Spoiler alert: Do not read until you’ve watched episode 14 of season 7 of “The Walking Dead,” titled “The Other Side.”
In world-building, “The Walking Dead” may have bitten off more than it can chew. Creating four main communities, as well as Oceanside and the Junkyard, opens up a lot of possibilities on paper, but what it’s mostly done is slow progress down. By narrowing each episode to one, maybe two communities, checking in with each can begin to feel too service-y, as routine as an oil change. And at their worst, these episodes can feel like a stall. “The Other Side,” which is just two episodes away from the season premiere, is one of those episodes.
That’s not to say this middling stop at the Hilltop is completely devoid of merit, though. The episode, written by Angela King and directed by Michael E. Satrazemis, has two powerful moments: a heart-to-heart with Maggie and Daryl, and some long-overdue exposition for Rosita.
After some quaint knife-training scenes, “The Other Side” picks up where “Say Yes” left off, with Sasha and Rosita ready to go rogue and assassinate Negan. Enid and Jesus try to talk them out of it, which is of course not going to work. Still, Enid feels obligated to inform Maggie of their extracurriculars. But she’s willing to give them a 10-minute head start so they can avoid another plea to consider otherwise.
Rosita is her normally moody self on the road, and it doesn’t take long for her to clash with Sasha. As the show’s resident sniper, Sasha wants to post up in a nearby building and wait for the perfect shot at Negan. As the show’s latest person with a death wish, Rosita wants to bust in the Sanctuary guns blazing. This doesn’t appear to be a difference of opinions that’ll be solved easily, but after an excellent scene in which the two use fire to distract a bunch of zombies while they hotwire a car, Sasha and Rosita end up in a sniper’s nest peacefully enough.
Waiting for Negan to appear in the courtyard provides some downtime, which Rosita uses to open up for the first time. As mentioned before, she has an apparent death wish, like she wants this to be a suicide mission. Perhaps that’s why she refused the scar cream in “Say Yes” and why she tells Sasha now that teaching her a few new knots “won’t matter soon.” Perhaps that’s also why she’s willing to let her guard down: because keeping up appearances “won’t matter soon” either.
Rosita picked up her particular set of survival skills, such as disarming bombs, from a rotation of men after the zombie apocalypse went down. Although she hated it, she truly did need their help. But they never noticed that she picked up and improved upon their skills. And the sex, that was just for fun. “The world’s over. Everyone should be getting their rocks off.” But Abraham was different. He was the first person to see that she could handle her, um, stuff. Like Sasha, she actually loved him. After saying they don’t need to be friends because they had sex with the same dead guy earlier in the season (another great quote), Rosita is now bonding in grief with Sasha. “The Walking Dead” usually moves on swiftly from deaths—Maggie barely acknowledged the loss of her sister—making this one of the most effective mourning scenes in the series. And on a more progressive note, it’s great to see a female character embracing casual sex.
This emotional conversation can’t last forever, though, so it’s back to scoping out the Sanctuary. Negan finally makes an appearance outside, but Sasha isn’t able to get a clean shot because of Eugene and the newest Savior (more on that later). That means it’s time for Plan B: Rosita’s assault.
Step one is rescuing Eugene near the fence, but he doesn’t want to be saved. Forgoing any loyalty to Abraham or Alexandria at large, Eugene wants to hang on to his new status. He goes running back into the building, toward his false sense of power and security. Sasha raids the building immediately in case he snitches, but not before sealing Rosita outside the fence to spare her and keep her skills alive for Alexandria. For better or worse, the war has began.
Back at the Hilltop, Simon and his crew make another unannounced visit. They’re looking for someone, but that person remains unnamed as the Saviors run freely among the community, a smart omission by King to up the tension. Maggie and Daryl were unable to escape in time, so they hide out in the pantry. Daryl is ready to pounce as one of the Saviors raids the food, but Maggie holds him back. He leaves without discovering them, and the Saviors end up taking Harlan to replace his murdered brother and fellow doctor, Emmett. The respite allows Maggie to call Daryl out for not looking her in the eye since he returned. The guilt pours out as he blames himself for Glenn’s death, but she won’t allow it. “You’re one of the good things in this world,” she says. “And he would know it because he was one of the good things, too.” A little corny, but sweet.
Maggie also shares his desire to kill the Savior, but she insists that they wait to ensure victory. Despite this, the episode closes with a thrilling shot of a shadow cast on Daryl and his signature crossbow. Just when Rosita is ready to bail on the Sanctuary, there he is. But it’s a little frustrating for the show to fall back into the pattern of letting the action hit just before the episode airs.
The actions of Sasha, Rosita, and Daryl are likely to force Rick into battle sooner than he wanted, but for the audience it’s about damn time. But before we see more of the assault, we’re likely to spend the next episode with Rick and co. paying the Oceanside a little visit. That means once again, the bulk of the season’s excitement will be contained in the finale and/or spill into the next season. This structure is the show’s biggest weakness, and it’s demoralizing that we can see the same strings once again. I hope I’m proven wrong, but it’s hard to go against the show’s very nature. And all these communities to check in on are just nurturing the problem.