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Character Spotlight: ‘The Walking Dead’s Sasha Williams

‘The Walking Dead’ welcomes new people into the Rick and Co. fold by asking three simple questions. As viewers, we have done something similar from the start. Every time new characters are introduced, we ask “Who are you?,” “Will you stick around?” and “Why?”

Though it’s something we’re all guilty of, we can’t get attached at first appearance. Especially in the midst of season three, it’s risky to decide you like anyone right off the bat. It may take time to see these characters through, but that’s just the kind of story you want when it comes to a character like Sasha Williams.

We can hope to become as strong as Rick and those initially in a position of leadership within the group. We hope to move forward in this new world as unscathed as possible. Most of  us would not have an easy time finding ourselves among the strongest. Doesn’t mean we’re not strong, but all of those characters have gone through something, especially per-apocalypse. And they’re all still going through something. But the progression of finding those feelings, of dealing with them, that was part of how they found where they are. The reality is most of us would adjust very similarly to Sasha.

Sonequa Martin-Green & Chad L Coleman as Sasha & Tyreese Williams in The Walking Dead. Photo: AMC

Like many of the characters, we don’t know who Sasha was before the apocalypse. We know that she and her brother Tyreese were safe for some time in a neighbor’s backyard bunker. Who she was before doesn’t seem to matter but it does when we get to know her and the good people she surrounds herself with. Her brother is the kind of man who saves babies (Tyreese and Judith are my favorite duo and I will never get over it!) and can’t kill a walker let alone a human and Bob is so optimistic that you wait to see it become his greatest shortcoming, when in the end it’s his greatest strength and quite possibly the hardest part of his death to reconcile with.

As a ragtag group of survivors, the Williams siblings, and the other family they’re with, show up through the back-way of the prison and initially it has all the makings of a showdown. Team Atlanta was there first but they’re rundown and their fearless leader is often hallucinating his dead wife. And when they do come across each other Hershel does what he can until Rick returns. While the remaining members of their camp quickly show themselves to be of a more, violent “take from the weak” persuasion, Sasha and Tyreese are still clearly in charge and prevent anything from escalating. Though, on a side note, that scene where they consider going after Carl and Carol on patrol is still funny to me because they really have no idea who they’re up against here.

Sonequa Martin-Green & Emily Kinney as Sasha Williams & Beth Greene in The Walking Dead. Photo: AMC

Sasha is capable of laying down some ground rules like not killing everyone, though it’s hard to truly shoehorn her in those first few scenes. We can’t be sure if these people are trustworthy but as viewers we also can’t be sure how long they’ll be around, anyway. Hershel’s decision to let them in was more a precaution to keep an eye on them than anything, it was the smartest move while Rick was off rescuing Maggie and Glenn. And it allowed for some interesting interactions. Sasha immediately mistakes Beth for Judith’s mother. The gaff is obvious to us but I couldn’t help be suspicious of her questioning. This came right on the coattails of the other family looking to beat everyone with shovels and Sasha may have been pretty clear that that’s not who they are, we still didn’t have a definitive answer to that question. Even with the discovery that Judith’s mother didn’t make it, Sasha is still enamored that there is a baby.

This is early-apocalypse Sasha. She hadn’t lost much, though they were part of a larger camp that was overrun and wandering around for some time. She understands the dangers out there but there are also still babies and there are still good people. There was hope. Of course Rick returns and points a gun at them and scares everyone and Glenn shoos them out. This brings them to Woodbury where they then tell The Governor about the “crazy guy” at the prison.

Sasha’s time in Woodbury doesn’t really set her apart from everyone there. We know The Governor wants the prison, though really he wants revenge on Rick and Michonne. At this point she seems like a traitor, joining ranks with the man who is hellbent on terrorizing another group of humans for sport. Of course the real traitor to us in Woodbury is Andrea but her arch ends there. Sasha’s is just beginning.

Laurie Holden, Sonequa Martin-Green & Chad L Coleman as Andrea, Sasha & Tyreese Williams in The Walking Dead. Photo: AMC

There are a lot of moments that go underrated but Sasha and Tyreese’s decision not to fight with The Governor, not to use the live walker bait on what is clearly a family just trying to survive like the rest of them is one of the best. They don’t just shirk away from doing it, they offer to leave peacefully and when they’re accused of setting the pits on fire, while they don’t know it, they brazenly argue with The Governor about why he doesn’t have to attack the prison. Not even knowing that their own lives, for a moment, were precariously on the line. And as season three comes to a close our first two questions are answered.

Season four opens with a new dynamic at the prison. And we see the budding of new relationships. We also see that Sasha has a prominent place as a council member, representing everyone who came from Woodbury and going on supply runs. Used to running into the heart of danger as a former firefighter I can’t imagine Sasha not in the heart of the action. She can sense people’s usefulness and she’s usually right.

Sonequa Martin-Green as Sasha Williams in The Walking Dead. Photo: AMC

When Bob volunteers to go, Sasha isn’t initially sure he’s needed but eventually allows it. It’s an interesting juxtaposition with Beth’s current boyfriend who definitely goes on runs to impress her. Bob probably had multiple ulterior motives that day. And Sasha probably felt like she should have listened to her instinct and told him to stay but that’s the burden of being in a leadership position, she has to handle the guilt too. She gives out orders and even jokes around with Tyreese about their childhood. The supply run goes awry but Sasha shows extreme tact and good reactions and almost everyone gets out safely.

However, a rash of flu befalls the prison and many including Sasha and Glenn get sick. Hershel tries to keep things light and hope alive but Sasha clearly starts to spiral. She’s a realist and it’s no longer walkers and people who are dangerous but everything. Everything is trying to kill them and one of those things will eventually succeed. At one point it even looks like Sasha gives up and gives in but won’t. She’s not sure why and neither are we but her will to survive, despite accepting the situation she’s in and slowly shedding away her humanity is exactly why she’s made for this world.

Her pragmatism plays a key role when the group gets separated. She wants to help Maggie, she can see that she’s hurting but there are other more pressing matters like staying alive, which means finding shelter and food. She’s the first person not to believe in Terminus’ message, yet doesn’t throw that in anyone’s face when it all plays out. This is because while Sasha refuses to see the sense in looking for people who are more likely dead, Bob shows her exactly why there’s a reason to hold out for hope. Sasha’s sense of survival is strong but that’s all she’s doing.

Time and time again the show makes a case for living versus surviving. We know the answer to surviving. You don’t. And we know the answer to retaining humanity. You don’t. So while you’re surviving and slowly watching societal norms be shot to pieces you might as well live.
Bob makes the case that it’s a moment by moment existence and while that’s harrowing for every reason imaginable it also gives reason to stop the zombie-like shuffling down an unknown road and instead to find reasons to be happy. He kisses Sasha, because while she’s off to exist in the world as it is, it makes him happy and he hopes her happy in that

Lawrence Gilliard Jr & Sonequa Martin-Green as Bob Stookey & Sasha Williams in The Walking Dead. Photo: AMC

moment too.Which plays really well in the next scene when she helps save Maggie, who was nearly overwhelmed by a bunch of walkers. She acknowledges that she doesn’t think like them and she doesn’t know if she can because false hope will only end in heartache but the optimism is contagious and she decides that perhaps Tyreese made it to Terminus too and if there was any place to look, it’s as good a place as any to start since they’re headed there anyway. Interesting that Sasha remembers her sibling but Maggie seems to have forgotten Beth completely.

They do eventually find Glenn and the group is not only relieved to be reunited but to be joined by Abraham and his crew too. They’re safer in numbers. This leads to Eugene’s “revelation” and while Sasha is the one to direct attention to it her voice is not only full of disbelief but fear. I’m not suggesting she’s afraid of Eugene. That’s like an impossibility for anyone. She’s afraid to hope. Hope for a cure for something that seems impossible is a deadly kind of hope. It’s the kind you die for, but it’s also exactly the kind that Sasha works so tirelessly to keep out.

Of course Sasha’s worldview is once again tested when Terminus falls and Tyreese emerges from the woods. I have mentioned this reunion scene in other articles and it’s getting to the point that I should just speak exclusively on that moment but until then here we are again. If the tail end of season four brought the infection of hope into Sasha’s life you see it fully and completely show itself to have taken root as she wraps her arms around her brother in the season five premiere.

Sonequa Martin-Green & Chad L Coleman as Sasha & Tyreese Williams in The Walking Dead. Photo: AMC

You see her continue to want to believe that things can be okay, especially when Bob gets attacked on the church supply run and lies about being bitten. Even before that she indulges Bob in his silly little game of finding the silver lining in things. And so her swift hacking up of one of the last of the Termites is not just out of anger and revenge for Bob. It shows how closed off Sasha truly once again becomes. That any real hope was destroyed when civilization fell and that she is capable of doing what her brother couldn’t, even when that same guy threatened a baby. And yet, with Bob she can’t bring herself to end it.

Grief is definitely the pervading feeling for Sasha and while we have seen many different types of people falter at finishing the job I think the reason Sasha is incapable of doing is much deeper. Killing Bob so that he can’t come back is not just killing Bob, it’s killing all the hope and love that Sasha has allowed into her heart. It’s putting an end to something that had only just begun between them and within her. And it’s using hands that had killed someone in anger hours earlier. It’s not just that Sasha can’t put a physical end to the hope Bob had brought her and taught her. It’s that she doesn’t think she deserves to put down someone who deserved so much better than what he got. Who was so much better than she was. But it’s not the better people who survive.

Looking to distract herself and still prove that she’s useful Sasha helps secure the hospital while they work to rescue Beth. She is caught off guard when one of the cops tells her his name is Bob and it’s hard to decide what Sasha’s thinking at that moment except to learn that she’s not. Her guard was down, the name disarmed her in way she didn’t expect and it made her an easy target to overcome. I have found numerous places that find the moment stupid and unrealistic, which describes a lot of the rescue attempt and aftermath but I found the moment to give a lot of pause to where Sasha is in her head. In her grieving period. She can’t even trust herself because she’s hurting so bad.

Andrew Lincoln, Sonequa Martin-Green, Chad Coleman & Norman Reedus as Rick Grimes, Sasha Williams, Tyreese Williams & Daryl Dixon in The Walking Dead Photo: AMC

There is no time to be sad in this world. No time to sit and wallow and Sasha doesn’t want to do that, but she has no place to put her feelings. No space to just hold onto them until she has time to feel them. She just closes herself off, which is why a name sets her off. Carol has the same reaction when she sees the smoke after Terminus. It means something to her. It reminds her of a moment, a person, all the things she said and for Sasha, like Carol, it becomes someone she was. Someone she can no longer be. For Sasha a part of her didn’t just die when Bob did, a belief system she had worked so hard to keep out came crumbling down.

She feels like she can never let herself be that person again. She doesn’t see it as her humanity is slipping away, she sees at this is who she always was and without societal norms to regulate it she doesn’t need to make excuses. Sasha outright tells Noah that if he doesn’t believe in his survival then he won’t make it.

Sonequa Martin-Green as Sasha in The Walking Dead. Photo: AMC

This was a cold moment for Sasha but it’s a lesson that everyone has had to learn. Carol says something similar to a much younger Mika. The nice and the weak are eventually put in a situation that forces them to change or it ends their life. Ultimately those words haunt her.

Tyreese’s loss hits hard not because it’s another loved one who was too good and pure for this world (seriously I will never get over Judith losing her surrogate father!) but because it just reinforces the type of person you need to be to survive.  While everyone tries to find a place for themselves in Alexandria, Sasha immediately goes and shoots up the framed pictures, reminding us that these family memories are worthless. That this world has made a place that was once someone’s loving home a safe haven for a bunch of people who just can’t quit.

Except that Sasha shows us time and time again that she doesn’t want to quit. She doesn’t want to give up. That fighting is a feeling and it makes more sense to her than just lumbering about wondering how long they can keep this up. She’s systematic and functional but once again has nowhere to put her feelings inside Alexandria.

At the welcoming party the only person in the room who makes any sense is Sasha. You feel suffocated; Carol is wearing a cardigan and baking cookies, Rick is mingling with the neighbors, everyone is clean and wearing new clothes and these people are considered survivors like our group is but they’re not like our group.The lady asking Sasha what her favorite meal is so she won’t make something she hates reminds me of very real life moments. Like when you’re going through something and having a really difficult time but you’re keeping to yourself and someone is on Facebook complains about a cold or something equally as trivial, you can feel the urge to smack them. You’re not begging for sympathy for your problem, you’re dealing with it but here they are notifying the world that they’re “suffering”. It’s obnoxious, it feels like it diminishes your situation. They’ve tossed themselves in the same boat.

These people are not all survivors. They are acting like the zombie apocalypse is a storm to be weathered and when it’s over they’ll all go outside, take down their walls, turn on their phones and go, “Phew! That’s over!” Sasha’s outburst is one we’ve either all thought of having or been privy to from someone else. It really highlights her very real, very dysfunctional PTSD.

Sonequa Martin-Green as Sasha Williams in The Walking Dead. Photo: AMC

We no longer need to ask why Sasha has survived over others. Even as she lays among a bunch of walkers she shoots, clearly wondering about death and why she can’t seem to find relief from her own misery, we know she’s not going anywhere, yet. These feelings are even clearer when Father Gabriel begs her to kill him. Sasha is just looking for a reason. She, feels like a monster, an inner demon almost every major character has found themselves actively fighting, as they all redefine who they are. And killing him would just complete the shift. Gabriel cries, Gabriel begs (Gabriel is the worst and I wanted her to do it despite what it would mean for her character development). Sasha needs to do one of those things; she needs to cry. The fact that she doesn’t actively seek an out to end her own suffering shows that there is hope. That she wants to be around to see where things head, even if they never get better. That there might just be something for her in Alexandria if she stops fighting all her emotions.

Lauren Cohan & Sonequa Martin-Green as Maggie Greene & Sasha Williams in The Walking Dead. Photo: AMC

The scene ends with Sasha and Maggie and Father Gabriel in a prayer circle. While they found Alexandria, everyone has lost their center. They belong but they don’t belong. The scene is strange because all three have shown various losses of faith over the course of the last season but the moment is not about finding that faith or hope. It’s about taking comfort in each other. It’s about being with a group of people that may never understand them but that there are people within that group that do. Maggie and Sasha lose their siblings very close together but the two never take enough time to relate to each other. They start to, they even let their guard down and laugh with each other as the sun rises but then Aaron interrupts the moment and the two don’t truly interact again, to deal with what they lost until that moment.

Living is not the same as surviving While we all hope to become the heroes, the leaders and the underestimated but strong, the reality is that in a situation like the zombie apocalypse you are Sasha first. And in the absence of hope there is still love.

Sasha may have closed herself off but Alexandria has opened its gates to Rick and Co. and so hopefully in season six we will see Sasha begin to heal, open up too and realize that she can be the person who believes there are good people and babies still around.

Sonequa Martin-Green as Sasha Williams in The Walking Dead. Photo: AMC

The Walking Dead returns October 11 on AMC. 

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