The Walking Dead S07E14 “The Other Side” REVIEW
Essential Plot Points:
- We’re at Hilltop. It’s peaceful and busy. We see Maggie and Sasha teaching residents knife fighting skills. We see Sasha quietly memorising the Saviour compound layout. We see Maggie hard at work preparing Hilltop for war. We see Maggie trying to reach out to Daryl and Daryl barely able to look at her.
- We see Gregory, alone in his office, drinking.
- And finally, we see Rosita arrive and the start of the conversation that closed last episode.
- Brilliantly, the episode wastes no time. Jesus and Enid find Sasha going through Jesus’s stuff and discovering his bullet stash. He gives it to her, begs her to stay but Sasha’s mind is made up. Jesus leaves and she tries to reassure a clearly heartbroken Enid. Enid accepts her friend’s choice and gives her 10 minutes before she tells Maggie. Sasha smiles, proud of her friend and gets ready to go to war.
- And then the alarms sound. The Saviours are coming.
- Sasha and Rosita sprint to an escape tunnel Sasha dug and get out just as the Saviours get in. Neither Maggie or Daryl are supposed to be there so Enid hides them in a cellar. She tries to distract the Saviour sent to check that area but he goes in anyway…
- Elsewhere Simon shows up and proves again that he graduated top of class in Belligerently Cheerful Erudite Threats from Saviour School. Gregory tries to outbloke him but it becomes clear the Saviours are looking for someone…
- That someone, it turns out, is Harlan the doctor. Negan having furnaced their previous doctor, the Saviours need a new one. They take him and, just in case we forgot they were assholes, leave a crate of sanitary towels as “recompense”.
- In the cellar, the Saviour fails his Spot Hidden check. Daryl is about to kill him anyway when the other man leaves. Maggie finally has it out with Daryl and they hug, united in their grief at the loss of Glen.
- Out in the world, Sasha and Rosita bicker but put together a plan; head for the tall buildings around the Saviour compound, get a good line of sight, wait for a shot. But first, they need a car…
- At Hilltop, Gregory drops lumpen hints about someone wanting to depose him and gets an inside line of sorts from Simon, enabling him to get into the compound. Harlan is loaded up, and Gregory watches him be driven away. The Hilltop residents look on in basically open disgust.
- Out in the world, Sasha and Rosita use a petty great piece of diversionary tactics to get a car and arrive at their target site. They hole up and slowly, reluctantly, bond. Rosita opens up and explains her skillset comes from the people she partnered with on the road. They assumed she was helpless, she let them and when she learned everything she dumped them and moved on. They talk about Abe, and how even a good death was denied him and finally bond over the fact the man they both loved was happy before he died.
- And then the truck carrying Harlan shows up and everything goes to Hell. Realising the possible consequences for Maggie, they open their stolen walkie talkie.
- What falls out of it is not just the worst piece of dialogue Eugene has ever been called upon to say but perhaps the worst piece of dialogue in the history of the show. As the air hisses out of the episode, they make the call to go in.
- Back at Hilltop, Gregory tries to threaten Jesus. It goes very badly. He throws Jesus out and Jesus immediately runs into Daryl. He can’t find Sasha or Rosita…
- Back at the Saviour compound, they break Eugene out. Only he doesn’t want to go and tearfully runs away from them. Disgusted, Rosita decides to follow him in and Sasha tells her to watch her back while she cuts the lock.
- Then relocks it.
- With her on the inside.
- Telling Rosita to live, Sasha runs into the compound. There’s the sound of gunfire and an audience going “…AGAIN?” Rosita runs off and stops as she sees a figure with long hair and a crossbow…
This episode has six amazing performances in it, brings tensions at Hilltop to a head and has two of the most emotionally affecting moments in the season in it. It’s a powerhouse 46 minutes that gives Sonequa Martin-Green, Laruen Cohan, Christian Serratos, Norman Reedus, Xander Berkeley and Tom Payne some of their best material all season.
Then last 10 minutes stand as the most ill-advised thing this show has done in a year.
But the good stuff first. Hilltop hits this week what The Kingdom did last week. Where the tragic murder of Ben breaks the polite lie Ezekiel has woven for his people, here it’s Gregory’s serial capitulation. He bows for everything and even though he does (sort of) try and stop Harlan being taken it’s too late. Even before Jesus’s epic put down at the end of the episode it’s clear Gregory has lost Hilltop. He’s drinking alone, Maggie and Sasha are walking people through knife drills, Maggie’s making trade deals with The Kingdom. Gregory isn’t even an obstacle. He’s an irrelevancy. The fact the show is able to find moments of sympathy with him and he presents as complicated is all the more impressive as a result.
Then there’s the women of Hilltop. Lauren Cohan cannot turn in bad work. We genuinely think she does not know how, and Maggie here is a fascinating evolution of Rick’s approach to leadership. She’s got his directness, his authority but she’s a planner, constantly working to help her people get better and bring them up with her instead of drag them along. Maggie is now one of the most important people in the show and she’s been accepted in that role because of her honesty. The moment where Jesus comes out to her, and why he does it, sincerely made us tear up. The moments where she comforts Daryl, and convinces him he’s allowed that comfort, made us flat out cry.
As did Sonequa Martin-Green. Sasha is so tense this episode she’s practically vibrating. Martin-Green shows us this woman of incredible courage and compassion who deals with her own death wish by putting herself between harm and the only person who knows what she’s going through. It’s immensely powerful stuff and even when the script fails in the closing moments, the episode lands precisely because Martin-Green and Christian Serratos are that damn good.
And Serratos is flat-out stunning this week. Rosita has always been one of the show’s more divisive characters but this week we get context for, well, everything. She’s a survivalist because she’s had to be, a woman content to hide inside the assumption of helplessness to expand her skillset even further. She’s grief-stricken and furious and ready to die. Even though, from where Sasha’s standing, her skills alone mean she has to live. Their final conversation, before things go south (in every way) is a season highlight.
Elsewhere in the cast, Tom Payne and Norman Reedus also massively impress. Reedus, in our interview, talked about this scene with Maggie and it’s worth the wait. We especially loved the way Reedus almost resets Daryl around her at first. He’s talking out of the corner of his mouth, not making eye contact and slowly Maggie brings him out of himself.
All of this is great. Even the Saviours are interesting this week and the theft of Harlan is a nice consequence for the furnacing of their original doctor. There’s a real sense of fatalism to the episode, of something terrible coming and then… It does.
And it’s Eugene.
We love Josh McDermitt’s work. We’re very fond of Eugene. His rambling stream-of-consciousness comedy interlude this episode feels about as welcome as a Saviour, anywhere, ever. It brings the episode to a crashing halt, not once but twice. It even steps all over the reveal that Eugene really has changed sides. Seriously, we’ve never seen the wind go out of a TV show quite so fast as it does in that scene.
And then does again.
Look, this is ground we’ve been over, more than once. The fake Glen death was annoying. The fake Rick death a few weeks ago felt like a bad but weirdly endearing cover version. This feels like the exact moment where the demands of a weekly TV show collide with the demands of serial storytelling and neither come off well. We’re two episodes away from the end of the season and the chances of us getting a Sasha solo story do not seem super likely. As a result this feels less like her running off to glory and more like her running off to Star Trek: Discovery. We could be wrong, but we’re betting a head-on-spike “By the way, Sasha’s dead” moment is coming down the pipe pretty quick now.
And then there’s the Dwight/Daryl moment. The chances of Daryl getting to the Saviour compound that fast seem pretty damn low so we’re betting it’s Dwight. And you know what, it would have been even more effective for it to actually be Dwight. Why the extra uncertainty? Rosita has just been denied a good death and watched as the closest thing she has to a friend runs off to a possible glorious death of her own, presumably caused by the alarms being raised by another former friend of her’s? That’s drama aplenty! The “OR IS IT?!” moment is given no space, isn’t needed and just feels like filler.
And yet, because of the sheer force of the acting on screen, the episode lands. It’s on one engine and that engine is on fire but somehow it lands. It’s a rough end to a fantastic hour of TV though. Hopefully the final episodes of the season will bring things back up.
- The entirely dialogue-free cold opening montage is brilliantly put together. It tells you everything you need to know without a word being spoken.
- The way Jesus comes out, and how he uses it to help Maggie accept she’s healing is writing and acting so complicated it looks simple.
- Sonequa Martin-Green, Christian Serratos, Xander Berkeley, Lauren Cohan, Tom Payne and Norman Reedus. Any show would be blessed to have half this talent on screen. The performances this week are all strong but these six are exceptional. Martin-Green in particular has this tightly clenched serenity that’s just extraordinary.
- The near-identical moves that Sasha and Rosita use to take out the Walkers says a lot about their shared, and unwanted, past.
- The Mansplaining Saviour that Enid tries to distract is notable for two reasons; he’s actually threatening and he’s different to the often generic sociopath assholes the Saviours are always depicted as.
- Gregory’s moment of spine in asking for Harlan to stay is kind of brilliant. Doesn’t take, because, well, Gregory… but still.
- Notice Rosita doesn’t say whether she killed any of her previous boyfriends. Notice Sasha doesn’t ask.
- “You’re one of the good things in this world. That’s what Glenn thought. And he would know, because he was one of the good things too.” This scene is perfect. These two people who’ve lost so much, acknowledging their wounds and that there are things bigger than those wounds.
- “I thought I hated you. But maybe I just hated that he figured his shit out first.” Christian Serratos has been poorly served at times on this show but good grief does she deliver when you give her the ball. Assuming Rosita survives the season (and congratulations on the baby, Christian!) we can’t wait to see what she does next.
- “To go out with a point to going out. I guess we all want that.” And this is as close as Sasha gets to confessing she wants to die too. There’s so much here and it’s so tightly controlled and you can see how much that costs her. Just amazing work from Sonequa Martin-Green.
- Very nearly every single goddamn thing Eugene says this episode. The confrontation with Sasha and Rosita is great. The comedy freestyling is like nails on a chalkboard. That’s on fire. And has no idea of what tone it needs to fit with.
- No planning meeting on the face of the EARTH should ever come to the conclusion that the only thing more entertaining than one ambiguous cliffhanger is two. Yes we know, weekly TV at a weekly pace but the Daryl/Dwight silhouette isn’t just dirty pool it’s straight up cheap.
- Was that seriously a crack about how bad a sentry Fat Joey was? We’re genuinely asking because if it was, what the HELL else is the show going to throw at the poor bastard? Have him fed to the Saviours’ slaves with some rambling monologue about how many of them could eat him? Come ON.
- Look we know we may be reading too much into this but the end of the episode is Sasha and Rosita on two sides of a barrier. One of them desperately wants to cross it to save the other. The other, convinced they’re about to die, is completely fine with being the only one who does so. And Sonequa Martin-Green is about to star in Star Trek and…
- …it’s GOT to be deliberate, right? RIGHT? It’s not just us?
- Wouldn’t it be great if there was just one Saviour who wasn’t a flamboyantly erudite grubby post-apocalyptic Batman villain? How great would that be?
- “So you’re the Saviour’s new leader.”
“Got a big speech?”
“Give me all your stuff or we’ll kill you.” – See how refreshing that is?
Review by Alasdair Stuart