This article discusses the mid-season finale of “The Walking Dead” so if you haven’t watched it yet and don’t want to know what happened, STOP READING NOW. THIS IS YOUR SPOILER WARNING!
After so much hopelessness and unrelenting bleakness throughout the vast majority of the first seven episodes of “The Walking Dead” Season 7, Episode 8 – called ‘Hearts Still Beating’ – delivered something to finally raise the spirits. The season up to this point has followed a similar pattern to Season 4, in which the activities of each part of our fractured group are tracked in turn, episode by episode. This meant that we sometimes had to wait three or four episodes to find out what was going on with a particular splinter group.
Having torn them apart again for Season 7, sometimes weeks have gone by without seeing hide nor hair of some of our most loved characters. Maggie and Sasha have squirrelled themselves away up at the Hilltop while Maggie recovers from pregnancy-related complications, a very battered and beleaguered Carol has found herself at The Kingdom with Morgan, and Daryl has been taken prisoner by Negan, locked away at The Sanctuary.
Meanwhile, a broken Rick has been busy trying to scavenge for Negan at Alexandria, a hot-headed Carl has taken off to The Sanctuary bent on revenge and Michonne has gone off alone as she tries to figure out her next move: rolling over and taking it isn’t an option. In the most stand-alone episode of the season, Tara and Heath’s story is expanded and a new community introduced.
In Episode 8, we finally get an instalment that brings us up to date with all the main characters at once. But, like any drama that wants to tantalise, tease, and keep people watching, it leaves us with a number of questions we’re going to have to wait until February to be answered, when the second half of Season 7 screens. Here’s our round-up of the most burning questions we’re asking…
1. Will Carol and Morgan join the fight?
With all factions either collectively or individually galvanizing to prepare for attack, it seems unlikely that neither character will get involved. When Ezekiel’s right-hand man, Richard, asks both to help him convince Ezekiel to make a stand against Negan, they refuse – each for different reasons. Carol is adamant she wants everybody to leave her alone, and Morgan, of course, is a sworn pacifist.
However, we’ve seen Morgan bend his own rules since hooking up with Carol, and Carol has on more than one occasion come to the rescue after going it alone. It’s difficult to believe she’d let her friends take on the bad guy and not get involved. Creator Robert Kirkman agrees: “As much as they protest, when the fight starts they’re probably gonna be right in there,” he said as a guest on “The Talking Dead” right after the show aired. He added: “Am I revealing too much?”
2. Has Daryl lost his soft side?
Daryl has frequently been the voice of reason and soul of compassion in morally questionable circumstances – look at how (comparatively) decent he was when he first encountered Dwight and wife Sherry, and her sister Tina. But he’s been through a lot at the hands of Negan including torture and humiliation. On top of that he feels tremendously guilty about Glenn’s death.
Consequently, his brutal slaying of Negan cohort Fat Joey on his escape from prison in this episode suggests we’re about to see an even more badass Daryl; one that will stop at nothing to assure the survival of his group. The attack mirrors Negan’s battering of Abraham and Glenn in that iconic hard-to-watch season opener. Has he absorbed a bit of Negan’s psychopathy after spending time in his company? Or has he simply realized he needs to fight fire with fire? His tearful reunion with Rick, of course, shows he’s still at least a bit squidgy inside…
3. What will happen to Eugene?
Having been identified as the one that made a bullet from scratch, Eugene is now a valuable commodity for Negan so it’s unlikely his life is under threat. A quivering mess in the background during the Spencer death scene, he garnered some surprising courage from somewhere as he stepped forward to acknowledge his role as chief ammo-maker. Perhaps the death of Olivia was one kill too far for Eugene but despite his resistance when faced with a bullying Rosita coercing him into cracking out that bullet, he stood up like a man and took the heat. Will he now rely on others to rescue him, or will he have an instrumental role to play himself in any forthcoming take-down? We’re looking forward to seeing this character’s evolution.
4. Who is the dude at the end?
During the boat scene, we saw Rick and Aaron watched from afar by an unidentified person whose footwear seemed significant. The same boots cropped up at the end in a post-credit sequence, where we saw the mysterious character spying on Father Gabriel at Alexandria through a pair of binoculars. Friend or foe? It remains to be seen but there is internet chatter about the possibility of it being one of The Whisperers – another group from the comics yet to be introduced on screen.
Alternatively, it could be Cyndie from the Oceanside community encountered by Tara, checking out Tara’s people to see if they can be trusted – or perhaps even Carol who has employed similar tactics before. Could it be Dwight, even? He’s displaying signs that treachery could be on the cards some time soon and with Negan having been out-of-office for a prolonged period while he waits at Alexandria for Rick, perhaps it’s given Dwight the opportunity to scope out his options.
There’s also the significance of the note to call into question, which Rick and Aaron found when nabbing their haul of goods and which enigmatically read: “Congrats on winning, but you still lose.” As nothing’s happened yet, some kind of retribution seems set to come – and since the contents of that boat-scene haul are now in the possession of the Saviors, does the threat transfer to them?
5. How do the Oceansiders fit in?
We’ve seen this community of women once so far (mysterious voyeuristic stalker aside, which may or may not be an Oceansider) – and at length, with a whole episode devoted to them and the introduction of their story. Although Tara has so far kept quiet about her meeting with the community, as they requested of her (they’re trying to avoid detection having successfully fled from Negan), perhaps her arrival has piqued their interest and opened them up to the idea of joining forces to take on Negan. Cyndie certainly forged a bond with Tara and is very curious to see what’s beyond the limiting confines of their secret camp. They’d certainly bolster an attack – they’ve got weapons and fight!
6. What happened between Negan and Ezekiel in the woods?
When Richard asks Carol and Morgan for help persuading Ezekiel to attack Negan, he tells them: “A few months back, Ezekiel and a few guards met a group of them in the woods. The Saviours recognized Ezekiel’s capabilities. And Ezekiel didn’t want to fight. So they cut a deal. In exchange for food and supplies, no one would get hurt and they’d never set foot inside The Kingdom. Very few of us even know…”
So what exactly happened that demonstrated Ezekiel’s ‘capabilities’ to the Saviours? And what, indeed, are his ‘capabilities’? Carol saw through his act straight away, and Negan’s no idiot so presumably he did too. Is Richard referring to his leader’s ability to keep a big community under control? Or did something more sinister go down?
We know why Negan is particularly savage when it comes to Rick’s gang. Rick has always been a fearsome leader and Negan has had to resort to spectacularly brutal methods to really wham his points home: he needed Rick broken, and untempered ferocity has been the only way he could do it. But there’s a suggestion that he measures his approach depending on the resistance he meets.
With Gregory’s Hilltop colony, Negan himself rarely has to go it seems, since leader Gregory has proved himself pretty accommodating even if Negan’s nasty little deputy Simon has meted out some fairly cruel treatment.
It seems highly irregular, therefore, that Negan and his team would agree to not setting foot inside the Kingdom, however obliging Ezekiel may have proved himself to be. Plus, although Richard acknowledges that the current situation is a precarious one, it seems out of character that Negan would be so hands-off having seen the levels he’ll stoop to.
Is there something they’re not telling us about what’s gone on between these two communities? Does it have something to do with the tiger? Do the Saviors even know about the tiger? After a tantalizing glimpse of Shiva this season, we’re also wondering how she will feature in the second half of the season.
7. Why does Negan wear a bandage on his left arm?
The show’s makers have said it’s not significant but we beg to differ. It’s normally hidden beneath his leather jacket but it’s definitely an indicator that he’s perhaps not as invincible as he appears, even if he was fortuitously saved from a nasty bullet hole in his chest by Lucille in this episode. Maybe it’s a strain from so much bat swinging, or maybe it’s something more ominous. It’s fair to say, though, that somebody on the production team has seen fit to make it a prominent feature…
You could always refer to the comic books for some more insight into the potential answers to these questions and more – but we all know that the show’s creators don’t always stick to the comic’s narrative, don’t we? For now, watch the trailer for episode 9:
“The Walking Dead” returns for the second half of Season 7 on Sunday 12 February 2017 in the States and Monday 13 in the UK.