The Walking Dead Finally Gets Back in the Game with a Bloody Mid-Season Finale
After a distinct downward trend this season, The Walking Dead may have found a foothold again. For all of its flaws, "Hearts Still Beating" provided the slightest glimmer of hope for a somewhat more cohesive plot in the second half of the season. Most importantly, it finally looks like the show's annoying habit of splitting up its main characters for interminably drawn-out feature-length episodes might finally be at an end.
The formation of the anti-Negan rebel force was the cause of the happy reunion, but was still an irritating reminder that too much Negan is still a bad thing. The instigating event was supposedly that our now-clean-shaven villain finally crossed a line, and now even Rick is ready to go to war. The problem is: "crossing the line" actually translates to killing the two most disposable characters on the show. Even if Olivia's death was marginally sad, Spencer's death was almost a relief. And Rosita missing her shot from ten feet away was ridiculous — especially considering that it just happened to hit Lucille. Is Negan a Jedi now? Can he deflect oncoming bullets with his fancy weapon? Either way, the team is back together now, even if the episode itself didn't serve as the strongest build-up to that point.
The reunion gave us a welcome light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel moment near the end of the episode, and it wouldn't have been complete without Daryl. That being said, his escape from the Sanctuary was a little odd and lackluster. It started with Daryl nabbing a jar of peanut butter and tip-toeing past the guards, and it ended with him uncharacteristically beating a man to death in cold blood. The whole set-up felt rushed, but the unprovoked violent outburst was the weird, disappointing cherry-on-top. Sure, Daryl has had a pretty rough time of it lately, but part of his strength as a character was always making the right call. On the one hand, this could mean that Daryl gets to play with some morally grey areas in the next half of the season, but on the other hand, sheer brutality isn't really his M.O.
Daryl isn't the only character who underwent a significant change this season, and it should be interesting to see how the team settles into the new order. For starters, Carol and Morgan have (temporarily) opted out of the fight each for their own personal reasons (though probably less due to a genuine change in character than an excuse for the show to keep the Kingdom out of the picture a while longer). Now that everyone else is preparing for the war against the Saviors, we're sure to see more of the Kingdom soon enough. And while Rick isn't the fearless leader he once was, Maggie is as good as the new "president" of the Hilltop. Negan may be a prosperous demagogue with a monopoly on the post-apocalyptic world, but it looks like Maggie is the people's choice candidate. Gregory's reign is quickly falling apart, while Maggie has proven her talent for leadership time and time again. As a result, it looks like Maggie could be poised to lead the charge against Negan. Hopefully, the plot will focus a bit on the progression of these character arcs, rather than glossing over them and deciding that Rick is still the leader and we should just return to the status quo.
For now, the team is gearing up to take on Negan, but it's also possible that the second half of the season will bring more challenges than the Saviors. Recent rumors had fans of the comics speculating that the Whisperers would arrive sooner than expected. The glimpse of that shadowy stalker in boots this week has many of us wondering if the team will come face-to-grotesque-face with the Whisperers early in the second half of season two. Between this potential new threat and the impending war, the crew will certainly have their hands full when the show returns in February.