Spoiler Alert: The following discusses plot points from Sunday night's The Walking Dead Season 7 premiere, "Hearts Still Beating."
Contributing Editor Tara Bennett breaks down the Season 7 midseason finale, directed by director of cinematography Michael E Satrazemis and written by Matt Negrete and Channing Powell.
Overview: After seven hours (i.e. show weeks) of experiencing life under Negan's nasty thumb, Rick finally comes to the realization that the live-action sitcom Everybody Hates Negan is not worth watching anymore. It takes the murder of Spencer and Olivia, the random excessive beating of Aaron, the slashing of Rosita and the kidnapping of Eugene to finally get him there, but hey, he's there now.
Carol! It's no secret that I adore the character and Melissa McBride's portrayal, so to finally get to see her face, indifferent as it may be, was a highlight of this episode. She's certainly made a cozy little rancher getaway for herself outside of The Kingdom, but she's not being left alone by Ezekiel or Morgan. She has a lot of bite back about the intrusions when she talks to Morgan, but she really gets distant when Ezekiel's guard comes by seeking help to convince the King that they need to attack the Saviors before their tentative deal goes south. Neither Morgan or Carol wants any part of it, which leaves the poor guy despondent. But it certainly primes the pump for Part B of the season when Rick is seeking allies in his own fight against Negan.
Rosita had some fantastic moments tonight. Her confessional with Gabriel was subtle but effective as its confirmed that she thinks that she should have been the one to get Lucille's bat. She's ginned up a suicide mission mentality now to cope, which leads to the great moment where she takes her shot at Negan after he disembowels her one-time lover, Spencer. Even with Arat's knife at her throat pressing her to confess where she got the bullet, she pushed the edge into her own face rather than admit it was Eugene. She elevated herself into Sasha and Maggie territory with that move.
Michonne's rousing speech to Rick was delivered with passion by Danai. Having her tell Rick, "We're still here. Still standing. So what do we do with that? How do we make that mean something? We have to fight, not for us ... for all of us. We can find a way to beat them, but only if WE do this," was the shake-him-by-the-collar moment we've all been waiting for since 7.1. He was with her 100 percent, and that was great.
Who doesn't like a great power walk? Seeing Rick, Michonne, Carl, Tara and Rosita re-assemble with Maggie, Sasha, Daryl, Jesus and even Enid to march up to Gregory's Hilltop plantation was a little bit cheesy, but also a wee bit thrilling because the show really needed a moment like that to get some enthusiasm pumped into this storyline again. You don't get more on-the-nose symbolic than Daryl returning Rick's gun to his holster. An emasculated Rick and company is not enjoyable viewing. Negan allowed to talk with no repercussions is also proving to be no fun. Let's get some evened stakes back into any encounters with him from now on, please.
There was some underwhelming pacing and payoffs to set pieces in this installment. The houseboat sequence could have been a lot scarier and more clever. Instead, it felt like an easy roadblock for Rick and Aaron to traverse, and merely an excuse to set up the "Congrats for winning but you still lose" note that got Aaron beat to a pulp.
Negan making a pasta dinner for Carl, Judith and Olivia was more terrifying than a tense post-election Thanksgiving dinner, but the villain's mouth still undercuts a lot of the dread this show is known for usually. I was genuinely terrified for Judith when Negan's tour revealed she existed, but I got less worried the more he bounced her on his knee. Plus, the post murder talking with Spencer and Olivia really just makes me want to take a bullet myself for some peace sometimes. He's far more imposing when he snaps - like he did with Rosita's bullet lodged in Lucille - than when he waxes poetic, ad nauseam.
Michonne and the Savior lady-thug was also underwhelming. It ate up space that didn't end with enough of a realization moment to make the time away from other plots worth it.
I'm sorry but Spencer has been an ass since day one, so watching him continue to be stubbornly petulant about how Rick has impacted his life was an utter chore. And I even agreed with some of Spencer's assessments in regards to Rick's actions! It's not ok that they killed Saviors in their sleep and created this nightmare. He's right! But he's such a jerk character that the truth is still sour coming from his lips. And thus, I was not shocked or upset that he got gutted by Snidely Negan. My reaction: oh, well. Glad it was him and not someone else I like. And I'm even happy Rick got his long overdue lick in as he brained zombie Spencer. Excessive but kind of satisfying.
"Oh S--t!" Moment
Eugene offering himself up as the bullet-maker was chilling and heartbreaking. He is not meant for that Savior compound, we all know it, so it's truly terrifying to comprehend how he's going to do over there, and what Negan's going to do to him. Plus, Josh McDermitt sells Eugene's terror perfectly. He looked absolutely wrecked in the aftermath of Spencer and Olivia. He's a scene VIP time after time.
Poor Olivia. They really never gave the character much agency aside from her arsenal duties, but at least in this one she executed a satisfying crack across Negan's face, and a heroic moment protecting Judith.
Daryl is out of the compoundand man, he totally took out his dog food and music loop anger on that big dude toadie. Yipes.
Carol telling Morgan, "Tell anyone I know, I'm gone." Don't do us like that, Carol!
In the post credit tag, who's creeping in Alexandria at night? A Savior spy? A leftover Wolf? Someone new to the storyline, or a familiar face who might know how to infiltrate the compound?
In terms of midseason finales, "Hearts Still Beating" wasn't a pressure cooker. We got a lot of chess pieces moved into position so that the back-half of the season (returning in February 2017) is lined up to have Rick mobilize his troops into getting the not-crazy communities, like Hilltop and The Kingdom, organized to take on Negan and the Saviors for some "All Out War" (look it up in the comics).
What did you think of “Hearts Still Beating"? Are you engaged again for the next chapter? Who do you think is in the tag?