WD: Season 7 – Ep. 8 “Hearts Still Beating”: A Review

Posted: 12/14/2016 in Uncategorized

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The winter finale, “Hearts Still Beating”, pulls us back from the brink and injects something long missing of late… hope. This being said, there was no absence of bloodshed, visceral violence and heavy hearted drama. This episode however very much felt like a return to form. WD has no fear of disappearing despite some citing declining ratings. Between PVR views, downloads and binge watching sessions, I am certain that upon the February return of the series, the viewership will return to stratospheric levels. Having delivered my opening volley; I move on to my review.

The ninety minutes (62 in real time) certainly did not drag with every minute counting and various characters getting proper coverage and plot line set ups. Carol’s (Melissa McBride) misanthropy not withstanding; via a quick visit to the Kingdom, we see the series’ greatest warrior still content to remain detached and aloof from all parties. Her moments with Morgan (Lennie James) reinforce that she has no wish to change her mind. Richard (Karl Makinen), King Ezekiel’s second, attempts to ignite matters by reaching out to the two former Alexandrians, pleading with them to convince the King to fight and attack the Saviours pre-emptively. As with everyone else except the core group; no one truly has a grasp of how expansive Negan’s reach is and how many people make up his ‘world’. That neither Morgan nor Carol has any idea what has happened to their people back home is a factor in maintaining the status quo.

Michonne’s (Danai Guirira) plan of kidnapping a female saviour and getting her to drive her to Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) yields unexpected results. Two epiphanies, however, are gleaned. The first is that those who serve Negan, in at least two cases so far; would prefer death to his rule. The other is of course, how vast his empire truly is. In Michonne’s arc, there is a brilliant feint. Her action against her captive can be viewed as either an act of compassion or harsh necessity. Her taking what she has learned and turning it into something promethean via her later meeting with Rick (Andrew Lincoln) re-establishes her presence as both essential to everyone and formidable as a source of inspiration.

In this run, the main female players prove their worth as warriors and leaders. Maggie (Lauren Cohan) through her inspirational tractor moment at Hilltop, episodes past, manages to subtly begin to wring control of Hilltop from Gregory (Xander Berkeley). She hasn’t fully taken the reins as yet, but it is coming. Unquestionably the rodent in the form of a man that is the present leader will do something unconscionable, but in the interim, it is fun to watch the process occur so organically. Even the banter between the two plays well as he tells her “not to let it go to her head” as the residents say “nice things” about her and Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green). She in turn glibly tells him to ‘not let it bother him…” as it “seems to be bothering him” referencing the good will thrown her way. A cool, simple moment then reinforces her inevitable ascension, as a fellow resident shames Gregory into giving her an apple he is polishing, citing her pregnancy.

Rosita (Kristian Serratos) doesn’t fare so well. Her opening moment with Father Gabe (Seth Gillam), who is actually climbing the ranks as a very valuable character, gets to the heart of her seemingly suicidal mission. The moments between the two in the Alexandrian church were beautifully performed. Her arc ties into Spencer’s (Austin Nichols) play with Negan, who is still ‘visiting’ the Grimes residence. She and Spencer share the commonality of their actions being selfish or at the very least self-fulfilling versus selfless. Spencer’s play to take the place of Rick as town leader illustrates an incredible lack of grasp as to exactly who he is dealing with. Rick would have known and the resulting catastrophe could have been avoided. This is very much a show about consequences, about actions begetting reactions. Spencer’s play pushes Rosita’s which due to the stellar camera work (and story-telling tour de force that is the talent of Greg Nicotero) presents an even more horrific after effect. Rosita’s action, while understandable and certainly justifiable, also costs the group an asset via Negan’s next reaction.

Rick’s water walker journey with Aaron (Ross Marquand) earns numerous holy eff stomach knotting moments in an already tension laden episode. The duo’s quest to provide for Negan again provides a negative result where Aaron is concerned though the man’s positivity citing the titular mantra is astounding. It also earns a potential future nemesis or ally based on an end sequence moment tying into their adventure.

So much goes on in this run and none of it is superfluous. Daryl’s (Norman Reedus) benefactor is revealed to be benevolent rather than another hope crushing tactic. Dixon’s wrath is distressingly illustrated in a very brutal moment with a Saviour. It has been offered that this would be a dark run for Daryl and this ep pushed this notion as fact. Riddled with guilt from his feeling of complicity regarding Glen’s (Steven Yeun) murder, DD seems poised to unleash hell in the episodes to come.

One of the highlights of the episode however was the demented domestic bliss enacted by Negan. He shaves using Rick’s razor. He then makes spaghetti supper while having the demoralized Carl (Chandler Riggs) bake biscuits. The season’s deeply suffering supply keeper, Olivia (Ann Mahoney), in a beautifully acted run, is both caregiver to Judith and server at Negan’s table. The domesticity presented is as cruel a psychologically tormenting tactic as any of the actions he practices at home. JDM is stellar in this role. You may want to decapitate him but you will not look away while he is on screen.

The reunion sequence was deeply emotional and redemptive. Hilltop is positioned to be the new war council meeting locale. So much happens in this segment and all of it is gold. The notion that  Negan’s world may face an actual offense begins its journey from a spark to a flame. WD is so assuredly simply outstanding and well worth your time.

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