The Walking Dead S07E08 “Heart’s Still Beating”
Essential Plot Points:
- We open on Maggie sitting by Glenn’s grave, quietly crying. She and Sasha are still at Hilltop and have obviously settled in. Maggie’s in work clothes, looks healthy if still a little weak. Gregory attempts to get in her face about how much the people at Hilltop like her and one of the others bullies him into giving her an apple. Never forget that Gregory is awful. Ever.
- At Alexandria, Negan shaves and somehow looks even scarier. Tara brings Olivia the lemonade Negan demanded last episode. The Doc liked it. Olivia, clearly terrified, turns down Tara’s offer to go with her and sends her away.
- At the river of death, Rick and Aaron make a run for the houseboat of supplies in a bullet ridden dinghy.
- At Alexandria, Negan, Olivia, Baby Judith and Carl sit down for a “family dinner”.
- At the Kingdom, Carol’s ludicrously homely existence is disturbed. Morgan has left her some supplies. She goes out to meet him and they chat only as two mostly reformed badasses can.
- Which is right around the time Richard the Knight shows up. With supplies. He wants to talk.
- Meanwhile at the bullet-riddled death boat, Rick and Aaron are making decent time until Rick reads the script and decides to steer directly towards near certain death. Aaron almost dies, Rick is staggeringly ineffective and very lucky and they just about make it to the boat. The good news is guns. The bad news is no ammo. The better news is they can cut the houseboat loose and drift to shore.
- At Sanctuary, Daryl makes his move. He steals some food and clothes.
- At the houseboat, Rick and Aaron have drifted to shore, got the truck and are loading up. Aaron assures Rick he’s on board with the pragmatic need to survive.
- At the WORST ROAD TRIP EVER, Michonne tries to interrogate the female Saviour she hijacked last episode.
- The lady says nothing.
- At Hilltop, Sasha returns home with an apple pie that they’ve been given in thanks for saving Hilltop. Maggie is RAVENOUS and tucks into the pie. She goes to get some milk and Enid calls Sasha on her nonsense. She’s lying to Maggie, and when Sasha tells Enid it’s for her own good she doesn’t even pretend to buy it. Sasha explains that Maggie has to be protected and unless they have an army, Maggie will want to kill Negan herself. Sasha has to protect her from that.
- At Alexandria, Richard explains that he’d lost hope before he met Ezekiel. He believes it’s only a matter of time before war breaks out. Richard, because he’s an adult, lays it all out. He wants them to convince Ezekiel to launch a pre-emptive strike.
- The exact thing that got Alexandria in trouble last time.
- Speaking of Alexandria, Rosita is looking at her bullet. Gabriel asks her how she’ll do it and she’s all nihilistic machismo. Gabriel, who has quietly become really good fun this year, agrees that he has to die but asks why Rosita has to die to.
- She, in one of the cleverest moments of the show’s run to date, all but says that she’s surplus to the show’s requirements. Gabriel, in one of the show’s sweetest moments tells her, “It shouldn’t have been you. It shouldn’t have been anyone.”
- He tells her she’s needed and leaves her, quietly weeping, in the church.
- Daryl is still escaping.
- At the Kingdom, Richard assumes Carol isn’t capable of violence and Carol shuts him DOWN. She just wants to be left alone. Richard is devastated but Morgan, just, holds the line. You can see how little he believes in it. Richard leaves and Carol tells Morgan to tell anyone who he sees who they used to know that she’s gone.
- Back at Alexandria, Spencer comes home to find his house turned over by the Saviours. He cleans up, cleans himself up and practices introductions in the mirror.
- At the Kingdom, Richard heads out into the Woods where he has a concealed caravan. He immediately starts crying when he steps in and it’s clear that this is somewhere very important to him and nothing good happened there.
- Spencer walks down the street in Alexandria, cleaned up and with bottle in hand. Rosita calls him over and asks what he’s doing. Spencer replies that he’s doing what his mom would have done; exploit dialogue, build rapport. He asks Rosita what happened with them and she, because she’s actually a character this week, tells him. He’s cute and tall and sweet sometimes. She used him. She apologises, Spencer asks her out for dinner later, just dinner. It’s charming and sweet and she agrees and if you get the impression something terrible is about to happen then you are ENTIRELY correct.
- Daryl is still escaping. He gets to the bikes and is interrupted by Joseph. Joseph sticks his hand up, surrenders, tells Daryl he’s free to go and he’s just trying to get by.
- Daryl beats him to death.
- At that exact moment the episode remembers Jesus is still in Sanctuary and has had nothing at all to do this season since the first Hilltop episode. The pair help each other escape.
- Back at Alexandria, Spencer talks his way into “Negan’s house”.
- Back at the worst road trip ever, the Saviour stops at the top of a hill near Sanctuary. The compound is MASSIVE. The Saviour tells Michonne that if she kills her, takes the car, burns and buries it, there’s a good chance she’ll make it.
- Michonne does just that.
- Rick and Aaron arrive home and are horrified to see the Saviours are already there.
- At Rick’s house, Negan and Spencer apparently bond. Spencer mentions a pool table on the other side of the street and they go get it. As Negan points out, it’s far too nice a day to be inside.
- Back at the truck, Aaron is menaced by the Saviours.
- They proceed to beat the crap out of Aaron.
- Rick rage… rising.
- Out on the street, the inhabitants of Alexandria watch the game of pool.
- Back at the truck, Aaron is still getting beaten.
- Back at the game, Spencer explains that he sees what Negan is doing. He also explains, very very reasonably, that Rick has a terrible history of working with others. He explains that he lost his entire family in short order after Rick arrived. He tells Negan that whether or not Rick is still in charge is irrelevant. He’s an egotistical psychopath. He’ll screw up. Spencer should be in charge.
- He… kind of has a point.
- Back at the truck, the Saviours are finished with Aaron. Through a mouth full of blood he says, “Heart’s still beating,” and Rick drags him away.
- Back at the pool table, Negan explains how Rick does hate him, does want him dead BUT he’s out risking his life and getting stuff done. He’s risking his life. Whereas Spencer waited for Rick to leave before trying to take over. Negan leans in close, asks Spencer why he thinks that is and says, “I think it’s because you got no guts.”
- And so he guts Spencer. Witty guy.
- Alexandrians recoil in horror. Sasha looks at the body of her not-quite sort-of boyfriend and loses it. Negan demands someone clean this “mess up” and that someone wants to finish the game.
- And then Rosita draws and fires on him.
- And, somehow, the bullet’s stopped by Lucille. Because that’s something that happens now.
- Negan is furious. Rosita is put on the ground by his bodyguards and then… he sees the casing. He realises that this was a re-tooled round. He threatens Rosita with maiming her face and asks who made the bullet. She says she did it. He doesn’t believe it. Rosita presses the knife to her own face and spits, “IT WAS ME!”
- Negan shrugs, tells his bodyguard to kill someone and she turns and fires, shooting Olivia in the face.
- We choose to believe that Joseph holds the door to the afterlife open for her and says, “Yeah, I know, me too.”
- Rick arrives, too late. Negan asks for a thanks, explains what happened with Carl and how “reasonable” he’s been. He tells Negan about Spencer, he tells him about the bullet.
- Rick RAGE RISING
- Rick looks him in the eye, tells him his stuff is at the gate he should go. Again, Negan asks who made it. Tara because she’s awesome, says it was her.
- Eugene, sobbing with terror, confesses.
- And Negan takes Eugene with him. Leaving Rick alone with the newly risen, gutted corpse of Spencer.
- Later, Rick is looking at his hatchet on the floor of Morgan’s old cell. Michonne arrives home. She explains what she saw and that they’re still alive and that MATTERS. They’re still standing and that has to mean something. She basically hands him the attitude adjustment he’s needed for a while. He tells her he knows that now, and kisses her.
- The next morning, Maggie’s at Glenn’s grave again. She goes to the wall again and this time she sees something different…
- Her friends.
- Rick and Michonne, hand in hand. Tara. Rosita. Carl. Rick tells her she was right and then Jesus and Daryl appear.
- Daryl nods, at Rick, breaks down and sobs as the two men hug.
- Rosita and Sasha share a nodding moment of reconciliation.
- Enid and Carl smile at one another.
- And Daryl hands Rick his old gun back, stolen on the way out.
- They share a moment and then they head into the main building. There’s work to be done. There’s a war to prepare for.
Well, here we are at the mid-season break. There’s a lot of really good stuff in this episode and a lot of things that the show really, really needs to leave behind.
Let’s save dessert for last and look at those problems first.The decompressed storytelling just HAS to stop. There are so many plots in so many different places that we sometimes check in with them for less than a minute at a time.
The real problem here is what Hank Azaria – The Simpsons super veteran and screenwriter – calls “the idiot ball”. The person carrying the idiot ball is the character who is acting out of character in order to drive the plot.
This week, it’s almost always Rick.
The ride to the canal boat of death is laughable precisely because Rick literally steers towards danger. The entire thing plays like an obligatory Walker attack and that’s an issue the show has struggled with for years. It’d really be nice to see that change.
Especially as the other issue it’s had for years – that Rick is secretly the worst – is sort of being dealt with. We have a big issue with a lot of his plot this episode because it’s at least the second time he’s strapped his gun back on and returned to the dark side since the show began and it erases all the growth he’s gone through to get here. But, that final scene with Maggie gives us some hope. It seems that Rick is aware this time he’s a better General than he is a leader. And hopefully he’ll stay there.
There are other problems – the frankly ridiculous big people murderfest in particular – but half of that, hopefully, has some context. Daryl’s line about “getting all of it” suggests he’s been badly scarred by his time in Sanctuary and he has stuff to work through. We’d much rather he didn’t work it through on the skull of the character who’s been the butt of this series’ least necessary jokes, but the writers clearly think different.
Over on the good side of things, there’s a ton of nice touches from surprising people. Tara and Olivia’s moment together at the top is good, and Rosita and Eugene’s plot pays off in a way that’s both delightfully self-aware and makes both of them more interesting. Also fun is Aaron calling Rick on his assumption that the Alexandrian isn’t up to the task. That’s neatly bookended by Aaron’s “Heart’s still beating,” line at the end, and that in turn resonates up and down the episode. This is the worst day in these characters’ long and storied histories of terrible days. But they’re still here. And that’s enough.
Likewise, the power dynamic shift is really smartly handled and it certainly seems like Maggie is in charge now.
Better still, the show for once doesn’t shy away from the fact that Spencer has some very good points about what sort of guy Rick is. Spencer is the hero of his own story, but unfortunately no one else’s. We’re sorry to see him go but it’s used really cleverly here to show us the nuance that Negan was missing earlier in the season. He feels like a threat in a way he really didn’t in “Service” and somehow clean-shaven Negan is even scarier than scruffy Negan.
Most of all, though, what works this episode is that bloody-mouthed determination embodied by Aaron. These characters have had the darkest part of their dark night of the soul. They know things will never be the same but for the first time they feel empowered to fight. With the fascinating world the show inhabits now, that has the potential to be a hell of a battle. And, for the first time in a while, the show feels up to the task. War is coming to The Walking Dead and it’s going to be a long wait until February.
- The casual cruelty of Negan not caring about the lemonade but it being one of the last memories Tara has of the Doc is really nicely handled.
- “It isn’t just you.”
“Sure looks like it.” Sasha and Enid have quietly been really fun since they got to Hilltop.
- “Are you already president?” Enid’s best line since, well, ever.
- “Really… I’m GOOD.” We don’t know what we did to deserve all-new all-deadpan Carol but we really hope she stays.
- “There’s no need to lie to me if this is our last conversation.” Gabriel is CREEPY this year in a gentle, kind way.
- “I’m not gonna kill him today. I’m gonna find a way that we win. I’m gonna change how this ends for ME. THAT’s why I’m out here alone.” The delivery of the line is clunky as all Hell but it’s a nice moment of recognition for Michonne. Also the closest thing this terrible non-plot has to a point.
- “We’re the ones who get things done, you said that. We’re the ones who LIVE. That’s why we have to fight. Not for us but for Judith, for Carl, for Alexandria, for the Hilltop, for all of us, We can fight them, Rick. We can find a way to BEAT them. We can do this. But… but only if WE do this.” There’s a lovely verbal tic that the writers give Michonne. She says an awful lot with emphasis, like last season’s, “Oh you had a DAY.” This is another example.
- “You were right. You were right from the start. You told us to get ready to fight. I didn’t listen. I couldn’t. I can now.” This is the sole moment to give us hope that the Ricktatorship is not about to be inflicted on us for a third time. Rick knows his limitations, he knows he has severe anger issues and he knows that the last time he jumped headlong into a conflict it got people he loves killed. This acknowledgement that Maggie is in charge is massively necessary. God we hope the show sticks to it.
- Rick’s, “YOU DID WHAT?!” look at Carl is epic.
- And yes the bro’ hug and Daryl just flat out sobbing got us too.
- Unlike the shared urgency of the massive herd last season, this season’s decompressed plot has never felt coherent. We’re at a couple of these plots for perhaps a minute at a time this episode and the show’s too disparate now for this to be sustainable. Or to put it another way, a cull is most certainly coming.
- We’re increasingly convinced Rick is the worst. He never bothers to check on Maggie and Sasha and Carol and Morgan aren’t even mentioned by any of the Alexandrians this episode. But somehow he’s all about family.
- The other reason Rick is the worst? He literally steers the boat towards death even after Aaron warns him. Seriously, Rick is the worst.
- Michonne’s road trip did NOTHING other than emphasise what we’ve been told for a season and a freaking half. There are lots of Saviours and everyone needs to stand together.
- Hey Aaron’s boyfriend isn’t dead yet. Maybe he’ll get some lines next season.
- Jesus, after arguably the best introduction a character has ever had on this show, has done nothing for the last few episodes. What the Hell was he up to in Sanctuary? Does it matter if he discovered anything useful? The show sure doesn’t seem to think so.
- Rosita missing at that range because she’s angry and the bullet’s homemade we can absolutely see. Freaking Lucille stopping it?! No. Just no. NO. Have her miss altogether, not some jury-rigged nonsense that’s already being misinterpreted as Negan deflecting the shot with his bat.
- More fat shaming. Because God forbid people should have different metabolisms in the post-apocalyptic future. Lowest hanging fruit, cheapest shot, the show has gone for it EVERY SINGLE TIME this season and we’re beyond sick of it.
- While we’re on that subject, Joseph and Olivia in one episode? The same episode where Eugene is terrorised and kidnapped to be degraded? Well at least it’s a change from black male leads like we had a couple of seasons ago.
And The Random:
- Powell and Negrete have both turned in solo efforts this season, Negrete’s was the excellent Daryl solo episode “The Cell” so we suspect Joseph was killed off here because he was Negrete’s creation. That downgrades it to simply very annoying from murderous. Powell’s solo was “Go Getters”, the Sasha and Maggie solo episode. We liked both episodes quite a bit.
- Strazemis is also a frequent flyer for the show. He’s been involved since season two and this season also directed the excellent (mostly) Tara action and snark fest “Swear”.
Review by Alasdair Stuart