WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for “The Other Side,” tonight’s episode of AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” which as of publication hasn’t yet aired on the West Coast, as well as the Image Comics series.
Somewhere inside the runtime of “The Other Side,” there’s a great road movie. Almost right away, Rosita and Sasha set out on the possible suicide mission they discussed in “Say Yes,” striking out on their own to kill Negan. It’s a compelling, rapidly paced journey that hits all the right notes of the aforementioned genre, or even a buddy flick: the logistics of getting from one point to the next, the realization that the plan is isn’t going quite as expected, the tension that eventually gives way to camaraderie.
If only the writers had restricted themselves to Rosita and Sasha’s quest once they hit the road. While the rest of the business-as-usual plot mechanics aren’t exactly boring in “The Other Side,” they pale in comparison to the story of these two central characters. That’s because the A-story covers ground we haven’t actually seen before, where as The Saviors intimidating Gregory is more of the same: 1) Negan surrogate Simon shows up. 2) He orders Hilltop Colony to replace the dead Dr. Carson with the one who’s still living. 2) The situation gets tense to the point where it looks like someone might get hurt. 3) No one does. 4) The Saviors leave. There is a brief moment where Daryl almost blows his cover by attacking a Savior in the basement, but it passes quickly, rendering the Hilltop sequence just another paint-by-numbers shakedown.
In the Rosita/Sasha arc, however, there’s action via a daring escape from a used-car lot. And as they stakeout for Negan in an empty building near The Sanctuary, they have time to reveal more about their lives and relationship with Abraham. Rosita’s monologue about how men viewed her in the immediate aftermath of the apocalypse is particularly resonant, shedding some light on why she’s picked up so many combat skills over the years. In the past, the character has fallen into somewhat of a militant archetype, but here the writers give her some real emotional depth.
But the biggest gut-punch of the episode arrives when Rosita and Sasha try to spring Eugene from the compound, only to discover that he doesn’t want to leave. It’s a heartbreaking moment on two levels: From an emotional standpoint, they feel betrayed by their friend. Form a logistical standpoint, it botches their espionage plan, prompting to Sasha to break into The Sanctuary while telling Rosita to free. Suicide mission or not, Rosita’s monologue has indicated to Sasha that it’s not her time to die yet. As she bolts, gunshots echo in the distance, leaving Rosita to speculate on the fate of her once rival and now friend.
I realize it’s somewhat unfair of me to expect “The Walking Dead” to only focus on the strongest storyline each night. But as the show’s proven time and time again, it has a certain way with satellite episodes — installments that hone in on one or two characters for the entire hour for what amounts to a short story. When one half of the episode is so much more interesting than the other half — a half we’ve seen plenty of times before, no less — one can’t help what wonder what the whole thing would look like if it was more distilled.