In the Walking Dead-pool, this writer’s money was on Spencer (and not just because I’ve read the books, which I only ever remember bits and pieces of), and such suspicions were confirmed as soon as he arranged a dinner date with Rosita. From there, he heads off to parley with Negan and, inevitably, his doom. Attempting to throw Rick under the bus, slimy Spencer inadvertently reveals to Negan what an untrustworthy dick he is (and I say that as someone who thinks he generally has a point) – and earns a gruesome disembowelment for his trouble.
But the death of the least liked character on the show isn’t going to do much to rile up Rick or the audience, and so someone less deserving and more well-regarded – but utterly expendable at the same time - needs to take a bullet too. And so poor Olivia is murdered in quick succession, shot in the face by one of Negan’s goons. We should have expected this following her rebellious slap to Negan’s chops last week – for a minor character, she’s been afforded far too much screen time and personality lately (even if that has been at the expense of her suffering over Negan’s tiresome fat jokes).
And as the Saviours followed their double kill in The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be with the kidnapping of Daryl, so Eugene is snatched away this time – as punishment for forging the bullet which Rosita used to take a pot shot at Negan. These are not subtle narrative leaps the episode makes, and the writing doesn’t do a great job of pulling them off. The slicing and dicing of Spencer is fine, but the rest requires you to believe that (a) Rosita is so incompetent that she misses a shot at Negan from point blank range (b) hitting Lucille instead, but only barely damaging the wooden bat, and that (c) Negan wouldn’t have smashed Rosita to paste there and then – before still killing Olivia to make his point. Oh, and (d) that Negan can tell just by looking at it that a bullet is homemade.
Still, as convenience goes, this is nothing compared to the show’s most egregious plot gymnastics in the past (looking at you, dumpster Glenn), and the fact remains that Hearts Still Beating is Season 7’s most exciting episode yet. Shedding viewers like flies on a zombie and taking heat for its slower ‘bottle episode’ format, Season 7 has been a massively divisive one so far, gobby villain and all. The Walking Dead has never been a fast paced show, and it would be unfair to expect it to start now, but the wheel spinning and repetition has been almost unbearable at times – not to mention its hanging whole episodes on the back of dullards like Tara and (briefly) Heath.
It’s almost worth it for that emotional beat at the end though. With Daryl finally escaped from the Saviours’ clutches and Rick resolved to take Negan down, the gang’s all back together. There’s a hug between Rick and Daryl that probably broke Tumblr for 24 hours , and a musical accompaniment that’s reminiscent of Lost in its prime (c’mon, you remember those bits where everyone meets at the beach, no-one speaks and they all hug, smile sadly and exchange tinned food). The real reunifying is between Rick and his faithful handgun though – a moment that has been a long time coming. And all that without a mention of the standout set-piece with Rick, Aaron and some waterlogged walkers. Even this late in the game, The Walking Dead keeps its zombie action fresh, interesting and original.
Granted, Negan’s downfall is a long way off – with Carol, Morgan, et al still to fall into place, expect many, many episodes in which Rick or Maggie or Jesus trudge off from camp to camp trying to convince the other settlements to join up – but it’s a step in the right direction. It hasn’t been the easiest time getting here (for the survivors or the viewers) but at least our patience pays off, the episode ending on a hopeful, defiant beat that sets The Walking Dead up well for All Out War.