Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Walking Dead S7x8 Hearts Still Beating

The Walking Dead Hearts Still Beating review
Photo Credit: The Walking Dead / Gene Page
Riiiiccck, Negan's home. And he's doing a pretty job at it too shaving his face, making spaghetti, and breaking bread with Olivia and Judith. But, boy, does the leader of Alexandria and the Savior's worshipper has some wild cards with Spencer, Rosita, Michonne. Negan's intimidation game comes to a head when the Sherriff is back in town.

Hearts Still Beating
might've been the episode we've been waiting for this whole season. After milling around different locations and characters, what's left of Deanna's former paradise is shattered even more. But what was supposed to feel like dire ordeals reminded me of The Office. Michael Scott's daring plan to stop other branches from poaching employees from his Scranton office had some similarities with our characters trying to keep their own branch alive by dealing with apocalyptic CEO Negan. Stick with me, here.

Poor, Aaron. The guy has paid the price ever since he recruited Rick and his group.

As a member of the infamous line-up, Aaron witnessed Negan's brutality first-hand. He's the only one to step up to the plate for Rick to scavenge. Out in the middle of nowhere, they discover a houseboat. The duo battles their way across an impressive zombie-filled lake to their destination and finds weapons without ammo (wink and a nudge for how important Eugene will be to make bullets).

It's here Aaron delivers the meaning of the episode's title: your heart's beating or it isn't; your loved one's hearts are beating or they aren't. Aaron understands why Rick is going to such great lengths to keep Negan happy.

Even though our group is winning with this new bounty of supplies, they're losing. In fact, drawn on a piece of paper by the house owner shows a hand flipping the bird. And that phrase set up just how much trouble is waiting for them.

But what is Aaron's deal with collecting or losing all the wrong pieces of information?? First, he lost the photographs of Alexandria in the wolves' territory and opened them up to the JSS massacre. And then, he didn't pocket the obscure drawing they found. He kept it but left it with the supplies, which upon arrival in Alexandria the Saviors found, who mistook it as a threat and then promptly beat him up. And Rick just stood there - like Dude, why would you take a chance like that?? and couldn't interfere to save him.

Like other characters in this episode, most of their efforts prove to be fruitless. Good thing, his heart was still beating, but it almost all for nothing.

Nothing and no one will keep Carol with our family. Not a new leader, movie nights, fresh fruit, or even a place of her own.

Morgan stops by Carol's new abode and she noticed, even though his intention was to keep his presence unnoticeable. Despite how much Carol is aiming to be on her own, nobody will honor her wishes. Ezekiel drops by to give her fresh fruit, so does Morgan, and then Richard enters the mix as well by trying to warn them about what the Saviors are capable of.

Despite not knowing whether their family's attempt to attack the satellite outpost was a success or failure, neither Carol or Morgan's resolve is shaken. He's committed to not killing, and she just wants to be left alone. Richard mentions that there were more camps in the area and but most of them are gone now. As Spencer (only did one right thing) tried to tell Rick to reason with Negan and make a deal, we learn that Ezekiel struck a deal to exchange food and supplies as long as Negan never steps inside the Kingdom. What kind of deal could Rick have struck? What happens when Negan's demands outweigh every group's supplies?

Carol's choice to not get involved is an interesting echo to season two when Rick brought Randall back to Herschel's farm and the group couldn't decide whether to kill him or let him loose. As Dale rallied for them to maintain their humanity by not killing him for crimes he may never commit, she pled for having been asked to make decisions like this.
Not speaking out or killing him yourself... there's no difference. - Dale
Not only does the contrast of this earlier choice stick with her as she killed Karen and David to prevent their flu from spreading in season four, Richard says similarly that not doing anything still gets blood on their hands.

Richard would be a pretty decent addition to Alexandria. We also know for sure that Carol isn't budging on going her own way, even warning Morgan to tell anybody who looks for her that she is gone. But her noticing Morgan on the porch is enough to subliminally foretell that her being alone with her principles might not last long; but if she doesn't want to be found, Carol will make it so. How will she handle discovering Alexandrians were/are getting killed and she didn't help?

Carol's isolation is a self-inflicted punishment from the atrocious strings of deaths she's burdened herself with, and it's painful that she is still entirely unaware of Glenn and Abraham's deaths. By how swiftly the story might be moving, will the impact of their deaths sustain a significant impact?

The gig of slowly becoming the Hilltop Colony leader is getting pretty easy, or smoother, for Maggie, Sasha, and Enid. Everyone is taking notice of their organization in the face of chaos, so people are rooting for them. Gregory looks more like a goon with every passing minute. Maggie for President? Hell, yeah!

Though Rhee only bookended the episode, I didn't mind how she was used. The opening of her eating the apple pie, and even smelling it from outside the door, was adorable. Her partnership to Sasha and Enid could easily make for a spin-off Women Getting Shit Done.

However, it was strange how Sasha's concern for Jesus was swept under the rug. First, Sasha swears that she is the only one who wants to take down Negan, and asks Jesus to do some of the dirty work done. When questioned by Maggie about Jesus' whereabouts, Enid catches Sasha in a little white lie about where he has gone to. Sasha still showed slight concern that maybe something happened to him; but towards the end of the episode, he was just with the rest of the group and there was no development on his intel for her. It's little moments like this that don't seem necessary in the long run...

Oh, Spencer - you idiot.

The meat of the mid-season finale was the Mexican stand-off between Negan with Lucille and the Saviors versus Rosita's aim for justice vs Spencer's loudmouth and ego.

Spencer thought he could get in with Negan by putting himself over and burying Rick. He tried to capture the former's attention by handing him over his scavenged supplies, dressing up for the part of the big boy's club, and hamming it over on the front porch with whiskey and a game of billiards - all the while Rick was toiling away and not able to defend himself (a nice call back to Deanna's meeting with the Alexandrians at the end of season five. So in this way, like mother, like son).

Spencer has no freaking clue what it takes to survive the apocalypse, let alone Negan's inner circle. Sweet talkin' deals will do the trick. He'd no if he hung around Negan long enough to know how his operation works. The longer Spencer talked, the more he dug his own grave. In fact, his mere presence hanging outside of Carl's house created a waft of desperation and cowardice Negan could smell over the spaghetti.
It's because you got no guts.
Everything adding up to Spencer's death was well-calculated. Negan gutting Spencer wasn't the best filmed death scene but it was still shocking.Watching Spencer build his own demise with every backhanded comment was somewhat perfect. Little touches to his scenes like the music similar to Start To Finish, people in Alexandria coming out onto the street to watch him and Negan play pool, and tying in the notion even when they're winning they're losing was nicely paced.

A great credit to Spencer is Austin Nichols. He was perfectly cast, and it's not even that the actor has any of the characters' sleazy qualities. While Spencer did have clear intentions of his reaction towards Rick because of his family's deaths, he genuinely emulated contrasting traits and actions. For a character who bubbled onto the scene conveniently after Deanna, Reg, and Aidan bit it, Nichols truly performed his best. To be honest, even if I loathe Jeffrey Dean Morgan, going out playing pool and drinking with him is probably not the least worst way to die on this show.

Something that frustrates me the heck out of this season is a lack of emotional ramifications from any of the characters.

Once again, Carl's actions have casualties, and in some way, they always have been with little to no punishment or substantial parenting. He's always been, in one way or another, been allowed to act like a rebellious kid despite the fact he robs people of their lives.

Back in season two, he fiddled around in the woods with the swamp walker and inadvertently set it free. It was the same walker who jumped Dale and killed him. To an extent, Dale's death is a question of whether the walker would've ever gotten free on it's own, and Carl's age plays in as a major excuse too. But it's not like the kid is put on a tighter leash or advisory.

But Carl's response to tragedy is only re-ignited with anger, being more rebellious and killing. As the Governor loomed over the prison, Carl and Herschel came across a Woodbury teen-lackey in the forest. The kid is putting down his weapon, but Carl shot him anyway on the basis that if Rick and the group had taken out Phillip none of their problems would've escalated. This merciless act (and Andrea's death) pushes Rick to take in Woodbury's people, and for Rick to teach Carl more kid-friendly activities before his literal serial-killing ways get more out of control.

Carl's independence only strengthens after the prison falls. While Rick is passed out from injuries, he goes off into other homes, encounters walkers, and nearly gets killed. His invincibility has always been there, but too many times, Rick has taken a blind-eye.

Carl's inability to believe Rick might know what's best for him sets off a chain reaction where five people's lives were at stake. If it wasn't for his decision to jump the Saviors and Negan at his compound, it's quite possible Olivia and Spencer wouldn't have died, Eugene wouldn't be taken prisoner, and Rosita almost wouldn't have gotten killed - not to mention, Aaron and Rick's stash from the lake house wouldn't have been prematurely pillaged.

When Negan told Rick that Carl hitchhiked on one of his trucks, killed some of his men and that he was only being more reasonable by killing off Spencer and Olivia, Rick's look of shock and rage towards Carl is perfect. But what exactly comes out of it? Is there a screaming match we don't see? Does Rick make Carl help Father Gabriel bury her? I WANT ANSWERS NOW.

In other words, sorry this happened to you, Olivia.

Simultaneously as Spencer was sweetening up Negan, Father Gabriel tried to soften Rosita's rage. Their scene in the church was quiet and well-developed. While the series struggles to keep the relationship ties between characters consistent (what was Michonne's reaction to Spencer's death since she helped him kill Walker Deanna?), it's nice to see Gabriel build the bridge between people and reminding them of their importance. And Christian's performance for Rosita was absolutely awesome, fierce, and bad-ass.

No matter how much Father Gabriel tried to instill faith back into Rosita to not kill Negan on her own, and that everyone in the community needs her, it still just wasn't enough to quench her thirst of hatred.

Though Spencer's death is not something I personally loved her going out on a limb for, her anger is so tightly wind up in what happened to Glenn and Abraham, it was understandable. No sage words of advice could've helped her let the right moment come along to make her move.

Other than their love of Abraham, Sasha and Rosita both have a target on Negan's back, but in very strange ways, feel like they are not vital parts of the community. Both women are on their mission to kill Negan and feel like they are on their own. It disturbed me a little that while Sasha may find strength in fellow women like Maggie, Rosita only has her justice. As she peers at the community, she clearly sees that 'Michonne and Carl have Rick, Aaron has Eric, Daryl is strong, Eugene knows things'.

What does Rosita have outside of her mission - even if she joined the group at the end and came to a subtle resolution with Sasha? You know - she struggles to forgive Eugene and see him once again as a friend and not someone who betrayed them. The show fails to address female friendships such as Rosita and Tara or Rosita and Maggie. Spencer was a rebound. It's sad that Rosita feels like she doesn't matter if she dies as long as she takes Negan with her. With Eugene captured, it'll be interesting to see what happens with her because of her remarks, that the bullet she had Eugene made got Olivia killed.

The Mexican stand-off was nicely composed with not a one-two punch, but three. Spencer is gutted. Rosita shot at Negan, only Lucille got in the way and blocked the bullet - right between the eyes. SHE WAS SO FREAKIN' CLOSE. But as punishment, Negan charged one of his Savior's to kill someone, and Olivia was shot. All of this goes on just in time for Rick to stroll into the disaster zone and deal with the aftermath.

Negan realized that the bullet Rosita shot was handmade, and he demanded to know who did it. Rosita tried to admit she did, so does Tara, but in the end, Eugene's hand is forced to confess. I bet this poor cinnamon roll wishes he never schemed a trip to Washington D.C. now. So he's taken capture; Alexandria is out of their bullet maker, even if they had any guns to use (nice going with not hiding any weaponry, Rick).

Meanwhile, at the Savior's compound, someone is deliberately leaving Daryl a trail of breadcrumbs to break-out; he was given a letter, motorcycle key, and pretty much the free reigns to escape. As he was bounding through the hallways and found a stowaway room with clean clothes, it wasn't exactly clear why he was waiting for the right moment when there was literally no one stopping him...

Eventually, after pigging out on a jar of peanut butter (a nice homage to his and Beth's time at the funeral home in season four), he made it outside to the parking lot and encountered Fat Joey. And, then we said goodbye to Fat Joey as Daryl beat him to death with a steel pipe. Out of nowhere, Jesus popped out to try to stop him but the damage was done. The pair made it off into the sunset towards the Hilltop Colony.

Even though his escape wasn't all that and a jar of peanut butter, Norman Reedus performed nicely - as always. Daryl is free, but since he's one of Negan's favorites, how long is it going to be before the bat swings down on everyone in a search for him? Will Eugene suffice as a replacement?

By episode's end, Rick is dwelling in his basement cell alone with his principles, his axe, and the lovely phallic looking middle-finger drawing that Aaron was too silly not to throw away. As Michonne returned from her escapades and encounter with a Savior, she beckoned him out of his shell. In an opposing reaction to Aaron's proposition earlier that if their hearts are beating at least they're alive, Michonne drew out that it's not enough to be alive; they have to fight for more.

To me, it was a pretty clear proposal. Now only was she beckoning Rick to heed Maggie's words and get ready for a war, but also that they have to do it together; they have to do it as a family - her and Rick protecting Judith and Carl, banding together with the Hilltop Colony and Alexandria.
I wanted to go with you and Aaron, go my way, but when I found it, I realized I didn't want to be my way, I wanted it to be ours, me and you.... We're still standing, we're gonna keep standing, what do we do with it, make it mean something.....We can fight them, find a way to beat them, we can do this, but, only if, we do this.
Michonne's words in their entirety were as meaningful and subtle as Glenn's proposal to Maggie by putting a ring he cut off from a walker on her finger and them considering they were married. It was also a nice reflection of Maggie and Glenn's season four discussion about the future:
Maggie Greene: Because I don't want to be afraid of being alive.
Glenn Rhee: Being afraid is what's kept us alive.
Maggie Greene: No. It's how we kept breathing.
But I also couldn't help but feel like it was an ultimatum and the answer to Deanna's question: What do you want?

Strangely, while she was talking to him, it also felt like an omission that they had to be on the same page - no matter what. Considering that Michonne could've gone to the Hilltop Colony or completely left the community if she wanted to, she had to bring him on board; 'cause her future isn't one without Rick, Carl or Judith in it, let alone one where they are just scraping by. Being trapped by Negan must in some ways feel like her old days when she was camouflaging herself with death and her walker pets. After bringing herself back from the edge, and not feeling like a monster anymore, if they aren't living for what they want, what are they living for?

And, Rick agreed. Everything added up together, sure. Spencer's death, Olivia's assassination, or Glenn or Abraham;s death, or their separation from Maggie/Sasha/Enid, Daryl's kidnapping, Carol's departure (which no one has acknowledged AT ALL), all culminated into letting go of his submissiveness - but it's really Michonne's wants and needs, and her directing him in the right direction that makes him change.


Other than that, the gang's reunion was everything. And Rick's acknowledgment of Maggie's demand, Rosita and Sasha nodding in understanding, even Enid and Carl's pervy grins to each other, was exciting. Daryl giving back Rick's gun reminded me of "They're screwing with the wrong people" in season four finale. I'm not sure the episodes in between the premiere and midseason finale were worth it, but we're gonna go to war. It's gonna take another five episodes of talking but we're gonna get there.

This recap was a little bit out there from what I normally write about, but I couldn't stop thinking about how this episode reminded me of The Office. I hope you enjoyed!

Overall, Hearts Still Beating might be the highlight episode so far for the season, even surpassing my favorites like Go-Getters and Swear. It was a real refresher to be rewarded with Rick climbing back on his horse again, even if the episodes in-between were extremely messy in development.

In the interim, the show mistook misery for a snail's pace, perhaps even non-existent, story and conflict. It forgot about death and grief: why was Denise's death glossed over? It forgot about leadership: After seeing Alexandria come together against the walkers, why didn't Rick commiserate with anyone after Negan took control? It forgot about relationships: How did Aaron feel about Daryl being kept as prisoner or Maggie at the Hilltop? What about Tara and Maggie - or are they replacing her friendship with Enid? It forgot about the past: Why didn't Rick organize farming in Alexandria instead of focusing on scavenging?  It forgot about friendship: Carol is gone but does anyone remember? What will Daryl's reaction be if he finally finds out?

As the season reached the half-way mark, it's good to ask questions about the episodes so far. Frankly, between the premiere and Hearts Still Beating, I'm not so certain the despair of the group was that strongly expressed. It's hard to remember that everything happened so far - from Denise's death to the line-up to the reunion took months for us, and in the show's world, probably only a few weeks. But, still, I feel like outside of several members handling the premiere differently, a majority of the episodes still lacked tension and intensity. Grief was handled in two ways: passionately like Maggie, Sasha, Carl, and Rosita, or with ambivalence like Tara, Rick, and Michonne, and in between there wasn't a lot built between them. Which is what makes the mid-season finale a little dumbfounding in its ability to be the cavalry call we wanted.

But perhaps not as flabbergasting that the same circle of critics who've hated Jeffrey Dean Morgan's performance so far as a cartoony caricature actually gave him a Critics Choice Award for Guest Performer.

My head just explodes that he has actually been acknowledged for this meanwhile Melissa and Andrew have nothing, nada, zip. What world am I living in? Some critics claim the writers don't give Jeffrey Dean Morgan enough variety - which is wrong. Every theatrical speech should have a different intention other than Negan acting like he's living high on the hog from bullying people. But Morgan plays every scene the same way - like this is just another cool gig, and he blew out all of his acting tricks in the premiere. He has no levels whatsoever. The Governor had more tricks up his sleeve. I'm. JUST.

The series has known misery before, and even sometimes I think we forget outside of Glenn and Abraham's deaths just how violent the show has been whether it's human deaths or walker kills. Among some of it's most positive elements like the acting as always\, this might be the series' more female-empowered run so far with Maggie, Sasha, Enid, Michonne and Carol's stance against loss and defeat. Season seven didn't have the most impressive arc, and sorta exists in this weird eather of the series where it's not exactly memorable but it's important because of why it started. The big question is how will this season end. And if the episodes of them talking about war will be as captivating as the war itself.

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