After that traumatic season opener, and all those weeks of manoeuvering the key players into position, it was finally time for Rick’s gang to fight The Saviors this week. But was it the day of reckoning we might have expected after relatively slow-burning and ponderous seventh year? Well, yes and no. There was a major death, a large-scale face-off, some double-crossing, a hail of bullets, and a Battle Cat.
But a large portion of the finale was dedicated to Sasha’s memories/hallucinations as she listened to music in a dark, confined space which we later came to realise was a coffin. This character’s death has been signposted for quite some time now, so the non-linear jumping around Sasha’s memory palace added an element of suspense as to the exact circumstances of her demise. While the scenes with her and Abraham – presumably a flashback to just before their ill-fated journey to Hilltop – lent her passing some much needed emotional weight, it seemed too little too late in some ways. Their relationship was in its fledgling stage at the point of Abraham’s death, so we were never going to be invested in it to the extent we were Maggie and Glenn’s, for example, which we’ve watched develop over a number of years. Indeed, the dream-like sequences of Sasha chatting to Maggie on a log were possibly more moving, given that the two women have been united in their grief at Hilltop since Negan robbed them both of their loves.
Meanwhile, turn-coat Dwight was at Alexandria to warn the residents of the imminent arrival of his people. With Negan having been informed of Rick’s murderous intentions by a ‘little bird’, Dwight suggested ambushing the The Saviors on arrival, then using their own vehicles to infiltrate The Sanctuary and take it over. Although Tara was all for killing Dwight on the spot, Rick agreed to the plan, with Daryl vowing to take out Dwight after the battle, regardless of whether he proved trustworthy or not. Maggie, hearing of Rick’s plan, had to decide whether to lead the Hilltoppers into battle, and Jesus told her he knew she’d make the right decision. The Heapsters too, arrived in Alexandria, apparently ready to make good on their promise to fight alongside Rick.
Perhaps one of the most powerful scenes in this episode was when Eugene was sent ahead to demand Rick stand down, and when asked where Negan was, responded with the sinister mantra of The Saviors, “I am Negan”. Andrew Lincoln did a lovely job conveying hurt and confusion as Rick came to terms with the fact Eugene would have to die alongside the Savior enemies. But the rigged vehicle outside the walls didn’t explode when Rosita detonated it, and soon became clear why when Jadis pulled a gun on Rick, revealing The Heapsters to be the ‘little birds’ who’d snitched to Negan. Now, while I admittedly didn’t see this twist coming, it would have been a lot more affective if there had been some relationship building beyond the weird, broken sentences, a gladiator-style duel between Rick an a armoured walker, and a cheeky quip to Michonne about Jadis bedding Rick after the fight. It wasn’t the emotional punch it could have been had we been given the opportunity to get to know the garbage dwellers as individuals, rather than a homogeneous group of people who wear dark colours and talk in a bizarre way. This betrayal hardly felt like a betrayal at all, given that Jadis has always claimed her people “take” and “don’t bother”, and have given precisely no indication that they would be anything other than self-serving. Suddenly Gregory doesn’t seem so bad…
Sasha’s reveal was a little more surprising. After agreeing to go with Negan to Alexandria, and having haggled him down from killing three of Rick’s people to just one, it turned out Sasha had taken Eugene’s suicide pill while being transported in the casket. Negan’s flare for the theatrical really backfired when he opened the lid to find a reanimated Sasha inside, bent on eating him. This was just the diversion the Alexandrian’s needed to wrestle some control back, and all Hell broke loose, with Maggie arriving to join the fight with Jesus and the rest of the Hilltop community. Maggie, it must be said, doesn’t look or fight like a pregnant woman! When is she due?! But The Saviors and Heapsters regained the upper hand, and once again, Rick found himself kneeling at Negan’s feet with Carl’s life hanging in the balance.
Where Rick conceded last time, there was no backing down on this occasion as he accepted that he wouldn’t always be able to save Carl, and swore he would kill Negan whatever happened. I’m not sure if this was a figurative ‘someone will avenge’ us statement, or whether he meant it literally, but at this point I started to wonder why on EARTH Negan wouldn’t just take him out. Is it a sadistic thing? He wants Rick to live, but suffer? A Batman/Joker ‘you complete me’ scenario? I don’t know, but considering how swing happy he was in 7×01, Negan seems pretty reluctant to get rid of his nemesis.
It looked like curtains for Carl until a well timed attack from Shiva the tiger, as the inhabitants of The Kingdom rocked up to kick some serious ass. Okay, the idea of a weaponised tiger who knows to only kill the ‘bad guys’ is laughable, and yes, Ezekiel’s Braveheart-cum-Lord of the Rings battle cry was ridiculous, but I just love him so much that I don’t care! In fact, I want a spin-off that’s just Ezekiel and Jerry going about their day to day lives. Baking. Gardening. Giving Shiva a bath. I would watch the shit out of that.
In the ensuing chaos, Rosita was shot (as was Rick by Jadis earlier), and Michonne was almost beaten to death by a Heapster. In a mirror of the scene where she thought Rick had succumbed to a zombie horde earlier this series, we saw Rick’s reaction as a body toppled from the lookout where Michonne was stationed. Again though, I never actually believed for a second that one of the core group would be offed by a minor character, especially after Sasha’s sacrifice, so the stakes never felt that high.
The Saviors retreated to The Sanctuary, and the surviving allies returned to Alexandria where Maggie and Jesus brought Sasha’s body for a proper burial. While Negan questioned Eugene as to how Sasha had died in transit and declared The Saviors were going to war, Maggie was left to close the season with a sweet voice over about how the decision to lead people to Rick’s aid wasn’t made by her, but by Glenn when he chose to help a stranger all those years back.
Perhaps not the fast-paced thrill-ride of a finale all the pre-amble might have suggested, but the last fifteen minutes or so delivered on action. “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life” was aptly titled, given that it felt more like an inciting incident rather than a conclusion, and it looks like The Walking Dead will have to hit the ground running in the Autumn, now that the opposing sides have shown their hands.
Final Grade: C+
+ Regardless of the ludicrous nature of bringing a tiger to battle and no one thinking to shoot it, the SFX were pretty amazing in this episode.
+ Lauren Cohan continues to be the heart of this show for me.
+ I liked that Sasha got to go out pretty much on her own terms.
– The editing of this episode was a bit all over the shop and made it quite hard to follow the action during the set piece. Ad break placement didn’t help.
– I’m still confused by Negan’s motives. Obviously for narrative purposes he can’t just kill everyone who gets in his way, but he seems to love pretty much every one who takes a pop at him these days.
– There seemed to be a bit of a plot hole in terms of Dwight’s involvement. Presumably the chess piece left for Daryl to find was from him, but it was very unclear.
– What happened to the Oceansiders? I was expecting some of them to turn up and fight alongside Tara.
Extra Thought: With Negan seemingly suspicious of Eugene, Negan knowing he concealed Maggie’s survival from him, and Dwight having switched sides, perhaps it will be down to these two unlikely characters to bring down The Sanctuary from within.
So what did you think? Was the season finale more handbags at dawn than Helm’s Deep? Will you be on tenterhooks all Summer waiting for season 8? Let us know in the comments or sound off on Twitter!