Have The Walking Dead‘s writers become convinced that fans won’t want to see anything cool or exciting unless the heroes have hashed out their feelings first – at length, and in multiple scenes? Yes, for all of the gory walker-kills on display, the show is extremely, conspicuously talky. On occasion, however, the ponderousness pays off. In this week’s episode – “The Other Side” – Rosita and Sasha share a genuinely warm and moving moment, mere hours before they charge into the Sanctuary to their near-certain deaths. Neither character has really gotten the screen-time they deserve this season. But as they approach what could be their swan song on this show, they’re finally leaving a strong and lasting impression, on each other and on the audience.
These two women, each a lover of the late Abraham, have every reason to distrust and detest each other, a fact that they’re repeatedly reminded of on their trip down from the Hilltop. But during their mission to assassinate Negan, the duo have a sort of shared epiphany. They realize there’s much more that unites them than divides them. They’re both strong and fiercely loyal, and they each romanced an emotionally damaged man who died in a way ill-befitting his courage. To honor his memory, they’ll need to proceed with purpose and compassion, instead of stewing over hurt feelings. After all, as Jesus says to Sasha, “It’s a long life … and then it isn’t.”
Credited to writer Angela Kang and director Michael E. Satrazemis, “The Other Side” is of a piece with the two TWDs that preceded it – except that it’s much better. Both of those episodes seemed more concerned with moving pieces into place for the coming anti-Savior war than in delivering the pulse-pounding action and accelerated plotting that seemed like the new normal after the midseason premiere. This muted chapter is slowed down by a somewhat excessive amount of set-up. But while the plot barely moves until its anxious final minutes, several major characters make choices that matter.
In fact, when all’s said and done with Season Seven, the most significant few minutes from “The Other Side” may turn out to be what happens on the Hilltop, where Simon shows up unexpectedly with a cadre of Saviors. He’s there to poach the community’s doctor, Harlan (to replace his brother Emmett, who was killed by Negan). After some of the community “leader” Gregory‘s usual pathetic attempts at acting like the man in charge, he finally warns that whenever he gets pushed around, he looks weak … which leaves his people open to being taken over by someone less compliant. Simon lets him know that, “If you’re having troubles of that nature, come to see me anytime.” By the end of the episode, the spineless wonder is sitting at his old desk with a bottle of tequila (his Savior supervisor’s favorite) and admitting to Jesus that, “I look out for my friends, and I just realized: We’re not friends.” Before the Hilltoppers even have a chance to finish training and mobilising for battle, they may be betrayed by their own boss.
If so, it’s a parallel with what happens with Rosita and Sasha this week, when they show up at the Sanctuary. As they set up a sniper’s nest outside the perimeter, they spot Eugene – and start to worry that if they take out Negan, they’ll be endangering the life of their former comrade. They decide to help him escape first, only to find out that their old friend has settled on the “rule in hell” over the “serve in heaven” option. And by trying to save him, they may have screwed themselves, forcing an impromptu two-woman commando raid instead of the surgical long-range strike they’d planned. In the final scene, Sasha charges in, to the sound of bullets, while Rosita waits nervously outside … until she sees the unmistakable silhouette of Daryl behind her.
With only two episodes remaining this season, Kang and Satrazemis do a good job of milking the tension and drama of what’s becoming a slow-motion trainwreck for our heroes. By jumping back and forth between Simon’s medical coup at the Hilltop and the female-bonding road trip to the Sanctuary, “The Other Side” underscores how fragile any progress for the good guys is right now.
Yet this isn’t another one of those Walking Deads that’s just a slow, sad trudge into the void. It has some funny moments, courtesy of the smart-ass Simon (who tries to cheer Harlan up by letting him know that the Sanctuary has cardamom gelato), and the sycophantic Eugene (who’s heard over the walkie-talkie ordering increased border security and saying, “This is per Negan, who I also am.”). The episode features some meaningful digressions too, including a scene where Enid tries to distract one of the Saviors by being extra-hospitable, only to find that the villains all default to rudeness and bullying, and aren’t planning on forming an emotional bond with plucky teens any time soon.
In the end though, this week is all about Rosita, Sasha, and the red-moustached ghost who haunts them. “He would’ve wanted to go out fighting,” Sasha says. “And that asshole with the bat took that away too.” These women are both determined to give his death – and whatever’s left of their own lives – some kind of a meaning. From a strategy perspective, they may have just made a major blunder. But after hearing them talk their way through it, what they’re doing seems brave, and even necessary. They may die before this season’s over. But it will be deaths that they chose.
Previously: Burial Grounds