SPOILER ALERT: This article contains details of tonight’s Season 7 The Walking Dead winter finale.

After the high-impact bloodbath and near-record ratings of the Season 7 opener back on October 23, no one expected The Walking Dead to maintain such a fatal intensity. However, after a string of seed-planting and ratings-declining shows, tonight’s winter finale showed again the AMC blockbuster can crank up the volume, anticipation and pivotal body count of the zombie apocalypse when it needs too.

With the very vivid knifing of the duplicitous Spencer (Austin Nichols) by Negan, the 90-minute “Hearts Still Beating” episode turned things all the way up past 11 for Rick Grimes, Maggie Rhee, Daryl Dixon and the rest of the Survivors in their attempt to get out from under the cruel rule of the Jeffrey Dean Morgan-portrayed villain and the Saviors. Not long after Spencer is killed, one of Negan’s gang blasts away Alexandria resident and recurring character Olivia (Ann Mahoney) in retaliation for Rosita (Christian Serratos) trying to deep-six the bad bossman — who, by the way, won a Critics’ Choice Award tonight.

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Spencer’s death played out very much like it did in the Robert Kirkman comics on which the series is based on — which is not always the case on TWD. With the revelation that Rick’s crew can manufacture bullets, Eugene (Josh McDermitt) escapes being a victim of Negan roulette but is taken captive to begin working directly for the Saviors.

Directed by Michael E. Satrazemis, who also helmed the deadly Season 6 winter finale last year, the Matthew Negrete- and Channing Powell-penned episode picked up after last week’s TWD with Negan playing menacing Father Knows Best to Carl and baby Judith in the Alexandria colony while awaiting the return of Andrew Lincoln’s Grimes from a scavenging mission.

Pulling several storylines together, tonight followed the pattern of past midseason finales with a core character being killed as Spencer and Olivia met their end right near the end.

Starting off in the same measured tempo that has characterized most of this season, the winter finale saw Lauren Cohan’s now-widowed Maggie taking guard at the Hilltop with her semi-secret pregnancy again discussed. It also opened with Negan cooking up a feast and Daryl (Norman Reedus) making a move to act on the note and key from last week, telling him to escape the ruthless world of the Sanctuary.

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Then we moved to Rick and Aaron (Ross Marquand) trying to cross a walker-filled lake to a well-protected hideout that may provide them with, among other resources, weapons to replace the guns Negan and the Saviors confiscated a few weeks ago. It’s a mission they accomplish with some choice discoveries and a slightly altering perspective.

A few episodes back, we last saw Carol (Melissa McBride) and Morgan (Lennie James) living among The Kingdom community, run by Ezekiel (Khary Payton). Now they are being urged by that community’s deputy Richard to convince Ezekiel to prepare for war against Negan’s Saviors – a plea they are very reluctant to agree to.

As the closing events proved, in this brave new world of submission only Rosita (Christian Serratos) possesses a gun among the Survivors and now, thanks to the work of Eugene, a bullet to fulfill her plan to kill Negan for bashing in Abraham’s head during that season opener. Revenge or certainly a change in the power structure was also on the mind of Spencer, who made it clear to a dismissive Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) last week that he wanted to see Rick removed as the head of Alexandria after all the turmoil and death that had occurred over the past season and a half.

With things still on a simmer dramawise, about halfway through tonight’s episode, Gabriel urges Rosita not to try to go after Negan right now. “We’ll win,” he tells here in Alexandria’s chapel, “but we need to wait for the right moment or create it together. And you are a part of that together, don’t do this.” Back on a bike after taking one of Negan’s henchman Fat Joey out with a metal pipe, Daryl successfully makes his bloody escape out of the Sanctuary. “It ain’t just about getting by, it’s about getting it all,” the resurrected character says as the Hilltop’s Jesus (Tom Payne) looks on, having just shown up himself.

In a stark moment on a series full of stark emotional moments, Michonne (Danai Gurira) comes to realize that her idea of taking out Negan involves a lot more than she anticipated — though she wasted no time wasting the Savior she took hostage. Back at Alexandria, Rick and Aaron have returned with their haul only to have the latter brutally beaten by Negan’s men as Spencer plays nice guy down the road with the villain in a game of pool — a game that ends with Negan cutting Spencer open in the midsection as everything finally takes off in the winter finale.

Towards the end of the episode, after the ex-Sheriff gets a chance to kill the now-almost-walker Spencer, Michonne comes back to Alexandria to tell Rick that despite the odds they have to take Negan down. “We’re the ones who get things done, you said that,” she tells her lover. “That’s why we have to fight.” At the very end, we find Maggie again up on the Hilltop guard tower as Rick, Michonne and others show up. “You told us to get ready to fight,” Rick tells Maggie. “I don’t listen, I couldn’t, but I can now,” he adds, as Daryl suddenly walks into view and the two friends hug. Daryl hands Rick’s old gun back to him that he grabbed from the Savior while escaping — and it looks like the Survivors are taking the war to Negan in the second part of Season 7.

A preview of the rest of the season shows Rick trying to convince Ezekiel to join them and one last scene shows someone who’s been spying on the Survivors showing up at Alexandria, aka, a cliffhanger.

Reedus, Kirkman and a “surprise cast member” are set to appeared on aftershow Talking Dead – if past winter finales and character deaths are any blueprint, you can be sure that other cast member will be Nichols.

Before The Walking Dead returns for the second part of its seventh season on February 12, 2017, tell us what you think of tonight’s winter finale.