Over the past several weeks I’ve been slowly but steadily ramping up my internal complaint engine regarding the lack of any real movement or action in this season of TWD. The first half was much worse, wherein we had whiny Rick make his first reappearance in any kind of meaningful way since Season 3 at the prison. Yes, he’s shown up for an episode here or an episode there, but this was an extended run that lasted a good (a bad?) seven episodes, with a new form of resolve developing out of events in Episode 708, the mid-season finale. If I seem a little vague here, it’s because I’m trying to avoid overt spoilers in the first paragraph. To read my episode synopsis and review, please scroll down past the spoiler warning.
[Spoiler Warning: The following article is a review and synopsis of this week’s episode, and as such will discuss plot points of The Walking Dead S07E15, “Something They Need” – read further at your own risk.]
So we did, finally, get some action. But it felt more than a little icky, and parts of it were very forced and contrived. Before I talk about the main action arc (the “visit” to the all-women and children enclave of Oceanside), I’ll speak to the two other main story threads that we got tonight.
The first takes us to Hilltop, where we see Maggie doing her quiet best to lead without leading, as she teaches one of the Hilltoppers how to make plants grow. Even though she’s not trying to take over, the respect others have for her is obvious, and Gregory looms around like an ugly shadow, glaring at her whenever he thinks she isn’t looking. She tells someone that she thought she saw a wild blueberry bush outside the walls, and she goes to try to transplant it.
Gregory follows, and she expresses surprise that he came outside the walls. He talks a good talk, but is smarmy and less than sincere. Maggie, for her part, seems willing to give Gregory a chance to start acting better, and she asks him to keep watch while she finishes digging up the small bush. He pulls his knife and looks around, and he goes through a serious temptation to use the knife as he looks at Maggie’s exposed back. However, his innate cowardice prevents him from acting. This is hammered home when a few moments later a walker appears. He tries to act chivalrous, offering to kill the walker so that the “pregnant lady” won’t have to exert herself. He hesitates, hesitates, hesitates, and finally, face filled with self-loathing, he asks Maggie to deal with the walker. Cowards rarely like themselves being exposed, and this is another example. It doubles down when a second walker pins him, and Maggie saves him just as a Hilltop guard crew walk by. “He hasn’t killed a walker before,” she explains, “he’s learning.” “That’s not what he told us,” one of the guards says, looking more than a little disgusted.
Expose a coward, and watch out. Sure enough, back in his office he pulls out the map Simon gave him last week. He call’s in Cal, the guard he’s been grooming, and tells him he’s going to need to be taken for a ride. He’s planning to expose Maggie – he’s a bastard, alright, self-serving and a poor leader. Let’s hope this backfires right in his face.
The second story quickly answers one of the two big questions from the end of last episode – did Sasha survive? (The other is who did Rosita see at the end of the episode – based on Daryl’s appearance with Rick, it ain’t him!) She’s in the same Dipshit Training Rooom that Daryl was in for several episodes, and her handler is a creepy asshole named David. She asks for water, and he tries to force her to give him sex for necessities. When he gets in close, she headbutts him hard. He reacts by laughing, and starts to undo his belt. Bad move.
Negan shows up before he gets very far, and reminds David that rape is against the rules. David trembles and apologizes, but Negan stabs him through the throat: “Apology not accepted,” he says with a smile. He tells Sasha that her frontal assault, while stupid, gained his respect. “You,” he says, “have beach ball sized lady nuts.” Weirdly, he keeps on apologizing for killing David in front of her, and he tells her he remembers her from the night he killed Abraham and Glenn. He also asks her if Rick was involved in her attack. “Your bitch, Rick?” she replies, and he grunts in response.
He places the knife he killed David with on the floor in front of Sasha, and gives her a few options – use it to try to kill him, kill herself, or use it to put down “Ol’ Rapey Davey” as he dubs the still-warm corpse in front of her.
He leaves her, and a bit later, Eugene shows up at her door. He brings a pillow and blanket, and apologizes, but not for what you might expect: “Full disclosure – the pillow is not hypo-allergenic.” That’s the way to focus on priorities, Eugene! I feel that the writers are trying a little too hard to play Eugene for levity at times. More importantly, we get Eugene’s self-justifications for turning over to Negan’s camp – in a nutshell, “They keep me safe.” He implores Sasha to make the same choice, to make the “correct select” as he puts it. She grits her teeth: “Go.” Eugene leaves, and Rapey Davey opens his eyes.
A while later, Negan comes back. His knife is sticking out of David’s head, and Sasha is backed up against a wall, both literally and figuratively. He’s pleased that she’s apparently chosen door number three, and he reads this as a willingness to work with him. He takes the knife – it’ll be “baby steps” until she earns his trust. Eugene pops by for a Eugene-style pep rally after Negan leaves, telling her he thinks she made, yes, the “correct select.” She begins to sob and plead, telling him she made the wrong choice, that Negan will use her to hurt their other friends. Now, she needs a way to kill herself; any weapon will do, she tells him. He hesitates, and tells her he’ll take it under consideration. As he walks away, we see Sasha smiling – she’s playing Eugene.
He makes his decision, and comes back – he’s going to help her. But much to her disappointment, what he slides under her door is a baggie with a small pill in it – one of the pills he made to help out Negan’s wives a few weeks back. He explains that she’ll die in 20-25 minutes after ingesting it, and she slumps back – the tears she now starts to almost shed seem real now. So much for Eugene’s gullibility – either he figured out exactly what she intended (to kill Negan), or he’s just got an innate ability to do exactly the wrong thing.
The final storyline in the episode is the “visit” to Oceanside. The purpose here is clear: take the Oceansiders’ guns, with our without their permission. This whole sequence had a very uncomfortable vibe to it, which I’ll get into as I describe events.
Tara sneaks into the settlement ahead of the others, who set up a non-lethal ambush outside, with Michonne and her sniper rifle watching over everything. They’ve brought a small army with them: in addition to Rick, Michonne, and Tara, we see Daryl, Jesus, Carl, Enid, Father Gabriel, Aaron, Eric, Tobin, and Francine (remember her? We first met her when she fought beside Abraham on an Alexandria expansion construction site back in Episode 514).
Tara confronts Natania, Oceanside leader, and demands that she and the Oceansiders either join them in fighting the Saviors, or give them their guns in order to let the Alexandrians and their allies do so. Natania predictably declines, and laments not having killed Tara. Tara tells her there’s a time limit on the offer – if she doesn’t join them, Rick and the others will take their weapons. Cyndie shows up, and she and her grandmother pretty easily overpower Tara, taking her gun – which happens to be unloaded. While Tara is held at gunpoint, there’s an explosion outside.
This scene is more than a little reminiscent of the way the Termites herded Rick and the gang through Terminus via strategic gunfire. Here, explosions in different locations set off in order herd the Oceansiders into a huddled mass. Gunshots stop the few (Beatrice and Kathy, the two that were tasked with murdering Tara in Episode 706) who run toward the group’s armory, forcing them to back off. Daryl and Jesus come out, and tie the two up, bringing them to join the rest of the women and children. Miraculously, no one is killed in the assault, and just as Rick lays out his demands in “I’m being reasonable Rick” voice, Natania, Cyndie, and Tara – still at gunpoint – show up.
Things tense up. Michonne has Natania mostly in her sights, although she seems to instinctively place Tara in-between her and her sightline so she can’t take the shot. Rick is persuasive – join us, kill the assholes that killed your fathers/brothers/husbands/sons – but Natania won’t budge. Rick’s point is pretty hard – give us your guns, or die and we still take your guns. Natania decides to choose the latter, if only to make a point to the other women of Oceanside, but before she can pull the trigger, Cyndie knocks her grandmother out. Enid shows she’s fully committed to Alexandria as well – as Natania falls to the ground, we see she’d come up behind her with a gun, just in case. And like clockwork, a bunch of walkers show up from the beach, drawn by the explosions and gunfire.
The group takes out the walkers before they can hurt anyone, and Rick and co. hands Beatrice and Kathy knives so that they can help with the fight. While it’s nice to see some action, it’s frankly ridiculous what goes on here. The pop pop pop of automatic fire suggests that the survivors have learned absolutely nothing in several years of living with the dead, as they proceed to waste a whole bunch of valuable ammo in taking out a group that is far smaller than many they have faced before. In fact, there are far fewer here than the group Rick and Michonne took out by themselves a few weeks ago in Episode 712. I don’t know if they’re running out of budget for extras and effects, or if they’re saving the big push for next week’s season finale, but the battle was anti-climactic and looked really, really lame. And again, the wasting of ammo is over the top. Aren’t they struggling to find enough weapons to fight the Saviors?
But the worst part of this whole situation is the result. They come in, take all of the guns, and leave the women and children of Oceanside with nothing. And on top of that, they won’t take any of them with them. There’s some off-key lip service when Cyndie explains to Tara that she’d like to come help in the fight, but that none of them will come unless all of them come, and Natania doesn’t want to. Seriously? At least half the women seem willing to come and fight, so what’s holding them back? I suspect it’s script and budget issues, as there’s no practical reason why those that want to fight shouldn’t go and fight. The icing on the cake is when, as they’re leaving out the gates of Oceanside, Tara flips the bird over her shoulder at young Rachel. Why? Because she had the audacity to a) ask if they were taking everything (yes, they are), and b) she flipped off Tara and treated her poorly when she met her the last time. Guess what, Tara – she’s an eleven-year-old. A ridiculously immature move on Tara’s part. I hope the writers are trying to make her less sympathetic as a character, because that sure is the note struck by such a glib act. And that’s still not the really bad part. What had me so angry is that the whole premise of what went down is this:
We’re going to come in here and do you the courtesy of asking you for your permission to take your guns and leave you defenseless, but we don’t really care what you answer, because we’re taking your guns nonetheless. And although we’re going to give you a few moments to decide to join us, we’re not going to give Tara any way of signalling your intentions nor time to do any actual negotiations before we just start setting off explosives all around your compound filled with small children (the compound, not the explosives).
Other than the fact that they don’t actually kill anyone (fortunately), how are they any different from the Saviors in this act? Come in, take what they want, and leave them defenseless? The only difference is Rick isn’t carrying Lucille. Our tendency as fans of the show is to forgive the acts of our favorites. They’ve all done some pretty difficult things, and killed both people and walkers over the course of seven seasons. But for me, this is a new nadir. There was nothing noble in this act, no matter the end goals. The ends simply do not justify the means.
There is a coda at the end of the episode – the group return to Alexandria to a gate being opened by Rosita. She’s home, and she has a guest: Dwight. She’s got him in Morgan’s holding cell, and he tells Rick and co. that he wants to help. Rick has to hold Daryl back from tearing him apart, and then pulls out his own gun and tells Dwight to get down on his knees. Cut to black. Do I think Dwight is here with good intentions? Absolutely – his only tie to Negan is his attempts to keep his wife, Sherry, safe, and with her gone, he has no loyalty to his boss anymore. Now if Rick can just avoid killing him, or stop Daryl from doing the same, they might be able to get some good use out of him.
So, overall, a very unsatisfying return to action that sees our group making some very poor choices in the name of doing what is right. If you’re going to win at any cost, what price might you eventually have to pay? If the writers and showrunner Scott M. Gimple don’t force them to pay some sort of price for these actions, I, for one, will be very disappointed.
Steve’s Rating: (5.5 / 10)
Weak action sequences with questionable moral choices makes for a very unsympathetic turn from Rick, Daryl, and the rest of the Alexandrians in dealing with an already Savior-damaged group.
Airdate: March 26, 2017
Directed by: Michael Slovis
Showrunner: Scott M. Gimple
Written by: Corey Reed (written by); Frank Darabont (creator); Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, Charlie Adlard (series of graphic novels)