7:27pm PT by Lesley Goldberg
'Walking Dead' Gears Up for All Out War in Deadly Midseason Finale
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from episode 708, "Hearts Still Beating," of AMC's The Walking Dead as well as the comic book series it is based on.]
The Walking Dead wrapped the first half of its seventh season Sunday with a violent midseason finale that helped set the stage for one of the biggest battles featured in Robert Kirkman's comic book series on which the AMC drama is based.
The extended episode featured the deaths of two key members of Rick's (Andrew Lincoln) community at the Alexandria Safe Zone: series regular Austin Nichols' defiant Spencer Monroe and recurring player Olivia (Ann Mahoney), the latter of whom oversaw the armory.
Their deaths came as Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) continued to wreak havoc in Alexandria after delivering Carl (Chandler Riggs) back home following the teen's efforts to kill the former at his so-called Sanctuary.
Spencer's death largely mirrored the violent events of the comics. Spencer, who was the last surviving member of the Monroe family who founded and built Alexandria, attempted to sway Negan into putting him in charge over Rick. After first appearing to entertain the thought, Negan winds up proving to the entire community what he thinks of traitors like Spencer by stabbing and slashing his stomach open. Spencer's death offered many Alexandrians their first look at the charismatic psychopath and helping to unite the community against Negan.
Spencer's death triggered Rosita (Christian Serratos), who attempted to strike back when she used the lone bullet Eugene (Josh McDermitt) made for her to take aim at Negan. Instead, she winds up hitting his beloved bat, Lucille. To pay for her outburst, Negan has one of his Saviors kill Olivia, who goes out when she is shot in the face. (Her death plays out much later and very differently in Kirkman's comic series.) After Eugene confesses to making the bullet, Negan takes him back to the Sanctuary.
At the Sanctuary, meanwhile, Daryl (Norman Reedus) finally escapes Negan's compound and heads back to the Hilltop with Jesus (Tom Payne). There, Daryl reunites with Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) for the first time since Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Abraham's (Michael Cudlitz) deaths.
The episode ends with Rick, together with Michonne (Danai Gurira) and a few other key Alexandrians, traveling to the Hilltop and reuniting with Maggie, Sasha, Daryl and company. There, Rick admits that Maggie was right — they all have to unite to fight Negan and break free from the ruthless leader's dictatorship.
The episode sets the stage for the second half of the AMC zombie drama's seventh season to focus on uniting the Hilltop community — including its cowardly leader Gregory (Xander Berkeley) — with Alexandria as well as King Ezekiel's (Khary Payton) Kingdom, where Morgan (Lennie James) and, to a lesser extent, Carol (Melissa McBride) reside. (Carol and Morgan were also encouraged during the 90-minute episode to help convince Ezekiel to attack the Saviors first.)
Given Tara's (Alanna Masterson) knowledge of the Oceansiders' heavily armed community, the stage is set for the comic book run known as All Out War, in which all of the communities — Alexandria, the Kingdom and the Hilltop — unite to attack Negan and his Sanctuary. Given that Morgan has indicated his Negan will be around for season eight, it's unclear if that battle will happen in the back half of season eight or if the remainder of Walking Dead's seventh cycle will focus more on reuniting the three communities. Sunday's midseason finale also may have included a nod to the result of the All Out War arc. The scene in which Rick and Michonne (finally) agree that they need to fight Negan took place in the cell that Morgan built last season at Alexandria. In the comics, rather than kill Negan, Rick ultimately locks him up and keeps him in — yup — a cell at Alexandria.
The first half of The Walking Dead's seventh season has focused on introducing new leaders and their respective communities. Rick, for his part, still has to meet Ezekiel — and his pet tiger Shiva — while Maggie has to get Gregory to fall in line. Then there's still Alexandria to tend to as Rick is likely to face mounting pressure at home now that the community has seen the horror of crossing Negan — including Spencer and Olivia's deaths as well as having to watch as Aaron (Ross Marquand) is beaten by the Saviors upon his return home.
All told, The Walking Dead parted ways with three series regulars during the first half of season seven: Nichols, Yeun and Cudlitz. The drama started season seven with its highest tally of series regular characters to service as the Scott M. Gimple-led drama continues to build out its sprawling world.
Elsewhere, Walking Dead also set up a new mystery as a shadowy figure is revealed to be watching Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) as he stands guard at Alexandria. As the mystery individual heads toward Alexandria, viewers realize that it's the same person who was following Rick and Aaron from the lake.
What did you think of The Walking Dead's midseason finale? Sound off with your thoughts and theories in the comments section. Stay tuned to THR.com/WalkingDead for more coverage from the midseason finale. The Walking Dead returns in 2017. A specific date has yet to be announced.