After an agonizingly slow season, the season seven finale for The Walking Dead finally delivered the highly-anticipated rematch between Rick and Negan. Rick and company have a plan, but it's going to take all their allies to bail them out as the first shots of war are fired. And one of our own isn't going to make it out alive.
[Warning: The following contains spoilers for The Walking Dead’s seventh-season finale.]
As I teased in previous recaps, Sasha was our fallen soldier — though it wasn't a stray bullet that did her in.
The finale focuses a great deal of time and emotional energy on Sasha, a character I'd forgotten had been with the show since midway through the third season. Flashbacks are sprinkled throughout the extra-long episode. We witness her waking from a dream and talking with Abraham, right before they left on the fateful RV journey that lead them to Negan the first time. We then see her in a dark space haunted by those memories, foreshadowing her shocking role in the upcoming battle.
But first our group still needs to deal with Dwight, who showed up unannounced at the end of last week. Daryl and Tara both want to murder him right then and there — Tara particularly as it was Dwight who murdered Denise. After a tense battle of wills, they eventually stand down and consider Dwight's plan, which involves turning the workers at the Sanctuary (Savior HQ) to their side, and going outpost to outpost to dismantle the Saviors.
Dwight tells them that Negan is due the next day, and he cuts down a bunch of trees along the path to slow him. They let Dwight go and call the junkyard people over, who arrive fully armed and willing to help, as per their agreement for the guns. The explosives our group procured several episodes ago are primed and set around the entrance to Alexandria. With weaponry and explosives in their arsenal, those from Alexandria and the Junkyard Gang lie in wait, ready for the Saviors to approach.
Eugene manages to muck things up by offering to go on ahead of Negan. Eugene rides up on the back of a flatbed truck and arrives at Alexandria. He tries to talk them down in his own goofy Eugene way. When Rick apprehensively asks where Negan is, Eugene replies, “I'm Negan.”
Lovable Eugene be damned, we're ready to kill him and all the saviors. Rick gives the signal and Rosita pushes the button for the explosives.
Nothing happens. Then the crew from the Junkyard suddenly turn their guns on the Alexandrians, revealing that they'd made a better deal with the Saviors. This is why you never hire mercenaries! Not to mention giving these people you barely know a ton of firepower and trusting them in your base. A risky move by Rick, and it backfired terribly.
The Junkyard gang open the door to Alexandria and Negan steps out of a nearby truck, admonishing Rick. Now Negan wants all the guns, all their lemonade, and one person needs to offer themselves up to Lucille for some capital punishment. Oh, he's going to need Daryl back. And the pool table.
Rick has one surprise up his sleeve, and he doesn't even know it yet. He demands to see Sasha, whom Negan claims is perfectly fine even though she arrived in a fancy coffin. Through more flashbacks we see it was Sasha's decision to travel in the coffin. She kept the poison pill she had received from Eugene, and pops it as they drive over. Negan had told her that three people needed to die, but Sasha negotiated him down to one. Little did he know, she would make the choice for him.
Negan opens the coffin. Surprise! Zombie Sasha! She attacks Negan as they fall off the truck, and all hell breaks loose. Alexandrians spring into action, turning and shooting members of the Junkyard as a giant gunfight breaks out everywhere.
Rick was a bit slow on the uptake, however, and he remains helplessly held at gunpoint by Junkie leader Jadis. She tells him to get down and he refuses, so she shoots him and kicks him down, then parades him through the streets of Alexandria, which features several red-shirt dead bodies. She leads him to a clearing where Carl has been captured by Negan, Simon, Dwight and the Saviors.
This scene with Negan and Rick played out like a video game cutscene. There's fighting in the background; we here gunfire the entire time, but the outside action slows down as Rick and Negan get some delicious one-on-one time.
Negan is all swagger, and taunts Rick with killing Carl first. They hear a woman's scream in the distance, and Rick thinks it might be Michonne, who had picked out an elevated sniper's perch and was fighting her own battle with a Junkie.
But this isn't early season Rick, who cried and balked at Negan's double murders and cruel mind games. This is “Rise Up Rick,” and he's ready to throw the swagger back in Negan's face by expanding on his mantra from that first encounter: “I'm going to kill you. All of you. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. Nothing is going to change that. Nothing. You're all already dead.”
Even Negan is impressed, but that doesn't dissuade him from going to kill Carl. He takes aim with the bat and — Shiva the tiger appears and mauls one of his Saviors. The Kingdom has arrived!
In a previous scene we saw Carol and Ezekiel leading a small force of armed Kindommers. Their goal was to travel to Alexandria and agree to the alliance that Rick had proposed. Along the way they find Morgan, who is still deep in his funk after Benjamin's death. He's teetering on the edge of being a one-man wrecking crew, but Ezekiel manages to at least point him in the right direction, and he joins their squad.
Their timing was hilariously perfect and it made for one hell of an entrance. Maggie and some folks from the Hilltop arrive soon after, guns blazing, and the Saviors and Junkyard gang are driven off. All the big name villains survive, and members of the Junkyard throw a few smoke bombs to hasten their escape. Rick and Carl find Michonne who had survived her fight, through brutally beaten, while Maggie and Jesus find Zombie Sasha, and tearfully give her the final send off.
Maggie tells Rick the reason for helping him was because of Glenn. Glenn didn't know Rick at all back in the first season, but helped him anyway when he was stuck under a tank in Atlanta. Glenn started it all, which was a neat throwback. “I was just following his lead,” Maggie replies, holding the watch that her father Hershel had given to Glenn.
It took 16 episodes but we finally got a great episode this season, and probably one of the better season finales on The Walking Dead. It had action, drama, emotion, a big character death, and huge repercussions going forward. As Rick tells Daryl after Dwight leaves: “We just started it. The whole thing.” Hopefully this episode was the first step toward a better show when the 100th episode arrives this Fall.
Jadis: Jadis is a stone-cold badass in this episode, even though we're supposed to hate her for her betrayal. She gets the best line of the episode, (“Yours? I lay with him after.”). She keeps Rick under gunpoint even when the fighting erupts, and when he thinks about doing anything, she shoots him and kicks him off the tower. Jadis don't play.
Shiva: You fist-pumped when Shiva showed up with some righteous mauling didn't you? I did too. Who knew tigers had such perfect timing?
Maggie: Maggie has been one of the few bright spots this season, and she hasn't even been used all that much. Her emotional speech at the end was the perfect capstone, and a nice way to remember Glenn's influence on the group.
Eugene: Rick was ready to kill Eugene and frankly I don't blame him. Eugene is not an evil man but he's a self-aware coward, and that can be dangerous with people like Negan ready to take advantage of him. Negan may suspect that Eugene had a hand to play in Sasha's death, but for now Eugene is back with the Saviors, and we'll continue to hate him.
Morgan: I'm a little worried that Morgan fell off the deep end so quickly. It's fun to see him and Rick kicking ass together, but I hope we get some deeper looks into his inner conflicts over pacifism and going murder-crazy. I mean, can we maybe find a middle-ground there?