MAJOR Spoiler Warning for Season 7, Episode 8 of “The Walking Dead”

Negan after realizing that Spencer does in fact have "guts." (Photo courtesy of Gene Page/AMC.)
Negan after realizing that Spencer does in fact have “guts.” (Photo courtesy of Gene Page/AMC.)

After weeks of character development, Season 7 of “The Walking Dead” reaches its climatic mid-way point as the multitude of storylines combine, setting the stage for a large scale war. It wouldn’t be a Mid-Season Finale without a few deaths, furthering Negan’s sadism and giving the survivors plenty of reason to begin preparing their retaliation. Adapting several iconic comic-book moments and foreshadowing a brighter future, this episode proves that “The Walking Dead” is still the series that we all fell in love with.

After triumphantly standing up to Gregory and declaring the Hilltop as her home, Maggie sits by Glenn’s grave, obviously still mourning the loss of her beloved husband (it’s worth noting that she is wearing a baseball hat, similar to the one Glenn wore in the earlier seasons, as well as gloves that resemble those worn by Abraham). She makes her way up to the lookout post at the gate, but Gregory appears and warns her against enjoying her new sense of popularity among the community. Later, Sasha attempts to surprise Maggie with an apple pie and shares that a little girl in the community believes that Maggie should run for “President of Hilltop.” Maggie asks where Jesus went, but Sasha lies and states that he left early in the morning on a supply run. Maggie leaves to go get milk for her pie and Enid confronts Sasha about lying, deducing that she is plotting to kill Negan, using the help of Jesus. Sasha pleads for Enid to keep everything a secret in order to protect Maggie, but Enid states that Sasha isn’t the only person that wants to kill Negan. This scene demonstrates the disagreement between members of the group; Sasha’s anger is driving her to seek revenge by any means necessary, while Enid believes that a tactical approach should be taken. Regardless, it is incredibly comforting to see that Sasha is keeping her promise to protect Maggie, but the odds aren’t looking that great for her own long-term survival if she continues down this road of secrecy.

Rick and Aaron make their way to the houseboat. (Photo courtesy of Gene Page/AMC.)
Rick and Aaron make their way to the houseboat. (Photo courtesy of Gene Page/AMC.)

This episode also follows Rick and Aaron as they continue to collect supplies to fulfill their agreement with the Saviors. After realizing that the mysterious houseboat will likely contain a wide variety of supplies, they decide to take the risk and head out on the water in a small boat filled with holes. Using fractured pieces of the houseboat owner’s warning sign as their weapons and oars, they begin rowing through the walker-infested water. The boat fills with water, but they manage to make it to a canoe that is floating near the houseboat. Suddenly, a walker grabs Aaron and pulls him into the water leading to a tense altercation as several “floaters” swarm him. He manages to escape the walkers and board the houseboat with Rick. They find a wide variety of weapons, but also a note reading “Congrats for winning, but you still lose.” They manage to get the houseboat to shore before packing all of the supplies into their truck. Rick and Aaron discuss their current predicament with Negan and the hardships associated with it. Aaron states that it is their job to collect supplies and pay the Saviors to assure that their loved ones are protected, but Rick brings up Michonne’s point about how their current way of life is not suitable. From afar, a mysterious figure watches as Rick and Aaron finish packing up supplies. The scenes at the lake are extremely intense and showcase the dangerous situations that the survivors are forced into in order to keep up with Negan’s rules. It’s also enjoyable to see Rick and Aaron on a mission together as they haven’t interacted much since Season 5, when the group first arrived at Alexandria.

After going an unnecessarily long period of time without featuring Carol and Morgan in an episode (they haven’t been shown since the second episode of the season, “The Well“), the series finally catches up with them as their role in the conflict with the Saviors takes root. In her newly acquired private cottage, Carol reads but hears a noise, quickly realizing that it is Morgan dropping off supplies. She invites him inside and explains that Ezekiel has already been delivering fresh produce from the Kingdom’s gardens. Richard arrives and shares that he has a proposition for the two. He describes a deal made between the Saviors and Ezekiel, where the Kingdom would be left alone so long as the supplies are paid on time. While the secret deal is currently working, Richard states that it will eventually fall apart and lead to the end of the Kingdom. He asks Carol and Morgan to help him persuade Ezekiel into fighting back against the Saviors; both refuse, but for different reasons. Carol still wants to be left alone, away from the constant death and destruction that seems to accompany being in a large group of survivors. However, Morgan doesn’t want to break up the current peace that exists, claiming that their efforts could potentially backfire and lead to multiple people dying. Richard leaves and sneaks off to a hidden trailer, which could potentially serve as a place for hiding weapons and supplies from the Saviors. Carol tells Morgan to leave and demands that no one return to her cottage again. It’s interesting to see the various points of view that the survivors have. While Carol’s desire to remain alone makes sense now, this is simply not a viable way of life and she will eventually have to rejoin the group, maybe after learning about what has happened to Abraham and Glenn.

Michonne holds her hostage Savior at gunpoint. (Photo courtesy of Gene Page/AMC.)
Michonne holds the Savior woman at gunpoint. (Photo courtesy of Gene Page/AMC.)

Picking up from last week’s episode, Michonne continues keeping her captured Savior as a hostage. Michonne tries to learn more about the woman, but she refuses to speak as she drives down the road. The woman stops the car and points out toward the horizon at a large gathering of Saviors, explaining that any type of attack would be futile as the Saviors hold a mentality that they’re all Negan. Clearly realizing that she has no other options, the woman tells Michonne to shoot her and destroy the car, which she does. Meanwhile, Daryl stares at the note at his cell in the Sanctuary. He leaves and sneaks down the maze of hallways, but flees into Dwight’s room after nearly being caught by some Saviors. He quickly eats a jar of peanut butter and changes out of his prisoner attire before continuing with his escape. There is an incredibly symbolic scene where he knocks over a chess-table, representing the fact that the game has changed and the pieces (the survivors) will shift positions; kings will fall and pawns will rise. He makes his way outside and finds his motorcycle, but Fat Joey appears and surrenders, clearly aware of Daryl’s strengths. Daryl beats Joey’s head in with a metal pipe as Jesus rushes in, shocked at Daryl’s act of violence; “it ain’t just about getting by here. It’s about getting it all” he states, clearly in understanding that the Savior lifestyle is tyrannical and selfish.

Negan’s surprise extended visit to Alexandria is filled with intense interactions that will change the community forever. Negan finally shaves (this scene mirrors Rick shaving after arriving at Alexandria) as Judith and Carl watch on. Negan then cooks spaghetti in Rick’s kitchen with Carl. Outside of the house, Olivia prepares herself to enter with the lemonade that Negan requested. Tara arrives and offers to take her place, but Olivia stands firm, stating that she promised Rick that she would protect Judith. At the dinner table, Negan awkwardly sits with Carl, Olivia and Judith while waiting for Rick to return; he hilariously puts Lucille in Rick’s seat and states that she is hungry. Over near the gate, Eugene and Spencer hand over the supplies to the Saviors. A female Savior, Laura (Lindsley Register), flirts with Spencer and lashes out at Eugene for staring; this is a nice callback to when Eugene creepily watched Abraham and Rosita in the bookstore in the Season 5 episode, “Self Help.” Over in the church, Rosita examines her bullet while explaining her plan to Father Gabriel. He tries to reason with her, stating that he believes that Negan needs to die, but that they need to wait for the right moment lest they wish for more people to die. This is a touching scene (especially considering Gabriel and Rosita have never really interacted on-screen) that heavily develops Gabriel’s character; his newfound sense of optimism hasn’t blinded him, but rather it has given him a way of approaching situations from a more pragmatic view.

Rick confronts Negan. (Photo courtesy of Gene Page/AMC.)
Rick confronts Negan. (Photo courtesy of Gene Page/AMC.)

This episode focuses heavily on Spencer, who has constantly voiced his distrust and hate for Rick throughout the season. He cleans up his ransacked apartment and dresses up, practicing a speech in the mirror before grabbing a bottle of alcohol and heading outside. He comes across Rosita and describes a plan of his to get close with Negan and the Saviors so they that can potentially improve the group’s situation down the line. They discuss their short-live romantic fling and Spencer asks to meet her for dinner later, no strings attached. Rosita agrees and Spencer continues on to Rick’s house, where he formally introduces himself to Negan. Spencer and Negan sit on the front porch and drink the liquor as they discuss Alexandria; Negan states that he might just have to get a vacation home in the community. He also expresses his wish to play a game of pool, which Spencer responds by giving up a house with a pool table. They bring the pool table out into the middle of the street and begin playing a game. Spencer proposes a stable relationship between the Saviors and Alexandria, but states that Rick’s ego will prevent any progress from being made. Several of Alexandria’s residents (including Eugene, Rosita, Tara and Eric) gather and watch the game; Carl and Olivia watch from the porch. Citing his mother Deanna as evidence, Spencer explains that he would be a far better leader than Negan. This unforgivable betrayal causes a massive shift that escalates the already tense situation in Alexandria.

At the gate, the Saviors load up the supplies that Rick and Aaron found. They also discover the stranger’s note and proceed to beat up Aaron, believing that he wrote the note. Rick helplessly watches on, unable to do anything after being stopped by Laura at gunpoint. Over at the pool game, Negan questions why Spencer doesn’t simply kill Rick himself and assume the role of leader rather than cowardly going behind Rick’s back. Negan tells Spencer that he doesn’t do this “because you’ve got no guts.” Suddenly, Negan stabs Spencer in the abdomen, slicing and disemboweling him. Spencer’s guts spill out of him as he falls to the ground; Negan maniacally quips that “they were inside of you the whole time.” The crowd of Alexandrians watch in horror as Spencer bleeds out and dies on the ground. Rosita, filled with rage and shock, pulls out her gun and shoots directly at Negan. The bullet strikes Lucille instead causing Negan to scream out in wrath as Rosita is tackled to the ground by Arat (Elizabeth Ludlow). After calming down, Negan picks up the bullet casing, examining it and realizing that it is handmade. Arat holds her knife on Rosita’s face as Negan orders the creator of the bullet to step forward. Rosita repeatedly claims that she made the bullet herself, but Negan sees through her lie. He tells Arat to kill someone and she abruptly turns her gun on Olivia, shooting her directly in the face. This prompts the Saviors to pull their guns on the Alexandrians as Carl looks down at Olivia, dead on the ground. The tragedy of Negan’s visit doesn’t end here though.

Daryl reunites with Rick at the Hilltop. (Photo courtesy of Gene Page/AMC.)
Daryl reunites with Rick at the Hilltop. (Photo courtesy of Gene Page/AMC.)

Rick makes his way to the scene with Aaron, who is battered and bruised from his beating. Rick asks Negan to leave, but he refuses until the bullet maker steps forward. Arat points her gun at Aaron and Eric, but Tara declares that she made the bullet, showing her dedication to protecting her loved ones. As the Saviors prepare to kill her, Eugene reveals to Negan that he was the manufacturer. Negan decides to take Eugene with him back to the Sanctuary, leaving Rosita on the ground crying out, realizing what she has done. Next to the pool table, Spencer reanimates and begins growling, but Rick steps in and stabs him in the head. Night falls and Rick sits in Alexandria’s jail cell, processing the day’s events. Michonne joins him and explains that she now knows that she can’t take on the Saviors alone. They have a lot to fight for and they have to do it together. Rick agrees and they embrace in a cathartic kiss, symbolizing the reunification of the group. The episode continues at the Hilltop as Maggie stands at the lookout post. She smiles as she sees something in the distance; the gates open, revealing Rick, Carl, Michonne, Tara and Rosita. They reunite with Maggie, Enid and Sasha, catching up and getting on common ground about their decision to fight the Saviors. Daryl and Jesus appear, leading to an incredibly emotional reunion that has been highly anticipated since Daryl was taken by Negan in the season premiere. Daryl hands over the Colt Python to Rick and everyone shares in a moment of joy; the group is coming back together and the future just may be brighter. The characters are beginning their march to an all out war. An after-credits scene shows the mysterious figure from the pond spying on Gabriel, who is standing watch at Alexandria’s gate. Could this be a Savior or just a lone survivor?

This episode features two game-changing deaths of original Alexandrians. The first is Spencer Monroe, who started off as simply Deanna’s friendly son. Over the past two seasons, he has evolved into a spineless antagonist among the group. His skills as a sharpshooter allowed him to help stop some of the damage to Alexandria during the Wolves’ attack in “JSS.” He regularly tried to help better the community, even if he failed miserably most of the time. After losing his brother, father and mother over the course of a few weeks, it’s no surprise that Spencer ended up losing faith in Rick, especially considering these deaths happened after Rick’s group arrived in Alexandria. This plays into Spencer’s skewed view of reality and constant need to blame others for his hardships. His arrogance and shortsightedness ultimately led to his downfall; he was never cut out to be a leader and Negan saw that. While Spencer may have been an incredibly irritating presence in the series, Austin Nichols portrayed him excellently. There were shades of the character that made me feel some sense of sympathy for him, even in this episode. Rick being forced to kill him as a walker is heartbreaking when you remember that Rick promised Deanna that he would look after Spencer and treat him like family no matter what; would Spencer have turned out this way if he hadn’t lost his entire family? We also lose Olivia this episode in a shocking twist that comes as a result of Rosita’s actions. As pretty much the most innocent and friendly person in Alexandria, Olivia’s role may not have been major, but she was a constant presence in the community. From managing the armory to taking care of Judith, Olivia worked to help keep things running. From helping fight the walker herd in “No Way Out” to slapping Negan after his insult, Olivia proved that she had what it takes to be a strong survivor, but the harshness of the world rips people away early. Alexandria has changed and the deaths of Olivia and Spencer prove this.

“Hearts Still Beating” is a thrilling ride that takes the time to catch up with each of the characters before bringing everything together. The heavy focus on character development this season is paying off as the survivors join forces and begin to formulate a plan to fight their oppressors. Once again, stellar performances across the board contribute to the strength of this episode; Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Andrew Lincoln, Christian Serratos, Ann Mahoney, Karl Makinen and Norman Reedus shine in this episode as Negan, Rick, Rosita, Olivia, Richard and Daryl, respectively. This is a series that reinvents itself every half-season, so it will be interesting to see how each character contributes to this new era of the story. With Eugene captured by the Saviors and Daryl now free, will the group make an attempt to rescue their beloved mullet man? How will the Kingdom play into this march to war? Will Negan catch on to the group’s plans? Many questions remain as the “walker withdrawals” begin to set in. It’s worth noting that the ending of this episode is far more hopeful and uplifting than much of the season so far; this is incredibly important in reminding the characters and viewers that hope can never die. The Mid-Season Premiere of “The Walking Dead” will air on Feb. 12, 2017 on AMC.

Jeffrey Kopp is the Community Editor of the Niner Times. He is a senior double majoring in Communication and Political Science. His interests include writing and keeping up with an excessive amount of television shows. He is also the go-to expert on all things “The Walking Dead."