Christian Serratos as Rosita Espinosa and Sonequa Martin-Green as Sasha Williams. (Photo courtesy of Gene Page/AMC)

As the Season Finale of “The Walking Dead” nears, it is very clear that death is just around the corner. Everything that has been established and built up over the course of this season is quickly coming to the forefront as some lines are drawn and others are crossed. The survivors are teetering on the edge of a full-blown war and the first shots may have just been fired. This episode perfectly sets up the final two episodes of the season while developing the characters and clearing the air in some of the relationships. Our soldiers are gearing up and preparing to fight as the march to war nears its end.

I’ve always been a huge fan of montages on “The Walking Dead” and this episode kicks things off with several different scenes showing daily life at the Hilltop prior to Rosita’s arrival; all of this is set to a fantastic musical score by the show’s composer Bear McCreary, who helped to establish the tone with his other scores throughout the episode. Outside of the community, Maggie, Sasha and Enid give the residents of the Hilltop fighting lessons, including knife-throwing and knife-fighting. Sasha is also shown to be working on some floor plans of the Sanctuary, which are improved by a map that Jesus gives to her. Inside the infirmary, Enid shares in the joy as Dr. Carson gives Maggie a sonogram; this particular shot is almost completely similar to the scene in “Knots Untie,” where Glenn proudly gets his only look at his child who he will never meet. One night, Maggie notices Daryl siting alone at a table outside and decides to bring him some food; there is some clear tension as Daryl doesn’t even look at Maggie. While this is addressed later, seeing such palpable separation between these two is heartbreaking, especially considering they haven’t had much time to sit down and talk about what has happened since Negan’s introduction. In his study in Barrington House, Gregory looks out the window as his constituents gather around Maggie and Jesus, clearly realizing that his role as leader is slipping away. Rosita enters the community and joins Sasha at the cemetery, linking up the timeline to the end of “Say Yes.” The scenes prior to Rosita’s arrival establish the fact that Sasha was already preparing herself for an attack against Negan, and Rosita’s proposition gave her the go-ahead to move forward. After going four episodes with little to no Hilltop screen time, it’s great to see a different side of the community as Maggie, Sasha and Enid begin to take control and train the residents for the coming battles; the structure of the season has made for the Hilltop being left out of much of the episodes, as the focus is placed on other stories, a major complaint that I and other fans have.

Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Enid (Katelyn Nacon) train the Hilltop residents. (Photo courtesy of Gene Page/AMC)

Outside of their shared trailer, Maggie apologizes for intruding in Jesus’ home. We finally get some backstory for Jesus as he reveals that he grew up in a group home, so sharing a space with several people isn’t something that he is inconvenienced by. By being around Maggie, Enid and Sasha, Jesus has been able to connect with others unlike before when he was more of a loner; the series also confirms that fact that Jesus is gay, keeping in line with his comic-book counterpart. While this obviously doesn’t change anything, it’s great that the show has finally acknowledged this aspect of his character, reinforcing the importance of diverse representation in forms of entertainment. This solidifies Jesus as a member of the large extended family as he is willing to share a deeply held aspect of his personal life with Maggie. As Sasha listens in, Maggie states that she will ask the Hilltop blacksmith to make weapons that can be traded with the Kingdom, possibly for body armor (a small callback to Glenn, who wore body armor after escaping the Prison and while searching for Maggie). Sasha counts some of her bullets in the trailer, but is interrupted by Jesus and Enid who plead with her to stay at the Hilltop rather than go after Negan with Rosita. Sasha states that Maggie no longer needs her anymore and that Enid will have to protect her from now on; she also shares her belief that Maggie and Enid will be full-fledged leaders of the Hilltop one day, handing over a bracelet that she has been making for Maggie’s baby and asking if Enid will hold onto it while she’s gone. All of these scenes really feel like Sasha’s farewell to her family; she fully realizes that she may not survive the mission, but she does still have a glimmer of hope that she will return one day.

Chaos strikes the community as Hilltop guard Kal sounds the alarm and announces that the Saviors are coming. This creates a panic as the Saviors aren’t supposed to know that Maggie, Daryl, Sasha and Rosita are at the Hilltop. Sasha grabs her gear and joins back up with Rosita as they escape through a tunnel under the wall; after Maggie stated (off-screen) that they would need an escape route, Sasha took it upon herself to dig a tunnel out of the community. Enid rushes Daryl and Maggie to the Barrington House cellar to hide the two from the Saviors. Inside the mansion, Simon meets with Gregory and explains that the Saviors aren’t here to collect supplies, but rather a person. That person is revealed to be Dr. Harlan Carson, who is set to replace his now deceased brother Emmett, who was killed by Negan in “Hostiles and Calamities.”  The living Dr. Carson doesn’t seem too upset that his brother is now dead, but the series never really developed or explored their relationship, so this scene doesn’t carry any real emotional weight. Simon exchanges a massive crate of aspirin that will apparently make up for the lack of a doctor in the community; this is especially troubling considering Maggie now has no medical expert to help her through the pregnancy and something tells me that aspirin won’t be enough to fix any complications that she may have. Worried that Dr. Carson being taken will leave the Hilltop at a disadvantage, Gregory speaks with Simon privately to explain that the actions of the Saviors may cause his followers to question his leadership; he also states that someone may step in and overtake the community, damaging the Hilltop’s allegiance to Negan. Simon tells Gregory that he is welcome to visit the Sanctuary if such problems ever arise. I am continually impressed by Steven Ogg’s portrayal of Simon, a character who provides some dark humor and serves as a threatening force when Negan isn’t around; Steven Ogg and Xander Berkeley have great on-screen chemistry together and their scenes are always enjoyable to watch.

Simon (Steven Ogg) speaks with Gregory (Xander Berkeley). (Photo courtesy of Gene Page/AMC)

Deep inside the cellar, Maggie finds a hiding spot for her and Daryl behind some boxes. Outside near the cellar entrance, a lone Savior snoops around, but Enid appears with some “veggies” and tries to draw him away from the area; the Savior rudely tells Enid to call them “vegetables” before shooing her away. This is the second case of a Savior getting too close to comfort to Enid, but serves the purpose of showing that Enid is willing to risk her own safety to protect Daryl and Maggie. The Savior makes his way into the cellar and takes a few moments to examine things, but ultimately leaves; this scene is incredibly intense as Maggie and Daryl are almost discovered. Daryl nearly steps out of the hiding spot to kill the Savior, but Maggie stops him. When they’re alone, Maggie brings up the fact that Daryl hasn’t said anything to her since he arrived at the Hilltop. Realizing that he feels immense guilt for indirectly causing Glenn’s death, Maggie comforts him and explains that she in no way blames him, even as he profusely blames himself and apologizes. “You’re one of the good things in this world…that’s what Glenn thought and he would know because he was one of the good things too,” an emotional Maggie tells Daryl before hugging him; when Daryl cries, we all cry. This moment has been a long time coming and its importance cannot be overstated as it allows Daryl and Maggie to move forward without the unresolved tension that existed between them; while Maggie never blamed Daryl, having her tell him strengthens their bond and establishes the fact that the will work together to honor Glenn’s memory.

Outside of the Hilltop, Sasha and Rosita search for a vehicle to drive to the Sanctuary. While trying to hot-wire a car, Rosita notices notices that Sasha is wearing Abraham’s necklace, the gift that Rosita gave to him shortly before their breakup. It’s a bit odd that Sasha would wear this necklace, although it is completely possible that she had no clue that Rosita made it for Abraham. This puts a heavier strain on their already tense relationship and prompts Rosita to shut down Sasha’s desire to have a conversation while searching. While walking, Sasha makes the suggestion that they snipe Negan from a building nearby the Sanctuary, possibly giving them the chance to escape after they’re done. However, Rosita believes that the only way to assure that Negan will be killed is to infiltrate the factory and execute him face to face. They find an area with several cars and use fire to distract a group of walkers, allowing them to hot-wire a vehicle and drive away, but not before running over several walkers in epic fashion. These scenes establish the resourcefulness of Sasha and Rosita, as well as their ability to work as a team, even if them may not get along. They make their way to one of the buildings within the vicinity of the Sanctuary and Sasha positions her sniper rifle to have a perfect view of the walker yard. She spots Eugene giving orders to the prisoners/workers and alerts Rosita, who explains that he is likely trying to get on Negan’s good side. This episode’s theme of characters opening up to each other is further explored as Rosita and Sasha finally break down the barriers that have stood between them.

Tom Payne as Jesus and Lauren Cohan as Maggie Rhee. (Photo courtesy of Gene Page/AMC)

Rosita tells Sasha about the many different people that taught her the skills that she possesses today, including explosives disposal, tying knots and hot-wiring cars. Along her journey in the apocalypse, men always treated Rosita like she couldn’t protect herself; that is until Abraham came along and treated Rosita like the soldier she is. In a touching bit of forgiveness, Rosita expresses her sadness that so much time was wasted building upon the animosity that existed between her and Sasha; she asks Sasha if she was happy with Abraham, to which Sasha responds with a tearful “yes.” Sasha conveys her anger that Abraham didn’t get to go out fighting like he should have, instead being taken out by an “asshole with a bat.” This moment of unity between Sasha and Rosita is another clearing of the air between two women who are grieving the loss of a man that they both loved dearly. Whatever happens next, they will both have each others back. After hearing some trucks arrive, they rush to the window and Sasha spots Dr. Carson arriving with the group of Saviors that visited the Hilltop. This obviously worries Sasha as she realizes that Maggie is now without a doctor. Negan walks out to greet the new arrival, but Sasha isn’t able to get a clear shot without potentially hitting Dr. Carson or Eugene. Rosita turns on the Savior walkie-talkie as Eugene hilariously spits out demands to the Sanctuary workers; his plan of reinforcing the guard walkers is being implemented and he wants to see it through. After reaching the assumption that Negan may not come outside again for a while, Sasha and Rosita prepare to enter the Sanctuary to finish things once and for all.

The episode comes to an end as Jesus visits Gregory in his office, only to be scolded for slacking on his recruiting and supply collecting duties; Gregory also claims that there are too many people living in Jesus’ trailer and that it is a fire hazard. Some serious tension forms as Gregory essentially threatens to turn him over to the Saviors if he doesn’t show more respect; Gregory has literally managed to get on everyone’s bad side at this point and it is clear that Jesus’ patience with him is wearing thin. Jesus exits the office and is confronted by Daryl, who questions where Rosita and Sasha have gone. Night has fallen and Eugene is outside speaking with a Savior in charge of maintaining the walker fence. Suddenly, a silenced gunshot takes out a walker and the Savior, shocking Eugene as Rosita and Sasha appear and demand that he come with them. In an unexpected turn of events, Eugene refuses to leave and rushes back inside, much to Sasha and Rosita’s disappointment; it still isn’t completely clear if Eugene is playing a part or if he really does wish to remain at the Sanctuary as one of Negan’s top dogs. Sasha tells Rosita to stand guard while she cuts a hole in the fence and enters the yard area; before Rosita can join, Sasha locks up the hole in the fence and tearfully tells Rosita that “it’s not your time” and that the rest of the group needs her skills and expertise. Sasha kills a Savior and enters the Sanctuary as the community quickly goes on high alert, realizing someone has infiltrated their home; machine gunfire can be heard as Sasha charges into the Savior base. Rosita flees and breaks down in tears, but a shadowy figure appears resembling Daryl, although the case could be made that this is actually Dwight, who could definitely be mistaken for his crossbow-wielding foe. This series of cliffhangers perfectly sets up the penultimate episode of the season, as well as the finale; mostly notably Sasha literally crossing over to “The Other Side.”

“The Other Side” is an episode that is filled with some truly amazing character moments, but one that also leaves me with a major pit in my stomach. Since the fifth episode of the season “Go Getters,” I have had the unsettling feeling that Sasha’s days are numbered and that her arc for this season has been her making sure that her affairs are in order before she sacrifices herself for the greater good. This episode seems to confirm my fears, especially considering her decision to enter the Sanctuary alone feels like her final act in service of the group. Could her potential death serve as the first shot of the war? Regardless of what may happen, Sonequa Martin-Green once again delivers a powerful performance as Sasha, who is in a rough place, but who seems to have found some semblance of peace by the end of the episode. Sonequa has fantastic on-screen chemistry with Christian Serratos, who also delivers a moving performance in this episode; I have to say that this episode put me back on Rosita’s side, mostly due to her bond with Sasha and Christian’s portrayal of a woman dealing with the raw anger and grief of loosing Abraham. Norman Reedus and Lauren Cohan also deserve praise as Daryl and Maggie for this episode, especially in their heartbreaking remembrance of Glenn. It’s completely clear that members of our group are looking past their differences to join together and rise up against the oppressive regime of Negan. This episode truly reminds viewers that this is and has always been a character-driven drama, not a mindless zombie action show. Next week’s episode looks to focus in on the Alexandria group as they possibly head out to Oceanside. Be sure to tune in to “The Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.

Jeffrey Kopp is the Community Editor of the Niner Times. He is a senior double majoring in Communication and Political Science. His interests include writing and keeping up with an excessive amount of television shows. He is also the go-to expert on all things “The Walking Dead."