So little happens in “The Other Side,” episode 14 of The Walking Dead’s seventh season, that it’s incredibly easy to summarize the “important” parts, which amount to fewer than five minutes of the running time.
Based on the episode teaser, you may have been expecting something big, like Sasha and Rosita fulfilling their suicide mission to take on Negan, and someone dying as a result. Instead:
- Daryl and Maggie have a heart-to-heart, and Daryl cries.
- Rosita (Christian Serratos) and Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) attempt to assassinate Negan via sniper rifle; the attempt lasts exactly 27 seconds.
- A few minutes later they try again; that attempt lasts exactly 64 seconds.
- These failed attempts necessitate their inevitable plan B — the “I’m going in!” approach to Negan’s compound. This infiltration lasts all of two minutes and 22 seconds before the episode ends on a cliffhanger. In that short span of time, three characters make pivotal choices — one surprising, one baffling, and one anticlimactic.
But until that point at the very end of the episode, the rest of the hour is spent largely hopping from one conversation to another. Most of these conversations aren’t significant; “The Other Side” basically amounts to a full episode of stalling before the inevitable group battle that will happen at some point in the future. But at least the interactions between Sasha and Rosita and Maggie and Daryl serve to iron out key longstanding conflicts.
Sasha and Rosita finally make up
One of the recurring points of tension throughout season seven has been the romantic triangle between Sasha, Rosita, and the dearly departed Abraham that began back in season six. Because of this season’s constant shifts in focus, The Walking Dead has barely explored — beyond a few curt exchanges — how that rivalry has continued to impact the relationship of the two women following Negan’s murder of Abraham in the season seven premiere.
A decent part of “The Other Side” is spent giving Sasha and Rosita the opportunity to travel together. It’s the most time we’ve spent with either character all season, and a chance for the show’s two most capable women to work out their issues. But their scenes together aren’t nearly as dynamic as you’d hope or expect them to be.
Even though Rosita and Sasha finally make amends and resolve their hostility over Abraham, they do this mainly through discussing the men in their lives instead of discussing themselves. (There is a bit of zombie-killing involved, too, but it’s minimal and doesn’t particularly do anything to seal their partnership.)
When Sasha compliments Rosita’s wide-ranging skill set, Rosita rattles off a list of names of the ex-boyfriends who taught her everything she knows. When Rosita finally admits that she doesn’t hate Sasha, it’s framed through realizations about her relationship with Abraham: “I thought I hated you, but maybe I just hated that he figured out his shit first.”
Given that their romantic entanglement is the only real reason the show has given them to interact up until now, this scene plays pretty well. But when Rosita adds that it was “stupid to waste so much time,” it feels like the show remonstrating itself for not giving these women more to do before sending them down a path that may end with one of them dead.
Daryl expresses some pent-up guilt
Remember how Negan recently burned the Saviors’ doctor alive? Well, we learned in “The Other Side” that the reason the doctor was so expendable is that Negan’s brother, also a doctor, is caring for patients at Hilltop. Part of this episode is devoted, portentously and tiresomely, to the Saviors showing up to take him into their service. In the process, the Savior’s henchman-of-the-week does just enough posturing to remind the audience that the Hilltop’s nominal leader, Gregory (Xander Berkeley), is a weak and manipulative alcoholic who’ll probably screw over the rest of the Hilltoppers if push comes to shove (or threats escalate to baseball bat).
But otherwise, the only reason the episode spends so much time on this visit is to get Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Daryl (Norman Reedus) — who are forced to hide when the Saviors arrive — to talk to one another.
The Walking Dead knows the only thing its fans love more than being forced to remember how much we all loved Glenn is getting to see Daryl be emo and feel things. The show knows this so well that it’s had him spend roughly half of this season in the dark. When he’s not locked in a darkened cell, he’s having to hide in a darkened cellar; the opening of this episode, which takes place in a quiet flashback montage of the Hilltoppers gearing up to fight Negan, devotes a full minute to a scene where Daryl sits in the dark at night, hair covering his face, being sad and carving weapons. It’s clear he’s been avoiding Maggie, and their moment of hiding allows her to finally confront him.
So obviously, Daryl, who loved Glenn so much, gets a big cry moment, because he blames himself for the events that led to Glenn’s death. And Norman Reedus cries so beautifully. But Maggie, who loved Glenn most of all, tells Daryl he’s wrong to blame himself and that Glenn thought Daryl was “one of the good things in this world.” And even though Daryl’s still technically in the dark cellar, when she hugs him and asks for his help winning the fight, it’s like sunlight breaks through storm clouds and the mother Madonna descends from on high to bless her perpetually outcast child.
This sets Daryl up for his next move: showing up outside the Saviors’ compound at the last minute — surprise! — to join Sasha and Rosita.
Has Eugene really always been Negan?
At the end of the episode, three important events happen. When Sasha and Rosita go to complete their suicide run by infiltrating the Saviors’ compound, Sasha locks Rosita out in order to force her to stay behind so she’ll survive. Rosita discovers Daryl right outside the compound, but it’s too late for him to join both women and assist them. Sasha’s already inside on her own.
All of this is clearly meant to foreshadow the possibility Sasha will die. But I’m so used to The Walking Dead’s fake-outs on this front that I’m way more interested in what’s going on with Eugene. Before Sasha heads into the compound, Sasha and Rosita encounter Eugene and a random Savior as the two men are inspecting the security of the camp perimeter. The women quickly kill the Savior, but when they tell Eugene they’re freeing him, he begins to cry and tells them to go.
It’s easy to see why life with the Saviors appeals to Eugene — he has a mission, clear objectives, and the sense of authority and respect for his abilities he’s always longed for but has never received. And he gets free pickles!
But does this mean his chilling declaration of allegiance to Negan was real? If it’s not the long con I hoped it would be, then Eugene’s arc may be meant to illustrate how weakness can respond positively to authoritarianism as well as emulate it. But if Eugene’s weakness is sincere, it now feels unearned, possibly because he’s always been portrayed as more than he first appears. If he’s truly become so assimilated to the culture of the Saviors’ compound, The Walking Dead will have wasted most of the genuinely intriguing character development it’s afforded Eugene thus far.
But trying to predict whether Eugene is ultimately evil, or just really good at faking it, is probably anyone’s game at this point, even with so few episodes left in the season.
As with so many things with The Walking Dead, it may be down to crossing our fingers and hoping for the best.