The Walking Dead: Finding Fault and Absolution on “The Other Side”


Fault is a slippery concept. It’s bundled up with intentions, results, and a host of other complicating factors, all of which affect whom we blame and whom we absolve when things go badly. Some people wrong us without meaning to. Others intend to hurt us but inadvertently give us exactly what we need. And some people simply twist in the wind, unsure or unaware of the damage they do to others. How we credit and blame people for their actions and inaction says as much about who we are as it does about the person we’re judging.

But how we move past those assessments of fault, whether we’re blaming others or blaming ourselves, can be just as telling. It matters how we try to overcome, or avoid, the bad blood,  hurt feelings, and guilt. In “The Other Side,” Daryl blames himself, Gregory bends over backwards to avoid any perception of fault, and Sasha and Rosita hash out their awkward, shared part in Abraham’s life and death, each trying to figure out where they fit into this intricate ethical hierarchy.

It’s a solid theme, but the episode is still one Season 7’s weaker hours. The meat of “The Other Side” centers on the fraught relationship between Sasha and Rosita, and while each of the characters is decent enough on their own, they don’t have much chemistry together, leaving the many scenes they share feeling miscalibrated and uneven. So many scenes in this episode feature a pair of survivors simply talking to one another, and when there’s not a solid connection between the real people having the conversation, those moments quickly start to suffer the longer they go on.

That may be part of why the episode’s most effective scene was the final one between Daryl and Maggie. The dialogue between them is as trite as anything in the rest of the episode, but by keeping their scenes together short, “The Other Side” allows that subplot to remain punchy and affecting, without the feeling of the moment being stretched too thin.

 

Or perhaps, given the circumstances, the proper term would be "knifey."

 

It’s also the most potent emotional material in the episode, which builds on the shocking events of the season premiere. It makes sense that Daryl would refuse to look at Maggie because he blames himself for Glenn’s death. There was a clear warning from Negan; Daryl acted anyway, and someone who’d been with him from the beginning died because of it. Despite his warrior’s bent, Daryl is a surprisingly sensitive individual, and it’s not hard to imagine him looking at Maggie and only being able to see what he took away from her.

But Maggie gives him absolution. She tells him it wasn’t his fault. However much Daryl sees himself as an avenging angel now, all the more ready to kill in order to prevent a death like Glenn’s from ever happening again, Maggie tells him to hang onto who he is. She calls him one of the good things left in this world, like Glenn was, and her embrace is one of comfort and of strength. It forgives Daryl his trespasses in a way that only a grieving loved one can, and it stands out in an episode where much of the emotional material is hit or miss.

Gregory, however, has no desire for absolution, no interest in carrying the burden or considering the lives lost or saved under his watch. He simply wants to protect his own interests, to keep himself in whatever small amount of power he has. Gregory’s willing to kowtow to anyone, to sell anyone out, to write off any blame or shame as owing to forces beyond his control, in order to ensure things keep going his way.

I’ve come to appreciate Gregory as a character. Xander Berkeley isn’t my favorite performer in the cast, but there’s something true to life about his character. Gregory is not pure evil like The Saviors. He is not nearly as malevolent as some of the other antagonists who’ve made their way through the series. He is, instead, the sort of person who would genuinely emerge in a setting like this – a petty, largely unchallenged tyrant with delusions of grandeur.

 

"If I could just talk you out of a little beard oil."

 

While Negan, however horribly flawed he is, shares Gregory’s narcissism, he’s backed it up with his horrid but expansive empire. Gregory, by contrast, is the man who shakes hands with power and thinks himself powerful. He is the quisling, the one who’s cowed but prides himself on being the plumpest bovine at the slaughterhouse. His doomed haughtiness, his faith placed in the wrong places, makes him as intriguing a foil as he is an ineffective schemer.

It helps that he’s often paired with Simon, who seems to find a new level of cheery unctuousness each time he appears. His most recent visit to The Hilltop sees him absconding with the local doctor to replace the one who died at The Saviors’ compound. (Apparently the two doctors are  brothers, in a detail that adds next to nothing to the proceedings here.) Gregory complains that he’ll be blamed for this by the Hilltoppers, that he’ll lose his people’s trust, and that he could be replaced with someone less accommodating. In response, Simon writes Gregory a “pass” to The Saviors’ compound, and with this imaginary get out of jail free card (one sure to backfire whenever he tries to use it) Gregory attempts to intimidate Jesus.

Jesus, meanwhile, delivers even more backstory, announcing that he finally feels like he belongs (which is in no way convenient setup for him to step up when things inevitably go badly for Gregory). There’s a foolhardiness to the attempt by Gregory to intimidate his long-haired friend. Gregory’s no chess master. His threats and misplaced faith in The Saviors to allow him to avoid facing the consequences of any hardship will no doubt leave him, at best, sipping his tequila through a straw, regardless of who’s really to blame.

And then there’s Sasha and Rosita. It’s nice, in principle, that The Walking Dead makes time for these two individuals, who have been connected but rarely opposite one another, to sit face-to-face and address the bad blood between them. There are some good moments where the understandable tension between Rosita and Sasha is firmly present but they still try, often in vain, to set it aside for their shared goal. The problem is that the whole frenemy setup is weak, and neither Sonequa Martin-Green or Christian Serratos can elevate it through performance alone.

 

"Aw man, now we're never going to win the scavenger hunt."

 

That becomes most clear in the scene where they’re enjoying relative safety near The Saviors’ compound and have their heart-to-heart. (This one could also be named “Heart-to-Heart: The Episode!”) It adds some additional, perfunctory backstory on Rosita. It turns out she’s so capable because after the outbreak hit, she would drift from guy to guy, sticking around long enough to learn whatever skills they showed off while trying to “protect” her, and leaving when she’d mastered them.

But Abraham, apparently, was different. There’s truth and complexity in the moment where she attributes her anger to the fact that Abraham seemed to adjust to life in Alexandria while she still needed more time to “figure shit out.” It gives shape and depth to her relationship with him, and makes her pain and disillusionment this season more real. It also adds tragedy to the sense that, as she tells Sasha, she was happy that he was happy, and will never get to resolve that with him.

What hobbles the scene, however, (and what often hobbles The Walking Dead) is that the it’s also filled with trite truisms and forehead-slap-level dialogue. Their heart-to-heart takes place within a particularly long scene. It’s akin to the one between Morgan and Richard last week, and it serves the same purpose – to set up and explain the dramatic choice made at the end of the episode. It’s a moment of bonding for Rosita and Sasha, one that makes them part of the same thing rather than opposing forces. That’s a nice idea, at least, even if the episode’s realization of it leaves something to be desired.

The finish to the episode is more table-setting than resolution. Eugene reaffirms his loyalty to Negan. Sasha rushes into the compound and seals her comrade outside of it so that Rosita may live to fight another day. And Rosita herself crosses Dwight’s path. These are as much steps toward the next chapter of the story as they are cappers to this one.

Still, the episode is at its best when it depicts its central figures understanding the titular “Other Side” beyond the attributions of fault that haunt them. That goes for Gregory, whose alliances begin to shift to a group who will no doubt set him adrift when he’s no longer useful. It goes for Daryl, who can, perhaps, start to forgive himself after seeing how Maggie’s forgiven him. And it goes for Rosita, who bares her soul, tells her side of the story, and is given, whether she wants it or not, the chance live for something else, no matter whose fault it is.


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