Spoiler Warning for Season 7, Episode 15 of “The Walking Dead.”

Natania (Deborah May) holds Tara (Alanna Masterson) at gunpoint as Cyndie (Sydney Park) watches. (Photo courtesy of Gene Page/AMC)

In this penultimate episode of Season 7 of “The Walking Dead,” it becomes absolutely clear that the upcoming war is being set up to be one of the most epic story arcs ever featured in the series. The current set of storylines has been polarizing to the fan base, but this episode showcases the fact that all of the buildup and character development of this season is incredibly necessary. By planting seeds at the beginning of the season, the payoff that is being shown now is making for a fantastic conclusion to the “March to War” story arc. As our soldiers make their final preparations for war, the “calm before the storm” is shown to be more turbulent than peaceful.

As I mentioned in my review of “The Other Side,” montages are something that I always appreciate in “The Walking Dead.” This episode begins with one as Tara speaks to Rick about her encounter with the women of Oceanside, specifically the fact that they have an arsenal of guns and able-bodied fighters. This voice-over conversation is played as the Alexandria group is shown traveling across Virginia to the coast; there are also a few shots of some disgusting walkers stumbling across a beach, likely nearby Oceanside. Just outside of the community, the group prepares for an infiltration; Michonne positions herself in a tree with her sniper rifle, Jesus expresses his guilt to Daryl about allowing Rosita and Sasha to go to the Sanctuary and Eric tells Aaron that he now realizes why they must fight the Saviors. It’s worth noting that the explosives that the group found on the highway in “Rock in the Road” are used in this episode as part of their siege on Oceanside.

Over in the Hilltop gardens, Maggie teaches Eduardo a few farming tips as Gregory looks on; Eduardo refers to Maggie as “boss lady,” showcasing the fact that the Hilltop residents are shifting their support away from Gregory and to Maggie. She explains to Eduardo that there is a blueberry plant outside of the walls that she plans on bringing it inside because it can produce for approximately 40 years; she also states that it is time for the community to start acting like it will be around for a long time. Maggie makes her way to the plant outside of the Hilltop and Gregory joins her to discuss the leadership struggle that is taking place between the two; he states that they need to work together and Maggie calls him out for not being a team player, but ultimately agrees to link up with him to present a united front. Maggie asks Gregory to stand watch as she finishes with the blueberry plant; there is a brief moment where Gregory seems to ponder killing Maggie with his knife, but he doesn’t go through with it, showcasing the fact that while he may be a dick, he isn’t a murderer and still has some humanity. A walker appears and Gregory volunteers to kill it, citing the his need to “protect the pregnant lady.” When he realizes that he doesn’t quite have to stomach to kill a walker yet, he allows Maggie to step in and kill it for him, but another walker appears and throws Gregory to the ground, snapping at him before “the pregnant lady” rescues him. A group of returning Hilltoppers witness the ordeal and call Gregory out for lying about his experience with walkers; the fact that Gregory has never even killed a walker proves that he is not at all fit to be leading a community. Later, Gregory is shown in his office looking over the note that Simon gave him, as well as a map of Virginia; he tells Kal to prepare for a road trip. Is Gregory about to make Simon and the Saviors aware of what is happening at the Hilltop?

Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Gregory (Xander Berkeley) outside of the Hilltop. (Photo courtesy of Gene Page/AMC)

Over at the Sanctuary, Sasha is shown to have been captured after her solo attack at the end of the previous episode; I am slightly bothered by the fact that her capture was not shown at all, but rather glossed over and explained through exposition. David (Joel Martinez), AKA the creepy Savior that taunted Enid and beat up Aaron, makes his way into the prisoner cell and begins touching Sasha after she asks for water. She head-butts him and he angrily prepares to rape her, but Negan arrives with Lucille and reminds David of his rules. Negan forbids rape and makes a point of this by sliding his knife right through David’s throat, joking as David gurgles on his blood and collapses to the ground. While Negan may be an absolute monster, rape is something that is simply unforgivable to him and his decision to kill David is something that most people can agree with; he may be against rape in the traditional sense, but we can’t forget the fact that his harem of wives are only married to him out of fear for their safety, not because of their personal choice. There is a great interaction between Negan and Sasha as he asks if Rick sent her to the Sanctuary to kill him, but Sasha responds by calling Rick Negan’s “bitch” in a clever attempt to shield her family from any of the blame. Negan also asks Sasha if she would be willing to join up with him, similarly to Eugene, citing her “beach ball-sized lady nuts.” He removes her bounds and hands over his knife with the proposition of using it on herself or killing David when he reanimates, an action that would signify her desire to join the Saviors; I have to point out that this knife is the same one that Negan used to gut Spencer in “Hearts Still Beating.” There is a clear internal conflict in Sasha’s head as she decides what her next move will be, a decision that is complicated further as the episode progresses.

This episode marks the first appearance of Oceanside and its inhabitants since “Swear,” when Tara first discovered the community after being separated from Heath (I still find it a bit odd that no one has asked Tara about Heath’s disappearance). Leader Natania greets killer-child Rachel before making her way into her cabin, where Tara is waiting with a gun; Natania states that the Oceansiders should have killed Tara when they had they chance. Cyndie arrives and scolds Tara for breaking her promise to never return, but Tara disregards this and states that her group will attack the community and steal their guns if they don’t cooperate. Tara alerts her hostages to the fact that Alexandria has joined up with other communities to fight the Saviors, specifically mentioning the murders of Glenn, Abraham and Denise as her personal reasons for rising up and fighting back. Cyndie is visibly upset, but tells Natania that she should speak with Rick; the divide that existed between this Cyndie and her grandmother is still present as Natania wholeheartedly refuses to get involved. The original plan included Tara sending a signal to her group if Natania complied, but too much time has passed and Rick and the others set off the explosives to draw the Oceanside residents out of the community; Michonne shoots at Kathy and Beatrice’s feet as they rush to the armory, a tactic similar to what the Terminus cannibals used to lead their prey to a specific location. Daryl, Jesus, Aaron and others capture Kathy and Beatrice as more explosions push the Oceansiders down a specific path. This chaotic plan only becomes more insane and intense as a few twists are thrown into the mix.

Rick (Andrew Lincoln), Carl (Chandler Riggs) and Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) prepare to fight off a herd of walkers. (Photo courtesy of Gene Page/AMC)

Inside of the cabin, Natania pretends to have a knee injury to distract Tara and allow Cyndie to retrieve a gun. Natania throws Tara down to the ground as Cyndie points her gun at her; Tara hands her gun over and reveals that it is empty and that she never intended to injure or kill anyone. Outside, Rick and the others corral the Oceansiders and explain that no one will be harmed if everyone just cooperates. Suddenly, Natania appears with Tara at gunpoint, demanding that Rick’s group leave immediately; Cyndie alerts her fellow survivors about the proposition to help fight the Saviors, but Natania still isn’t budging. Michonne has her rifle locked on Natania’s head, but Tara orders her to stand down. There’s an unexpected development as Beatrice vocally states that Oceanside should consider getting involved, a statement that several of her friends agree with. Tara demands that Natania put down her gun and speak with Rick lest she wishes to be killed, allowing the guns to be taken anyway. Michonne notices a herd of walkers coming (the same herd from the beach at the beginning) and alerts Rick, prompting Cyndie to hit Natania over the head; I have to point out that there is a shot of Enid standing behind Natania, seemingly in a state of shock over the escalated situation, possibly hinting at the fact that she isn’t handling the prospect of war well. The Alexandria group teams up with the Oceansiders to fight off the walker herd, using their rifles and knives to take down every barnacle, algae and seaweed-covered zombie in sight; even little Rachel manages to take down a walker by herself. Natania storms off after announcing that Rick and the group may take the guns, but that they still won’t be involved in the fighting. Seeing the Alexandria group fighting beside the Oceansiders is truly epic, especially considering several of the minor characters such as Eric, Francine, Tobin and Scott are involved in the action. Although, it is unsettling to see our band of heroes attacking an innocent community of women and children, even if they didn’t kill anyone; one can make the argument that our group is not that far off from the Saviors as the rules go out the window during times of war.

Back in the Sanctuary cell, Eugene visits Sasha to deliver some things to make her more comfortable, including a non-hypoallergenic pillow. Sasha is clearly confused as to why Eugene has seemingly switched sides, but quickly comes to understand that he is simply surviving in his own way. The two reminisce about the fateful night when Eugene heroically drove the RV in an attempt to distract the Saviors, but was ultimately captured and forced to witness the horrific deaths of Glenn and Abraham. He states that he is working with Negan so that he will never have to experience the fear that he felt that night and urges Sasha to accept the offer. Sasha makes Eugene leave the cell as David slowly undergoes the process of reanimation, something that we rarely get to see this late into the series. Later, Negan returns and discovers that Sasha has used the knife to kill David as her acceptance of his offer; he isn’t stupid enough to believe that Sasha is loyal to him right off the bat and explains that he is aware that Rick and the others are preparing to fight back and that she will help him foil their plans. This begs the question of who told Negan about the resistance movement? Is it possible that the timeline isn’t as it appears and that Gregory has already spilled the beans? Or could there be traitors/spies in the communities? With so many different people spread across multiple locations, it is definitely reasonable that word of the war efforts could have slowly made it back to Negan.

Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) speaks with Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). (Photo courtesy of Gene Page/AMC)

The episode wraps up as Eugene pays another visit to Sasha’s cell, but stands outside and speaks with her about her decision to join the Saviors. Sasha tearfully explains that she made a massive mistake in attacking the Sanctuary and accepting the offering as she will now be used to harm her and Eugene’s extended family. She pleads with Eugene to fetch a weapon for her to commit suicide so that Negan can’t use her; Eugene attempts to talk her down by mentioning their developed friendship after surviving together for so long, as well as her honesty and bravery. There’s a great callback to something that Sasha said to Eugene in the Season 5 Premiere, “You don’t owe us anything,” which gets its return in this scene when Eugene tells her “I’m certain that I owe you for things.” Still, he agrees to help her go through with her plan, a decision that is met with a relief from Sasha. He comes back and slides her a baggie with one of the poison pills that he made back in “Hostiles and Calamities,” leaving Sasha disappointed and revealing to the viewer that she wasn’t planning on killing herself, but rather wanting an actual weapon to surprise attack Negan. It’s great to have these emotional moments between Sasha and Eugene, two characters who have only interacted a few times.

Back in Oceanside, the group collects all of the guns as the residents watch; Father Gabriel asks Rick if they really need to take all of the guns, but he assures him that they do. Cyndie speaks with Tara about Natania’s decision to prohibit the women of Oceanside from fighting, but she still thanks Tara for taking a stand and trying to fight back against their oppressors. There is a hilarious moment when the group is leaving as Rachel steps forward and asks Tara if they are really taking all of the guns to which Tara responds by repeating her last interaction with the killer-child, “see you later, Rachel” and a middle finger. The group returns to Alexandria at night to find Rosita on guard at the gate. This worries Enid and Jesus when they realize that Sasha is not with her; instead of explaining what happened, Rosita announces that there is a visitor in Alexandria. She leads them to the jail cell where Dwight sits in the shadows, causing Daryl to angrily lash out at his foil. Rosita tells the group that Dwight wants to join them, but Rick doesn’t seem excited about this and draws his gun, ordering Dwight to kneel. Is Dwight really willing to turn his back on Negan and the Saviors? Will the group accept him or will they turn against him? Considering Dwight betrayed Daryl multiple times and killed Denise, Tara and Daryl will likely find it difficult to trust him. I know that it will definitely take a lot for me have any confidence in him; his murder of Denise and the general shadiness he has demonstrated since his introduction makes it hard for me to feel anything for him, but it certainly makes for a fascinating conflict.

“Something They Need” is a fantastic penultimate episode for the season and expertly utilizes all of this season’s buildup and character development to set the stage for an insane finale and for Season 8’s “All Out War” story arc. I’ve got to be honest, I am more nervous than ever about Sasha’s future after viewing this episode; will she be a final victim/martyr to serve as the declaration of war? Sonequa Martin-Green once again manages to blow me away with her portrayal of the conflicted Sasha, who wants revenge, but still wants her people to be protected; the raw emotion that she exudes is simply powerful. Sonequa’s on-screen chemistry with Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Josh McDermitt, who also delivered strong performances, makes for some truly great dialogue. Maggie’s slow rising as a possible leader of the Hilltop is both exciting and tense as a conflict with Gregory brews; I am also impressed in the dynamic between Lauren Cohan and Xander Berkeley as their characters struggle to see eye-to-eye. The reintroduction of Oceanside sets up more thrilling future storylines as their role in the upcoming war is still quite uncertain. I’m really enjoying what is being done with Cyndie’s character and I hope that she has a larger role in the next season; the same goes for Natania, who’s leadership style adds another layer to the game of survival, thanks in part to a strong performance from Deborah May. With our characters shifting into war, who will have what it takes to survive and who will crumble under the brutality? Be sure to tune into the 85-minute Season 7 Finale 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."