The second half of The Walking Dead season 7 has been the lead up to war rather than a depiction of the actual war itself. On one hand, that has meant a welcome reprieve from the relentlessly dour storytelling of the season’s first eight episodes, but it has also meant the post-hiatus installments have been a mix of fetch quests and explorations of characters who normally serve a secondary role as comic relief or simply to make others seem stronger. While the move away from the show constantly reminding viewers that Negan is, in fact, a really bad guy has afforded it a greater tonal variance – Rick and Michonne laugh and kiss and… other stuff! – the closer the season gets to the finale the clearer it becomes that the actual confrontation teased in ‘Hearts Still Beating’ likely won’t occur until that last episode.
If there was ever a season that needed to depict a sustained, explosive conflict between the heroes and villains it is season 7. So far, the season has instead opted to tease out that conflict rather than dive in head first. That’s pretty much par for the course for this show, and it means an episode like ‘The Other Side’ is left to ponder what might help incite a full-on war between the various communities and the Saviors. As it turns out, Rosita and Sasha are on hand to help answer such a question.
Sonequa Martin-Green has been on The Walking Dead chopping block ever since she was cast in CBS’s upcoming Star Trek: Discovery. Although showrunner Scott M. Gimple has said the zombie series can accommodate her shooting schedule, that hasn’t stopped him from putting Sasha in the line of fire by her seeking to do the same to Negan. Character death continues to be the show’s main selling point, so teasing the possible demise of both Sasha and Rosita makes sense from a structural standpoint. There are so few characters left for the show to kill and make a talking point from it, it seems reasonable to think these women with a mind for vengeance might just be signing their own death warrants and bringing the conflict to an early boiling point.
As much as the season has needed the (relative) levity these last few episodes have afforded it, it also needs to get moving, and ‘The Other Side’ finds itself in a position to do just that. And yet, in true Walking Dead fashion, the hour is spent mostly in preparation of what everyone wants to see instead of the event itself actually coming to fruition. The episode begins with a tonally appropriate montage back at Hilltop, showing the ways in which Maggie has assumed a tacit leadership role and is preparing her fellow Hilltopians for the pending conflict. It’s a solid way to start the hour, as it suggests things have indeed taken a more somber turn, underlining Rick’s discussion with Michonne that people are going to die if the various communities are going to get out from under Negan’s thumb.
While Maggie’s efforts in building an army out of a heretofore untested group of people are admirable, the reliance on such things as throwing knifes and four-pronged tridents suggests Hilltop will be in for a rude awakening when the Saviors come calling. Unless Maggie’s plan is to implement some sort of Kevin McCallister-like scenario in which various parts of Hilltop become a weapon its inhabitants can use against an invading force, then the fight may be over before it begins. But at least Maggie is willing to put the effort into preparation, unlike Sasha and Rosita who go off half-cocked on a suicide mission to assassinate Negan as an act of vengeance for their beloved mustachioed big man, Abraham. The resulting journey to the Saviors’ compound is like most other things at this point in the season: in no rush to get to its destination. As such, the result is a mostly repetitive hour of watching grief-stricken characters discuss their circumstances with one another while waiting for the right time to act. And as it turns out, the right time to act is… right before the episode comes to a close.
To be fair, ‘The Other Side’ had a lot to digest, what with Gregory finding out that Steve Ogg’s Simon (aka the only Savior who matters) has switched from gin to tequila, and Daryl finding out that Maggie doesn’t bear him any ill will for Glenn’s death. Okay, the most important non-Abraham-related development suggests that Gregory plans to hold onto his limited power by betraying Maggie and the others, potentially squashing a rebellion before it can begin. The development is a major one, but even it doesn’t necessarily excuse the episode from being nearly a full hour of stalling before someone makes a choice that actually matters. This is in keeping with Morgan’s choice to do away with Richard and make a point about fighting Negan, but the price here is far greater, as it likely means Sasha won’t be coming out of the Sanctuary alive.
The episode wants to be a deep dive into the pain and anguish Rosita and Sasha feel over Abraham’s death at the hands of Negan, and it mostly succeeds in that endeavor. The two women both make the choice to do what they feel is right, even if it means losing their life in process or, even worse, blowing up any hope of an advantage their friends might have enjoyed in the coming war. The weight of making a choice is echoed by Eugene, who appears to have sided with the Saviors (though that’s still debatable), which forces Sasha and Rosita to make a hasty decision of their own that sees one of them running into the Sanctuary to the sound of automatic gunfire while the other runs into a shadowy figure with a crossbow. Is it Daryl or is it Dwight doing his best Daryl By Night impression?
With just two episodes left to go until season 7 comes to a close, The Walking Dead once again finds itself stalling before ushering in what may be an event even bigger than the season premiere: all out war with the Saviors. It didn’t happen like it was supposed to, but at this point only the ending matters.
The Walking Dead continues next Sunday with ‘Something They Need’ @9pm on AMC.