On last night’s penultimate episode of season seven, our heroes completed their final step in trying to stop the bad guys who are forcing them to give up their stuff… by attacking another community and forcing them to give up their stuff. Yeah.
Some people may feel that The Walking Dead’s biggest problem is its occasional habit to waste copious amounts of time for obnoxiously large portions of its seasons, and let me assure you I count that among its faults. However, my biggest issue with the show has always been that it has so often given us protagonists who seem scarcely better than the antagonists, if that. I understand that’s part of the series’ purpose, to show the murky morality of living in a world where others have free reign to indulge their worst impulses. But at a certain point, it gets hard to stay invested in a series where everyone is being varying degrees of awful.
Obviously, the worst moment was last season, when Rick decided to murder dozens of Saviors—a group who was not yet a threat to Alexandria—just for some food. But then Negan finally showed up and started murdering people and Rick stopped murdering people, and since then it’s been nice to feel like Rick and the Alexandrians are good guys, looking to unite other communities to fight the evil, murderous bullies who oppress them all and take their metaphorical lunch money. The thing holding the Alexandrians up from fighting back is that they need the Heapsters’ help, which means they need to find lots of weapons to pay the Heapsters. When Tara finally gives in and tells Rick about Oceanside and its massive arsenal, the obvious solution is to convince the previously-decimated-by-Saviors community to join their fight and lend them their guns.
Of course, that’s not what Rick decides. Rick decides to just take their guns, failing to recognize the irony that he’s pulling the same shit that the Saviors are. Okay, sure, Tara gets a chance to ask Oceanside leader Natania to fight, or at least meet with Rick, but Tara gets what seems like two minutes tops to make her pitch—not even enough time to get where Rick is—before the Alexandrians start detonating bombs and terrorizing the community and then holding all the women at gunpoint to steal their weapons.
To be fair, Rick and the others say they don’t want to kill anyone, although they are super-willing to do so if necessary. And then the show tries to mitigate it by having a zombie attack which Rick and the others save the Oceansiders from, which would be more meaningful if the reason the zombies came wasn’t because Rick and pals set off half a dozen bombs, and the reason the Oceansiders couldn’t defend themselves wasn’t because Rick and the others were holding them at gunpoint.
It would have been so easy for Rick—and the show’s writers—to just have Rick meet with these people and ask them to join their fight, a fight that most of the community wanted to join despite the Alexandrians literally stealing their stuff. But nope! Our heroes take all the gun in the town, and leave them with none—exactly as the Saviors did to Alexandria—which may be a problem if, you know, more zombies attack. Even Gabriel thinks this is messed up, and Gabriel thinks Rick is the Zombie Apocalypse Jesus. Essentially, Rick has given Oceanside a potential death sentence in order to fight bad guys who are messing with them primarily because Rick picked a fight with them. It is very hard to get invested in their fight just because the people they’re fighting are marginally worse.
And it doesn’t help that Negan gets a moment of—well, not heroism, but a moment where you root for him. Unfortunately, to do so The Walking Dead has to present someone definitely worse for Negan to kill, which means the show dives into the well of sexual assault narrative devices when a Savior named David harasses the captive Sasha, and then Negan discovers him and murders him, because Negan has a firm no-rape policy. It’s gross, it’s meant to be gross, and the fact that it serves only to make Negan briefly antiheroic means it’s supremely gratuitous, and the best that can be said about it is that at least The Walking Dead has enough sense to avoid this shit 98 percent of the time. And thank god, because this show is so devoted to putting unpleasantness on-screen that adding that level makes it almost intolerable.
Minus that bit of terribleness, Sasha’s scenes almost made her silly attempt to kill Negan worth it. Negan’s attempts to get her to join the Saviors—good lord, does this man love it when people from Alexandria try to kill him—is one of his better scenes where he isn’t trying to play for a crowd, and he reveals that he knows that Rick and the others are up to something, which ups those stakes considerably. Sonequa Martin-Green also gets an excellent scene where she’s not even seen, just pleading to Eugene from inside her cell for him to give her some way to kill herself so Negan can’t use her to hurt Rick and the others. It’s a terrific performance, done solely with her voice, and it nets Sasha those pills Eugene had made for Negan’s wives all those episodes ago. (Sasha doesn’t take them, which I suspect means she won’t get a chance to use them in the finale.)
Likewise, Eugene also gives a great speech to Sasha about just how completely terrified he was that night in the season premiere, and how seeing Abraham—a survivor infinitely tougher than he ever was—die like that was just too much for him to bear. Again, he didn’t seek Negan out, but when Negan took him of course he joined up. He begs Sasha to do the same, but he also has enough courage to help her die instead of cravenly reporting her to Negan, so it’s not like he’s lost his moral compass. He just doesn’t want to die; even if you can’t empathize with Eugene, I feel like it’s hard not to sympathize with him.
Here’s the part where I say, even though I had all these issues with the episode, I didn’t hate it. Okay, I hated that Sasha assault scene, but I’m so used to The Walking Dead’s busted moral compass I feel more annoyed with it than upset. It’s so inevitable that you can’t really get mad, but it is exasperating.
I guess since I’ve more or less made my peace with it, watching Rick be a borderline evil asshole will not make me stop watching the show anytime soon. However, I will say it would be a lot easier to root for Rick if, in the same episode where Negan asks Sasha if she’d like to join his gang, he didn’t respond to Dwight’s offer to help kill Negan by drawing his gun, cocking it, and telling his potential ally to get on his knees.
• Seriously, Negan just loves when people from Alexandria try to murder him. He lets Carl go, he spares Rosita, and after Sasha got caught last week, he invites her to join the Saviors because of her “beach ball-sized lady nuts.”
• Aaron’s husband comes along on the Oceanside trip, and gives a speech about loving Aaron and finally realizing they do need to fight the Saviors that he has absolutely signed his death warrant.
• Gregory, a.k.a. Mayor McWeaselface, does have a scene where he thinks about killing Maggie, but he changes his mind, and then it ends with not only Maggie saving him from a zombie, but then shaming him in front of the other Hilltoppers by trying to explain that McWeaselface has never killed a zombie before, which it turns out he has been lying about for quite some time. Shocker.
• Looks like Gregory’s not-at-all sudden yet totally inevitable betrayal of Maggie and the others will happen next week, as he’s asked his man Kal to drive him somewhere, which is almost certainly Sanctuary, to take Simon up on his offer of coming up to see him.
• The zombies that attack Oceanside all clearly came from—wait for it—the ocean, so they were covered in seaweed and barnacles and stuff. A very nice touch, I thought, even if it felt very Pirates of the Caribbean 4.
• Eugene, giving the quote of the episode while understanding the true problems Sasha faces: “Full disclosure: The pillow is not hypoallergenic.”
• As many problems as I had with this episode, Tara flipping off a child almost made up for it all. Almost.
• Head’s up: I am going on vacation, and will not be here to recap The Walking Dead season finale next week! I am very okay with this! Don’t worry, as Germain Lussier, the only other io9 staffer who has been stuck with the show through thick and thin all these years, will take over recap duties. Be gentle!