The Walking Dead
“Hearts Still Beating”
December 11, 2016
(If you’re looking for it, here’s the episode where Negan and Carl become blood brothers.)
Hey! Remember the Kingdom? Me neither! But Morgan and Carol are still hanging out with those guys — well, more Morgan than Carol. Carol has retreated to cozy little pied-a-terre in a cemetery, unable to deal with human interaction. There, Morgan tries to deliver some fresh fruit without her noticing, but she catches him in the act and invites him inside for a quick chit chat.
While they’re monosyllabically catching up, that Richard guy from the Kingdom also shows up wanting to speak to them both. Seems Richard has HAD IT, OFFICIALLY with the Saviors.
Richard knows it’s just a matter of time before the Saviors destroy the Kingdom because there is no peaceful coexistence with psychopaths. He’s ready to fight, but he needs their help convincing Ezekiel, as well as their help in the fight itself. Carol and Morgan are all, “Yeah, that’s not really our thing anymore…” Richard takes this poorly and tells them it will be blood on their hands if anything happens, before stomping off.
Richard then goes to a mysterious trailer hidden in the woods where he throws a milk bottle and has a good sob. Hasn’t anyone ever told him not to cry over spilled milk?
Over at the Hilltop, Maggie bullies that Gregory guy into giving her his apple, and he does, but not before whining that just because she was heroic and saved everyone at Hilltop doesn’t mean that she’s so cool. “OK WHATEVER, DUDE,” Maggie replies.
Later, Maggie receives an apple pie from a grateful resident, and Enid tells her that some Hilltop folks want Maggie to run for president. “DON’T DO IT. IT WILL ONLY LEAD TO A MEGALOMANIACAL WIDELY-DESPISED MISOGYNIST SOMEHOW COMING IN AND CRUSHING YOUR DREAMS,” screams Hillary Clinton from somewhere deep in the woods.
Maggie then leaves to go fetch some milk and while she’s gone, Enid guesses that Sasha intends to try to sneak off and kill Negan on her own. “Dumb,” Enid warns. “That’s dumb and no kind of plan.”
As for Rick and Aaron, they are still calculating their chances of making it across a merzombie-filled lake in a boat full of bullet holes and they decide they are better than seeing Negan again empty-handed. PADDLE PADDLE PADDLE. They manage to make it to a canoe in the middle of the lake, but when Aaron tries to climb inside, he’s pulled down by a whole mess of merzombies. However, somehow, miraculously, improbably, he manages to swim to safety and pull himself up onto the houseboat.
Once in the houseboat, Rick and Aaron go through the supplies, finding among them a hand-written note with a drawing of a raised middle finger with the sentence, “Congratulations for winning, but you still lose.” For some reason, they take this note with them as they load up the supplies. WHY ARE YOU TAKING THAT? WHAT POSSIBLE USE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR THAT NOTE, GUYS? Meanwhile, they are being watched by someone in some ratty-ass boots.
Elsewhere, Michonne is still with Red-Headed Savior buddy who drives her close enough to the Sanctuary for Michonne to see just how huge it is and think twice about going in alone. Red-Headed Savior tells Michonne that an attack is pointless because, “We are all Negan.” Helpfully, she tells Michonne that there is a silencer in the glove compartment before instructing Michonne to get rid of the car. Michonne is all, “Cool idea,” and does just that.
While all of this is going on, Daryl is pretty busy himself: fleeing his cell, changing out of that dumb sweatshirt, eating some peanut butter, bashing Fat Joey’s skull in with a pipe and finally making his escape from the Sanctuary with a little help from Jesus. Literally.
Back in Alexandria, Negan shaves off his beard now that his contract with The Good Wife is finally over, and cooks up some pasta before sitting down to dinner with his little makeshift family: Carl, Pantry Lady, Baby and Lucille.
Outside, That Spencer Asshole is busily delivering his goods to the Saviors and being hit on by a Lady Savior.
That Assbird Spencer then goes to his house, gets cleaned up and practices saying “hello” in the mirror a few times.
Elsewhere in Alexandria, Father Gabe tries to convince Rosita to not shoot at Negan with her magic bullet, arguing that they should gather their forces and wait until the right moment. But Rosita is like, “Yeah let me think about it for a minute nope.”
That Shitmonkey Spencer heads over to make nice with Negan, passing by Rosita’s house first where he asks why she hooked up with him, and she’s like, “You were cute and I was horny, the end.” But she agrees to have dinner with him later because her options are fairly limited.
That Dicknoodle Spencer then introduces himself to Negan who is all, “Well, as I live and breathe.” The two share a drink on the front porch, and Negan wishes out loud for a pool table. “I can make that happen!” That Cockwaddle Spencer declares. “I know just where you can get one!”
Meanwhile, Rick and Aaron return to Alexandria to find it full of Saviors. Before they are allowed inside, the Saviors inspect the goods and one finds the dumb, “Congratulations for winning, but you still lose” note. The Saviors assume that Aaron and Rick wrote it for them and begin to beat the ever-living shit out of poor Aaron as a result. And in conclusion, I TOLD YOU DUMMIES NOT TO BRING THAT WITH YOU WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOUR BRAINS.
So, Negan and That Spencer Twitface play a game of pool out on the middle of the street because why not, it’s the zombie apocalypse, you don’t have to play pool in your garage anymore. Over the game That Spencer Dipfitz suggests to Negan that he put him in charge: his mother was a congresswoman so it just makes sense that he is a natural leader, kinda like Rand Paul or Jeb Bush.
Negan, however, points out that as much as Rick hates him, he’s still out there somewhere gathering stuff for Negan, “swallowing his hate and getting shit done,” which takes guts in Negan’s estimation. Negan then wonders why, if This Spencer Shitburger hates Rick so much, he doesn’t just kill him himself instead of trying to convince Negan to do it, before asking Spencer if it’s because he has “no guts.” Negan then answers his own question by slicing Spencer’s belly open, spilling his intestines. “How embarrassing!” Negan declares, “They were inside you the whole time!” GREAT JOKE VERY FUNNY.
This is when Rosita decides to take her shot.
Except! She totally does, hitting Lucille instead of Negan. GEE WHO COULD HAVE PREDICTED THIS OUTCOME.
Negan retrieves the bullet, somehow (?) realizes that it’s homemade and demands to know who made it. Rosita tries to claim that she did, but Negan calls bullshit on that and orders one of his Saviors to kill someone at random. Without skipping a beat, Savior shoots and kills Pantry Lady.
R.I.P. Pantry Lady. You were a secret badass.
This is when Rick and Aaron finally arrive to find Spencer and Pantry Lady very dead. Rick asks Negan to leave, and Negan’s like, “Oh I will, as soon as I find my bullet maker, AND BY THE WAY, YOUR KID KILLED A BUNCH OF MY GUYS, SO YOU SHOULD BE THANKING ME FOR NOT KILLING EVERYONE HERE.” Tara tries to claim she made it, but Dr. Mullet steps forward and confesses to being the creator. With that, Negan and the Saviors take their new pet and leave.
Rick then has to kill That Half-dead Spencer Brat WHICH RICK JUST REALLY DIDN’T NEED TODAY.
Later, Rick and Michonne reunite, and Michonne tells him that there are even more Saviors than they thought, but! they are still standing and they should still fight back, for everyone. For Carl and Baby and Alexandria and Hilltop. They can find a way to do that. Rick, who has apparently also found something that he has been looking for — his manhood — agrees.
And so Rick and Michonne and Tara and Rosita and Carl swing by Hilltop to visit Maggie, Enid, and Sasha, and to tell them that they are ready to fight. And that’s when Daryl pops out from behind a building and everyone makes out, the end.
Except not the end! Because after the credits, those same raggedy-ass boots that we saw at the houseboat show up at Alexandria. And now we’re supposed to spin our wheels for the next two months worrying over who is wearing the boots. BUT I’M NOT PLAYING, THE WALKING DEAD. I’M NOT INTO YOUR STUPID LITTLE GAMES. I DO NOT CARE WHO IS WEARING THE BOOTS. I. DON’T. CARE.
Alright, so it’s clearly taken me a long time to post these last two recaps, and a large part of that has to do with the fact that Christmas is a few days away, and I’ve been spending all of my time on Amazon desperately searching for something to give my elderly aunts, my sister-in-law and my impossible teenaged sons. But I’ve also been avoiding these recaps because this half-season has been just such a damned bummer and I didn’t want to have to spend another moment thinking about it.
The largest problem with this season has been the stand-alone episodes geared towards world building. By focusing on one community at a time through the eyes of one or two characters that we actually care about, the action dragged to a stupefying crawl. The episodes were slow, boring and, without any real character interaction, more emotionally void than usual.
These problems were not helped by the self-indulgent decision to supersize some of the episodes to 90 minutes. Not a single one of these episodes needed to be dragged out for 90 minutes. NOT. ONE. All of these stories could have been told in 60 minutes or less, and, with some actual editing and storytelling focus, could have been pieced together in a much more compelling way. This final episode, for instance, was much more interesting because it told several characters’ stories simultaneously, instead of just locking its focus in one place. Carol and Morgan’s story in the Kingdom could have been cut with Tara’s story and Maggie and Sasha’s story over the course of three or four episodes, for instance, thereby not lingering in one boring place for too long. And it would have given us at least the illusion of more time with interesting characters like Ezekiel, instead of presenting him in one early episode and then forgetting about him for the rest of the half-season.
But the real drain on this season, I’m sorry to say, has been the very thing that everyone was so looking forward to: Negan.
Look, Jeffrey Dean Morgan is perfect in this role. He’s handsome and menacing and sexy and horrifying: but he’s not what Negan was supposed to be — at least what I was told Negan was supposed to be — a charming monster.
Negan was introduced in the comic series some two years after the TV series began and almost instantly, the comic fans were in love. I feel like I, a non-comic reader, have been hearing about this Negan guy for forever, and what I heard was that he was a charismatic villain, a bad guy you find yourself rooting for. I’ve heard time and time again that Negan had his own moral code: he doesn’t kill women or children, he only murders when he has to, he doesn’t rape, he feels like he is genuinely saving people and helping them survive by establishing order through brute force. The underlying idea always being that if you could disentangle yourself from seeing things strictly through the eyes of Rick the Protagonist, you might be able to understand and even sympathize with Negan’s world view.
And as the story was headed last season, there was great potential to create this very interesting, very complicated moral question regarding who the real villain was: Rick or Negan. Team Rick did slaughter a bunch of innocentish Saviors without much of a thought, and because Rick is the protagonist, the audience had to contend with the fact that we were siding with a mass murderer. But taken from a broader, non-Rick-biased perspective, Team Rick kinda had it coming. If anything, Negan was generous to let any of them live.
But all of that ethical nuance was thrown out the window by the lack of subtlety that is Negan as a character, at least as realized on the show. There’s nothing actually charming about Negan: every “joke” is a threat, every smile a leer. He is, unlike his assertions to the contrary, a rapist. His “wives” have no real choice in the matter, and his interaction with Pantry Lady in the previous episode reveals that he uses sex as power, as control. Furthermore, the revelation that he killed every male child over 10 years old in Oceanside does not suggest a judicious or fair-in-his-own-kinda-brutal-way ruler. It suggests that he is a monster, plain and simple. There has only been one instance when Negan revealed any mode of complexity: when he had a moment of regret for making Carl cry. But this moment felt forced and untrue, a half-assed measure to shade a one-dimensional character.
And here’s how you know Negan has not become a nuanced villain with great story potential: without hesitation, we are rooting for Team Rick and the other communities to take Negan down. He’s a brute and a bully and a predator with no redeeming qualities, and he needs to be removed from power and there’s absolutely no ambiguity to the situation. What could have been an interesting reflection on leadership and man’s justification of evil will be, as it was always going to be, boiled down to a basic bad guy vs. good guy fight, a comic book examination of the human condition.
With a little bit better writing, what could have been…
Alright, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, my zombie friends. We’ll see you next year.
The Walking Dead returns to AMC on in February.