“Hearts Still Beating” is the eighth episode of the seventh season of the popular AMC TV series The Walking Dead. And yes, some people die in messed up ways, which happens often in the series. The episode, which aired on December 11, 2016, is another mid-season finale that had people wondering who will live or die. In “Sing Me a Song,” Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his group, the Saviors, continue to exert their control over Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his group, demanding subservience, loyalty, and no secret plots to undermine Negan’s dominance.
There are many interweaving plot points from this Walking Dead episode. Despite heightened tensions due to Negan’s awful behavior, Jesus (Tom Payne) and Carl (Chandler Riggs) are eventually back at the Hilltop community, where they meet with Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), and Enid (Katelyn Nacon). The Hilltop is under the control of the Saviors, and tensions are high. In season 6, we hadn’t yet learned exactly how Negan operates, but by this point, we know he inspires a lot of revenge sentiment against him.
The Walking Dead and Daryl’s escape
In this episode, Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) manages to escape from the Sanctuary, the Saviors’ compound, in one of the easiest escape scenes in the history of The Walking Dead (sorry, but it’s true!). He kills Fat Joey (Joshua Hoover), one of Negan’s henchmen, and makes his way out, taking a motorcycle and some supplies with him. Of course, we know that The Saviors are visiting Alexandria, with Negan himself hanging around and alarming the community, hoping for a surprise visit with Rick to discuss Carl’s assassination attempt. He intends to assert his dominance and remind the group of their subjugation.
To illustrate his intentions, through words and deeds, Negan torments the residents, particularly Rosita (Christian Serratos), after she tried to shoot him but ended up hitting Lucille, Negan’s beloved baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire. As punishment, Negan’s group randomly kills Olivia (Ann Mahoney), hoping to learn who provided Rosita with the bullet that nearly iced Negan. Ultimately, Eugene Porter (Josh McDermitt) confesses it was he who crafted the bullet, and Negan decides to take him away, as sort of a furtherance of Negan’s one-sided gun control policy.
As another interesting development in The Walking Dead, Spencer Monroe (Austin Nichols), frustrated with Rick’s leadership, attempts to cozy up to Negan and suggests that he should be the leader of Alexandria instead. Unfortunately for Spencer, Negan sees through Spencer’s intentions and considers it a cowardly betrayal, and kills Spencer through disembowelment in front of Alexandria, further demonstrating his ruthless nature. No doubt, such brutality inspires not only Eugene’s surrender as the bullet-maker but also the apparent loyalty he’ll apply to Negan further down the line. Negan also takes notice of Eugene as a valuable asset due to his intelligence and skill in doing things like manufacturing ammunition.
These scenes further solidify Negan as a hostile force, and also a sadist who rules by fear while ironically playing it all as if he’s just being cool. It’s also a scene that shows that Negan is a “wildcard” character, who may have genuinely killed Spencer mostly as a perverse matter of principle. Overall, Negan might be able to control people through fear, but we already see how his approach can easily generate new enemies. While not a new theme to The Walking Dead, it’s one that Negan inflicts with a wry smile.
Carol and Morgan’s encounter
In addition to all that action, “Hearts Still Beating” also has Carol (Melissa McBride) and Morgan (Lennie James) encounter Richard (Karl Makinen) from the Kingdom, who proposes a plan to provoke the Saviors into a confrontation in order to unite the communities against them. Not only are plenty of Walking Dead fans happy to see Carol and Morgan share dialogue, but it sets up the stage for further conflict between Rick’s group and the Saviors. It also helps establish that, at this point, Rick’s group is gaining moral high ground, both among itself and among others. This, of course, may include viewers who question Rick’s mass slaughter of Saviors at the outpost in what was, at the time, one of the darkest moments of The Walking Dead.
Though we might fault Rick for that decision, it should also be remembered that some Saviors were going to kill Sasha and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) just for “funsies.” Obviously, this is yet another episode that lacks many lighthearted moments, though the scene of Daryl reuniting with Rick is potentially heartwarming. So, if one is to boil the episode down into one easily digestible sentence, what might that be? It highlights the oppressive control of Negan and the inner turmoil within Alexandria as various characters grapple with the consequences of their actions.