Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Walking Dead Season 7, Episode 8: Hearts Still Beating

It's the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead!

Overall it's been a very uneven first half of the season. As this show tends to do, it started out strong, but we got 4— count 'em, four— slowly paced, languorous side trips focusing on new communities and characters instead of the main storyline, which was incredibly frustrating. I get that it was necessary to introduce these new elements into the show, but it could have been done a lot less awkwardly. 

Hopefully now that these introductions are out of the way the back half of the season can ramp up the action and focus on the main characters.

Ah, another week, another supersized episode. These extra long installments are rarely worth the trouble. The extra minutes rarely help the storyline, as it feels like they just take a normal hour long script and slow everything wayyyyy down until it fills a ninety minute time slot. Or maybe they're keeping in scenes that should have landed on the cutting room floor, I dunno. At this point I'm convinced that the only reason AMC keeps airing these ninety minute episodes is so they can sell more expensive ad space on their flaghship series. 

Fortunately, as mid-season finales go, this one wasn't bad. Several dangling storylines were wrapped up, and the episode ended on a hopeful note, instead of with an awkward, poorly-thought out attempt at a cliffhanger. Remember the end of last year's awful season finale, in which Sam the Idiot repeatedly called out his mom's name as the cast was trying to sneak through a herd of walkers? At least nothing that stupid happened here.

As I pointed out multiple times last season, Rick had no one but himself to blame for Negan's eventual brutal retaliation. Rick and/or the people under his command killed at least six different groups of Saviors in Season 6. In essence he kicked the Negan hornet nest repeatedly until he finally got stung.

That set up sort of an imbalance in the show in this season. We were obviously supposed to hate Negan, but in a twisted sort of way, his actions against the Alexandrians were justified.

This episode took steps to right this wrong and course-correct the show. For the past several weeks Rick's been doing his best to play by Negan's rules. Despite that, Negan STILL invaded his home and killed his people. So now the vengeance ball is in Rick's court, and his war against Negan is justified again.

Jesus Christ, Walking Dead writers, what are you trying to do to Carol? This bizarre "I Don't Wanna Kill" attitude you've saddled her with last season has completely ruined the character, making her dull and insufferable.

A couple seasons ago she was the most badass character on the series. Remember when she single-handedly saved the entire cast from Terminus? What the hell happened to that Carol?

Then suddenly, seemingly between Season 6 episodes, she decided she didn't want to kill anymore and wanted to be left alone. It was an odd and inappropriate direction in which to take the character, one that felt completely out of the blue and unearned.

And now the writers have found even more ways to assassinate her character. She's now living in her own house outside the Kingdom, while Ezekiel and Morgan provide her with more food than she can ever eat. She's basically reaping the benefits of this community without contributing an ounce of effort to it. I honestly can't stand her anymore. She's gone from badass to asshole.

Congratulations, writers! I don't know why you did it, but you've done what no walker could do— you've managed to kill Carol.


The Plot:
At the Hilltop, Maggie visits Glenn's grave. She has an exchange with Gregory, the Hilltop leader, to remind us he exists and that he's a jerk.

In Alexandria, Negan is still in Rick's house, waiting for him to return. He shaves, makes spaghetti and sets down to dinner with Carl, Olivia and Baby Judith. Spencer returns and gives his supplies to the Saviors. A female Savior flirts with him.

Rick and Aaron stare at a presumably supply-filled houseboat floating in the middle of a zombie-filled lake. They board a leaky rowboat and paddle into the lake. Unfortunately the boat is full of bullet holes, and they begin sinking. They barely make it through the water-logged zombies and onto the houseboat. They find a cache of guns inside it, but no ammo. They somehow float the houseboat back to shore, and load up their truck with the supplies. As they leave, we see a closeup of a pair of boots enter the frame, as someone's watching them.

Outside the Kingdom, Carol's sitting in her house, still wanting to be left alone. Morgan brings her some unneeded supplies. Richard, one of the Kingdom guards, also comes to call. He tells them about Negan and the Saviors, saying the Kingdom has a truce with them for now, but it could go bad at any time. He wants to Carol and Morgan to convince King Ezekiel to stand up to the Saviors. Carol tells him she just wants to be left alone (again with this!) and tells both men to get out of her house.

Michonne has her gun pointed at a Lady Savior, demanding she drive her to the Sanctuary. After a while Lady Savior stops the truck at the top of a hill, and says they're here. Michonne sees the vast compound of the Sanctuary, which is bigger than she ever imagined, and realizes Alexandria is sorely outnumbered. She apparently kills Lady Savior, turns the truck around and goes back home.

At the Sanctuary, Daryl stares at the note and key that was slipped under his cell door last week. He opens the cell door and sneaks down a hall. He ducks into a bedroom, changes clothes and eats some peanut butter. He sneaks around some more, grabbing a pipe to use as a weapon. He makes his way outside and runs into Fat Joey, who says he doesn't want any trouble. Daryl beats him to death with the pipe (he's had a rough week, after all), just as Jesus walks up. Daryl notices Fat Joey had Rick's gun, and takes it. He and Jesus leave.

At the Hilltop, Maggie's apparently having pregnancy cravings and is eating everything in sight. She says the Hilltop people are hinting that she should be Leader instead of Gregory. Sasha and Enid discuss the Saviors. Sasha plans to fight them, but doesn't want Maggie to know, as she'll want to help.

In Alexandria, Spencer returns to his house. He cleans himself up, grabs a bottle of whiskey and goes to Rick's house to introduce himself to Negan. They sit on Rick's porch, drinking the whiskey. Negan says he wishes he could play pool, and Spencer says there's a table in the house across the street. They drag it out of the house and set it up in the street (?) to play.

Meanwhile, Rick and Aaron return to Alexandria. Rick's surprised to see the Saviors are already there. The Saviors look through the supplies Rick brought back, and get into an argument with Aaron. They beat Aaron to within an inch of his life, while Rick looks on helplessly. Once they're done, they tell Rick that Negan wants to see him.

A crowd gathers, watching as Spencer does his best to suck up to Negan. He tells him that everything was fine in Alexandria until Rick showed up (which I can't argue with), and that everyone would be better off with someone else in charge. Someone like Spencer. Negan says he knows that Rick hates him, but he's out gathering supplies to save everyone, while Spencer's here whining and plotting behind his back. Negan says if Spencer thinks Rick's unfit to command, he should take him out himself. He tells Spencer he has no guts, and then slashes his stomach open. Spencer's insides fall to the ground, as Negan says, "Ohh. How embarrassing. There they are. They were inside you the whole time. You did have guts. I've never been so wrong in my whole life!"

As the Alexandrians look on in horror, Rosita pulls out her gun and fires at Negan. Somehow her one bullet misses Negan and hits Lucille instead. Negan is livid. He pulls the bullet out of Lucille and realizes it was homemade. He orders Arat, one of his Saviors, to hold Rosita down on the ground, with a knife to her face. He asks her who made the bullet, saying if she doesn't tell, he'll mark up her face the way she damaged Lucille's.

Rosita says she made the bullet. Negan says she's lying, and gives her one more chance. She insists she made it, rising up and accidentally slicing her face on Arat's knife. Negan orders Arat to kill someone. She shoots Olivia in the head.

Just then Rick and Aaron arrive. Negan tells Rick that he owes him a big thank you. Carl entered the Sanctuary and killed two of his men, and he returned him to Alexandria unharmed. He says Spencer wanted to kill him and take over, and he took him out for him. Rick tells him his supplies are at the gate and to leave. Negan says he'll go, as soon as he finds out who made the bullet. Tara lies and says she did it, but Eugene stops her and says it was him. Negan says he believes him, and takes Eugene with him. He and the Saviors leave. Spencer turns and growls at Rick, who stabs him in the head.

Later, Michonne tells Rick that they have to fight back, but after seeing the Sanctuary, she realizes there's no way they can do it alone. Rick seems recharged by the earlier incident, and is back to his old aggressive and destructive self. He says she's right and they have to fight back.

At the Hilltop, Maggie looks over the wall. She sees something in the distance and smiles. She opens the gates, and Rick, Michonne, Carl, Tara and Rosita enter. They're reunited with Maggie, Sasha and Enid. Daryl and Jesus appear as well, and everyone has an uplifting reunion. Daryl hands Rick's gun back to him. They all march purposefully toward Hilltop Mansion. Bye, bye Gregory!

• Maggie's still not showing! I've no idea how long she's been pregnant in the show's timeline, but out here in the real world it's been over a year. She first announced she was pregnant in the Season 6 episode Now, which aired way back on November 8, 2015.

The point at which a pregnant woman begins showing varies, but it's generally between twelve and sixteen weeks. That means less than three months have passed for the characters since Maggie first discovered she was pregnant.

• A few weeks ago in Service, eagle-eyed viewers noticed that when Negan visited Alexandria for the first time, Daryl was doing a lot of blinking, and theorized he was trying to send a secret Morse-code message to Rick (no doubt the location of the Sanctuary).

This theory was backed up by the fact that Rick has a large Morse code poster hanging in his dining room.

In this week's episode, Negan elbows his way into Rick's home while he's out, and enjoys a nice home-cooked meal, courtesy of Carl and Olivia. I wonder… did Negan not notice the large, very obvious Morse code poster while he was there? Did he not think it odd that someone would hang such a non-decorative, utilitarian infographic in their dining room? Did he not put two & two together and realize the Alexandrians could be using such an outmoded form of communication as a way to secretly plot against him?

Apparently not, because he seems completely unaware of the poster, and never makes any mention of it whatsoever.

• I'm confused by the walkers in the lake. Obviously the now-deceased owner of the houseboat was using them like guard dogs to protect himself and his stuff. That means the walkers have been chained or tied to their spots, otherwise they'd eventually float to shore and wander off.

So how the Holy Hell did Houseboat Guy accomplish that? Did he maybe tie an anchor to each walker's leg and toss it overboard? How do you get a zombie to hold still long enough to do something like that?

• Last week someone slipped a note and key under Daryl's door to help him escape. So who was this mysterious benefactor?

I said that Jesus was too obvious, and thought it was either Dwight or Sherry. As additional proof, there was also a match taped to the note, no doubt so Daryl could burn it and destroy the evidence. Jesus wouldn't care if Negan found the note, but Daryl and Sherry would, so I said it had to be one of them.

Turns out I was wrong. It was Jesus after all. I have no idea why he included the match though.

• Poor Fat Joey. He was just trying to get by at the Sanctuary, and now he's got a 2D head, courtesy of Daryl.

• Several weeks ago the series devoted an entire episode to Daryl's incarceration at the Sanctuary, showing us his physical and psychological torture in minute detail. Naturally his escape from Negan's compound deserved its own episode as well, right? Right?

Wrong! Daryl escapes this week by opening the door of his cell and simply walking out of the building (!). OK, so he had a little help from Jesus, and he had to duck into an empty room once, but other than that he really did pretty much stroll out the back door.

There was one tiny moment of suspense when Daryl had to somehow make it past a roomful of rowdy guards. So how'd he do it? Did he cut the power to the complex so they wouldn't see him? Start a fire to create a diversion? Distract them with a fan dance? Nope. He just… sort of ran past the door.

After all the buildup and importance his incarceration was given, his victorious escape was a disappointing afterthought. You'd think a supersized episode would have devoted a bit more time to something this important.

• Lady Savior shows Michonne the huge Savior complex, and says, "We're all Negan. Whatever you're trying to do, you can't. But you still have some choices. Go home. Burn this car, roll it down into a lake, make it disappear. There's a silencer in the glove compartment."

We then see a long shot of the truck slowly turn around and drive away. So I guess Michonne really did kill Lady Savior? That's pretty cold.

• Good riddance to world class asshole Spencer Monroe.

The irony of Spencer is that ever since he was introduced, he's been an insufferable douchebag— and yet everything he's ever said about Rick has been one hundred percent true.

• After Spencer's death, Rosita decides it's the perfect time to use her one and only bullet and kill Negan. Despite the fact that she's standing literally five feet away from him, her magic bullet somehow manages to miss his head and lodge in Lucille. Groan!

Either Rosita is the world's worst shot or Negan is secretly a Jedi, and used Lucille like a light saber to stop the bullet.

• Maybe instead of insulting Eugene last week, Rosita should have sweet-talked him into making her six bullets. I bet Negan couldn't have deflected that many!

• This week we actually got a short glimpse of Aaron's boyfriend, Eric Raleigh. It's been so long since I've seen him on the show I honestly thought he was dead. I assumed he must have been killed last season when the wall fell and the walker herd invaded Alexandria.

According to the Walking Dead Wikia page, Eric's appeared in eleven episodes, three of them in this season! 
He appeared in The DistanceRememberForgetConquerFirst Time AgainJSSNowNo Way OutThe Day Will Come When You Won't BeService and in this episode.

Really? That's news to me! He must be standing way, way off in the distance in each of these episodes then, because it's been years since I've seen him.

• At the end of the episode, Rick and Co. reunite with Maggie, Sasha and Daryl at the Hilltop.

Based on all the closeups of the main cast's beatifically smiling faces and the soaring, triumphant score, this is obviously supposed to be a turning point in the series— the moment Alexandria and the Hilltop join forces against Negan.

But what good is the Hilltop? The only competent fighters there are Jesus, Maggie and Sasha. Maybe Enid. The rest of the Hilltopians are all a bunch of sheep who hid in their trailers when the Saviors attacked a few weeks ago in Go Getters. They don't even have any weapons at the Hilltop, as they try to defend their gate with spears!

Seems to me like this alliance will benefit the Hilltop way more than it will Alexandria.

• So who's the mysterious Boot Person who seems to be following Rick? Obviously the writers would like us to believe it's the owner of the houseboat, who's not quite dead yet.

That seems way too obvious. My track record for guessing hasn't been very good lately, but I'm gonna say it's Cyndie, the teen from the Oceanside community that Tara met a few weeks ago in Swear

There's no way the show would spend an entire super-sized episode in Oceanside, introduce a bunch of new characters who live there, and then never use them again. I'm betting Cyndie was intrigued by Tara's glowing description of Alexandria, and decided to secretly follow her back.

Of course that doesn't explain why she's now apparently following Rick. Maybe she lost Tara's trail, and just happened to run in to Rick & Aaron.

I suppose the boots could also belong to one of the Whisperers, a terrifying group from the comics that we've not yet seen on the show. The Whisperers cover themselves in walker skin suits though, so they can walk unseen among them. The owner of these boots doesn't seem like they're trying to imitate a walker, so I don't think this is our intro to the Whisperers just yet.

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