The Walking Dead 7×08 ‘Hearts Still Beating’: The embers of rebellion

Source: AMC

So, in the end, this half season was passable, if only barely.  The season premiere was wretched, the worst the show has ever offered.  Episodes in the middle of the season have ranged from actually very good (“The Well”) to halfway decent (“The Cell”) to rather mediocre (“Swear”).  Overall, the quality of the season varied wildly, and while it was decent enough, it was certainly the worst the show has been in a while.

Source: AMC

Source: AMC

The structure of the season has also been pretty interesting.  Creating stand-alone episodes by location made it relatively easy to tune in and not become bogged down by the mindless wandering of 20 different characters.  Focusing on different communities was a fascinating way to show how different groups and societies operate, and how that difference can cause great conflict.  The worst episodes were usually the ones that jumped around between storylines, and the best episodes were the ones that focused on new communities without using Negan too much.  It’s entirely possible that, now that we’ve gotten the “Negan is the supreme leader” plotline out of the way, the next season will be more consistently interesting, because if this mid-season finale is any indication, Negan’s unchecked brutality doesn’t seem to correlate with an increase in quality for the show.

Source: AMC

Source: AMC

So how does this episode hold up? Not particularly well, even though a couple of the moments during the stand off with Negan were fairly effective. Spencer and Olivia both ended up dead during the episode, Spencer being gutted by Negan when he tried to take control of Alexandria and Olivia shot through the face when Rosita was unwilling to tell Negan that Eugene was the one that made the butter. Neither death was that effective: Olivia’s death was sad because she was a horribly underserved character who was perpetually harassed by Negan, and Spencer’s death…well…who really cares? Spencer was never really a character on the show; nobody really knows anything about him aside from that he’s angry about Rick being leader. These character deaths really aren’t working anymore, not because we’re desensitized to them (Spencer being gutted was pretty gross), but because we’re not watching actual people here. We’re watching one-dimensional sacks of meat cut up for our amusement.

Source: AMC

Source: AMC

As for the story, it’s really being pushed to its natural conclusion. Rebellion is on the rise (though Rosita’s act of rebellion is written so poorly that it’s absurd), as Negan’s acts of cruelty are pushing people over the edge. It looks like the second half of the season will focus more intently on rebellion, which is great, as it will deviate from the passive acceptance of cruelty to combating oppressive regimes, but there are still quite a few unaddressed issues concerning the season so far. Negan is still kind of a bland character, and the standalone episodes, as interesting as some of them were, didn’t do a great job enhancing the characters that inhabited them.

However, it is worth noting that the season really did improve after the abysmal first episode. I was one of the critics that thought that there was no way The Walking Dead could bounce back, that it would be a train wreck from here on out, and I was thankfully proven wrong. The Walking Dead still has some life left in it, even though the comic books continue to supply bland violence and call it genius. As long as they continue to experiment like they are now, trying new storytelling structures, isolating characters by location, playing with non-comic ideas, The Walking Dead may continue to keep its relevance. But it is going to have to try a little harder than it is now.

What did you think of the mid-season finale? Who is going to die in the back half of the season? Let me know in the comments!

Michael St. Charles

is just a Michigan State University grad who loves a good story. If he’s not off teaching the young ones how to solve quadratic functions or to write an expository essay, he’s watching old-school HBO shows, indie horror movies, or he’s playing Resident Evil 4.

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  • Gui

    Well, I said there’d be a long post for this one, so a warning here for that. Because boy do I have things to say about this half season as a whole and my expectations for the rest of the season. Because I have to admit, despite that (really rocky) start, my feelings on this half season are actually mostly positive! But first, let’s talk this episode.

    I think that one thing worth talking about is Daryl. I’ve been keeping my eye out on him since 4B, and while his development kinda came into a halt during S6, I think that 7A did good to set up something interesting for him. Negan tried to break him, but instead it refocused him: He’ll focus on atoning now, and value his own life and dignity more. But he’s also been through some of the most utter degradation we’ve seen in the series, and as we saw with his killing of Joey and we can see in the promo for 7B with him pummeling someone, he’s also got some raw, unchecked rage. He’s still capable of connection and cares for his family, and he knows he’ll need to be careful and play his cards right now that the consequences to his previous actions seem to have sank in. But there’ll be a lot of frustration in that. And that frustration will show in ugly ways. During all of 6 he acted like someone with nothing to lose, but his time in the Sanctuary I think made him realize it’s the opposite: He’s got everything to lose.
    Also, since I mentioned Joey, I think that between him and what we saw of how the Saviors acted, we’re getting a good idea of why people follow Negan. What we saw with Joey was a pathetic, weak man. But one that had obviously flirted with the idea of power and had a chance to trample on others (as we saw with how gleeful he looked when Daryl fell into the trap in The Cell). So I think many Saviors will bow down to Negan knowing that, so long as they’re under him, they still have power to trample on others, to feel superior. So long as Negan gives them a sense of satisfaction and keeps the system in their favor, they’ll follow him. But the moment they’re not in a position where they face serious opposition, they fall apart and cower. They like the easy, parasitic life Negan offers, and even if Negan got killed chances are some of the more powerful members of his inner circle who clearly like that lifestyle would keep it going (such as Simon, for instance). Negan’s a problem, but the only solutions that’ll change it properly are either destroying the Sanctuary and the Saviors entirely, or instilling a new system that changes things in the Sanctuary.
    And of couse, there’s also what Richard told to Carol and Morgan: Relations with the Saviors can very easily fall apart. Because of this need to feel they’re in power, they’ll keep creating tense situations which can easily blow up, Negan can easily decide someone’s a problem and claiming he did a favor to the group he can just kill them.

    The other thing: Current characters. We have Richard who seems potentially interesting. Carol’s at a bit of a standstill, but it’ll be interesting to see how her mindset changes once she learns what happened and how people still died even without her around. Morgan’s still fumbling about and he’ll find where to take his morality. And with secondaty characters, we’ve got some like Aaron, Gabriel and Rosita who I’m growing to like. Rosita’s talk with Gabriel covered her inner conflict pretty well, I feel. And I think she had already made her mind to keep herself together and not attempt to kill Negan until Negan killed Spencer. And speaking of Spencer, knowing this was his comic death I have the feeling one of the reasons he was so lacking was because they wrote him to die from the start. People are actually satisfied because of his death and even slightly liking Negan because of it since that was the objective: Negan’s a horrible man, but he can’t stand a backstabbing coward. Problem is, Negan’s rather lacking because of that Kirkman writing, so I find it hard to get that conflicted feeling they were aiming for, same case as in the comics. Olivia, however, was a TV original death and that was lacking. I can see why they went for her, it’s a low impact target since we don’t know much of her and we aren’t too attached, but the issue is that it felt really weak.

    But that leads me to my next part, predictions for the next half. So let me start with my thoughts on deaths here, and I’m gonna make a bold prediction here: There’ll be no major deaths in the second half. And that connects directly with my other prediction: Other than the mid season premiere, one episode in the middle, and the finale, the season won’t be heavily influenced by the comics. And maybe a few tributes here and there.
    See, Gimple did something very interesting here and ended up mixing in a lot of comic content, blazing through it faster than I expected. The premiere is clearly setting the scene for Rick to meet up with Ezekiel (comic content), they set up a certain arc this episode which will definitely play out much earlier than the comics, and I have some serious suspicions as to what the finale will be (comic content). Which leaves him free to do exactly what he could do with 4B and 5A: Besides those key moments, he’s free to just do his thing and the comic content left he can expand on. Looking back at 5A, for instance, the only real comic content was from episodes 2, 3 and 5, and in the case of 5 (Self Help), recontextualizing it meant it could work that much better compared to the comic equivalent. Other than that, we only had a few comic tributes here and there like Rick running Lamson over after a betrayal and escape attempt (like Comic Rick did to Martinez during the Prison arc), but nothing major. And it stands out as some of the best content in the series to date.
    But Gimple’s been doing something else at the same time to set up groundwork to play with 7B differently. See, I mentioned it in the comment of Sing Me A Song, but Gimple’s subverting things in minor ways in the background that are setting a ripple effect. It’s small things right now that’ll change the direction of 7B and likely all of 8 noticeably compared to the comics. Things like giving Rick’s comic arc to Sasha, introducing Oceanside much earlier, kickstarting Maggie’s arc early (and faking her death thanks to Gabriel), changing the whole tone around Negan’s wives… It’s small things, but they’re piling up. If my guess on 7B is right, it’ll be very different from the comics and while I think the finale will mirror the a certain comic event pretty well, the context around it will give it a different feeling.

    I’m surprised I feel so positive and optimistic about 7B. After how episode 1 was such a trainwreck (except for the last 10 or so minutes, I’ll still defend those), I’ll admit I was a bit worried even knowing that upcoming content had potential to be a lot stronger. But 7A has quelled my worries and the more I think about the opportunities Gimple might just have opened, I’m excited for 7B. Yeah, Negan’s still a Kirkman written villain that drags the series down. But it’s the context around him that’s being rewritten which should hopefully create something strong enough that Negan’s a minor issue or things are put in a position where Negan has to inevitably be made more interesting.
    But I could be entirely too wrong. I’m pretty confident in my predictions, though. Guess we’ll see in February how it goes! I’ll join you again then.

    (and again, sorry for how excessively long this was)