So let’s get this straight. After a lot of internal debate, Tara decided to spill the beans about Oceanside. This makes sense, more or less; there are other ways it could’ve gone, but having Tara decide to betray a promise is probably a stronger choice for her as a character than having that truth come out on its own. We don’t hear the planning, but given how things work out, it seems like Rick’s response to learning that there’s a well-armed, secretive, and deeply vulnerable community nearby is to… set up a bunch of bombs and take the whole place over, at least for as long as it takes to steal their guns. And Tara is okay with that.
This is where I start having problems. Sure, Tara gets a few minutes to try and reason with Natania, but no one believes the negotiations are going to go well. The fact that Tara not only signed off on this plan, but also seems to be one hundred percent behind it, is at odds with everything we know about her. However much she’s supposed to believe in Rick now (and clearly, she’s supposed to believe in him a lot), for her to willingly go in on such an openly aggressive scheme is bizarre. This isn’t “we’re going to talk, and see what happens next.” This is “well, I have this hammer, so I guess this has to be another nail!”
But that’s not the worst. The worst is that Rick’s plan works. Oh, sure, Natania and Cindy get the drop on Tara because Tara is really, really not good at this, but no one gets killed. Hell, a sudden attack of walkers (lured on by the noise of all those explosions, no doubt) gives everyone a chance to temporarily bond. By the end, Rick gets the guns he wants, Tara gets to walk away feeling morally superior for breaking her word, and, most ridiculous of all, it looks like the women of Oceanside are leaning toward joining the fight. Not all of them, but enough to suggest that the group will eventually aid Rick’s efforts, if given time.
That’s not great writing—it’s creepy in a way I can’t decide if the writers realize. We’re supposed to be excited about Rick’s decision to fight back against Negan; it’s him getting his mojo back, so to speak. But does that excitement mean supporting every decision he makes? Given that this episode also follows Negan’s efforts to sway Sasha over to the Saviors, it almost seems like the show is trying to compare the two leaders and how far both of them are willing to go to get what they want. But that comparison doesn’t seem self-aware enough to really work.
What really makes this hard to watch is how quickly Cindy and the more hardcore Oceansiders fall in with Rick’s plans. The only person who vocally disagrees with him is Natania, and she’s yet another in a long line of straw (wo)man antagonists set up to reinforce Rick’s wisdom. Her arguments don’t make a lot of sense, because instead of focusing on what really matters here—the fact that the Alexandrians are really just a slightly nicer version of the Saviors, swooping in and making demands by force—she just spouts a lot of stuff about how Negan will never be defeated. And then her granddaughter knocks her out.
Once again, we are forcibly reminded of The Walking Dead’s greatest weakness: Rick Must Always Be Right (except when he’s trying to fight against his destiny as a leader). The people of Oceanside almost immediately lose what little distinctive identity they once had, falling in line like they were just waiting for some bearded dude to show up and start ordering them around, and there’s no acknowledgement of the weirdness of this, of how close Rick’s tactics are to the very man he’s trying to destroy. Oh, sure, Rick would never beat anyone to death with a baseball bat, but kinder, gentler fascism is still, well, fascism. He’s made his decision, and anyone who doesn’t support that decision is either a villain or a fool. And that gets old fast.
What I can’t decide is how much we’re supposed to connect Rick and Negan’s tactics here. Negan shows up to woo Sasha to the cause, and once again, I have to question the wisdom of trying to hire people who want to kill you. The argument that he’s doing this because Sasha has guts, just like Daryl did, only works so far; because in an organization like the Saviors, how many people with guts do you really want? This isn’t a group that encourages self-motivation and initiative. This is a group full of bullies with guns who are all under the thumb of the biggest, meanest bully—and the only way that holds together is to have the carrot and the stick.
Supposedly Negan is terrifying and in control; he has Lucille, and the Iron, and I’m sure plenty more nasty tricks up his sleeve. But the further we get from the season premiere, the more he keeps sliding back into classic dumb bad-guy moves. Sasha should be dead. She made a suicidal assault on the Savior compound, and while we don’t see how it plays out (which is kind of insulting to her abilities as a fighter, really), there’s no defensible reason for her not to have a bullet in her head, or worse.
The idea that Negan thinks he can somehow win her over makes him look like a fool, in the classic Bond villain “I’m going to leave you alone in this death trap” kind of way. And even if she was somehow temptable, do you really want to encourage people to try and kill you as a sort of initiation run? The only real reason this is happening is that the writers don’t want to off Sasha just yet, but the fact that the only way they can think to do that is to trot out a cliche we’ve already had plenty of time to get bored with (remember how well this didn’t work with Daryl?) doesn’t speak well of this season.
Really, “Something They Need” is just kind of a mess. It’s not as dull as last week’s worst moments, and there are some genuinely clever bits; I especially liked how Sasha’s attempt to trick Eugene into getting her a weapon leads him to giving her a poison pill instead. But there’s an awkward, goofy feeling to so much of the show now and a distinct lack of tension as we’re building toward the season’s conclusion. Yes, Negan apparently knows that Rick is up to something, which is probably bad news, and sure, Dwight has decided to switch sides (maybe), but without anything beyond a vague sense that “Rick wants to fight,” there’s nothing here to care about.
- The episode also spends way too much time reminding us that Gregory is a coward and then pushing him toward reporting to the Saviors.
- Oh, hey, a Savior with rape on his mind starts going after Sasha, and then Negan shows up and kills him. It’s a relief—this show does not need storylines about sexual assault—but also has me wondering just how much of this was Negan’s plan all along. That would make a certain, horrible sense: He sends David in, knowing what David will do, and interrupts before things can get too violent, giving Sasha his Good Cop routine.
- “Okay. Get on your knees.” You could argue that this last line is a suggestion that Rick has gone too far, but it doesn’t play like that. Instead, it feels like the culmination of something the show’s been subtly pushing for a while now—that Rick is good, but he might be a little more effective if he took a few tips from Negan. (Namely, not tolerating fools and forgetting the whole “mercy” thing.) I’m not saying he should trust Dwight right out of the gate—he definitely shouldn’t—but demanding him kneel at gunpoint is… well. I don’t know what it is. But it’s not great.