“I got to hand it to you,” Negan told his new captive Sasha in her dark cell at the Saviour compound, as he stood in James Dean duds, backlit, his big knife dripping blood. “You got some beach-ball-sized lady nuts coming in kamikaze like that.” See, that’s the problem with Negan right there. Even when he’s paying a person a compliment, he has to ruin it by larding his words in anatomically dubious slime.

That said, this was a much better episode than last week’s clunker, not least because Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan was part of it, offloading banter that, however much it sounded like a sexual harassment suit waiting to happen, at least came from a script clearly written by human hand rather than spooling from some lame zombie genre plot generator.

What Negan meant was that, the night before, Sasha had gone bravely rogue. She ditched Rosita at the Saviour compound fence and then went hunting inside with the aim of wasting Negan. Naturally enough, she was subdued by a herd of Negan’s lickspittles, one of whom, David, later came to her cell to present his credentials. David tried to remind Sasha who he was. He was the guy, she might remember, who handed the rope to the guy who tied her up after her maverick mission went south. He had a thing about ropes. There were lots of fun and interesting things you could do with them, he said, as he closed in on Sasha. “God, you’re pretty … ” he added and then started to tear at Sasha’s shirt. Understandably, when David got in range, she nutted him.

Perhaps Negan had constructed this whole situation so he could enter as Sasha’s saviour and thereby make her more amenable to his looming proposal. In any event, he was soon in the cell, challenging his lickspittle. “This is unacceptable behaviour. Rape is against the rules.” David, getting to his feet, mumbled something. “You know what?” said Negan, “I do not accept your apology.” The big knife suddenly swept through David’s throat and he fell to the floor dead, his body in a pool of blood awaiting reanimation.

“Rick put you up to this?” Negan then asked Sasha. He had just realised who Sasha was: one of the Alexandrians who had witnessed his slayings of Abraham and Glenn in season seven’s premiere. He probably didn’t know she was the former’s girlfriend (albeit in a love triangle with the spectacularly dreary Rosita that is so tedious my fingers refuse to type any more about it).

“Rick – your bitch?” snapped back Sasha. Her implication was clear: Rick was too much of a wimp to mount a fightback against Negan, so Sasha had been compelled to go rogue and take on the Saviours single-handed. This was only half-true: Sasha knew that Rick and the rest of the gang were even now scouring the countryside for weapons and allies for a showdown with the Saviours. So her words were classic Walking Dead misdirection.

To clinch the point, we cut to Oceanside, where Rick, Michonne, Daryl, Jesus and some other Alexandrians were mounting an attack. Remember Oceanside, the all-woman community from from episode six? I’d pretty much forgotten it too. Its women and children were once part of a larger community who, during a skirmish with the Saviours, saw all their men die. Chastened, the survivors fled and holed up in remote beachside woods where, they planned to live away from the menacing Saviours.

But now they were surrounded by Rick and his gang. Michonne was up a tree, putting womankind in her crosshairs, bombs were exploding outside the compound, and Rick and his chums were rounding up Oceansiders. Rick’s plan with this show of strength was to encourage Oceanside to pony up its weapons and join the Alexandrians in an alliance against the Saviours.

Eugene and his unforgivable mullet.
 Eugene and his unforgivable mullet. Photograph: Gene Page/AMC

Only one problem. Natania, Oceanside’s leader, considered that such an alliance would be nuts because the Saviours were invincible. In this opinion, she appeared to be in a minority of one in her community. No matter: she put a gun to Tara’s head and told Rick and the gang that if they didn’t leave, she would pull the trigger on their fellow Alexandrian. Natania knew, she said, that if she killed Tara, she would be immediately killed herself in return, but she was willing to pay the price.

The ensuing stand-off was ended by a plot device straight from Writing Zombie Genre TV 101. Raymond Chandler suggested that if things were flagging plotwise, someone entering a room with a gun perked matters up no end. This was the zombie genre version of that. A herd of walkers was shambling menacingly towards Oceanside. Suddenly, the stand-off was over and Alexandrian and Oceansider were united in an alliance, shooting and stabbing the oncoming walkers in order to survive. It was, perhaps, a blueprint of how they must fight together against Negan.

Back at the Saviour compound, Negan handed the seated Sasha his bloody knife and set out her lifestyle options. She could try to kill him, though if she tried, he had the advantage of standing up with a baseball bat in his hand. Or she could kill herself with the knife. Or she could wait for the corpse whom Negan called “rapey Davey” to reanimate and let it feast on her. Or, she could replace Davey as Negan’s underling. The last was Negan’s favoured option, though he understood Sasha’s compunctions: “I know it’s hard to pick given what I did. But Sasha? We all got shit to get over. I just want you to understand, we are not monsters.” Naturally, he couldn’t say those words with a straight face. Sasha told Negan she would choose the last option. Negan smiled: “I promise you I will try to make it fun,” he told her. He didn’t say how.

One inept guard... Xander Berkeley as Gregory and Lauren Cohan as Maggie Greene.
 One inept guard... Xander Berkeley as Gregory and Lauren Cohan as Maggie Greene. Photograph: Gene Page/AMC

But, of course, in reality Sasha had something else in mind than bending to her nemesis’s will. In a later scene, she told Eugene what she planned to do as he listened on the other side of the cell door. Eugene, you remember, is the invertebrate former Alexandrian with the Elvis accent, over-elaborate vocabulary and unforgivable mullet. He, thanks to his engineering skills and temperamental cowardice, has become a turncoat and Negan lackey. Sasha explained that, unlike Eugene, she could not in all conscience become Negan’s underling since she feared the diabolical Saviour leader would merely use her to get to, and exterminate, her friends. The corollary? “I have to die,” she told Eugene. “It’s the only way.” She asked him, in a pleading voice, to get her a knife, a gun, a piece of glass, anything with which to despatch herself. He trotted off obligingly. Then we cut to a close-up of Sasha: she was grinning, no doubt because she thought she’d duped Eugene into supplying her with a weapon with which she planned to kill not herself, but her captors.

Instead, though, Eugene returned with some pills that would, he said, “bring about certain death within 20 to 30 minutes. I’d like to believe it’s painless. But I’m not certain.” We cut to Sasha’s disappointed face: she needed weapons, not poison. Yet again, her murderous plans have come to uninteresting naught.

Meanwhile at Hilltop, the other community contemplating alliance with the Alexandrians, a vignette was unfolding. Maggie was digging up a blueberry bush so she could replant it inside the compound garden. (I’m no gardener, but who uproots up a well-established bush with a trowel?) Moving on. Hilltop’s oleaginous coward Gregory stood guard with a tiny knife, ostensibly protecting her from oncoming walkers. But when a walker presented its credentials, he scarpered, leaving Maggie to dispatch it, and then come to Gregory’s rescue when he was pinned down by a second zombie.

Later, in his pretentious office, Gregory took a slug of whisky and examined his face. Has he been bitten? And if so, what does his looming demise mean for Hilltop? Here’s what I think: Gregory will die, Jesus will replace him as Hilltop leader and take that community into an alliance with the Alexandrians for, what will be, fingers crossed, quite the season denouement.

Back at Alexandria, Rick and his gang arrived back with Oceanside’s weapons cache. The gate was pulled open by Rosita, who seems to have fled from the Saviour compound when her and Sasha’s plot to murder Negan went pear-shaped. She had some news: Negan’s lickspittle Dwight, whom we last saw in episode 11 heating up the furnace so Negan could precipitately chuck the Saviour’s only medic into the flames, had surrendered himself. Looked like Dwight, possibly nauseated by his conditions of employment and, you’d think, losing his wife to Negan’s harem, had turned against his boss. Just in time for him to give Rick the skinny on the Saviour compound so the Alexandrians can get in to waste Negan and his cronies in the splashy season finale next week. So, at least, says my money.