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'The Walking Dead' recap ('Hearts Still Beating'): season 7, episode 8, fall finale

This was posted Monday, December 12, 2016 by Rodney Ho on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

It's tough to be an original Alexandrian in "The Walking Dead."

The show has lost dozens of them, pretty much anybody who has had even a passable role whose name is not Aaron.

Tonight, two more are gone, one possibly deservedly so, the other not at all.

Negan knifed Spencer, his guts spilling everywhere. Then one of his minions semi-randomly shot poor Olivia to death as punishment for Rosita's botched assassination attempt.

But hey! Good news! None of Rick Grimes' original crew died.

This was an unusually "normal" episode for "The Walking Dead" this season where we see multiple storylines from multiple locations. There have been precious few of those this fall. This episode was clearly a set up for Rick to return to "fight" mode. And the gang gets back together - at least what's left of it.

Let's get to questions:

Did this first half of the season work storywise?

Ratings cratered this year for a reason. The show is aging and a lot of fans abandoned ship after the overly dark and disgusting first episode in October that featured the deaths of Abraham and Glenn at the hands of Negan and Lucille. I understand the storytelling choices to a degree but there are too many characters and too many splintered stand-alone episodes.  While I personally enjoyed Tara and Heath's episode, that one got the most flak for being too much about peripheral characters. (Heath who?) The final episode was redemptive to a degree. It might be just good enough to keep most of the fans who are still around to check out part two of the season seven.

Was it worth it for Rick and Aaron to threaten their lives through a moat of walkers without knowing what they'll get at the other end? 

Yes. They needed to get stuff for Negan or he might kill folks. And the chances of something being there was very good. In the end, they got a gun and other supplies although Aaron almost perished in the water. (I presume the producers didn't want to kill off THREE original Alexandrians in one episode.) Too bad Aaron left that note the dude had placed in the box, the one that says, "Even when you win, you lose." (No ammo!) When the Savior minions saw the note, they thought it was a snide remark directed at them, so they beat Aaron to a pulp.

Did Spencer deserve to die for trying to convince Negan to kill off Rick? 

Kind of. He wanted to take over but as Negan said, he lacked the guts to just off Rick. Of course, if he did that, that would not sit well with, well, Michonne or Carl or many of the Rick acolytes. So it made sense for Spencer to make Negan the fall guy. He tried diplomacy, including kindness, purloined liquor and a pool table on the street. But he made his pitch too soon, too quickly. Negan sensed this dude - despite his mom's leadership skills - wasn't ready for prime time. So he just gutted him for lacking "guts." Very Negan-esque move there.

Even the actor who played Spencer, Austin Nichols, said on "Talking Dead": "That guy's a douchebag." He lost his family since Rick arrived so he has reason to be angry. But his hate for Rick ran way too deep and he paid for it.

Why was everyone just standing around (including Carl and Rosita) saying nothing while Spencer was blatantly trying to undermine Rick?

You'd think Carl or Rosita would say something to defend Rick. But you notice that nobody interrupts Negan's rants. And interrupting him has consequences.

Was Rosita smart to try to kill Negan at that point?

Given that she had one bullet, maybe not. She had to take the perfect shot. But Lucille conveniently got in the way. As Nichols said on "Talking Dead," she probably didn't plan to use the gun then but felt emotional over Spencer's nasty death.

Was Rosita smart to cover up for Eugene when Negan discovers the hand-made bullet?

It was reasonable given the circumstances. She felt guilty that she had forced Eugene to make the bullet so she was trying to cover for him by pretending to be the bullet maker. But Negan senses lies and figured she couldn't have done it. (Sexist maybe?) The female Savior rips her pretty cheek a little bit with a knife but could have caused more damage.

Did Eugene take too long to fess up?

Yes. He should have piped up before Rosita had a chance. Only after the female Savior kills Olivia and Tara tries to take the fall for the bullet does Eugene meekly say yes. He is taken away - but not killed immediately.

So is Maggie setting up a coup on the Hilltop?

Sure looks like it. Ineffectual Gregory tries to threaten Maggie but she isn't having it. She is clearly now a "savior" to the Hilltop survivors and is winning them over. Someone even made her a delicious apple pie, a yummy delicacy for a pregnant woman.

Did Morgan and Carol do the right thing by rejecting a surprise attack?

David from the Kingdom tries to convince Morgan and Carol to help them strike the Saviors before things go bad. He senses they are capricious and could quickly renege on the current mafia-style arrangement Ezekial had cooked up and kept quiet from most of the Kingdom. Neither Morgan nor Carol are game. Carol still wants to be left alone. Morgan doesn't want to unleash the inner beast and prefers to avoid just killing people. But will they stay on the sidelines once the pending war starts? "As much as they protest, they'll be right in there," Kirkman said, without giving anything terribly surprising away.

Was it too convenient that Sherry helped free Daryl?

It seems like a plot device to get Daryl out of Savior's clutches. Sherry still feels guilty about how she and Dwight treated Daryl by stripping him of his crossbow and motorcycle a few weeks earlier. And she saw how badly he was being treated. She isn't a fan of Negan so letting Daryl out would be a major passive-aggressive FU to him. Then again, it's a major risk for her to take for someone she barely knows. There are only so many people Negan would think might free Daryl and she'd be near the top of the list. He will punish her for sure once he finds out. Sherry last episode left Daryl's prison door open and gave him a note to leave, knowing most of the security crew was out on that run in Alexandria. He manages to escape after eating an entire jar of peanut butter (much better than dog food!) and changes clothing.

Why did Daryl beat Fat Joey to death?

Daryl really shouldn't have killed Fat Joey before leaving, but Fat Joey probably would have been tortured pretty badly once Negan returned and discovers Daryl had disappeared. (Where was Dwight?) "Daryl has had been going through a lot and he internalizes everything. He just snapped," said creator Robert Kirkman during "Talking Dead."

"He's in hate mode," said Norman Reedus on the show. "He's reeling from Glenn and Abraham. I'm hoping Maggie forgives me... He's ready to kill someone."

Bottom line: Fat Joey didn't deserve that death  any more than Olivia.

Did Michonne do the right thing with the red-headed savior?

The red-headed Savior appeared to be out on her own without permission. Although she tried to fight off Michonne at first, she was simply ready to die at a certain point and Michonne did her the favor before returning to Alexandria.

What pushed Rick over the edge and decide to fight the Saviors instead of capitulate?

Ironically, Spencer had warned Negan that Rick was dangerous and might turn on him. Negan isn't blind. he knows that. But it's watching Negan's men beat up Aaron, then kill Olivia and Spencer that helps .

Michonne gave him an extra pep talk to boot:

"Were still standing. We're going to keep standing. So what are we going to with that? How are we going to make that mean something?... That's why we have to fight. Not for us. But for Judith. For Carl. For Alexandria. For the Hilltop. For all of us. We can fight them. We can find a way to beat them. We can do this. Only if we do this."

And Rick is now set to go: 'You were right from the start. You told us to get ready to fight. I didn't listen. I couldn't. I can now."

As Kirkman said, she never lost her will to fight. The fact she never changed "inspired him. She's a stronger character than Rick Grimes. She handled this a lot better. She didn't lose her nerve."

How did the reunion of many of the originals feel at the end at the Hilltop?

It was emotional in a positive sense. Everyone felt good momentarily at least now that Rick is ready to fight again and he finds out Maggie recuperated, baby still intact.

"Everyone was crying. The whole group was choked up. It felt like we were back together," Reedus said.

Was Negan justified in his actions this episode?

From Negan's point of view, yes. He was magnanimous by not killing Carl after he tried to kill him and actually offing two of his minions. He even brought him back to Alexandria. He also killed Spencer because Spencer was trying to take over for Rick. Rick should be grateful. He even found an obnoxious way to justify Olivia's killing by saying they have one less mouth to feed and then mocked her size to boot.

So yes, Negan is doing what Negan does. And he has nothing but logic on his side. And seriously: Rick's crew has killed far more Saviors than the other way around. So there.

Who's the guy with the boots?

No idea of course. Mysterious! "We will be revealing that soon," Kirkman said.

The show returns February 12 for the back half of season seven.

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About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.