The Walking Dead: Hope on The Hilltop

By  · Published on December 12th, 2016

The mid-season finale finally gets the pieces in place for a rebellion.

Anton Chekhov famously proposed a principal that everything in a story must have significance or else it must be removed. According to this theory, if a gun is hanging on the wall in the first chapter of a story, it must go off in one of the subsequent chapters. But what Chekhov didn’t say is whether or not that gunshot needed to be accurate.

Of course, Rosita’s bullet and Negan were destined to meet in “Hearts Still Beating,” the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead’s seventh season. With Negan playing house in Alexandria with Carl and Judith, it was only a matter of time before the two would have a showdown. But what wasn’t expected was what would happen leading up to that meeting, including Spencer’s foolish betrayal and some more of those unexpected deaths that seem to cling to Negan tighter than that leather jacket.

In last week’s episode, Rick and Aaron stumbled upon a well-protected cache of weapons. Desperate to turn in a good haul to The Saviors, the two decide to cross a walker-infested lake in a bullet hole-ridden boat in a scene that felt like it could’ve been lifted from the show’s Telltale video game series. Rick and Aaron are successful and make it back to the truck with the goods while an ominous looking boot watches them from a distance. Who does it belong to? No idea, but I bet we’ll find out in the second half of the season!

Back in Alexandria, Negan has shaved off his beard and cooked a spaghetti dinner for himself, Carl and Olivia. While we’re still severely lacking any backstory on Negan, his little character quirks – making a pot of sauce from scratch, Lucille getting her own place at the table – paired with the charisma of Jeffrey Dean Morgan certainly help ground a character steeped in so much unpredictable violence, but just barely.

Smarmy Spencer, after making a dinner date with Rosita, strolls up to Negan, introducing himself and a bottle of scotch in an attempt to ingratiate himself to the ruthless leader. Nothing about this is a good idea but Spencer’s ego won’t be stopped and over a game of pool, he tells Negan how his mother used to lead Alexandria and how he would do a better job than Rick. Negan is disgusted by this, claiming that Spencer has no guts because he has gone behind Rick’s back begging to be put in charge, instead of just killing Rick and taking over – something Negan likely wouldn’t have allowed either. With one swift slice, Negan disembowels Spencer in front of the entire community, chuckling at his now very visible guts that have spilled onto the floor.

Finally, we get out Chekhov moment as Rosita, fed up with the senseless carnage, whips out her pistol and shoots … Lucille. Negan’s reflexes spares him from Eugene’s homemade bullet and enrages him. Rosita is knocked to the ground with a knife to her throats as Negan demands to know where the bullet came from. Rosita refuses to sell Eugene out, even cutting her own face again the knife in defiance to protect her friend. But after witnessing the senseless death of Olivia, shot by Arat after Negan tells her to kill someone, Eugene confesses to his handiwork and is taken away by Negan to The Saviors compound, leaving Rick and the remaining survivors to once again sift through the ashes left in his wake.

In the meantime, the seeds of dissent and frustration are spreading well beyond Alexandria or even The Hilltop. Things are peaceful in The Kingdom but Richard, one one of Ezekiel’s right hand men, knows this is tenuous and can change depending on Negan’s mood. He approaches Carol, who begrudgingly has won over Ezekiel, hoping that she can convince the leader to strike first and attack The Saviors when they least expect it. Admittedly, it’s a foolish plan but Richard isn’t wrong about striking out first. Carol, of course, wants no part of this and even tells Morgan that if he sees anyone they know, he should tell them she is dead. It’s possible Carol will regain her old fight once she learns about the deaths of her friends (remember, she has no idea about Glenn and Abraham) but we’ll have to wait until the second half of the season to find out.

A reunion seems quite likely though. At the end of the episode, Rick, fresh off a revitalizing pep talk from Michonne, rolls into Hilltop with his trusted few, reuniting with Maggie and Sasha. Rick tells Maggie that she was right, that they have to fight back and he is (finally!) ready. And wouldn’t you know it, here comes our Daryl strolling around the corner with Jesus to join the party. After a hearty brohug, Daryl hands Rick his famous Colt Python, the one he took from Fat Joey after beating the man to death and escaping from The Saviors compound. Rick’s got his gun back and we know what that must mean.

The gang’s almost all here and from the sneak peeks at what’s to come, we can expect Rick and Ezekiel to finally meet. Will Carol join the fight? Will Negan finally fall? Will Eugene be okay? Looks like we’ll have to wait until February to find out!

Jamie Righetti is an author and freelance film critic from New York City. She loves horror movies, Keanu Reeves, BioShock and her Siberian Husky, Nugget.