Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan aside, it’s fair to say that the first half of The Walking Dead Season 7 has been… underwhelming.
Major characters have been sidelined for large stretches in favour of far less interesting ones, there has been minimal sense of direction, and there are just too many locations.
‘Hearts Still Beating’ does what every other episode – and indeed, pretty much every other show – does: actually switch between locations and characters, thus giving us some progression to make up for the lost momentum.
And in fairness, there does seem to be an attempt to move things along: Richard attempts to convince Carol and Morgan to rebel against the Saviors, Rick and Aaron embark on a dangerous mission for supplies across a zombie-infested lake that nearly ends in the latter’s death, a nicely petty Daryl break-out scene, and catch-up sessions with the likes of Maggie, Sasha, Tara and Rosita suggest a powderkeg of pent-up anger, the explosion of which will only be messy, all the while Negan sits around enjoying Rick’s finery.
Then, the trigger words:
“We haven’t officially met, I’m Spencer Monroe. Hi.”
We had a feeling he’d end up regretting these words the moment we heard him utter them, and right from the moment he rehearsed his opening gambit in the mirror. Never trust someone who does that.
It’s always interesting when The Walking Dead gets metaphorical: with Spencer and Negan playing pool together; playing ball.
There’s just one problem: Negan isn’t interested in playing ball. He’d rather just destroy the table – or gut Spencer, whatever comes first.
The last of the old Alexandria is gone, washed away in a river of blood running through the streets. Then the carnage really begins.
It’s all very suspenseful, waiting to see who dies – but what’s it really adding to it? How many more scenes do we need emphasising how much of a ruthless, murderous bastard Negan is? We get the message.
Still, the ending is nicely played, seeing the core group reunited, walking towards the Hilltop mansion, with one common purpose and one common goal: fighting back.
Sure, it’s cheesy as hell, but at least it’s a direction. Maybe it was evident from the beginning, but if the early instalments in the season had been better structured then maybe this wouldn’t be something to quibble about.
The Walking Dead can still be a great show, but first it needs to remember how to be a good one. This episode is proof that it might just be able to do that.