The Walking Dead is currently taking a couple of months off to let fans cope with all of the events that occurred in Season 7, and we can now sit back and view those eight episodes from a distance, rather than from ground zero. One thing that made the front half of Season 7 distinct, for better or worse, was the creative decision to use standalone, limited-focus installments to both expand this fictional universe and fully implement the terror of Negan's reign. The naysayers were vocal, but executive producer Gale Anne Hurd explains that this tactic, which isn't exactly new, was necessary.

You know, we've done this before in previous seasons, which is for you to care about this large a cast of characters you need to spend time and with them separated as they have been in the comics as well. You need to be in the separate community so you need to be in Hilltop. You need to be in the Sanctuary. You need to be in Alexandria and that opportunity to get to know the mindset of each different main character or significant character in the show is really important not only building up to this episode but for the rest of the season.

"Hearts Still Beating" was easily the most character-welcoming episode of the season so far, as its extended timeframe did indeed bring together the four communities that have been established over the past season or so. And at least for me, it was a crazy good episode, incorporating all the core survivors, eliminating some of the filler characters and setting everyone up for eventual war preparation. But was its quality because of how the episodes before it were structured, or was it good in spite of that?

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TV fans will often share how they would have tackled a certain moment or series of events, and The Walking Dead has always inspired those kinds of reactions. But there aren't a whole lot of different ways for the AMC drama to do everything that it did in Season 7. The biggest argument would be for the different plotlines to have intersected rather than be quarantined to their own episodes, but I cannot imagine that fans would have been so amazingly pleased had the second and third episodes shoehorned the Kingdom, the Sanctuary, the Hilltop and Alexandria all together. Especially with all of the big characters that got introduced in each of those places.

I suppose those elements could have been spread out a little more in the back half, especially with Tara's episode. (I mean, seriously.) Really, it all comes down to personal tastes for this kind of thing. If you like when The Walking Dead takes time for its still-living characters to breathe and appropriately react to situations, then you probably liked the deliberately slowed pacing. But if you don't give a shit about in-scene details or subtlety, and your interests are more in watching characters go crazy and seeing walkers getting sliced, you probably had lots of issues with how Season 7 played out so far. So take umbrage or comfort that things will likely be laid out far different in the back half.

The Walking Dead will return to audiences and AMC for what will likely be a more all-inclusive and ass-kicking second half of Season 7, and it'll kick off on Sunday, February 12.

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