurring character featured.
In the end, it’s damn near impossible for longtime fans not to choke up just a little at the sight of Rick, Michonne, Daryl, and Maggie reunited at Hilltop, with a battered but not broken Daryl fighting back tears as he hugs Rick and Michonne, before handing Rick his pistol and walking off to formulate a plan. That the preview for the show’s return in February reveals part of this plan involves a visit to the Kingdom is cause enough, even among those who’d all but written the off the show this season, to tune in once more.
— Carol doesn’t get much to do this week, but it’s nice to see her enjoying the peaceful life she’d always longed for. If only for a moment.
— Does anyone else think the backstory of Ezekiel’s second-in-command was a little too quickly and conveniently shoved into this episode for the sake of showing how opposed Carol is to fighting?
— “Lucille is hungry. Carl, pass the rolls, please.” Just in case we were worried someone wouldn’t die in the midseason finale.
— “You like watching, haircut?”
— “Maggie for President.” If. Only.
— And the award for Funniest Line of the Season So Far goes to–“Carol, I imagine violence and fighting is something you haven’t been a part of.”
— Almost as funny is just how quickly Spencer’s guts spill out of him.
— “And I fed him spaghetti!”
— “I didn’t want it to be my way. I wanted it to be ours.” Sniff.