For a notoriously slow television show, The Walking Dead unexpectedly cuts to the chase in this weeks’ episode. Titled ‘Something They Need’, the focus of the episode is split three ways: first with the Alexandrians as they raid Oceanside for guns, then with Sasha imprisoned in the Sanctuary, and finally with Maggie leading in The Hilltop. The thematic thread that connects these three locations is helplessness, as Rick, Sasha and Maggie all deal with characters who have been made cowards in the face of brutal treatment by the Saviors. Lucky for us, as next week’s season finale approaches, this episode also feels like it’s shedding off cowardice; as if we might be leaving it behind to prepare for the fight.
We do not pick up immediately from the events of last week’s episode, which I personally find frustrating: Sasha’s kamikaze mission into the Sanctuary was enthralling and presumably meant to end in death. However in ‘Something They Need’, we open on Sasha imprisoned in the cell just like Daryl was before her. For a malingering show; a show that famously lingers on the slow and unimportant moments in this apocalypse, it skipped the entire, climactic action sequence of Sasha’s infiltration into the Sanctuary! Did she take down any of Negan’s men once she got in there? How many men did it take to imprison her? Did she get close to Negan at all? We’ll never know – what we do get instead is a repulsive, almost rape scene from an unimportant Savior who meets a grisly end as it turns out that Negan really despises the concept of rape. From there, Sasha and Eugene have some interesting scenes together – Eugene was Abraham’s oldest companion, which offers an interesting dynamic. Sasha’s character has been consistently loyal and brave since her introduction in season three, making her an interesting moral counterpart to Eugene who has gone full turncoat since arriving in the Sanctuary. Eugene’s reasoning is, in its own way, almost poignant: he has never been brave, and only tried to be brave once, and it ended with him watching braver men than him get their brains bashed out, and so he cannot see the point in trying to be brave any longer. An interesting ideological quandary, although I wonder just how far the writing can take Eugene in the future of the show. He has been a coward for sure, and he has had his moments of bravery – will he ever be able to achieve a villainous level of treachery?
Gregory in The Hilltop portrays cowardice in its purest form. We spend a significant amount of time being reminded that Gregory is inept, afraid and unwilling to change – all charming traits to add onto the bourgeoning list of his unlikable qualities, which already include “misogynistic fool who would stab a pregnant lady when her back was turned.” This episode makes it plain that what Gregory is truly afraid of is losing the comforts associated with being leader of The Hilltop, rather than being the leader itself. The blood splatter on his crisp, grey suit is obviously indicative of this and the sight of it propels Gregory secretly out of The Hilltop and towards The Sanctuary, where Simon promised he would be granted asylum. Personally, I can’t wait to see this plan of Gregory’s to backfire. Not only is the Sanctuary a much less impressive community aesthetically, something tells me that Gregory will not be taken in by Negan as an equal (if he’s taken in at all).
In a similar way to how we jumped right into Sasha in captivity, the episode takes us straight into the Alexandrian assault on Oceanside. After episodes on end of hesitation and careful deliberation from Tara, we do not see the actual event of her telling Rick about the community full of guns, rather hear about it in a voice-over during a montage of everyone gearing up to infiltrate the community, and I mean everyone – the Alexandrians, Daryl (who is meant to be in hiding but is just casually riding alongside the RV on a motorcycle as if he isn’t a wanted man), Jesus and Enid. Here is an example of where cutting to the chase works brilliantly, and keeps the show from getting bogged down in its own pacing – a problem that it suffers from often. At Oceanside, it’s the leader Natania versus Rick. Here, Natania is the coward and we can all understand why: the Saviors killed over half of their group last time they met. But is that a good enough reason not to fight this time? Finally, The Walking Dead is back to raising original and interesting questions about civilization. What would you do – keep everyone you love safe in a remote village, or fight back and reclaim civilisation?
The season finale is only seven days away, and just from the preview I am already feeling excited. However, we’ve all been down this road with The Walking Dead before. It’s dangerous to get too excited. But as far as I can tell, the cogs are turning slowly and season seven’s finale looks like it will close the slowest season of all time with a bang, at last.