So TWD managed to redeem itself for the mediocre past few episodes by giving us pretty much all we could possibly want in the mid-season finale. Is it still moving along a bit too slow for my liking? Possibly, considering we’ve been getting plenty of supersized episodes and not a lot of action in the back half of season 7, but things are finally moving along, and at least the main character arcs and development may definitely justify the slower pace.

Random thoughts:

  • It looks like Gregory finally learned Maggie and Sasha’s names, even if uttering them seemed to make him feel ill. Loved the moment with the apple and that nameless Hilltopper shaming Gregory into tossing the fruit to Maggie (I almost expected her to say ‘how do you like them apples?’ when that happened. Will we finally get to meet any other Hilltop residents aside from Jesus and the lookout? Where are they all hiding? You’d think that in a community focused mostly on agriculture you’d see a few random people doing farm work in the background…?
  • Negan’s beard shaving scene was nowhere near as significant as Rick’s was when the group first arrived in Alexandria, but I appreciate the callback. I was momentarily worried JDM would look less menacing without the scruff, but that’s nothing a bit of gutting or waving Lucille around can’t fix.
  • Negan continues to ruin whatever sense of domesticity our group of survivors had striven to achieve, and that alone is reason enough to hate him, nevermind the brutal murders.
  • Meanwhile, Spencer delivers his loot to Negan’s men and gets all flirty with the tattooed Savior chick, but then takes a break from all the douchey-ness when he talks to Rosita, which is on par with what we’ve come to expect of TWD: a moment of reprieve and possible redemption before the ax falls.
  • Speaking of: I had my money on Spencer and Rosita biting it tonight, and wondered if they’d maybe throw a random death into the mix. Olivia made perfect sense, given how much more screen time and lines she was given recently. I was half right, and even though I won’t miss the last remaining Monroe as a character, I have to admit I’ll miss Austin Nichols’ pretty face.
  • While Negan’s waiting for Rick in Alexandria, we get treated to the one walker scene of the night, and it definitely delivered. I’m not gonna lie, I feared for Aaron for a minute there, and was utterly relieved to see him make it onto the houseboat. He seems to be the only one who gets why Rick’s being subservient, and he’s a good sidekick now that Daryl’s gone, so I would hate to see him go.
  • So Spencer’s smarmy, , sniveling, kiss-ass attitude towards Negan pretty much sealed his fate last night; even though it was expected, the fact that Negan not only saw right through his efforts but reacted so swiftly was somewhat surprising (for all of us who haven’t read the comics, at least). Again we see an unnerving side of Negan: as horrible a monster as he is, he ‘s not above showing some kind of respect to those he deems worthy. Last week, he gave props to Carl. This week, he recognizes that Rick’s got guts (“he’s swallowing his hate and getting things done” just before he spills Spencer’s all over the streets of Alexandria.
  • Rosita’s assassination attempt naturally goes awry, and just like Glenn paying the price for Daryl’s insolence in the premiere, poor Olivia gets unceremoniously killed off instead of the would-be Negan assassin. Are we supposed to believe that Negan actually wants to keep the group’s most capable fighters alive, or is it just a case of the show conveniently sparing the main cast?
  • And speaking of guts: Eugene may have been terrified, but he once again showed he’s finally grown a pair. I hate to imagine him in Daryl’s shoes now that he’s a Saviors prisoner, but if he puts his bullet-making skills to good use maybe he won’t be subjected to Easy Street on a loop?
  • The whole service theme comes up again this week, and this time Negan actually did do Rick a big service, even if he doesn’t realize it yet: he gave Rick the final push he needed to get his groove back and get fired up again, and it’s so good to see him finally snap out of his funk I wouldn’t mind if Negan had killed off a few more Alexandrians in the process.
  • Michonne’s plan works just as badly as Rosita’s, but she’s as instrumental to getting Rick on board as Negan killing Spencer and Olivia was. I didn’t expect her to shoot that red-headed Savior in cold blood, but then again, she was practically asking for it when she gave Michonne her options. They may all be Negan, but they don’t have to be happy about it.
  • More unexpected than this Savior death – or maybe even more predictable, depending on how you look at it – was Daryl going all Negan on poor Fat Joey. Was he really going to just let Daryl walk away? Probably, given that he was carrying Rick’s gun the whole time and didn’t reach for it once, but Daryl has been through too much to not see this as an opportunity to unleash all this pent up pain and anger – and also maybe send a message to Negan.
  • The final scene of the episode gave me ALL the feels. Seriously, how awesome was that bro-hug? Everything about the group coming together was perfect, right down to Daryl’s symbolic handing the gun over to Rick. Jesus finally suggesting that they go to the Kingdom tied everything up perfectly in anticipation of the second half of the season.
  • Which brings me to my only gripe about this episode: is the show purposely trying to make Carol as unlikable as possible? It’s been well documented on this blog that I’m not her biggest fan, but the fact that she’s not only being a jerk to Morgan and Richard but also doesn’t seem to give a crap about what her friends might be up to since she left is just so infuriating. I hope she redeems herself when she finds out what’s been happening while she’s playing house out by the Kingdom – if not, they might as well kill her off because what exactly is the point of her character any more?
  • Who is the mysterious boot-sporting stranger spying on Rick and Aaron and skulking around Alexandria? Is it one of the Oceanside people? One of the Whisperers? Someone new? I hope we get to find out soon.

Hearts Still Beating was a solid episode that veered more towards the sentimental than the action-packed finales we’ve come to expect of the show, and it worked not so much because it was spectacular, but because the previous episodes didn’t. We got character deaths, an exciting walker scene, a much-awaited reunion and Rick back in fighting mode. Better not screw it up now, TWD!