The Walking Dead: 708 “Hearts Still Beating” Review
Reviewed by John Hussey.
After last week’s brilliant episode I went into this mid-season finale with some hope that the quality would remain fluent. What with Season 7 being a little all over the place with its focus, and sometimes dropping the ball to give us cheap fillers to further tease our anticipation.
“Hearts Still Beating” starts off promising, building upon all the elements set up in “Sing Me a Song”. But then the episode started to become a slow burner. These episodes can become rather risky in terms of the outcome. If the build-up is good but the pay-off is under-par then you end in disappointment. Plus there is the other risk that the episode simply doesn’t get concluded, resulting in a cliff-hanger that wouldn’t be cool at this point.
Rick and Aaron’s mission to find supplies became the tensest part of the narrative within its first half. You knew it was a desperate struggle. A lot was riding on them finding something to bring back for Negan, who unbeknownst to them was waiting back at Alexandria. There were true moments of tension, as they had to quickly row a boat across the lake before it sake. Not to mention avoid the hungry Walkers lurking in the waters.
There was a moment where I actually thought Aaron was going to bite the dust, which would’ve been a massive shame because I like his character. The problem is now we have too many likable characters and things are getting more and more dangerous. The stakes have never been higher on the show. At the moment it’s anyone’s game. Before the chances of survival was higher. But now your favourite character can die just like that.
Then there was Daryl who finally managed to escape his imprisonment with the help of Jesus. His time at the Sanctuary had taken its toll as Daryl desperately grabbed food wherever he could, stole some clothes and even beat a man to death with a bat in order to conceal his escape. It was in that moment that you realised Daryl had been driven over the edge. There were no rules anymore, just survival. The fact that he repeated Negan’s actions on one of his own made this scene all the more impactful. Plus the reaction from Jesus said it all.
The parts in Alexandria were certainly the best in this mid-season finale. There was so much build-up and the stressful part was you didn’t know what was going to happen. All the elements started to come together and formulated a shocking outcome. Negan has become one my favourite characters because of his presence and unpredictability. It showed even more in this story. You literally didn’t know what he was going to do throughout and that’s the scary part.
On top of this we had Rosita preparing herself to use the bullet she forced Eugene to make. This led to a surprising scene between her and Gabriel. Now to begin with I couldn’t stand Gabriel, but by heck has his character grown on me. And that was thanks to some good old-fashioned character development. Now he’s the man with all the advice, and the past couple of weeks he’s given some really good speeches about his feelings on the current situation and how others should approach it. Ultimately he stands correct that the group should bide their time and strike Negan when they have some kind of strategic advantage.
On the other side we have Spencer’s continuing arc of questioning Rick and wanting to overthrow him. In order to make the best out of this situation Spencer becomes full-on backstabber. He talks over an idea with Negan about how he would make a better leader than Rick. He justifies this by explaining he would run Alexandria like his mother did prior to Rick’s arrival, making the situation easier for Negan to control. Spencer also becomes crafty by trying to manipulate Negan to his favour by getting rid of Rick, explaining that he is less likely to remain under Negan’s control.
This was the ultimate turning point of the entire narrative, and ultimately Season 7 thus far. This moment showed how easily Negan could change in an instant. One minute he’s enjoying the hospitality of Spencer. The next minute he’s cutting out Spencer’s guts. I loved this moment for two reasons. The first because it showed how unbalanced Negan really is, plus it showcased that, despite being a psychopath Negan has a sense of honour. He saw right through Spencer’s plan and called him out on it, explaining that Rick was actually out doing his job whilst Spencer tried squirming his way into leadership.
The second reason is because I finally got to see Spencer get his comeuppance. He really began to annoy me with his all talk, no action bulls**t. Spencer became one of those characters that didn’t see the full picture, nor could he have done any better. Rick’s methods are dangerous but it keeps people alive in the long run. If Spencer had his way he would’ve kept his people in fairyland and devoid of any real understanding of the world beyond the walls. That wasn’t survival, it was dreaming.
Spencer dies in the most glorious of fashions and that’s what really sparks the turning point. Seeing Spencer dying, whilst clutching his intestines, Rosita loses it. I swear that moment left me utterly shocked as I thought for a second, “No. They couldn’t have killed off Negan so soon surely?” As it turned out Lucille took the bullet for Negan (literally). And this sent him raging over the edge. It was an amazing moment seeing Negan absolutely losing his sh*t and showing us that you don’t cross him otherwise he will make you pay ten times over.
In that moment he tried forcing Rosita to tell him who made the custom bullet that nearly took his life. In the process she is semi-tortured by one of Negan’s men, followed by that same soldier shooting down Olivia to make a point. It’s almost as if they haven’t learnt from “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be”. If you attack then Negan will have someone killed. This moment was even greater by everyone’s reaction. They were utterly terrified of Negan, along with me.
But at the same time it was fascinating to see what he was going to do. You could see how it took every ounce of strength for Negan to stop himself from just cracking someone’s head in. In the end Eugene, in a state of complete fear, finally admitted he was the one who made the bullet. I seriously thought poor Eugene was going to receive the same treatment as Abraham but luckily he was only taken away (for now at least). I hope Rosita is happy with herself. Her stupid actions cost Olivia to die for no good reason and Eugene, the guy that could make freaking bullets, got taken away.
When Rick arrived on the scene to see the aftermath, with Negan expressing his anger at how he had to once again teach his group the rules, I wanted him to lose it on someone. I thought he was going to earlier when Negan’s men cruelly beat up Aaron for no good reason. If anything I wanted him to lace into Rosita for her foolish actions.
After Michonne realised how large the Saviours numbers were, she returns to Rick and gives one hell of a speech, which ultimately convinces him that it was time to finally retaliate. This time he would think things through and not go in blind. This time he would make the perfect plan, and this time he would not fail until Negan was dead. This made for a somewhat happy ending to what was a grim first half of a season.
Rick and his surviving friends went over to the Hilltop and reunited with Maggie, Sasha and Enid. The family reunion was made even sweeter by the surprise arrival of Daryl and Jesus. Honestly it was a beautiful moment seeing Rick and Daryl hugging like two long lost brothers. It really showed how far they have come and how strong their friendship is. Even Rosita and Sasha had a little moment. It was all so happy and gave us a little bit of hope that Rick’s new-fired enthusiasm will be enough to finally take down Negan.
This was a great ending to this year’s set of episodes. “Hearts Still Beating” is on par with “Too Far Gone” as best mid-season finale of the show. Sure it was a slow burner to begin with, but its pay-off was immense and left me glued to the screen.
My only fear is that Rick’s decision to fight back has happened too soon. I wanted this arc to be fleshed out as much as possible and now I’m worried it’s going to be rushed. We didn’t really see enough of Negan’s wrath and how much he could break Rick’s will. We had the odd moment but with the focus being all over the place, and only spending half a season concentrating on Rick being subjugated, we haven’t had enough time spent on the idea that Rick isn’t all powerful and can fall if confronted with the right adversary.
Here’s hoping that the war against Negan lasts beyond the Season 7 finale because Negan is a fantastic character, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan is the best thing to be added to the show in a long time, so it would be really disappointing to have all the build-up to Negan’s arrival cut short by a rushed story-arc. Also, I want to know whom the mysterious person is skulking around Alexandria in the after-credits sequence…!