The Walking Dead: “Hearts Still Beating” (S7, E8 review)

The mid season finale ends with Rick and Negan at each other's throats AGAIN ... but this time with a wholly different result (image courtesy AMC)
The mid-season finale ends with Rick and Negan at each other’s throats AGAIN … but this time with a wholly different result (image courtesy AMC)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AD MORE OF NEGAN’S POINTLESS, NASTY POSTURING … OH, AND WATER ZOMBIES!

This is the end, my friend, the friends and yet as we draw to a mid-season 7 close, you can’t help feeling that it’s just the beginning.

You see, after being bullied, harassed and taunted by Negan’s (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) sociopathic primadonna routines for time without end – actually only weeks really but my lord in zombie heaven it feels like much, MUCH longer – Rick (Andrew Lincoln) finally realised that Douchebag-in-Chief Spencer (Austin Nichols), Michonne (Danai Gurira) and pretty much everyone else was right – you don’t beat dictators by endlessly appeasing them.

Example A of this as a Very Poor Realpolitik Strategy is Hitler, who was appeased, accommodated and allowed for until such time as a war was necessary to remove him and his sick, twisted campaign to began an Aryan Third Reich; it didn’t work then and it certainly won’t work in the zombie apocalypse.

Rick thankfully realised it without losing his intestines all over the once-neatly manicured road verges of Alexandria; Spencer not so much.

After deciding that the way to peace and prosperity was to be Mussolini to Negan’s Hitler, drinking and playing pool all the while convincing the Sanctuary’s chief sadist that he would be a better leader than Rick, Spencer found himself the recipient of a brutal, quick knife wound to the gut.

End result? Spencer dead, Negan less-than-amused at Deanna’s son’s duplicitous behaviour – he may be a bloodthirsty, murdering bully but dammit he has standards; weirdly enough if you stand up to him (within certain limits) he will respect you – and Rick left to knife his would-be vanquisher in the head.

But this being Negan, the horrific brutishness didn’t end there, not after Rosita (Christian Serratos) used the handmade solo bullet Eugene (Josh McDermitt) to attempt to kill Negan at point blank range, only to have Lucille block the way.

 

Eugene finds himself very much in demand for his bullet making skills and understandably terrified out of his brain (image courtesy AMC)
Eugene finds himself very much in demand for his bullet making skills and understandably terrified out of his brain (image courtesy AMC)

 

The truly tragic part was that it wasn’t Rosita who paid the price for a fury-impelled rash act; dear sweet scared Olivia (Ann Mahoney), who had spent way too much time eating spaghetti bolognese, was impetuously chosen by Arat (Elizabeth Ludlow) to act as the scapegoat for daring to stand up to Negan’s caustic bullying.

But it went even beyond that with Eugene taken away by Negan to become his bullet maker of choice, a strategic act in two ways – Negan gets a constant supply of bullets and Alexandria loses the expertise to make its own.

Win-win all around right? Only Negan went a step or 300 too far this time, angering everyone to the point where thoughts didn’t turn to how appease better but how to get rid of him.

Not surprising since Negan was acting like an apocalyptic Caligula, ordering people to cook him things, move pool tables out into the street so the game could be conducted in the bracingly fresh outdoors, and ordering Olivia, pre-bullet through the brain, to get him lemonade.

You could well argue that the madman bully had over stepped the mark quite some time ago but this time he went way too far, with Rick admitting to Michonne in what turned out to be surprisingly romantic moment that he knew they had to act and they couldn’t stand by and let this kind of evil run amuck.

Now you could say that Rick brought all these hellish events down upon his head through his own ill-thought out decision to kill the folks at one of the Savior’s outposts but be that as it may, the man was predating well before that and someone needs to stop his violent reign of terror.

And it looks like that man will be Rick, in concert with the good people of Hilltop – the final scene showed Rick, Rosita, Tara (Alanna Masterson), Carl (Chandler Riggs) and Michonne reuniting with Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Enid (Katelyn Nacon) at Hilltop itself – and The Kingdom (sans Carol, played by Melissa McBride who wants nothing to do with any more death and destruction, however much warranted).

So another war to remove a madman yes? Same old, same old, and yet after a fairly lacklustre episode in which murder porn was giving a fresh airing, you get the feeling that handled well, The Walking Dead could be on the cusp of what it needs most – an old-fashioned, ongoing through narrative.

 

Rosita quixotic quest for vengeance is a manifest failure on many levels (image courtesy AMC)
Rosita quixotic quest for vengeance is a manifest failure on many levels (image courtesy AMC)

 

“Hearts Still Beating” certainly offers a golden opportunity to forge what The Walking Dead has never really had – a reason for being.

Yes for a while there surviving the zombies and forging some sort of post-civilisation life was a compelling storyline; but now? Unfortunately it’s become tired and old with the show caught in an endless loop of find a nemesis, face a nemesis, kill a nemesis, repeat.

To really move on and keep the audience involved, The Walking Dead needs to create an overarching narrative such as the attempt by these three communities to create a brand new world out of the chaos and ashes of the old.

There’s a real chance to do that with Negan gone, and you get the feeling he will be going, and you can only hope that the show grabs it and runs with it.

That way any new Big Bad’s attempts to thwart them will at least have a backdrop, a context rather than another empty skirmish in an increasingly hollow and empty narrative.

I don’t hold out much confidence that this will happen since the show’s writers haven’t shown much inclination for anything like this to date but you can only hope that declining viewer numbers will persuade them that a new direction is needed, lest the show end up as dead the infected roaming it’s eerie post-apocalyptic landscape.

  • And yes there’s an entire half a season of The Walking Dead still to go starting in February 2017 and we can only hope it’s as exciting and purposeful as the promo below suggests … oh yeah and a compelling ongoing narrative to replace the villain-of-the-week schtick would be wonderful.

 

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