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The Walking Dead 7.08 Review – ‘Hearts Still Beating’

December 12, 2016 | Posted by Katie Hallahan
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The Walking Dead 7.08 Review – ‘Hearts Still Beating’  

Welcome to the midseason finale, and wow, what a night it was. Some harrowing moments, some attempts at nefarious plotting gone wrong, some words of wisdom (ignored almost every time), a number of deaths, and some very welcome reunions! For the first time since they were shattered in the premiere, the gang is back together (well, what’s left of it) and they are all finally ready to work together to fight back against Negan and his empire.

The struggle of getting back to this point has felt slow at times, but it makes sense that all of these characters had to take their own journey to get to this point, ready to fight and ready to do it together. Rick was the first to know that any individual efforts to kill Negan would be useless and only result in more death, but many of them needed to learn that in their own way to truly accept it. Michonne had to actually see with her own eyes just what they were up against to understand what Rick had been trying to tell her. But more than that, I think it was the woman driving her who really swayed her in the end. Upon showing Michonne Negan’s people and lands from a distance, the woman tells Michonne outright that she should ditch the car and go home and by the way, there’s a silencer in the glove compartment. She spells out and invites her own death, almost as though she’s tired of living this way, but also knows she can’t escape it. In reality she could have joined the Alexandrians, but mentally, she clearly wasn’t going to. I think she knew she was part of Negan’s system now. And seeing that bald acceptance is what I think made Michonne realize this wasn’t the way to do it. There’s a reason she is reminded of when Rick said “We’re the ones who live,” after all. For her, the turning point isn’t about accepting Negan’s rule and this way of life, though; it’s about finding another way to fight back, a way that will work somehow.

It’s finding the same confidence that Father Gabriel has had from the get-go in this situation, actually. And speaking of him, Father Gabe is growing on me more and more. His words for Rosita were perfect, although of course she didn’t listen to him, not only because of his unshakable confidence, but also because his message to her is very personal and insightful. He knows without her spelling it out that she thinks it should’ve been her who died, that she doesn’t feel she has anything to offer to the community but this. While Gabriel doesn’t get very specific, when he says “we need you,” I honestly believed that he meant exactly that. It’s been great seeing Gabriel get past his hang-ups and his own cowardice and get back to being a good priest over the last season and a half. There are different kinds of bravery, and the ability to recognize that you were wrong and change accordingly is one of them.

Moving on to Rosita…oh, honey. Eugene warned you that your plan wouldn’t work and that someone would pay the price. And you foolishly thought that would be you, even after what happened with Daryl and Glenn! Rosita went into this with a death wish, determined that she was angry enough to make her plan work and therefore only she would bear the cost of it. Unfortunately, her bad plan ended in the death of an innocent on their side, and, fittingly, in Eugene paying the price by becoming Negan’s new hostage. And, presumably, his bullet maker as well. I don’t doubt that Negan is going to make sure this talent of his is put to good use. Alexandria had better hope Eugene manages to convince Negan that he made that bullet by hand and that the factory never gets mentioned. At least now she’s ready to listen and to contribute. It’s also worth noting that Eugene took yet another step to overcoming his own cowardice, which Rosita so charmingly threw in his face last week (so, just a little something extra for her to feel guilty about now!).

So what was Rick’s journey to being ready to fight finally? Since Negan broke him down in the premiere, Rick’s goal has been to do what he has to in order to keep everyone alive. He believed that while Negan is clearly sadistic, he had some rules he operated by. That while ruthless, there was method to his madness, and if they towed the line, they would be safe. He’s been shown now how wrong he was — Negan is nothing more than a madman, albeit a charismatic and intelligent one. If the mood suits him and he feels like it, the rules can change: thus, he murders Spencer right in the street, in front of most of the town, setting off the chain reaction that leads to Olivia’s death, Eugene being taken, and Rick being told he’s still essentially “in debt.” Despite Rick doing everything he was asked, playing nice, risking his life and Aaron’s to get a haul of weapons for the Saviors, he still came back to two people dead, two wounded and one more taken. Now he knows, there are no rules to play by in Negan’s game, there is no such thing as safety. There is only praying his whims don’t include killing you today. I tend to think that when Michonne found Rick in the cell Morgan made, he was already changing his mind and getting ready to fight, but her arriving and voicing her support of him, unasked, and her encouragement that they need to find a way to fight back and if they’re together they can was the last thing he needed to know it was the right choice to make now.

The other journeys here got less screen time but were still important: Daryl’s escape with Jesus’s help felt seriously cathartic, most of all for finally hearing him speak again! Daryl’s had hardly any lines this entire half-season, so to hear him finally talk felt like both a relief and a rallying cry at once. “It ain’t just about gettin’ it back. It’s about gettin’ it all.” I’m a little sorry for Fat Joey’s demise in the process, but damn it’s good to have Daryl back in the fight. His actions in this scene speak to some serious psychological issues for him at this point, though — he barely hesitated at all to kill Fat Joey, and his way of doing so being so very similar to Negan’s execution method of choice feels like a very intentional choice.

The only people not on board are Carol and Morgan, at this point, but they’re also missing a lot of information. I was hoping that this episode would lead to seeing them brought back into the fold, but looks like that will have to wait for February. Still, the seed of the idea of fighting the Saviors has been planted by Richard. Once Morgan knows what the Saviors have done, I think he’ll realize that killing very much is necessary after all, but I’m not sure how this will go for Carol. I don’t doubt she’ll come around, but it’s the how that makes me wonder. Maybe being reunited with Daryl and learning what he went through?

And speaking of reunions, that last scene of everyone meeting up again in Hilltop to talk strategy was excellent as well. The hugs, the tears, they all felt real and earned, for the characters and for us. There’s still a whole lot of bad going on here, but having this moment of hope was a good way to end the episode and the half-season. After so many episodes of Negan’s oppression, and losing both major and minor characters to his violent and demanding ways, we needed something more uplifting. Even Rick’s reunion with his gun felt like a little homecoming, a greeting between old friends, a symbolic moment.

Overall, I found this to be a good episode with a lot to offer. Once again, we’re back to following multiple storylines in multiple locations, which I’m glad of — while TWD does focus episodes better than just about anyone, this half-season was heavy with them. In this case, the story and character arcs of the last eight episodes have come together and brought our heroes back together with them, for the most part. There’s a lot to be done to take down Negan, and I do wonder what will prove to be his weakness here, as his numbers are so much greater and his resources more vast. I can’t help but feel that someone unexpectedly turning on him will be part, or maybe many someones — Dwight? Sherry? The high number of workers he’s subjugated revolting on him? All of the above? And finally, there’s this mysterious figure who I assume to be the owner of the houseboat, Leslie, who looks to have snuck into Alexandria by night. Where’s this going and whose side will he be on?

Other Thoughts
– Enid also showed some wisdom here, echoing Gabriel and Eugene when she warned Sasha that trying to do this alone wasn’t a good idea
– I had a feeling Olivia wasn’t going to live through this one from her first scene. Rest in Peace, Olivia! Don’t forget you got to smack that jackass across the face before you went.
– Spencer, on the other hand, you were always a little shit. Father Gabriel warned you it didn’t need to be a terminal condition, but you didn’t listen to him either.
– People should really listen to Father Gabriel more often, would seem to be the moral here
– Richard’s hidden trailer and his anger have piqued my interest in his backstory. I wonder if Negan’s Saviors had more to do with his family’s death than he let on?
– Will Oceanside be brought into this fight as well? Tara knows they have weapons and a grudge against Negan. It’d be a hard sell, but they would be worthy allies.
– Love how Maggie has quickly gotten more respect than Gregory just by being a good person who contributes to the place, and how she gives no shits about him and his attitude anymore.
– Aaron, you’re a good man and seriously an eternal optimist to still say something positive after taking that undeserved beating. I hope you don’t die.

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
A solid episode all around that brought together a number of plot and character arcs from the first half of the season and ended on a positive note in a dark time for Rick and company. It wasn't the most high-tension or emotional episode, but in a season that's already had a lot of tension and emotion, that's a high bar to hit! I'm satisfied with where we've ended up in 'Hearts Still Beating', and I am more than ready to see these guys puts their heads together to bring down Negan in the second half of the season. As I've said, they are never better than when working together to a unified and mutual goal, so there's a lot to look forward to. And there's no way to not love that reunion scene they ended on!