Last week on The Walking Dead, Carl had made a last ditch attempt to stop Negan and had some quality time with the antagonist as the two got to know each other. Negan even managed to accommodate himself to the suburbs of Alexandria, and continues to do so in “Hearts Still Beating” by putting together a big spaghetti dinner for himself. That set the slow tone for the finale, an episode which does manage to kill off a few supporting characters along the way and also take a look at some of the settlements that may not have been getting as much attention as they should have. But at the end of the day, does this episode manage to deliver on the promise of a mid-season finale? Not particularly, unfortunately. The scattershot approach to this episode was something that I felt was necessary (like in the instance of the Kingdom, as that particular settlement had seemingly dropped off the face of the Earth). But in “Hearts Still Beating,” we weren’t given much new information to chew on for the remainder of the season.
This season has had an extremely difficult time in terms of connecting everything together, spending entire episodes focused on different settlements and the characters who encounter them. Normally, a mid-season finale functions in order to tease big things for the season moving forward and this episode, much like the season that it’s a part of, simply fails to bring about a level of excitement that we have seen in the past. In past recaps, I’ve asked to have more of a spotlight placed on places like the Kingdom, as it seemed bizarre to set up such a place and devote only one episode to it. To be fair, this episode does bring the literal place back, but Ezekiel and his tiger, Shiva, are nowhere to be found. Unfortunately instead, a citizen named Richard begs Carol and Morgan to rally their community to rise up against the Saviors. This seems to be a rinse and repeat series of events that we’ve seen so much this season, in that our characters try to think of ways to take down Negan to no avail. It’s a road that’s been well-traveled, and it’s not very interesting at this point.
Now as mentioned, we did see the departure of two supporting Alexandrian characters in the forms of Spencer being gutted by Negan and Olivia being shot in the face following Rosita’s outburst. Ultimately, I’m not going to say that we need to have a death in every premiere and finale in order to build the suspense, but I felt that Olivia’s sudden departure was a bit more powerful than Spencer’s departure here (it was pretty predictable that his powerplay would backfire). Spencer continued the trend this season of particularly gruesome deaths, following in the shoes of Abraham and Glenn as Negan decides to gut him for his cowardice as the two share a game of pool out in the street. Negan’s character, which I have enjoyed throughout this season, has become somewhat grating at this time, with his “schtick” of ramping up the tension has hit a point where it simply doesn’t register the way it used to. We know that Negan is dangerous and we know that Rick and company are constantly walking on the edge of a knife with him, so it’s become tedious — regardless of who he may lay waste to in his wake.
One of the bright spots of the episode was the Rick and Aaron adventure wherein they manage to find a lake that has a number of warning signs strewn across it, and a boat in the middle of the water. The two manage to drift to the boat and find a number of supplies, which they have taken from a seemingly mysterious man who owned said boat, who acts as the stinger of the episode, infiltrating Alexandria at the end of the hour. This scene was a good one in that Rick and Aaron having to wade through a number of water-soaked zombies on a leaky boat was the most tension-filled moment of the episode, but it was too little too late in an episode that simply dragged on for far too long. Scenes would stretch to levels that felt unnecessarily length, almost as if they were simply doing so in order to boost this one to an extended episode. One funny scene in particular was Father Gabriel walking away from Rosita during a conversation and the camera holding on the scene for several long seconds as he made his way slowly down the aisle and out the door. Was that really necessary?
The mid-season finale gave us, if anything, a brief glimmer of hope in that Rick, Michonne, Daryl, Maggie, and the rest of the original crew finally managed to reunite, and Daryl managed to give the elder Grimes a gun he took from Negan’s encampment. However, this glimmer of light faded in the face of mediocrity, with this episode simply unable to make its scenes interesting or give us any engaging character work along the way (barring Daryl’s outburst in escaping Negan’s crew). The Walking Dead is the number one show on television at the moment, but from what we’ve seen this season, you’d hardly know it.
Rating: ★ Poor
Blood and Guts
– Richard’s plotline seemed so unnecessary, and again, something of a time filler.
– Daryl’s escape, and subsequent killing of “Fat Joe”, was somewhat redundant, though his outburst did give us a good look into his mental state or lack thereof.
– Those were seriously some “swiss army signs” that Rick and Aaron had going for them. They’re paddles, they impale zombies, the works!
– The idea of Negan and Carl sitting at a table for a big spaghetti dinner is too hilarious.
– You would think that Negan had plenty of times to shave at his headquarters!
– Rosita hitting Lucille instead of Negan was almost comical. How did she miss so badly? I suppose you could say that since the bullet was made in a hurry by an inexperienced Eugene that the trajectory may have been way off?
– Maggie: “Don’t let it bother you, seems like it bothers you.”
– Hilltopper: “Dude, you know she’s pregnant.”
– Negan: “We’re going to need another setting.”
– Negan goon: “You like watching, haircut?”
– Michonne: “I’m going to change how this ends for me.”
– Rosita: “Eugene knows things.”
– Daryl: “It ain’t just about getting by here, it’s about getting it all.”
– Negan: “Oh Spencer, you may just be my new best friend!”
– Negan: “And I fed him spaghetti!”
– Negan: “Lucille, give me strength.”