Even though there are critics who have not been fans of this season of The Walking Dead, as some of you know, I’m not one of them. I’ve felt the entire season has been good, and except for a couple of exceptions (most notably episodes 7.06 “Swear” and 7.12 “Say Yes”), most of the episodes I have rated with a solid “A.” This being said, I can’t help but feel sadder than normal this year with only 2 episodes left in the season, and then, that dreadful 6-month hiatus. Sigh. However, the good news is with the build-up to All Out War and knowing what I know from the comics, I fully expect the finale to be beyond epic, and the even better news is this week’s season 7 penultimate episode is pretty damn good too. Three communities are visited, and the final preparations are made for the biggest showdown in the history of The Walking Dead.
A BETRAYAL AT THE HILLTOP
Starting with the Hilltop and as is depicted in the Promo for tonight’s episode, Maggie (Lauren Cohan) had spotted a wild blueberry bush earlier outside the walls, and she decides to venture back out to retrieve it and then, replant it inside. She is joined by Gregory (Xander Berkeley) who puts on the front that he wants to start working together, but we all know better. That guy is a snake, and this is made clear when he contemplates stabbing Maggie when she asks him to keep a lookout for walkers. However, any plan that Gregory may have had is interrupted when a couple of walkers appear from the woods, and Maggie has to step in to save his ass. What. A. Loser.
It’s pretty clear Gregory has never killed a walker before, but even so, Maggie tries to defend him when she realizes that a few Hilltoppers saw the entire thing go down. “He’s never killed one before, but he’s learning,” Maggie shouts, and to that, they respond, “That’s not what he told us.” Ouch. How embarrassing! Anyways, even though Gregory appreciates Maggie saving his life, that humiliation appears to be the final straw. The next time we see Gregory he grabs a bottle of tequila, calls for Hal, and says he needs him to drive him somewhere, probably an overnight trip. It doesn’t take a genius to know where he’s going and what he’s about to do.
EUGENE THE TRAITOR AND A SET-UP FOR THE COMIC-BOOK HOLLY DEATH
Given the events from last week, it’s no surprise that the next time we see Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), she’s been captured at the Sanctuary, and is in the same cell Daryl (Norman Reedus) found himself in earlier in the season — the only difference is Sasha’s allowed to keep her clothes and no Easy Street (thank God!). Seeing that she embarked on a suicide mission and never really expected to make it out alive, one big question throughout the episode is whether Sasha truly wants to live. This is ultimately put to the test when the sleeze ball Savior, David (the same perv who came onto to Enid at Alexandria), tries to rape Sasha. Of course, if you’re familiar at all with comic-book Negan, you know immediately this isn’t going to end well for Davey-boy. While Negan (Jeffrey Dean-Morgan) may be a psychopathic maniac, there is some method in his madness, and he does, in fact, have a code. He values courage and bravery, and that’s actually the only reason why he spared Carl (Chandler Riggs) when he pulled his little Trojan Horse trick and killed 2 of Negan’s men in 7.07 “Sing Me A Song.” Well, another part of Negan’s so-called “code” is you don’t rape. It’s one of the rules, and we know what happens when you don’t follow the rules in Negan’s house. So, not surprisingly and just like in the comics, David is killed by Negan when he walks in and catches the prick in the act.
This is unacceptable behavior. Rape is against the rules here. I wouldn’t want to be somewhere it wasn’t. Someone in charge who lets something like that fly. David, you really crossed the line — Negan
I’m sorry, sir — David
You know what, I do not accept your apology — Negan
In fact, the scene plays out almost verbatim as it does in the comic-book material but with one major difference — the character attacked isn’t Sasha (who actually isn’t even in the comics) but someone else by the name of Holly. If you think back to season 6 when Alexandria was attacked by The Wolves, a minor character named Holly was injured, and Dr. Cloyd was unable to save her life. So, TV Holly meets a premature death, which means another character will likely get her comic-book demise. Given that Holly was the unfortunate one who’s almost raped in the comics, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Sasha is probably the one who will draw the short straw. This is definitely not good news for the Sasha fans out there.
So, back to the rape scene, the kicker is Negan decides to give Sasha a little “test” and leaves David’s corpse in her cell, knowing full well he’ll soon turn. He then hands Sasha his knife, and she has to choose. Let David reanimate and eat her face off. Slit her wrists with the knife. Or, put down Rapey Davey before he becomes dead alive Rapey Davey. Of course, Negan doesn’t hide his hope that Sasha will save herself because regardless of what she did, he’s thoroughly impressed (remember that “code” and Negan putting value on bravery and courage?).
I gotta hand it to you. You’ve got some beachball-size lady nuts on you, coming in all kamikaze like that…And, I want to harness the heat coming off of those. You can help me run this place one day, all of us together, following the rules, working on the same side of things — Negan
In the end, Sasha decides to save herself, and Negan seems very pleased because he hopes to have her by his side as one of his top lieutenants one day (dream on, Negan!). However, when Sasha appears suicidal after Eugene (Josh McDermitt) makes a surprise visit to her cell, you really have to wonder.
You know, when Jeffrey Dean-Morgan appeared for the first time at San Diego Comic-Con last summer as Negan, he said this time would probably be OK, but he was fully expecting a “salute of middle fingers” next year. That could very well be true, but unless Eugene somehow redeems himself in next week’s finale, I think Josh may be greeted by an entire Hall H of loud “Boo!”‘s as well. Even though he probably shouldn’t, Eugene is ultimately allowed to visit Sasha and brings her some bedding, food, and water. He doesn’t waste any time, tells Sasha he knows about Negan’s offer to her, and very bluntly advises her to accept. He then goes on to explain why he remains loyal to Negan, and so, for those who really think Eugene is just playing some mind game and intends to betray the man, this confession really makes that theory look unlikely (at least in the foreseeable future). Eugene basically says that being in that Lucille lineup was the most scared he’s ever been his entire life, and then, it was “pissing pants rinse-and-repeat” when it happened to Glenn. He can’t feel that way again, and being at the Sanctuary insures him that he won’t. Bottom line — he remains at the Sanctuary and stays by Negan’s side because he keeps him safe.
This is Eugene’s first trip to Sasha’s cell. He returns for a 2nd time later, and it is then that Sasha pleads with Eugene to get her something “to end it all.” A gun. A knife. A piece of glass. Anything. At first, Eugene is reluctant, and that’s understandable given how he was almost duped by Negan’s wives to make suicide pills that they fully intended to give to Negan himself back in “Hostiles and Calamities.” However, Sasha’s different. She’s his friend (or at least she used to be), unlike Tonya and Amber, whom he just met. So, in the end, he finally decides to help and slips 1 of the suicide pills under Sasha’s cell door. Keep in mind this isn’t the “gun, knife or piece of glass” that Sasha specifically requested, but if she’s truly suicidal, as long as the pill gets the job done, she should be happy, right? Well, that’s the problem — she’s NOT happy. Not at all. In fact, Sasha is quite upset when she realizes what it is that Eugene just gave her, and so, I think that answers our question. Sasha was playing Eugene just like Negan’s wives did, with the hope he’d sneak her a weapon she could use to take out Negan. But, given the plan has just backfired, what will Sasha do now? I won’t say, but if you know how comic-book Holly’s storyline ends, then you already know the answer.
Obviously a lot has happened in the short day Sasha has been at the Sanctuary, but the most shocking part isn’t revealed until the very end. It seems “a little birdie” has told Negan that Rick is planning something, and tomorrow is going to be “a big day,” with Sasha accompanying him to Alexandria to deal with the situation. Uh oh. It sounds like Negan somehow knows Rick is building an army and is planning on attacking, but who could have told him? I think most viewers will assume it’s Gregory, but given that he hasn’t actually visited the Sanctuary yet to rat out Maggie, it can’t be him. So, if not him, then who? Everything is pointing to Rick having a mole among his ranks, and something tells me we’re going to get a shocking betrayal in next week’s finale.
PROMISES ARE BROKEN — BUT COULD A PARTNERSHIP BE IN THE CARDS?
Of course, as some may have suspected, the majority of the episode deals with the aftermath of Tara’s (Alanna Masterson) little confession to Rick (Andrew Lincoln) about Oceanside a few weeks ago in “Say Yes.” The end result is a very large group from Alexandria (even Francine, whom we haven’t seen in like forever, joins in for the fun) and the Hilltop making the trip to Oceanside, with the full intent of taking their weapons and if possible, convince them to join in the fight with the Saviors. This is how the episode opens, with a steady stream of super-icky ocean walkers coming from the direction of a wrecked cruise ship, with a voice-over of Tara explaining to Rick why she didn’t tell him about Oceanside before even though she knew how desperately they needed weapons to fight the Saviors.
Why didn’t you tell us before now? — Rick
I made a promise, Rick — Tara
Are you ready if this goes south? — Rick
It won’t — Tara
If it does, you don’t need to feel bad — Rick
I do feel bad. I will — Tara
Tara, you don’t have to — Rick
The scene then cuts to Natania (Deborah May) talking to Rachel (Mimi Kirkland) about a fish she just caught. Rachel goes off to clean her fish, while Natania makes her way back to her cabin and goes inside. Holy shit! Tara’s there, waiting for her, just like a bad dream. She has Natania at gunpoint and sits her down at the table. Before long, Cyndie (Sydney Park) comes in and doesn’t see them right away. “Hello Cyndie,” Tara finally says, and when Cyndie turns around, she’s visibly disappointed that Tara broke her promise. Even though we all know Tara and realize she must be dying inside having to do this, her overall affect is very cold and very convincing. She explains she had no choice, and that Beatrice (Briana Venskus) was right — there were a lot more Saviors and they returned to kill many of her people at Alexandria, including her girlfriend. She says they need their guns and if Oceanside would join them, they could win.
Of course, Natania isn’t convinced they could win given their history with the Saviors, but Tara wants her to at least talk it over with Rick. The catch is they have to answer her right now so she can stop what’s coming, but Natania doesn’t budge. Tara keeps looking at her watch, and when she finally says “Time’s up,” just like Jeff Goldblum in “Independence Day,” we find out why. It’s BOOM-time, baby! Explosions. People running. Kathy and Beatrice try to make it to the arsenal, as Michonne (Danai Gurira) starts to fire off shots while perched in a tree, kicking up dirt and keeping them back. Meanwhile, Tara gets duped by Natania’s fakeout of being in pain, and Cyndie then retrieves a gun they have hidden. Natania knocks over Tara, and now, they have the upper hand. Tara says her gun isn’t loaded, which should be a clear indication to them that Tara’s group isn’t there to hurt anyone. Regardless, Natania gets the gun from Cyndie, and Tara is now their hostage. Dun dun dun! Yeah, NOW they’re going to talk to Rick.
Another BOOM-BOOM! The rest of Rick’s group comes out of hiding and rounds up the remaining women. Now, all in a group, Rick steps up and lays out why they’re there. They’re taking their guns and don’t want anyone getting hurt. Natania then shows up with Tara at gunpoint and disagrees that anyone’s taking anything. Leave now, or Tara will die. Rick says fine, but they’re still taking the guns. And, if Tara dies, Natania will too. None of us want that. Let’s talk. Things are getting way too tense, and there needs to be a distraction. Remember those disgusting ocean walkers at the beginning of the episode? Well, they’re about to serve as that much-needed “distraction.”
Michonne sees from her scope that the ocean walkers have formed a herd, are coming straight towards the group, and so, she yells to Rick to warn him. Cyndie uses the chaos to get in a punch to her grandmother, knocking her to the ground and also revealing Enid (Katelyn Nacon) who appears to have been ready to take a JFK shot to the back of Natania’s head. Hot damn, Cyndie and Enid! The women don’t have any weapons, but Rick gives a few of them — most notably Cyndie, Beatrice and Kathy — knives, and they end up fighting **together**. Heck, even Rachel gets in a few walker kills, which she is more than a little giddy about. But, the interesting part is after it’s all over, an amazing thing happens — Beatrice returns Rick his knife, and he extends his hand. Then, she smiles, and they shake hands. Regardless of everything that has happened, I would love to see these 2 groups become allies and work alongside each other. I definitely think Rick can trust them a lot more than that creeper, Jadis, and her junkyard weirdos.
But, that’s not happening today. Broken, Natania starts walking back and tells them to go ahead. Take the damn guns, but they’re not joining in their fight against the Saviors. So, they take the damn guns — ALL of them. However, just because Oceanside doesn’t agree to fight, I still hold out hope it won’t be the last time we see these people. It’s pretty clear that most of the women want to join Rick — hell, even Beatrice agrees that perhaps they should try and help, which I never thought would happen. But, even more importantly, as Tara and the group are loading up the weapons and are about to leave, Cyndie says something very profound and telling.
Thank you for saving me. And, for the time before that. Oh, and that other time. And, for today — Tara
No, thank you for what you’re doing — Cyndie
That is, even after everything Tara and her group have done and the fact that they’re basically leaving Oceanside defenseless, Cyndie thanks Tara anyways. Why? Because she’s one of the few people left who’s willing to fight for what’s good and to make sure the world isn’t ruled by bullies like the Saviors. Again, let’s hope for an Oceanside reunion in the near future (and not one where Tara returns and find them all dead or all walkers!).
ALEXANDRIA GETS A VERY UNWELCOME VISITOR
Finally, the episode ends with the answer to the question that most fans have been buzzing about for the past week — who was the shadow figure in the final scene of last Sunday’s episode? It seems Rosita (Christian Serratos) and this mystery person end up back at Alexandria, and when Rick and Co. return from Oceanside, Rosita takes them to Morgan’s jail cell where she’s holding their “visitor.” Oh, yes, it’s Dwight (Austin Amelio), and boy, he’s definitely not welcome. Daryl lunges at him, but Rosita helps to hold him back, saying he wants to help.
Is that true? You want to help? — Rick
I do — Dwight
Okay. Get on your knees — Rick
Whoa, Rick! Down, boy! Of course, Rick’s reaction is most certainly understandable given what he knows about Dwight. Dwight killed Denise. Rick also remembers him being Negan’s sidekick during their first visit to Alexandria in “Service.” So, no way he’s going to take any chances.
But, at the same time, we comic-book readers know Dwight eventually defects and betrays Negan, and more than likely, this is the beginning of that big storyline. So, even though Negan says tomorrow is a big day for him, I think today has been a bigger day for Rick. He now has all the guns he needs to fight the Saviors. And, now, the biggest “gun” Rick can use against Negan and the Saviors has just been dropped in his lap — even though he may not know it yet.
All in all, I thought this was a solid episode, as has been the majority of the season. Plenty of walkers, plenty of action, and lots of Negan which I feel has been one of the best parts of this season, although I know a select group of the fandom will disagree. In fact, I’m sure there will be naysayers who only wish for Negan to be gone and who also believe that this season has been “slow,” but in my opinion, that makes very little sense. I mean, what do people expect? For Negan to Lucille Glenn and Abraham in the premiere, and for All Out War to be over and done in 2 or 3 episodes? Now, that wouldn’t be interesting, nor would it be believable, and not to mention, you’d burn through the comic-book material so fast that you’d be out of source material very soon. And, then The Walking Dead would be done. No, seriously, let’s be realistic. Preparations have to be made. Supplies and weapons gathered. Alliances formed. All of this takes time.
And, even though it has taken nearly the entire season to get to this point, think about what we have now. We have Alexandria. We have the Hilltop. We have the Kingdom (and Shiva!). And, we also have this Jadis and her junkyard group, but because they’re not in the comics, we really don’t know if that’s good or bad yet. But, regardless, the pieces are all in place on the chessboard, and the match of the century is about to begin. The closest we’ve come to a showdown of this magnitude was with the Governor and Woodbury vs. The Prison back in season 3, but make no mistake, that will feel like child’s play compared to what’s coming. So, whether the season may have felt slow or not, I think most of us will agree after next week’s finale, it most definitely was worth the wait.
The season 7 finale of The Walking Dead airs next Sunday at 9/8c on AMC.
Critic Grade — A
Geeky computer and math nerd by day and TV fanatic by night. My beats are The Walking Dead, The Strain, Person of Interest, Z Nation, and anything that most people would call freaky. Editor-In-Chief and Lead Writer of TVGeekTalk.com