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Spoilers ahead for the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead, so if you aren’t caught up with “Hearts Still Beating,” feel free to take care of that now. I’m fine waiting – I can use the time to make your kid spaghetti.

TWD Spoiler Tag

Before we hop into a proper review for tonight’s mid-season closer, I want to first point out that we witnessed something in “Hearts Still Beating” that is, as far as my memory serves, an unprecedented feat for The Walking Dead: we were introduced to four different storylines before the opening credits rolled. In the eight episodes that made up this half-season, only a few of them even attempted to tell more than one story in the length of its run-time, while the rest languished in one location, spending too much time focused on a single character – even someone as brutally charismatic as Negan couldn’t hold up an entire episode on his own.

With “Hearts Still Beating,” it seems that showrunner Scott Gimple and his stable of writers had something of an epiphany in the writers’ room when penning this episode, and decided to try to cover several different points of view in a single episode. And for the most part, it worked – at least for the episode itself. Switching between storylines did absolute wonders for the pace of the finale; each one had its own rising stakes and falling action (the touching closing scene, in which Rick and others reunite with Maggie, Daryl, and Sasha at Hilltop, was easily the most emotionally affecting sequence from the show in ages). As a result, the episode – and the story as a whole – was given a balance the show desperately needs at this point.

Image: Gene Page/AMC

Image: Gene Page/AMC

The thing is, it may be too late already. Let’s be honest: this half-season was a pretty big bummer. The pacing and general lack of storytelling acumen dragged Season 7 of The Walking Dead to new and rather surprising lows, which is really saying something, considering how lackluster the past few seasons of the show have been. This becomes doubly disappointing when we factor in Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s tour-de-force performance as Negan; a character this delightfully diabolical should certainly hold more sway than what we’ve seen from him, but he can only shoulder so much weight of the bloated narrative.

So, while I thought “Hearts Still Beating” was a pretty decent episode, I have to remember that the only thing I have to compare it to is the crappy episodes we were subjected to over the last few months (and, if we’re being honest here, it’s been a whole lot longer than that). But even with that in mind, I have to give credit where credit is due: “Hearts Still Beating” did a fine job of not only balancing several different stories within a single episode*, but also having each story building up to something – I wasn’t crazy about every scene, but each one served a purpose and didn’t feel like total filler.

*It feels weird giving a show credit for something like this, because literally every other show I watch does this in every single episode, because that’s kinda how you tell a story.

But I digress. Let’s wrap this half-season up.

Image: Gene Page/AMC

Image: Gene Page/AMC

If Season 7 has been about Rick and his group of survivors losing their power and agency, then “Hearts Still Beating” is where they start to take it back. For Daryl, this reclamation of power comes in the troubling form of him beating in the head of a rather passive Savior, condemning the man to death for standing idly while atrocities occurred around him. Killing the man was certainly cathartic for Daryl – at least in the moment. But as time passes, I’ll be interested to see if he feels any remorse for his actions, especially considering how closely those actions resembled Negan’s when he murdered Glenn and Abraham.

Michonne traveled far enough with the Savior woman to see a huge contingent of Saviors in the distance, which was enough to tell her than any attack on them will require a serious amount of planning, resources, and, more than anything, people. Her impassioned speech to Rick about them never giving in or giving up was a much-needed wake-up call for Rick, who’s spent much of the season cowering under Negan’s oppressive yoke. Unfortunately, Michonne wasn’t able to give her speech to Rosita before the latter decided to try to kill Negan, which resulted in Eugene being taken away to presumably become the Saviors’ bullet manufacturer. By the end of the episode, however, everyone seems to be on the same page as Michonne: there needs to be a plan, and for that to happen, they need time to make it.

Image: Gene Page/AMC

Image: Gene Page/AMC

And therein lies the conflict of what is sure to come in future episodes of The Walking Dead. We saw in “Hearts Still Beating” that events are spiraling closer and closer to a large-scale confrontation with Negan and his Saviors, and it’s only a matter of time before Negan loses his interest in the cat-and-mouse games he plays with the Alexandrians, or grows tired of the curiosity he feels towards characters like Carl. And this is assuming a best-case scenario in which no one does anything to raise the ire of Negan, which, to be fair, happened a lot in tonight’s episode.

Let’s blame Spencer. Seriously, his character has been an annoying pain in the ass ever since he first showed up, never once displaying anything even resembling a redeeming quality. It’s as if Spencer was on The Walking Dead for no other reason than to be killed in a way to be darkly satisfying to the audience trained to dislike him. He was always a throw-away character, ever on a collision course with the business end of Negan’s blade, less a person in his own right than a symbol of preening cowardice and astounding ignorance. Spencer’s murder also shows how pragmatic, if brutal, Negan is. Negan has invested a lot of time in breaking Rick down, and he can’t have that impeded by some idiot with a leadership complex.

Image: Gene Page/AMC

Image: Gene Page/AMC

Elsewhere, Maggie seems to be a shoe-in for leader of the Hilltop. Gregory still maintains that title, but he’s enough of an insufferable ass that he’ll surely oust himself before anyone else does. I also appreciate that the episode took some time to shoe Maggie sitting beside Glenn’s grave; there was no monologue of undying commitment to sully the moment, just her sharing a quiet moment with the memory of the man she loved. It was understated and rather profound, and I appreciate that The Walking Dead saw the importance in including a slow and deliberate scene like this in an episode dedicated to ratcheting up the suspense and stakes of it all.

Which makes me a little miffed that the show skipped over the reunion of Maggie and Daryl. So much of these characters’ motivations throughout Season 7 have been propelled by Glenn’s death; for Maggie, it was losing the love of her life (and father of her unborn child), and for Daryl, it was the guilt of breaking Negan’s rule and getting Glenn killed. It would have been awesome if the episode spent some time on them seeing each other for the first time – does Maggie hold ill will toward Daryl? Does Daryl need Maggie’s forgiveness to move on? Who knows! It’s weird that the writers would see the importance of including a quiet scene of Maggie sitting at Glenn’s grave, but totally skip over what was surely an emotionally charged reunion between two of the show’s most beloved characters. It’s a sign that the show still has some growing up to do with its storytelling, which may never really happen, seeing as how we’re halfway through its seventh season.

 

3.5/5 stars: A well-executed balance of story and tone made “Hearts Still Beating” a strong episode, but it did little to right the many, many wrongs of the half-season.

 

 

Entertainment

Donald Trump as Seen by Google’s Deep Dream

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THIS CONTENT WAS REPUBLISHED FROM AN EARLIER DATE.

Last Summer, Google unleashed Deep Dream, their neural network that takes pictures and tries to identify patterns and overwrite them, on an unsuspecting public. When you put an image into Deep Dream, what you get when it “wakes up” is often nightmarish. Dogs, birds, insects, pagodas are inserted at random places in the image, giving it a surreal and sometimes beautiful–if terrifying–aspect.

So, since this election season is already off-the-charts surreal, I thought to myself, “What would it look like if we ran some candidates through Deep Dream?” Well, now I know.  I started with Donald Trump, who is already deeply weird and unsettling. The results are spectacular.

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Satire

From the MRA Evidence Archives: The Journal of a Normal, Average Feminist

Awoke and whispered to my boobs, Bea Arthur and Jackie O, “It’s Tuesday. You know what that means, ladies? Time to oppress some dudes.”

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barbie doll head being gripped by dirty hands
THIS CONTENT WAS REPUBLISHED FROM AN EARLIER DATE.

 Tuesday July 5, 2016

Awoke and whispered to my boobs, Bea Arthur and Jackie O, “It’s Tuesday. You know what that means, ladies? Time to oppress some dudes.”

Walked to work wearing my plunging crop top that says, “This is what a feminist looks like,” hot pants, and six-inch heels. Tossed my hair a lot and sexily chewed my lower lip. Dropped change so I could slowly bend over and pick it up. It took me about an hour to walk five blocks, which is standard.

Exceeded my catcall goal by seven, a personal best. Super flattering, of course, but will pretend to be terrified and make men feel bad about it with a bunch of tweets. That’ll show them.

Some dowdy librarian tried to help me with the change I kept dropping, and she got catcalled too! No one invades my catcalling turf. Slapped the books right out of her hands. Mostly by Hemingway, whom I both hate and would totally do if he were alive.

Arrived late per usual, but the boss didn’t say anything, just stared at my tits and gave me a pass. I had buttressed Bea Arthur and Jackie O in a push-up bra stuffed with the hard-earned cash of some beta male I cheated on. Good thinking.

By Friday I hope to a) screw my way to executive assistant, b) replace some poor slob who works really hard, or c) file a sexual harassment lawsuit. We’ll just see what the week brings, like whether or not the boss is a lesbian. Fingers crossed!

Spent the rest of the workday playing Candy Crush and convincing Dale from accounting to do everything for me. Stringing Dale along is why I keep coming in. It makes all the pretending to work worth it. I might boink him someday, but I want to see how low he’ll stoop for a bit of action.

I don’t get off on it per se, in so much that I don’t get off. Ever. At all. But I pretend that I could, just to make all the guys I’ve ever been with feel like losers. Watching them fumble and feel emasculated without pants is like Christmas – if I were to sleep with Santa and watch him fumble and feel emasculated without pants.

mens-rights-venn-diagram

Went to happy hour after work and didn’t pay a dime. Cosmos just appeared in front of me. Dumb guys just handed me cash for being hot, and I filled my bra until Bea Arthur and Jackie O ballooned up like the boobs of evil women on TV. My role models, natch.

Some dude wearing a huge, purple hat came up to me and said I looked like an uglier Angelina Jolie. He lifted his shirt to show that his torso was hard, rippling, and embroidered with diamonds so he had every right to tell me that. I hooked up with him in the men’s room. That’ll show him.

Went home and let loose a series of drunken, liar tweets about how hard my life is and how I want equality. Even inebriated, it’s important to keep my stilettoed foot on the neck of men everywhere. Those tweets and opinion pieces just skewer them. More powerful than the laws of God or man are the messages I hastily type with my thumbs.

A good Tuesday over all, but did not receive free coffee by sexily slow jamming my order. The barista must’ve taken the red pill.

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Food

Woman begs city council to bring back McRib

The McRib Shortage of ’15. It was the single greatest tragedy this country has ever endured. But one woman, one brave voice, said, “No. This will not do.” #mcrib #sheslovinit

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mcrib-woman

Well over a year ago a tragic event occurred: In the fall of 2015, the executives of McDonald’s made a grave decision, the consequences of which are still felt to this day. They decided that when the McRib was released that year it would… it would allow the regional managers to decide whether or not they would offer the McRib. As a result, a staggering 45 percent of McDonald’s locations elected not to offer the McRib. It was the single greatest tragedy this country has ever endured. But one woman, one brave voice, said, “No. This will not do.”

First off, shout out to Reader James from Lake Elsinore, CA for alerting us to the tale of hardship and heroism. You see, when Xanthe Pajarillo, a “McRib activist,” realized that none of the ten McDonald’s locations in her hometown of Santa Clarita would be offering the McRib, she did what any reasonable red-blooded American citizen would do. She brought the issue before the city council.

Now it is no secret that the McRib Shortage of ’15 nearly brought the nation to a standstill. In fact, if it weren’t for the release of a special McRib locator app, experts speculate that America would have ceased to exist as it does today. But amidst all of the rolling blackouts, the deaths, and the riots, we overlooked all of the smaller, personal tragedies that took place because of the cruel decision made by nearly half of McDonald’s regional managers.

In her impassioned plea to the Santa Clarita city council, Pajarillo explained just why the McRib meant so much to her and her family, and why the city council had to act in order to bring it back.

“The removal of the McRib from the menu has affected my family, because every Thanksgiving, my family would, like, order a 50-piece chicken McNugget and like, 10 McRibs. It was like, a tradition in our family, and now it’s like—well, like my family’s holiday spirit is kind of messed up and broken.”

Recently Pajarillo heroic speech before the city council has gone viral, gaining attention at the national stage across social media. Since that dramatic event, Pajarillo has continued to fight for the return of the McRib, even going so far as to release a song dubbed “The McRib Blues.” In it, she lays bare her soul and the souls of those like her to whom the McRib is more than just a barbecue pork sandwich, but is instead, a way of life.

There are those out there, deplorables who hardly deserve mention, that call her bravery nothing more than a stunt. Performance art holding up a mirror to America’s consumerism and obsession. However, others stand by the truth. Pajarillo is a hero, fighting for both a sandwich, but also for something more. Something ephemeral. That little piece of Americana that brings us all together. The McRib.

Fight on, brave warrior, fight on.

♪ Cause we have right to eat what we like, McRib is worth the fight ♪

Still can’t get enough of the McRib? Learn how a McRib is made, courtesy of BuzzFeed.

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