What's Up With The Walking Dead: "Hearts Still Beating"

Mid-season finale…already!?! It seems like just yesterday we all waited with baited breath to find out who met their end in the premier, now here we are at the half-way mark of this world changing season with more questions then answers. What’s Daryl’s play? What’s Negan’s end game at Alexandria, playing house with Judith and Carl? What are Rick and Aaron after, and just what is going to happen when they return? As the episode started I can honestly say I had no clue how it was going to turn out, but I was pretty sure sunshine and rainbows wasn’t in the forecast.

It must be a finale, we got to see three different story-lines all in the first 5 minutes! If you’ve been following these recaps you’ll know that one of my biggest problems with the series is it’s tendency to just follow one story…or even character for an entire episode. It can be weeks in between visits, hell we haven’t seen Ezekiel since the second episode, how are we supposed to remain connected with these people! Broken record rant over. The episode opens on Maggie at the Hilltop, obviously still broken from the loss of Glenn but somehow more resolute at the same time. It’s a quick look at life at Hilltop but all it took was a matter of 10 seconds to show Maggie begin to exert her will over Gregory and hinting at a future power struggle there. Zoom to Alexandria where Negan is more then making himself at home with a shower and fresh save, sitting down to a nice spaghetti dinner with Carl and Judith…this is the second time this season that a dinner has reminded me of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s dinner scene, just disturbing. They’re holding a spot for Rick but we find out quickly that he and Aaron are still at that lake on a quest to get to a mystery houseboat.

With so much human drama going on we haven’t really gotten to see a whole lot of Zombie tension, damn do they deliver as Rick and Aaron traverse the lake in a bullet riddled boat. The makeup team on this show is obviously the best in the business but they continue to raise the bar and seemingly never phone it in, the bloated, melting, water soaked zombies are perfect. It’s amazing that after seven seasons they still manage to change up the look enough to keep it from becoming common place…no been there, seen that on TWD. I honestly can’t remember the last character that I worried was going to be taken out by a walker but I will remember this one. Aaron falls out of the boat, or rather is pulled out, and is immediately surrounded. He’s the kind of character that is just big enough to matter but still small enough to go out without a bang so there is a long moment when I wasn’t sure he’d make it. I’m glad he makes it but the more I think about it the cooler a water walker death would look, Zombies ripping him apart as the water begins to ink red, Rick helpless to do anything but look on at this perverse version of JAWS unfolding. Another time maybe, the pair make it to the house boat and find a veritable arsenal sans ammo. Did I miss something big or was it never pointed out why they went there in the first place, how did they know? It doesn’t seem like something they spotted from the road and thought…sure that’s worth the risk!

It’s really jarring how much they jump around in this episode, in the span of the next 10 minutes we sit with Michonne and the savior she took hostage, go back to the Hilltop and find out that Sasha is hiding something from Maggie who is acting like there’s nothing wrong and hop back to the Kingdom where one of the community members (I’m sure he’s named but I never caught it, there’s too many people to try and remember them all), is trying to convince Carol and Morgan to get Ezekiel in the mood to strike first at the saviors. We’re starting to see a theme here amongst the communities, foreshadow much? Then we land back in Alexandria where Father Gabriel (my nominee likability 180 of the year) and Rosita are discussing her decision to run a kamikaze attack on Negan. It seems weird to get rid of Rosita, but I don’t see her having a change of heart and it’s obvious she won’t come out the victor in that run. It is cool that we finally hear the names Abraham and Glenn again while Rosita is pleading her case. Daryl, meanwhile, is back at the Sanctuary out of his cage and roaming around, Negan is obviously disposed at Alexandria so if there was ever a time for him to get out it’s now. We see just how deeply the events of this season have sunk in to Daryl’s psyche as he makes his way out to the parking lot. A more…umm…rotund savior who we’ve seen before finds him but relents and says Daryl can just go and he won’t stop him. The guy seemed harmless but that didn’t stop Daryl from taking a pipe to his head repeatedly in a scene reminiscent of Lucille in the premier. Watching him viciously murder a guy who was not a threat REALLY begins to blur the line between good guy and bad guy. I think that’s kind of the point though, the real draw to the world Kirkman’s created. It’s not good and bad, it’s just like real life…shades of gray. Jesus walks up on the scene and doesn’t seem quite disturbed enough by what he’s seen. Following that line Michonne off’s her captive in an uncharacteristic move, she did literally suggest it..the captive I mean, but still these two events in a row really make it start to seem that our survivors have lost that last bit of humanity, the train is off the tracks.

The powder keg is set and the match is falling as Rick pulls back into Alexandra. Spencer is busy with his lips so tight on Negan’s sphincter that it may as well be Human Centipede 4. Unfortunately ole’ Spence is too damn dumb and/or arrogant to know what type of person he’s dealing with in Negan. Once his plan backfires and Negan sees him for maggot he is we are treated to the juiciest piece of gore since Glenn as Negan makes an especially delicious pun about Spencer not having the guts to take out Rick just before eviscerating him, “Oh, you did have guts, they were in there the whole time!” This scene is a perfect example of how the show runners get this character. Aaron is beaten as soon as they walk in the gate and I’ll tell you what, Andrew Lincoln just continues to prove why the love sick brit from ‘Love, Actually’ was the best choice for the Atlanta sheriff. The way he is able to create a palpable atmosphere of tension and make you feel just how hard he is working to not lose his shit and start taking out Saviors is everything. You can feel the tightrope that he’s walking and just how much it’s being shaken every minute.

Then the match falls, and the explosion isn’t what I thought it would be. Rosita takes her shot and hit’s Negan’s best friend….sadly his best friend is a wooden baseball bat, that’s right, she had one bullet and couldn’t hit her target at 10 feet. Not that we thought she would, no we knew Negan would survive. What was surprising was that he almost immediately recognized that the bullet was home-made which gives his vengeance pause. Rosita isn’t talking so after killing Olivia to make a statement Eugene gives himself up. It really pisses me off that these people don’t get Negan’s MO yet, if you go after him he’s not going to kill you, he’s going to kill the friend next to you and make you watch. Just like that the Savior crew packs up and rolls out with Eugene in tow.

The episode wraps on Michonne reuniting with Rick, totally forgot they were a thing until this moment, and in an oddly emotional moment for the former silent katana assassin she goes all Tony Robbins trying to motivate Rick to fight by reminding him that they are all together. I guess it makes sense but the two of them together just feels odd. Finally it’s back to where we started with Maggie on the fence at the Hilltop looking out, only this time she sees something worth smiling about. Rick, Michonne, Carl, and Tara arriving to make their declaration of war against the Saviors. As the music plays us out Daryl comes walking out from behind a shed and gives his most emotional head nod to date. Knowing glances are given all around and in a mirror image of the premier we end the mid-season in air of hope.

A episode just short of great, mostly boasted by the last few minutes the episode brought, not closure, but some measure of balance to the darkness of the past episodes. Most importantly the preview makes it very clear that the second half of this season is going to be the lead up to war. I think it’s a little to hopeful to expect anything major to play out this season, I can honestly already place a safe bet that the season ends with Rick’s crew rolling up to the gates of the sanctuary ready for a fight. Lastly there’s a Marvel like stinger at the end wherein someone with distinctive boots comes out of the woods near Alexandria, walking toward the gates. I read the comics and I am still drawing a blank as to who this might be, they play it so ominous that you can smell an okey-doke coming so I’m going to guess it’s someone who’s there to help. We will find out, but not until February and I’ll be right here to write WAY to much for anyone to be expected to read when the series returns!i