The Walking Dead: Hearts Still Beating

2/12/2017

Andrew Lincoln and Norman Reedus | Image copyright AMC

"I was there. I saw what happened on the road. What we're doing is gonna keep people living. We get to do that. It doesn't matter what happens to us."
—Aaron
"Michonne doesn't think this is living."
—Rick
"Well, committing to a choice like this, after living how we did -- free -- I get it. It's hard. It's giving up everything, right up until your own life. But either your heart's beating or it isn't. Your loved ones' hearts are beating or they aren't. We take what they give us so that we can live."
—Aaron

"We're still alive, Rick. So much has happened, so much that we shouldn't have lived through. And in spite of it, or maybe because of it, we did. We're still here, the two of us. We're still standing and we're gonna keep standing."
—Michonne to Rick

You were right...right from the start. You told us to get ready to fight. I didn't listen, and I couldn't. I can now.
—Rick to Maggie

I love quotes. They succinctly sum up a beautiful scene or episode, sometimes an entire season or series. They remind you of what it felt like to hear those words, or give someone who has never seen it a taste of what they're missing. So, I always try to start with a quote. I even have those quote banners above that I wish I could get to making more often. Reload the page to find the one I used for this episode.

These three quotes were some of my favorites of all of The Walking Dead. Aaron and Michonne's words are the most inspiring, most important things anyone has ever said to Rick and at a time when he needed to hear them the most. The final words, from Rick to Maggie, were an acknowledgement of her need for retribution. They were both devastated, but while Maggie wanted to hit back immediately, Rick turned to inaction from the terror of what more punishment would come if he made another wrong move. Now, having seen that there is no way to avoid the humiliation and degradation and sadistic nature of the Saviors, Rick's heartbreak, which will never heal right, has been overpowered by the realization that playing along may save a few for a while, but that Negan could decide at any time to finish what he started. It's not a question of if, but when. Rick is ready to be a leader again so that everyone can live and live free.

The Walking Dead has an abundance of superb episodes, but Hearts Still Beating was also uplifting, and I have to say it's now my favorite overall for the message, the courage, and the way it ended.

It was an incredible episode. So, I tweeted and then I started commenting on those tweets, and before I knew it I had a huge draft I didn't know what to do with. If I write about an episode of any series extensively, you can bet it was an amazing one. Just super duper, fantastic, pick my jaw up off the floor incredible. This is one of those times where writing is not just something I want to do because I liked it a lot, but it's a physical need because I love it as much as it's possible for anyone to love an hour of television. It was that good. There were so many emotions running so high with this one, and it delivered in every way. The Walking Dead has an abundance of superb episodes, but "Hearts Still Beating" was also uplifting, and I have to say it's now my favorite overall for the message, the courage, and the way it ended.

After the multiple posts I wrote in anticipation, and dread, of "The Day Will Come When You Won't Be," I had hoped to continue writing through the season. That's actually been my unachievable goal since the beginning, when "Days Gone Bye" encompassed the epic, the intimate, and the highly emotional. It was a complete world that felt unlike anything, that told its audience in 67 minutes that it would not only be an apocalyptic tale full of horror but would also embrace humanity and hope and not shy from emotion, that it would not be about how the world dies but about how the last of us come together to survive overwhelming odds and not give up when all seems lost.

The Walking Dead has been brilliant and relentless since that first episode. Unfortunately, that also makes it intimidating to write about. There's so much to it that I could just keep going, sacrificing work and food and sleep and family time until I was a lonely dried up husk still tapping at these keys. I don't often get that chance, but something happened this season, like every season, that I'll never be able to or want to forget, and the superb and ultimately uplifting mid-season finale inspired a whirlwind of tweets and emotions. It got a teensy-weensy bit out of hand.

For a week before the finale, that title really scared me. I'm sure it was meant to be ambiguous like that to torture us.


...it was about living to fight for your loved ones. In that moment of finding out what the episode title meant, I fell in love with the series all over again.

I couldn't have been more right in that tweet. This finale will stand among my favorites for however long this series has left. It was the most hopeful it's been since the triumph at Alexandria, when all was lost and there was "No Way Out." At first I thought "Hearts Still Beating" would be anything but hopeful. I thought it had to be a reference to whoever was left standing in the end. I was partially right, but more importantly, it was about living to fight for your loved ones. In that moment of finding out what the episode title meant, I fell in love with the series all over again.

I love this episode for its title. I love it for the hope it brought to everyone. I love it for its speeches about still being alive and giving that life for others, the same as I loved "Them" for Rick's speech about being the walking dead, about doing what needed to be done to get through. I love it for Michonne telling Rick that they made it through so much that they shouldn't have, that they were still here. I love it for the fire it reignited in Rick, who had in the premiere been turned to a trembling mess, forced to his knees, forced to watch his friends viciously beaten to death, their blood splattering across his face. And I love it for the tender, moving hugs and the tears that Norman Reedus said were real, which I never doubted.

"You know, this whole season has - every time Andy and I are in a scene, even from afar, one of us starts tearing up like babies, and it's usually me first. And then he gets upset and he's like, 'Look what you made me do.' But that hug, everybody was crying. Like, the whole group was just choked up. It felt like we were back together, which is where the show's at right now, which is - I'm really excited about."
—Norman Reedus, Talking Dead on "Hearts Still Beating"

I love this episode for reuniting most of this shattered, scattered, and deeply scarred family. I love it for giving them a renewed purpose and a determination to find a way...

I love this episode for reuniting most of this shattered, scattered, and deeply scarred family. I love it for giving them a renewed purpose and a determination to find a way, to leave us with the promise they will join with others and fight back against the monstrous living. And I love it for ending on a positive, optimistic note that didn't fray my nerves for months, which is what happened with the incredible but unbearable and unnerving "Last Day on Earth."

Love. I've said it a lot in the last couple paragraphs. I did so because it's a very important part of The Walking Dead. If you're still with the show, then I suspect you're one of the fans who understands that TWD isn't about death. Sure, there are mountains of corpses behind and oceans of them ahead, but The Walking Dead is about love and hope. There would be nothing to fight for without love; there would be no will to go on without hope.

There are times of pervasive despair, most notably in "The Day Will Come When You Won't Be," yet this undeniable hope always finds a way back into the survivors' hearts. There's turmoil, conflict, and constant change. When they find a home, it can't ever last. Death pursues them relentlessly, but hope sustained by love drives them on. Hope that sacrifice means something, that everything will be worth it in the end, that loved ones will make it, that they will find a place to call home, that they will rebuild.

All of this brings out the most brilliant performances from a brilliant cast.

So many things have happened to this group that should have destroyed them, but they persevered. Even in the bleakest times, that spark has always returned. After Negan arrived, hope seemed to be obliterated for good. But these broken people have picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and are ready to fight again. They still have a reason to fight. Survival and justice and revenge are all part of it, but the biggest and best reason is simply love. Love brings people to do things they never thought of themselves doing, to endure things they couldn't imagine enduring. All of this brings out the most brilliant performances from a brilliant cast.

That brilliant cast doesn't miss a dramatic beat, the writing doesn't waste any chance to make me feel something, and so The Walking Dead earns every ounce of my affection. It is intensely emotional, while consistently avoiding melodrama. There is so much to the characters, all of them fully fleshed-out human beings with flaws and feelings and ideas and fears of their own, every single one changing in response to their surroundings and other people. It never gets stagnant, always forging ahead but never forgetting lessons of the past, loved ones lost informing every action and emotion. When the end of the series comes, if there is a victory, it will be epic in the feeling and scope that it's employed from day one and will make it all worthwhile. However they decide to end it, they'll do it in such a way that I won't regret the time I spent on this terrifying emotional journey with them. It's obvious in every episode the care they put into crafting this world, how obviously in love with the characters and story the actors and writers are and how much they believe in the power of its telling. The series could never be in safer, more capable hands.

I have thoroughly enjoyed every season of The Walking Dead, even with all of its shocking moments, because of those moments and the feelings that it never shies from the way so many series do. I always think it can't get better, can't bring me something new, and it always does. I have to say that season 7 so far has to be my favorite overall, even while losing both Glenn and Abraham at once in the most horrifying, brutal way possible. The trauma and emotion that comes from that is more significant than ever, piled on top of everything that came before. There's been so much done to this group that I couldn't have imagined, but they still find a way to stick together or to find each other again, to come back to sanity and humanity, to come out of it stronger...to rise up.

I have one space left on my wall and no TWD artwork yet. I must have been waiting for this one all these years. Unfortunately, AMC released it as a teaser and it's not looking good that they'll ever release it as a physical product, which is so disappointing. I guess I'll just have to wait for a TeeFury, Ript Apparel, Qwertee or RedBubble artist to have their own inspiration for this call to arms. Maybe I need to clear some space, because I also need all three of the quotes that started this post.

While I was searching for the poster, I came across something I was unaware of about the fandom. There was a short blog post that mentioned that "rise up" were two perfect words to start the second half of the season. These are words that signify the return of Rick, the reunion of our group, and the strength that these people always find to fight, so I agree they couldn't have been more well-chosen. But then it went on to say that this first half of season 7 tried people's patience. I had no idea anyone felt this way; the few people I engaged with didn't have a bad word to say. If this is how many felt, it's a good thing I tend to avoid reviews or I would have been annoyed the entire season, because I enjoyed it immensely...except, you know, for the deaths. While death isn't enjoyable, it's an inevitable part of life and certainly the dangerous world of The Walking Dead, and it provides opportunities to open new storylines and showcase the copious talents of this cast.

Losing Glenn and Abraham in such an awful way isn't something that could have been changed. Gimple and Nicotero and Kirkman were absolutely right in going there. It's not like they could have veered from the path already paved in the comic. Abraham had already lived past his comic death, because Kirkman wasn't happy with the way he had gone out. And Glenn's death was too big to give to someone else. Watch Talking Dead for "The Day Will Come..." and you'll see even Steven Yeun agreed it had to be Glenn.

Losing Glenn was a moment that changed everything; and everything that came after, and all that is still to come, stems from that monumental loss.

Losing Glenn was a moment that changed everything; and everything that came after, and all that is still to come, stems from that monumental loss. It's not something they could just get over in the next episode or the episode after that. It needed to be told this way, to take its time getting to where everyone had the strength to retaliate. They will never be the same again, but they will be stronger for it, even more tightly knit. Getting through this had to take a while and, even with these eight episodes, it hasn't really been that long. Being a story about people requires things to be slowed at times in order to show the emotional toll everything takes, to explore what survival at any cost means, and to set up the dominoes for all the powerful moments.

Those who had a problem with the speed of it must be the same impatient people who were bored with season two, when the survivors made themselves at home on Hershel's farm and started the search for Sophia. It may have slowed down, but the danger was ever present. Bad things still happened and critical missions had to be completed, like saving Carl (poor kid is a bullet magnet). There is a palpable sense of dread that looms over every season and that builds incredible tension. A series cannot last on action and gory death alone; those things have no emotional resonance, no heart. We get to know the characters when they're been given the chance to breathe. The Walking Dead has a tremendous heart that resonates through every little moment between broken people.

Our intention isn't to be sadistic... Seeing these two characters rise again out of the ashes of what Negan has done to them is exciting. But you can't get there unless you burn the place down first. It's grueling and it's heartbreaking and sometimes difficult to digest, but the result of that will be a stronger Rick Grimes and a more focused and dedicated group.
—Greg Nicotero, Entertainment Weekly, January 27, 2017

This season more than any brought desolation and despair, and that needed to be explored in order to come back together, for it to mean anything. With so many individual threads needing to be followed, it takes a lot of willful ignorance of storytelling and a lack of empathy to say "finally" and mean it, to believe that the previous episodes were dull or uneventful or pointless. Their spirits were destroyed, left to submit to someone far stronger and without conscience; this is how they came back.

This is not a show that avoids the pain. That is something I've had a problem with on so many shows over the years. I recently found an interview with Andrew Lincoln from last year addressing this exact thing (and then misplaced it). So many shows cut away before the emotion gets too real or have guest actors that are laughable and disingenuous in their depiction of loss. If you've ever lost a loved one then you know you don't just snap out of it and move on.

If the only thing you're looking for is non-stop action then I imagine you don't really care about the characters or what they feel. Then there are those who feel too uncomfortable watching emotion. It should be uncomfortable. That's when you get the best performances, when the characters break down, because they break beautifully. If it was all action, then there would be far fewer opportunities for the actors to be so impressive. These are terrified, tortured people. It takes time to remember who you are and gather the courage and will to stand up. If they didn't need that time then that would mean they were unaffected by the death and terror, and that would make them sociopaths perfect for Negan's army. Those aren't the people we've been following for the past seven seasons; they have humanity.

Not childishly glossing over grief, not stripping it of meaning, giving it teeth, is what makes The Walking Dead phenomenal.

If they had gotten right back down to business like nothing had happened, it would have been disrespectful to the memories of two amazing characters and the contributions of Steven Yeun and Michael Cutlitz. If they had disregarded feelings or cut away from them too soon, Aaron's and Michonne's insights would have been less impactful, the reunion less emotional. Being humans and not machines, they needed that time and the fans with empathy needed the same to process our own sorrow over what was happening. Not childishly glossing over grief, not stripping it of meaning, giving it teeth, is what makes The Walking Dead phenomenal.

So, no, this first half of season 7 did not "try my patience." Not even close. It always bugs me when others expect and demand something different than what the writers and actors have given their all to bring us. It's rude and disrespectful and extremely shortsighted. While the start of this season served to sever ties with some fans, "The Day Will Come When You Won't Be" and every subsequent episode, especially "Hearts Still Beating," only strengthened my already tight bond with the characters and my resolve to see it through, to follow the story to its bitter or joyous end, whatever it may be.

The Walking Dead has always deserved every ounce of my attention and affection. I appreciate every moment they give me. It has always astounded me, hurt me, thrilled me, scared me and kept me thinking about every extraordinary and heartrending moment, like when Hershel was trying to save people in the prison from that killer flu, with "Oats in the Water" playing over the scene ("Internment"); like the Governor almost coming back to a semblance of the sanity he must have had as a loving father and husband, before taking Hershel's life ("Too Far Gone"); like Rick getting caught sleeping in a house while bad guys moved in and we got the most amazing wordless, terrified performance from Andrew Lincoln ("Claimed"); like Carol saving everyone from the Terminus cannibals by blowing shit up and then being welcomed back to the only family she had left ("No Sanctuary"); like the episode that was all about Tyreese's delrium as he lay dying ("What Happened and What's Going On"); like Rick's rousing speech about the walking dead to his mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted group, followed by a gorgeous, dread-filled scene of everyone, one-by-one, giving their last bit of strength to hold back a horde that amassed unnoticed during a raging storm ("Them"). Those are just the ones off the top of my head, and there are so many more.

I felt privileged to watch Andrew Lincoln display that kind of distraught vulnerability, rarely seen on TV, to rip his heart open and pour life into every dark corner of that performance.

All of that and then The Walking Dead did the impossible and surpassed itself in its emotional fearlessness and poignancy in season 6b and especially season 7a. See the aftermath of the body horror in the premiere to see what I mean; not for what was done to the good friends who died, Glenn and Abraham, but for how it affected those still alive. Andrew Lincoln, an immense talent, deserves an Emmy for the torment Rick goes through. (The whole cast deserves awards, always and forever.) There's never been a moment in anything I've ever seen as raw and beautifully-wrought as Rick's shocked and distant stare, the uncontrollable shaking, the tearful promise of retaliation, or the howling pain, the desperate pleading and breaking down that he displayed when Negan told Rick to chop off Carl's hand. I felt privileged to watch Andrew Lincoln display that kind of distraught vulnerability, rarely seen on TV, to rip his heart open and pour life into every dark corner of that performance. It was both awe-inspiring and uncomfortable to sit there watching someone hurt so convincingly like that. Turns out Lincoln didn't feel too great about it either.

"...His only answer is to acquiescence. I absolutely wish that weren’t the case, and it’s been incredibly uncomfortable playing him for the first seven episodes."
...
"Those have been the challenges as an actor – trying to convey as much as you can in very few lines. It’s been a very strange half season for me, but in terms of story, it’s vital for the show."
—Andrew Lincoln, AMC.com Interview

That's what you want to hear: that an actor is invested in playing his character, no matter how uncomfortable it may be, and understands what's vital for the story. That was a fantastic interview that you should read. Andrew Lincoln is always so articulate and has intelligent, insightful answers. You can always see how much Lincoln puts into his performance, but interviews add another layer to that; it reminds you that this is someone who truly loves what he does and that giving it his best matters. I would love to see him on an episode of Off Camera with Sam Jones. His behind-the-scenes segments on Talking Dead in particular are a treat. Watch any interview with any of the cast and you'll get the same. They are all dedicated to making the best show they can, and their hard work pays off in unforgettable ways.

That a pain like that can be made so convincing real is what sets this cast apart from so many.

Andrew Lincoln should never have to worry about being asked to convey anything with minimal dialogue. He nails it every time, the quieter scenes of few words often his most powerful. Admitting to his discomfort in Rick's new position and the emotional toll of these eight episodes makes it all the more special. That a pain like that can be made so convincingly real is what sets this cast apart from so many. The best actors have a great capacity for sympathy and empathy; they can understand their characters and that's why you can feel so strongly for them, and that's why it all works. They have personal heartaches to draw on, the imagination to put themselves in a situation, and courage to bare their own wounds on-screen, to relate to the wounds of the character. Something beautifully human informs Lincoln's performance. He always gives everything he has, but "The Day Will Come When You Won't Be" was something else. That's a subject for a different post, though. If I never get to write that one then at least I mentioned Lincoln's acting master class...or got completely sidetracked by it. But no matter the episode, you will see something superb from him, a performance that completely draws you into the world.

This pain impressively portrayed by all of these extraordinary actors has kept me coming back for more through six and a half seasons. If "The Day Will Come When You Won't Be" couldn't stop me, like I knew it wouldn't, then nothing The Walking Dead does ever will. The harshness of this season brought out the very best of this crazy talented and very much dedicated group of actors, and that's saying a lot. I wouldn't miss their performances for anything, not matter how hard it is to watch. I've been here since the beginning and have been through it all. I'll be here, loyal and eager, until the end. It may seem like a strange thing, to be so in love with a show that causes so much sadness, but really it's not. Without that pain, there would be nothing to strive for, no triumph that has any impact. Action untethered from feelings and consequences is mindless, soulless and pointless. Instead, The Walking Dead deftly weaves those things together into a worthwhile and rousing human experience.

Image copyright AMC: Andrew Lincoln and Ross Marquand

Aaron has become that kind of key character who should be a fully-fledged, opening credits cast member. Marquand plays him beautifully and I would love to see him rewarded with more scenes.

That experience in "Hearts Still Beating" owes a great deal to Ross Marquand's Aaron. Much of the beauty of this episode came from him. Having only joined the series in the middle of the fifth season, he feels like he's always been there and always should be there. Aaron has become that kind of key character who should be a fully-fledged, opening credits cast member. Marquand plays him beautifully and I would love to see him rewarded with more scenes.

On a side note, as I was finishing this up yesterday, I learned that Ross got an action figure! Maybe his time as a main character is coming. Please just let him make it through the season.

Aaron was the one I was most afraid for in this episode and now I can't imagine the show without him. When a series suddenly focuses on one person, giving them an inspirational speech and meaningful actions, I get this feeling of dread, knowing they won't be long for this world. The whole time, I was terrified for Aaron. Afterwards, I had so much appreciation to share, which you'll see further down this post in my tweeting frenzy. I thought better to gush over him now than wait until he's gone. But those tweets were somewhat embarrassing, so I'm glad he usually just posts to Instagram and then skedaddles.

Aaron is the uncommon secondary character who has the heart and soul and fortitude of a regular, evident in the memorable things he's done and friendships he's forged.

Aaron is one of my favorites due to his kindness, bravery and strength. I loved him from the beginning, since he risked his life to get back to Eric. He's the kind of guy that people come to trust completely, one who won't hesitate to help. Aaron is warm and open and he makes you want to protect him, but he's no pushover, and Marquand seems to have those same qualities. Aaron is the uncommon secondary character who has the heart and soul and fortitude of a regular, evident in the memorable things he's done and friendships he's forged.

While Aaron isn't part of the core group of The Walking Dead, as he hasn't been around for that long, he was important in a number of ways. He ventured outside the safety of Alexandria to bring in more survivors. He found Rick's group on the road half dead and barely holding on. He saw the man Daryl was and reached out to him when the rest of Alexandria wouldn't. He refused to leave Daryl to die alone when they got caught in a Wolf trap. He wouldn't let Maggie go alone to find Glenn and comforted her when they realized there was no way around the herd. Those were great character-building moments that showed Aaron's bravery and loyalty and goodness.

He was also on the road to the Hilltop to get Maggie help when her pregnancy went wrong. He was there when the group was tormented by the Saviors. He could have been one of Negan's victims. He knows better than any Alexandrian what they all went through, how dangerous Negan is. For all of that and more, Aaron is part of the group, not apart from it. He's the glue between the survivors and Alexandria and a very good man whose character that I enjoy tremendously. And then in a heartbeat, I thought he was gone.

Image copyright AMC: Ross Marquand

I was so surprised when Aaron didn't die. I knew he was a goner when he insisted on going with Rick on the bullet-riddled boat. I was certain I would be seeing blood churn in the water after he was pulled under. When he freed himself from the slippery lake walker's grasp, it was inevitable that there would be another to finish the job. But there wasn't. Aaron found his way to the boat and he and Rick both crawled onto the deck, exhausted but still alive, and I couldn't have been happier.

Image copyright AMC: Andrew Lincoln

When they got back to land, Aaron shared his thoughts about Rick's leadership, becoming invaluable to the episode and the new direction of the series. "Hearts Still Beating" was the epitome of who Aaron is and he was vital to hope beating back the darkness.


Image copyright AMC: Ross Marquand and Andrew Lincoln

Aaron demonstrated solidarity in a beautiful notion about selflessly protecting those you love. With some of the truest words ever said in the series, Aaron was partially responsible for a resurgence of courage in Rick. Because of that, he played such a role in my tweets that TWD started looking like it had become The Ross Marquand Show. And then he almost died again.

Image copyright AMC: Ross Marquand and Andrew Lincoln

Aaron's point being that as long as hearts are beating, you have to do whatever you have to do to save them, no matter what happens to you, even if that means living under the thumb of an oppressor. Aaron knew that's where Rick was coming from, and it felt right to him; it's all they could do to buy time to find a way out. But Aaron's point was still made when he survived the savage beating by hotheaded Saviors and Rick started to realize that no one would ever be safe living this way. Kneeling was no longer an option.

Doing whatever they have to do to protect people and survive, that's what they've always done best. Rick once savagely ripped a man's throat out with his teeth to save Carl. It was an amazingly dark moment that that homicidal rapist completely deserved and becoming an animal in that moment was the only way out. If anyone can conquer the Saviors, Rick's group has all the experience they'll ever need. They've beaten back the worst of humanity and have ultimately come back to themselves, if wiser, tougher and far more wary. Even when the worst happens, they grieve, adapt and forge ahead.

And I don't doubt Aaron will continue to be a part of that, especially since he looks recovered from his wounds in a group shot from an upcoming episode. He has shown that he's not just one to talk, but that he's willing to do whatever it takes, to be part of the solution even if it costs him dearly. Because of that, I know Aaron will go with the group on this suicide mission, and I am already trying to prepare for the likelihood that he will meet his end by season's end. I can't handle another death like that of someone so vital and so soon. But I will.

In this scene, there was something I missed the first time through, after the Savior slammed Aaron into the side of the truck. It's a seemingly small thing, but it speaks volumes to his strength and made me appreciate him even more. If you look at the close up pic, it seems as though Aaron's eyes are pleading with Rick for help. If you look at the full picture, you can see that he's holding out his hand for Rick to stay back. Aaron is pleading with Rick to not choose this moment to fight, no matter what happens to him, a reminder about what he said earlier. Even while being attacked, Aaron is thinking of someone else and reminding Rick that taking their licks is what will keep others alive.

Image copyright AMC: Ross Marquand

I see now why I missed Aaron's silent plea before. What they showed on Talking Dead and in the still on The Walking Dead Wikia page for Aaron was shot from a different angle than what made it through editing. Here's what was in the show for just a moment as a Savior crossed between Rick and Aaron. The meaning comes through in both still images, but I think I would have noticed the guesture if they had used the first angle.

Image copyright AMC: Ross Marquand

I hope Aaron continues to be the beating heart of Alexandria and that Marquand's role is further expanded.

Aaron is such a good guy who has demonstrated strength and courage, and adds more feeling to a show already overflowing with it. I hope Aaron continues to be the beating heart of the Alexandrians and that Marquand's role is further expanded. If he doesn't survive the war against the Saviors, it will be another terrible loss. But I can hardly believe that he wasn't bitten by the lake walkers or beaten to death or shot in Eric's arms, so maybe I should just thank my lucky stars.

It would be wonderful, and I would be eternally grateful, if Aaron survived this season. He's both gentle and tough, and would make a great leader. Ross Marquand is also a fine actor, with obvious heart, a warm voice, and a phenomenal impersonation talent that I would love to see just once on the show. I don't want to lose all of that and I if I'm teased three times an episode then my number may be up before Aaron's. Please, please, let him make it to the end. You've taken so many others from me, TWD, just let me have this one...and Rick, Michonne, Carol, Maggie...Daryl.

Image copyright AMC: Norman Reedus

"It ain't just about gettin' by here. It's about gettin' it all."
—Daryl

Through all of this, I somehow didn't mention Daryl's escape. The first time I said anything about him was during the reunion. It's odd, because I remember writing a tweet about him killing Fat Joey. That was such a sad moment for him. He could have gotten away with knocking the guy out. I don't know if Joey was a terrible person, but we know that there are people with the Saviors who are not happy with their situation and are terrified of Negan. This brutal moment, of Daryl giving back to a Savior what Negan did to Glenn and Abraham, showed how affected he's been by Negan's attempts to break him. He will be permanently emotionally scarred, but I hope he remembers that good people still exist and they have to help when they can.

For now, though, he'll be more wary and distrustful. He was treated like an animal, exhausted and beaten. He certainly has PTSD and will be less emotionally stable, more likely to unleash his anger. But this is Daryl. He could never become like Negan, if anyone is worried about that. No matter how far he could go into that darkness, he has people who love him who will bring him back.

If Maggie is strong enough to go on without Glenn, she's strong enough to forgive Daryl.

One of those people is Maggie. I hope she forgives Daryl. That's exactly what Norman Reedus said on the Talking Dead episode for "Hearts Still Beating." It's also what this whole article at ComicBook.com is about. I would think Maggie has already forgiven him. They've all been through so much, and she has to know that Daryl would be blaming himself. She knows that Negan is unpredictable and delights in the kill, has to know that Daryl was only trying to protect Rosita. If Maggie is strong enough to go on without Glenn, she's strong enough forgive Daryl. Does she blame Rick for attracting the attention of Negan? It doesn't seem like it. She's elated to see him. It was a decision the group made together to attack the Saviors. Maggie knows Negan is the problem, not the people who love her and have fought beside her for years. It would be hard to blame anyone else. I can't see it any other way.

Image copyright AMC: Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Austin Nichols

During all of the Aaron, Rick and Daryl drama, Alexandria was playing host to Negan again. He had come back for their payment earlier than expected, while Rick and Aaron were still out looking for supplies for the Saviors. (As if anyone could rely on the word of Negan.) Poor, scheming, inept Spencer took this opportunity to go behind Rick's back and try to get him ousted as leader of the community. What Spencer didn't know is that Negan has a strange respect for Rick and doesn't like people that "have no guts" to stand up to their rivals.

It's sad to see Spencer go, but his dangerous hatred of Rick - while understandable since he lost his whole family - had to be stopped. I wish he had stopped before he got himself gutted. Even if he was sheltered and inept and not a good judge of character, Austin Nichols made me like Spencer, made me think he might step up in the right way and be effective. He just wanted to keep people safe and he seemed to sincerely think he could do better, could be a leader like his mother. Hard lesson learned: don't try to be buddies with a sociopath who's taken a creepy liking to the man you're trying to stab in the back. It's interesting that Spencer thought Rick's "ego was out of control." He was too blinded by the loss of his family to see who Rick really is.

"He's a man with a good heart. He feels the things he does, the things he has to do."
—Maggie, "Conquer"

Rick was not driven by ego. He was driven by a weariness of everything they had been through and a cocky confidence from the skills they had honed. No one had a clue that the Saviors had such large numbers on their side. After being ambushed and hunted and hounded, in a constant struggle to Just Survive Somehow, Rick knew they had to strike first so that they wouldn't be the victims again. But under pressure they acted too hastily, not knowing what kind of numbers the Saviors actually had on their side, and paid the price. It was a terrible mistake.

Rick is not driven by ego; he cares a great deal and feels responsible for everyone.

But it was just that: a mistake. Like anyone, Rick isn't perfect and loses control, sometimes even loses his mind, but he's a genuine person who tries to do right, which is getting harder and harder to do in this world. He's managed to keep people together for a long time, to rally them to fight through unimaginable situations. No, Rick is not driven by ego; he cares a great deal and feels responsible for everyone.

Rick and his group are the ones with experience and who taught the Alexandrians how to survive. Spencer is ungrateful for this, because he thinks everything was peachy before they arrived. Maybe if Aaron hadn't found them then Alexandria would have been just fine for a while longer, never venturing outside its walls too far. But the herd was going to break through the quarry blockade eventually. The Wolves would have come eventually. The Saviors likely would have found their way to Alexandria, too, all on their own, as the supplies from the other communities they conquered dwindled. Rick's instinct to lead and protect is the only thing the Alexandrians had to rely on after Deanna died. If only Spencer had remembered those words from Maggie maybe he wouldn't have come to this.

Image copyright AMC: Austin Nichols

And Rosita wouldn't have come to this...not just yet.

Image copyright AMC: Christian Serratos

This is where Rosita took her opportunity for revenge. She was reacting in the moment to the latest tragedy, so of course it went badly. She'd been getting to know Spencer, and Negan gutted him in front of the town, laughing as he did it. And the last of Deanna's family died in unimaginable pain on the concrete. The miss wasn't that improbable, as my brother, who abruptly fell out of love with the show at the end of last season, said. Negan is always swinging that bat around and Rosita was shocked into making a hasty move. Someone she knew died in front of her completely unexpectedly and that could have easily blinded her to where Lucille was headed in that split second.

Rosita's failure was probably the best thing for Alexandria. Negan finds the pushback amusing and has an affinity for letting the strong ones survive so that he can break them and use them, the way he's trying to do with Daryl. Negan's followers, on the other hand, are only barely restrained out of loyalty to him, but they seem to be quite vicious themselves. If Negan died, they wouldn't just thank the Alexandrians for freeing them from the monster. That would be an unrealistic and unsatisfying resolution. More likely, I imagine their rage would be unleashed, they would cut their losses and open fire and finally put down this defiant little town that's caused them so much grief.

Can you imagine that? Losing Glenn and Abraham in a single episode was impossibly hard enough. It would be the end of the series if they killed off half of the remaining people we've been following for so long. So, yes, of course Negan had to survive in a "convenient way." Anything could have happened with all the tension and emotions and just one chance. But Negan will get what's coming to him. After all our group and the Alexandrians have endured, The Walking Deadhas to be building toward something massive, a triumph bigger than they've ever had, a catharsis for everyone.

They will fight for each other. They will die for each other. They will give up all that's left to ensure loved ones live free. That's what's coming for Negan.

Negan doesn't know this group and couldn't possibly understand sacrifice, the lengths that people will go for each other. Of course, being an intelligent man, he has to know it as a concept, but being a sociopath, he wouldn't do something like that for anyone, and no one would do that for him. He can't really understand that, so he will underestimate his power over this group. He has no conscience, no care for another person, only his damn bat and being in charge. No matter where he goes, he thinks he's the king. That's worked for him so far. That will be his downfall. Our survivors have been through it all. They have have lost everything again and again, but they're still here. They will fight for each other. They will die for each other. They will give up all that's left to ensure loved ones live free. That's what's coming for Negan.

Even those of us who haven't read TWD yet (or those who just started devouring the first compendium, like me) have probably heard about the all-out war with the Saviors. I've heard, but I'm trying to avoid spoilers. It would have been an inevitable thing even if they hadn't been following source material. You can't just end things with a single home-made bullet. That wouldn't be justice enough for Glenn, Abraham, Denise, Olivia, Spencer, and for everyone living under the oppressive rule of the Saviors. From what I've heard, and have assumed, expected and hoped, it's going to be epic.

Image copyright AMC: Ann Mahoney and Alanna Masterson

Unfortunately, Rosita's attempt at murdering Negan wasn't as amusing to Negan as regular old defiance, but he left her alive to deal with the consequences. He controls would-be troublemakers by punishing others. Just like when he killed Glenn because Daryl punched him, Negan had to show who was in charge and directed his right-hand ice queen to shoot someone. Unfortunately, Olivia was the innocent victim. We didn't get to know her well, but we knew that Rick trusted her with Judith, that she had been threatened by Negan before and still had the courage to slap the crap out of him when he was being an asshole to her in "Sing Me a Song." That was such a great scene. Jeffrey Dean Morgan told Ann Mahoney to really go for it and she did. Hearing her tell it on Talking Dead was a delight.

I had forgotten that Olivia also fought for Alexandria when the horde invaded. She didn't stay inside and hide. Found that little fact when looking her up in The Walking Dead Wikia. "No Way Out" is one of my favorite episodes, another one of the best the series has ever done, so I really need to go back and watch it again. Olivia was a sweet character, like Denise, so it's hard to see her go so perfunctorily like that, but at least she didn't suffer.

Image copyright AMC: Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Josh McDermitt

Rosita not only indirectly caused Olivia's death, but also got Eugene in trouble. She had to get rid of Negan, thinking she was alone in the fight because she was the only one with nothing left to lose, and she bullied Eugene into helping her. Because she couldn't wait for the right moment, Negan found out that Eugene made the bullet and "enlisted" him to make more. I thought this might happen when he agreed to help. It's sad to know I was right, because I love Eugene.

The only good thing to come from Aaron's beating, from Spencer and Olivia's deaths, and from the Saviors taking Eugene is this was the turning point. Rick had been through so much, was depended upon by so many to keep them safe, to give them direction, to lead them through the worst times as he always has. The threat, the inhumanity, and the depth of the losses had cut right through him and stomped his spirit into dust, the memory of the sickening glee that Negan took in obliterating Glenn and Abraham burned into him like a brand. With every injustice, Rick's ever-present resilience was quickly quashed as he was helpless to do anything, the Saviors having taken any means to defend themselves and vastly outnumbering them,

While attempting to stop out the embers of rebellion, Negan reignited the fire in Rick.

But Negan pushed too far too quickly. While attempting to stomp out the embers of rebellion, Negan reignited the fire in Rick. Rick took in what Aaron had said and realized that in order to protect people, he had to find the fight again, that fight in him that always got them through. No matter the odds stacked mercilessly against them, he knew now there was no other way, that whatever they had to do, they had to do it now. Sacrificing everything to the Saviors wouldn't be enough, because they look for any excuse to maim and murder, and the only way is to push back. With two more senseless deaths and Aaron's words and near fatal mistake fresh in his mind, Rick's anger from all the injustice overwhelmed the fear and he stood up to Negan, with that defiant look in his eye that Negan had worked so hard to supress.

Image copyright AMC: Andrew Lincoln and Jeffrey Dean Morgan

"Your shit's waiting for you at the gate. Just go."
—Rick to Negan

Rick's desire to protect people kept him going until he could pick up the shattered remains of his courageous heart.

There is an incredible strength in Rick that he never really lost. He may have been broken. He may have been hurt by an unimaginable cruelty. But Rick's desire to protect people kept him going until he could pick up the shattered remains of his courageous heart. He had lost so much and had even more to lose, so he sucked it up, took the degradation and indignity, even holding Lucille for Negan in "Service"! Lucille, who was still covered in Glenn and Abraham's blood. Following Negan around like a dog, using every ounce of restraint not to take the barbed wire bat to his head, thinking better of it because of what the Saviors would do in retaliation. And once he's had far more than enough, and still has even more to lose, he decides to fight back, because he knows everything left will be lost if he doesn't.

It's been a difficult road to get to this new state of mind. When I saw the sneak peek clip of season 7, with Rick's trembling, thousand-yard-stare, I knew the fight back wouldn't be immediate, that he was shattered by what he witnessed. Even just looking at the still image with blood on his face, his eyes red and swimming with tears, his face the look of someone who's just been emotionally tortured. That look prompted me to write a post then, too.

I knew they would all need time to come back together and gather the courage to fight these people who had done so much damage, time to find a weakness. And that's where they've come to at the mid-season break, after more deaths, assaults and threats...leaving Rick with that look on his face once again.

Image copyright AMC: Andrew Lincoln

But that look isn't just about being broken. This look is about the losses just suffered, but it's also about knowing he's just stood up to a maniac and that he's going to have to do it again, that this is the way they survive, this is the way they win, and it's terrifying.

Images copyright AMC: Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira

After the worst game of pool ever, Michonne came to Rick. No longer looking to find her own way out, she told him that they are still who they were, and they needed to come together to fight "for all of us." Rick in the dark cell alone, staring at the stranger's note that got Aaron savagely beaten, had already decided that there was no way to make peace with the Saviors. Michonne, reminding him that they were still standing after everything, crystallized Rick's newfound resolve. The strength that had begun to resurface after Aaron nearly died helping him get supplies returned in full force.

Image copyright AMC: Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira

Aaron and, finally, Michonne understood why Rick hadn't take action, hadn't inspired everyone the way he always had before, the way he had when they were against impossible odds and slaughtered the walker herd inside Alexandria in a kamikaze last-ditch effort. After every awful thing they've been through, every unthinkable thing they've had to do, every broken heart, they knew they were up against something even worse; they knew Rick couldn't contemplate retaliation when he was shaken to his core and the group was so broken apart; they knew he needed support, that they all needed to find their own way through this grief. Aaron and Michonne both talking to him about still being alive and keeping people safe was what Rick needed to hear to be reminded he wasn't going through this alone, that people were behind him, and that the only way forward was together.

Image copyright AMC: Cast of The Walking Dead


Image copyright AMC: Norman Reedus, Lauren Cohan and Andrew Lincoln


This was a reunion so poignant that what you saw from this group were real tears, genuine emotion that they couldn't hold back.

This was a reunion so poignant that what you saw from this group were real tears, genuine emotion that they couldn't hold back. It wasn't just acting, which is always effortlessly natural from this talented cast. These are people who love each other both in the series and in real life and who have been through it all together, who put everything they have into making the best show they can. When they hurt, we hurt. When they triumph, we cheer. This was a scene to cheer and tear up and think of what's to come, knowing the road will be hard. This is the scene that makes all the tears worth it.

"I can now." I already quoted this in my opening, but this speech is everything and so was that hug.

Just as a reminder...


Image copyright AMC: Andrew Lincoln

And to top it off? Rick gets his gun back. If you didn't tear up at the emotion earlier in this scene, seeing how he tightly embraced Maggie, or at Maggie's huge smile, or Rick's astonishment at seeing Daryl, or Daryl's trembling chin and hanging head, or the hug between Daryl and Rick, where Rick hid his face in Daryl's sholder, then this final thing had to get to you. This is the first step to regaining their freedom. This whole scene was a joy to watch.

Rick's rage and heartbreak are now fueling a rebirth of his will to fight tooth and nail.

Rick's rage and heartbreak are now fueling a rebirth of his will to fight tooth and nail; to rally Alexandria and the Hilltop and the Kingdom, and maybe Oceanside and others they haven't yet met; to overcome his deeply ingrained fear of making another decision that will cost lives; to finally get back to being the leader that got everyone through the apocalypse. I say "finally," but it really hasn't been too long considering the trauma they've been through. At the same time, they were dealing with a new order, where they were suddenly no longer free. The amount of time it took was right for the fractured storytelling of this divided and devastated group. And they did it all in only eight episodes without any filler; everything the writers do is in service of this world, which this season got larger and more complicated.

Image copyright AMC: The Walking Dead Cast

Still, it hasn't been long at all for the characters. The pain is still so new. I'm reminded of what Rick went through when Lori didn't survive her pregnancy and he started hearing the voices of the dead. It was another beautiful example of human fragility and the despair that a loss like that can cause. Rick didn't lose his mind this time, but rather his will. His pain feels magnified from every awful thing that has befallen the group since then.

There has to be a struggle to find their way back, so if you think the series wasted time on all these emotions, maybe rethink that. Is it a problem understanding such a bottomless grief or it more so that you're uncomfortable with it and think this series about people living through an apocalypse should be all fun and games rather than take a realistic emotional toll? If you think Rick should have struck back immediately, then you're just plain wrong. The blow was so big, the threat so dangerous, it took the will to fight right out of Rick; he felt wholly responsible for what happened; he watched Glenn, his friend, the man who saved him at the start of his journey, get bashed into nothing. There was no other way to show this pain that would make sense, no other way to make it feel so visceral and real than to devote a number of episodes to overcoming this loss that will never feel far enough away.

You've been watching this series long enough by now to know that it doesn't put a shiny veneer on or cut away from the emotional moments like most of television does. They stay with it, get down into the mess of it, make it all too real and that's why the characters mean so much to us. Emotions bind us to these characters and grief must be explored.

If you can't stand the emotion of losing characters of course you're free to watch something else, something lighter, something meaningless. But if you want a connection with a fascinating story and the passionate people who pour themselves into it, and feel like you can make it through, that you're strong because this is what life is (minus actual zombies and complete unleashed chaos), then keep watching. Keep loving these characters with everything you have, because one day they will be gone. Just like life. Hold onto them. Love them. Grieve them. Remember what they stood for and be astounded by the performances while they're still here. And know that the producers heard you and said they did go too far with how much they showed in 7x01, and that they've made a few changes for the future. Their goal is to affect you with their story, not to make you stop watching.

...after being stripped of everything, beaten down, and groud into the dirt, any victory now will be a thousand times sweeter than any time before.

I could go on about this and about why those who quit the show after season 6 should give it another shot. I know and love one of them. I had a whole thing about it, but this post is already insanely long, so I removed those dozens of unedited, rambling paragraphs and will be saving them for another day. I'd rather keep this whole thing more positive anyway, since "Hearts Still Beating" I think has to be my favorite episode of all-time for its positivity in the message, the emotion in the reunion, and readiness to fight their most oppressive enemy. If you're on the fence about it, if you haven't started the season yet, just imagine how, after being stripped of everything, beaten down, and ground into the dirt, any victory now will be a thousand times sweeter than any time before.

Image copyright AMC: The Walking Dead Cast

And that victory is coming. With that uplifting reunion scene, and then "Boots" spying on Alexandria, that's where The Walking Dead left us until today, February 12. Good thing the premiere date is here, because I couldn't stand another second without it. Well, I could, but I didn't want to. Now we get to see everyone on the same page, not trying to fight back each in their own way, alone, vastly outnumbered, and completely powerless. They've always been able to find their way through Hell, to fight through despair, and it will be a blast to see how they do that this time, what storylines open up because of it, and how much larger this world gets.

I am so proud of how The Walking Dead, after seven years, still continues to bring such high quality to every aspect, has always been emotionally rich and layered, and experiments with ways to tell the story. There may be unbearable, gut-wrenching losses and a feeling of utter bleakness, but that makes the pinpricks of light all the more precious and necessary and real. That light is hope shining through. "Hearts Still Beating," in particular, was so uplifting in the end that hope bloomed where it never dreamed before, in the worst of the worst situations. The Walking Dead may instill terror with ever-present dread, but it also has a deeply human message. It's about holding onto your family, your sanity, your humanity through unimaginable hardships, having the courage to face impossible odds, sacrificing everything for you loved ones, continuing on for them when they're gone. It's about falling and then crawling your way back. And I love it for all of that.

I have always felt this way, yet I never got the seasons on Blu-ray, never proudly displayed them on the shelf alongside my other favorite series. I certainly wanted to after every incredible episode, like "Them," "No Way Out" and "The Same Boat," but for one reason or another, I just never did. But "Hearts Still Beating" was quite beautifully acted and written. It released a flood of emotion composed of all the pain from and love for this series over the years that compelled me to write and shop. So now, in just the last few weeks, I've bought seasons 1, 2, 5 and 6, and the first two compendiums of the graphic novel, which I'm already devouring. It's just as compelling on paper and now I finally get to see all the differences between the two.

I likely would have done the same had "Hearts Still Beating" not happened, because of the power of the premiere. "The Day Will Come When You Won't Be" was relentlessly dark and hard to watch, but it brought out the best in everyone. And until then, I thought I had already been seeing the best. I always have to reiterate that these are such talented people who give everything they have, who deliver some the most emotionally honest performances on TV and have never let me down. It was amazing to see they had more to give. Particularly astonishing was Andrew Lincoln, and that says so much, because he's always astonishing. I had to mention this at Collider when they completely ignored The Walking Dead in their top 25 performances.

"The entire cast of The Walking Dead is insanely talented and deserves recognition for all they've done. But I've never seen a more deeply affecting performance than what Andrew Lincoln gave in 'The Day Will Come When You Won't Be.'"
—RB on Collider

Anyway, "Hearts Still Beating" did happen, and Ross Marquand's lovely, loyal and insightful Aaron, the bravest of the Alexandrians, again proved that he is indispensable. It's a beautiful thing when secondary characters are more than fodder, when they're treated as human beings with personalities developed by their pasts, and their own sensitivities and strengths. I wish Ross had been on the last Talking Dead of 2016, sharing his thoughts about Aaron's role in HSB and the future. So, I can hardly wait to see if he's included on the commentary track when the Blu-ray for season 7 is released. The Blu-ray which I now need almost as badly as I need air.

Now that I am finally collecting the seasons, I can't wait to watch all the extras, I'm even more excited for extras than I am for rewatching the series, which I could have just done on Netflix anyway if I'd ever had the time. I always love behind-the-scenes stuff, to see all the work that goes into things and how dedicated people are and how much they love their work. It's rare to see a group of people who are so obviously dedicated to their craft, who have such a bond with each other, with the story, and with the audience, and who are not afraid to give such emotionally draining performances. So, It always gives me an even greater appreciation when I can not only take in the performances in a series, but also feel the passion and enthusiasm of the actors when they're not in character, to hear their thoughts and know they have a true understanding of where they've been and where they're going, to listen to the writers and creators and know they are deeply in love with the story and are dedicated to bringing the audience an uncompromising vision of hope, love and survival in an apocalyptic world.

All of that is why I adore Talking Dead. I'm a little disappointed that Ross Marquand wasn't on the last one, talking about Aaron's huge role in HSB. So, I certainly hope he's on the commentary track for this episode whenever the season 7 set is released.

Really, really love him. Aaron and "Hearts Still Beating," as a major influence and turning point for Rick, cannot be left out when it comes to commentary and Ross has to be on it. How could he not? He's the one who said the title! It's a must not only because of what it means to the series in giving Rick courage again and bringing everyone back together, but because of what it means to me. HSB is so good that I can't stop thinking about it, and I want to know more about the making of this episode that can be counted among the series most important. Also not to be left out? Danai Gurira, Andrew Lincoln and Norman Reedus. But especially Ross! All the time, he's becoming more and more important than just a secondary character. I hope The Walking Dead writers treat him well for however long he has left.

I am also looking forward to any outtakes. This season more than any other needs a blooper reel. I remember reading an interview where Ross Marquand mentioned he loves them, because you get to see behind the scenes and everyone else involved in making the best show they can.

"...that's always my favorite thing. I love when people can see behind the scenes of what goes on. What people aren't seeing when they watch the show is literally hundreds of people behind the camera busting their butts to make these shots happen.
—Ross Marquand, Pop Sugar interview

I have always loved extras for that reason and the blooper reels specifically for being a salve. They make the day feel lighter. The funny outtakes are nice little breaks where we get to see everyone's silly, embarrassing moments, and get to know them as people rather than characters.

Now that I'm thinking of all the different extras, I also have to mention interviews. The Walker Stalker Podcast has a terrific one that every fan of The Walking Dead and Ross Marquand should take some time for. I jumped at the chance since I had been hung up on him since the finale, where he absolutely shined. As far as I'm concerned, Aaron is an indelible part of the series now, no matter how it turns out for him in the end.

Walker Stalker Podcast with Ross Marquand

Marquand is an eloquent interviewee with a soothing voice, insight into his character, and understanding of human behavior and the series as a whole. He reminds me of Andrew Lincoln in that way. He's great fun to listen to.

Interviews, just like the behind-the-scenes extras I love, show how involved (or not) the actors really are, that they're not just doing it for a paycheck (or that money is all that matters), that they understand (or have no clue) what they're putting out there and that it affects them as much as the audience (or doesn't leave any kind of mark), that they're not just acting but actually feeling (or just phoning it in), showing all the hard work (or indifference) that goes into creating, and clears up (or further muddies) things for people who may have missed the meaning of something or misread a situation. Marquand and the cast of The Walking Dead veer far away from all those parenthetical actors that we've all seen before. This wonderful group has respect for each other and the material.

Read or watch any interview with any of these actors and what you'll see are people grateful for the relationships they've made, for the incredible work they get to do, for the enormous range of emotions they get to play, and for the audience who have shown them tremendous affection. They are all lovely and that translates to the screen.

That loveliness also translated into me being unable to calm my restless mind. So, now I have all this extra stuff that can't really fit into the narraive, yet they didn't warrant a separate post. So, here's your...

BONUS ROUND

I thought I had tweeted this further explanation of my choices with TwitLonger. Can't find it anywhere but in my notes. It's a reiteration of things I already said, but there's no harm in saying them again since I went through the trouble of writing it.

701, for sheer power of performance from Andrew Lincoln. He gave the most emotional, most unforgettable, performance I've ever seen in anything, yet he'll never win an Emmy for it. Rick has been to his knees before, distraught by the death of Lori, but he has never been forced to kneel, to watch the most horrific thing and be unable to do anything to change his friends' fates. It was beyond powerful, beyond heartrending.
AND

708, for being my favorite episode ever for the sheer power of some well-chosen words. For Aaron's beautiful words being the title of the episode. For Ross Marquand, playing a character who is so kind-hearted and undeniably brave, being the one to say them. It was a perfect moment.

It looks like the answer to that is Matthew Negrete and Channing Powell. Let's see what else they've done... Looks like Negrete also wrote "The Well" and "Last Day on Earth" with Scott Gimple, two excellent recent episodes, among others. And we've heard Powell's words in such episodes as "East" with Gimple and "Knots Untie" with Negrete. So, it's no surprise that these two were entrusted with an episode like this.

The next morning I woke up nice and refreshed, not a nervous wreck, because of how HSB ended. That was a welcome change. Btw, TWD's the only show that regularly does this to me.

I sent the above tweet to @DanaiGurira, @wwwbigbaldhead, @mcbridemelissa, @LaurenCohan, @SonequaMG, @JoshMcDermitt, @AlannaMasterson, @cserratos, @chandlerriggs, @katelynnacon, @RossMarquand, @TheSethGilliam, @AustinNichols, and @ScottMGimple‬. I also tagged Andrew Lincoln (one of the big reasons I died every episode), Lennie James and Greg Nicotero; they would never see it, but I can't possibly leave them out. And now you can thank all of these incredible people, too, since I provided links to their Twitter pages. Oh, nuts, I forgot about Kirkman! How did that happen?! You can find him at @RobertKirkman.

I realize I left out @JDMorgan, but it makes sense since that tweet was talking about "bringing beauty." Negan is chaos and gleeful destruction, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays him so chillingly. I had to thank him in another tweet.

And back to Ross Marquand again. I went a little overboard searching for different ways to express my gratitude. If only I could make tribute videos instead. Speaking of tribute videos, here are the few dedicated to Aaron. Better enjoy them while he's still around.

The song in this one fits nicely and it shows a couple moments I forgot, like Aaron being a part of the ambush on the Savior compound and having to stab a man in the chest. Marquand's face changed from startled to saddened to angry in an instant.

And this one includes "Hearts Still Beating." :-)

I said "vids," because I forgot I was talking about the podcast then. I had been thinking of the clip on AMC.com, which also appeared on Talking Dead, where Ross was talking about the lake walkers scene.

We haven't seen Eric in a while. When we do see more of him, when they give him more to do, I'm sure his end will come soon after. I don't want that for Aaron. He would be devastated. But it would also be a great emotional place for Ross Marquand to explore.

After talking with docsaico and SweeTi5512, and my endlessly mentioning Ross Marquand (so glad he didn't see), xHeartxFreakx joined in on all the appreciation.

I really did not expect to write all that. The didn't expect to take months to finish it. The fact that I did is a nice reminder of how special this episode and series really are, the depth of its meaning, and the hope I will always have that it brings us the most poignant moments.

It was a couple weeks early, but this finale was the best Christmas present I could have received. Hopefully, I get the same for an early birthday present with "Rock in the Road." (Sounds like a Bones title.) I can't wait for more perfect moments coming up in the second half of the season. And when we get to the season finale, I hope it mirrors "Hearts Still Beating" in its hopefulness and doesn't take anyone we love away; there's been enough of that lately. There's always so much weight on the shoulders of these characters, and they've been through such inhuman cruelties that they need a big win. But whatever happens...

Image copyright AMC: Andrew Lincoln

...it will be amazing and renew everyone's love for The Walking Dead yet again. Maybe it will even be enough to win back some rage-quitters. The person I mentioned earlier told me last night that he still lists TWD in his top five shows. Maybe there's hope for him finishing out the season.

Finally we come to the end. If you're still here, I'm amazed at your perseverance. So, here are a couple more videos. You've seen them already, but they are always worth seeing again.

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