A Clunker Slows The Momentum Heading Toward The Finale, And Other Takeaways From ‘The Walking Dead’

This week’s episode of The Walking Dead represents the season’s calm before the storm, although it might have been too calm for many fans of the series after the increased intensity of the last five episodes, especially following the best episode of the season, which saw Morgan strangle Richard to death and Carol return to the murderin’ fold.

“The Other Side,” a shrug emoji of an episode, sees Sasha and Rosita — at odds since the death of Abraham — take advantage of the Saviors arrival at The Hilltop to execute their hastily arranged plan to break away from Rick’s growing alliance, go rogue, and take out Negan on their own.

After a humdrum series of walkers, malfunctioning cars, and other obstacles, Sasha eventually gets as far as the inside of the Sanctuary’s gate, while Rosita has to turn back after Sasha inexplicably prevents her from joining in her martyrdom. I have no idea why the two didn’t just wait in the building across the way for a few more hours or even days for another opportunity to take Negan out with a sniper rifle from a far enough distance to escape. Was that not the reason the series has been playing up Sasha’s sniper rifle skills for two years? The two seem hellbent on a suicide mission where the suicide seems completely unnecessary.

At any rate, en route to the Sanctuary, Rosita and Sasha also mended fences. Rosita swallowed her pride and admitted she was hurt by Abraham’s decision to leave her for the more independent Sasha. Rosita confessed that Abraham was the first man in her life that respected her for her ability to take care of herself, and she hated the idea that Abraham had left her for someone even stronger. (We’ll ignore the fact that the series barely mentioned that Abraham and Rosita were together before violently breaking them up.) While expressing no regret for hooking up with Abraham before his death, Sasha did return the compliment and later refused to let Rosita rush toward death, reasoning that it would be a shame to let all those skills she acquired from ex-boyfriends go to waste. (“Suck it, I got a job on the air-conditioned U.S.S. Enterprise while you have to stay behind in the Georgia heat,” was the unspoken message Sonequa Martin-Green left behind.)

Sasha and Rosita’s storyline was a slog for most of the episode, a good example of the “soap opera” aspect of The Walking Dead that George Romero dislikes about the series. Rosita has never been a particularly compelling character, and the writers have botched their attempt to grow her into a major figure on the series by saddling her with out-of-character anger and petulance. Sasha, bless her, has only been as interesting as the characters she’s paired with, and Rosita has done her no favors in that regard. After being sidelined for much of the season, it’s hard to imagine that Sasha’s inevitable death will bring much of an emotional wallop. The episode did, however, put them in a good position to take on Negan in the final two weeks.

Meanwhile, back at The Hilltop, Simon and the Saviors came in to retrieve The Hilltop’s doctor — the “other Carson” — the brother of the recently departed Sanctuary doctor tossed into a crematorium after being framed as a traitor by Dwight. Simon, however, spitefully (and hilariously) leaves behind a crate of aspirin in the doctor’s stead, as well as a means for which Gregory can get in touch with him should Gregory decide to put down the growing insurrection within The Hilltop. (Steven Ogg’s Simon, bursting with personality, remains the only Savior worth a damn on this show). The doctor’s departure leaves a pregnant Maggie without proper medical care, and as we saw with Lori, childbirth can be a dangerous business without a medical professional on hand.

In the episode’s most poignant moment, Maggie also got some alone time with Daryl for the first time since Glenn’s death. Daryl weepily apologized to Maggie for being indirectly responsible for Glenn’s death. Maggie, appropriately, rejected Daryl’s apology because he had nothing for which to apologize. She tells Daryl that he, like Glenn, is “one of the good guys,” and Negan alone was responsible for Glenn’s death. The scene might have worked better ten episodes ago, but I think most people had forgotten that Daryl had played an indirect role in the death of Glenn.

More than anything, “The Other Side,” worked as a table-setting episode building up toward the final two episodes of the season. After five consecutive strong episodes, this week was something of a setback for the series, but a necessary one to put all the pieces in place as the show rounds the bend on this chapter of The Walking Dead.

Indeed, the series has bounced around between communities all season, jumping from Alexandria to The Hilltop to The Kingdom and back to The Sanctuary, with stopovers in The Oceanside Community and the Junkyard along the way. The season hasn’t seen an episode yet in which all the main characters come together, and when that finally happens over the final two weeks, the dynamics will have changed considerably since last year’s season finale.

For one, Abraham and Glenn are no longer in the mix (nor are Olivia, Spencer, or Fat Joe (R.I.P. Fat Joe)). Maggie, meanwhile, is the de facto leader of The Hilltop (and Jesus is her lieutenant, for the time being), while Gregory seems to be leaning toward an arrangement with The Saviors, even if that means selling out his people in The Hilltop. The Kingdom is still managed by King Ezekiel, but Alexandrians Carol and Morgan are now pulling the strings. Meanwhile, Michonne has risen to co-leader of Alexandria, along with Rick, while Father Gabriel has surprisingly taken on a leadership role himself in the absence of everyone else. (Carl has been mostly a non-factor since his visit to the Sanctuary earlier this season.)

Elsewhere, Eugene has supplanted Dwight as Negan’s main lieutenant while the final seconds of this week’s episode hinted at another betrayal that’s been a long time coming: Dwight, cast in shadows, is seen possibly moving into the light in one of the series’ most belabored metaphors.

The most painful betrayal, however, may be Eugene, whose traitorous turn could not have been predicted based on the source material. (At this point in the comics, Eugene was manufacturing ammo for the coming war with Negan.) Eugene could’ve removed Negan earlier this season, but at the moment, he is the man most likely standing in between Sasha and Negan. Some are still clinging to the hope that Eugene’s was sending coded messages to Sasha and Rosita through the walkie talkie and that he’s playing the long game, but I don’t think Dr. Eugene Porter has any loyalty left for Alexandria. Alexandria never gave him pickles.

Sasha does not have a true counterpart in the comics, but her most recent run seems to be modeled after Holly, who coupled up with Abraham before his death and sacrificed herself to take out Negan before the War began in earnest. Holly’s cruel fate, however, has already been used in Fear the Walking Dead and unlikely to be duplicated here. Sasha’s death seems inevitable at this point, but the means in which she dies is still up in the air.

We’ll probably need to wait two more weeks to find out how Negan sends her packing into the zombie afterlife.

Additional Notes

— Among the things I did like about the episode was the low key way in which Jesus revealed that he’s gay. I still hope he ends up being the surrogate father to Maggie’s baby, because after Sasha is killed, Jesus will be the closest friend Maggie has left.

— The endless training montage in the cold open sure spent a lot of time on knife throwing, a skill I have yet to see regularly utilized in the series.

— Did the episode really spend five minutes on Rosita and Sasha tying knots? Really?

— One bad episode has upset the momentum of season 7B. The grumbling prevalent on social media after the midseason finale has returned, so for the show’s sake, I hope the last two episodes pay off. Scott Gimple promised us “quantum intense” [sic.] in the final three episodes, and there was no sign of anything either quantum or intense in “The Other Side.”