This Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead Season 7 Episode 8
“Hearts Still Beating,” is yet another example of why extended episodes don’t work on The Walking Dead. The overlong midseason finale doesn’t quite come together, and it’s big climactic moments doesn’t quite deliver the catharsis we all desperately need after a long-winded, grim, and pretty boring first half of season 7. How The Walking Dead could deliver a series of bloated episodes without saying much of interest is beyond me. The show’s definitely changed since the Negan introduction and not for the better.
Even the moment that’s supposed to warm our hearts, that final shot of Rick rallying his people at the Hilltop, falls on deaf ears. The reunion was predictable from the moment the writers decided to split the characters up. We all knew that this first half of episodes would be a reaction to the season premiere that has pretty much broken the show, and that by the midseason finale Rick would find the strength to fight back. Like every other year before it, this midseason finale continued delivered on the formula that is The Walking Dead‘s only real plotline. The group always seems at its lowest right before it rises again and vice versa.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with seeing these characters rise up again. I certainly don’t want to spend another second watching Daryl eat a dog food sandwich or Rick stare in awe at how evil Negan is. Yet, I’ve grown really tired of watching the same beats unfold time and time again. But how do you break that formula? The group certainly can’t eat shit all the time, but it also can’t just kick ass every episode. How do you make it so that big, catastrophic events carry some actual weight? The Walking Dead certainly didn’t figure that out this year, and it’s moving on instead to the part where they get their second (millionth?) wind. Just like last year. And the year before. And the year before.
Although I think this first half of the season has been a dreadfully boring mess, I’ve really tried to find some nice things to say about every episode. The only thing I can say I enjoyed about this episode was the strength of characters like Maggie, Sasha, Rosita, Michonne, and Olivia, who died unexpectedly tonight. Although we never spent too much time with Olivia, who was played by Ann Mahoney, it was great to watch her stand by Carl and Olivia, even after Tara offered to relieve her. She showed courage when faced with Negan.
In general, it was great to see the female characters rise up to try and figure shit out while the men continued to kneel. Michonne, Maggie, Rosita, Sasha – they all understand that they have to fight for the world that they want and for each other. That’s something Rick and Spencer forgot along the way.
Spencer is still a coward in my book, even if he thinks he was being brave in his last moments, trying to save his people using diplomacy. (Deanna might have been proud.) Of course, Spencer’s plan backfired much like it did in the comics. As Negan made clear while gutting Spencer, the villain values strength over everything else. That’s why Carl gets to live and babyfaced Spencer doesnt. In the end, Spencer’s death was pretty predictable and I’m glad that it’s come and gone.
I’ve complained a lot about Negan in the past few weeks. He was, for the most part, a cartoon character in his first couple of episodes, but I didn’t mind him so much tonight. It helped that he wasn’t a walking meme generator tonight. When Jeffrey Dean Morgan is allowed to show Negan’s more sinister side, he absolutely knocks it out of the park. Still, there was at least one groan-worthy moment in the beginning of the episode when Negan is shaving (I guess to show a parallel to Rick when he first arrived in Alexandria) and taunting Carl. I bet one of my buddies that we’d totally see Negan shaving in the cold open, and I’m happy (miserable) to say that I told him so. These writers just can’t help themselves.
This episode could certainly have been an hour long. How do I know that? Because there was no reason we had to revisit Carol tonight or spend so much time on that supply run with Rick and Aaron. I’m not sure why we needed to watch a scene in which Carol and Morgan reminded the audience that they no longer kill and don’t want to go to war against anyone. It was like a season 6 refresher course that was hard to watch. Carol is one of my favorite characters, and I understand that perhaps she didn’t have a place in the first half of the season, but don’t spend so many precious minutes reminding us she’s still on the show. If there’s no reason for her to be in an episode except to retread familiar territory, I’d rather wait until it’s time for her to get back into things. Because we all know she’ll be killing again by the time the season is over.
Even the Maggie portion of the episode could have been cut, although it was nice to see her take more of a leadership role at the Hilltop. I love watching how much her presence bothers the cowardly Gregory. I suspect she’ll be in full command of the settlement by season’s end.
The Michonne bits were sort of bewildering to me, mostly because it’s not like she came to any new conclusion after she journeyed out to Savior territory. It was a bit surprising that she actually executed the Savior (although we didn’t see it happen on screen, so who knows?), but it really was the only way out of a sticky situation. It said a lot about Negan’s rule that the Savior actually wanted Michonne to kill her.
Another Savior died tonight, at the hands of Daryl Dixon, who is finally free and back with the group. I hope this is the last time the writers feel tempted to separate Daryl from the group – the only thing they ever seem to want to do with the character. I’d like to see Daryl get some sweet revenge in the spring.
So here we are. One half of a season down and another to go. Can The Walking Dead turn things around come February? I hope so. I think the writers need to take a hard look at what hasn’t worked about this season so far: the very disjointed, unnecessarily overlong episodes that tease interesting moments but never quite get there. They need to trim the fat and pick up the pace. The audience has suffered enough.