In ‘The First Day of the Rest of Your Life’, the stakes have well and truly and finally been raised. This week’s episode is the tense season finale of The Walking Dead’s seventh season, which has undoubtedly been the slowest installation of the series to date. In true Walking Dead fashion, the show ramps up just enough to make you wish that there wasn’t a six-month break before season eight returns in October. While the episode is fairly split between tearjerker moments and high-paced action, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the plot itself has barely moved since the end of season six.
Never is this more prominent than when Negan has Rick and Carl, on their knees at the threat of beating Lucille to death. “I’m gonna kill your kid then Lucille is gonna take your hands,” Negan tells Rick, which echoes his threats from the first episode of the season wherein he demanded Rick cut off Carl’s hand. The difference here is that Rick spits back, insisting that he will kill Negan – it’s certainly a moment of inspiration, and provokes the tear ducts of any viewer who has watched Rick struggle to lead over the years. However, the scene itself serves as a blatant reminder of the snail’s pace at which season seven has crawled along. The episode itself is rife with callbacks to the season seven opener, wherein Negan violently murdered Glenn and Abraham with his baseball bat. In a series of flashbacks, we see the last intimate conversation shared by Sasha and Abraham, whose on-screen appearance is genuinely shocking and heart-wrenching. It makes sense to bookend this season with these flashbacks, as the deaths of Abraham and Glenn have served as the emotional cornerstone of the entire season. Similarly, the episode uses the pocket watch – first her father’s, and then Glenn’s – as a way to tug on the viewers heartstrings as she cradles it in her hand while delivering an inspiring address to the Alexandria-Hilltop-Kingdom army.
Sasha’s flashbacks ultimately turn out to be hallucinations as she dies slowly on the ride from the Sanctuary to Alexandria. Faced with an impossible choice from Negan, Sasha takes the fabled suicide pill made by Negan in “Hostiles and Calamaties.” While the shock of the zombie Sasha emerging from a coffin and jumping Negan is great, by then it’s really not much of a shock – The Walking Dead’s own format betrays itself by delving too far into Sasha’s own psyche. It’s a dead-giveaway for any discerning Walking Dead viewer, as it’s become a trope for the show to withhold character development until the last possible moment – Tyreese, Bob, Beth, Spencer. The list goes on, and Sasha’s name is now a part of it. Excluding the brutal events of the season’s opener, Sasha’s death is the most consequential we’ve had in a while and I found myself genuinely moved by her sacrifice. She has spent this season suffering from the scars of watching Abraham and Glenn die, and couldn’t bring herself to do it to any more of her friends. It feels like the right way for her to go out.
With no hint of sarcasm, I can genuinely say that the double-cross in Alexandria by the garbage-dwellers is genuinely shocking. It all culminates in a tense moment when Rick gives Rosita the signal to blow up the treacherous Eugene, who lurks outside the gates and tells his former friends to bow to Negan. However, the bombs don’t explode and Jaydas and her crew turn their guns on the Alexandrians: the garbage-dwellers have sabotaged the bombs, played nice with Negan and hold the Alexandrians at gunpoint while Negan rolls in and lays out his punishment. The double-cross almost makes the existence of the garbage-dwellers worth it: their ridiculous way of speaking and their absurd behavior simply doesn’t fit in The Walking Dead universe, but it all pays off here.
This is an episode for fans of the show, providing intense action as well as personal moments between characters. There are moments in the show that will simply make the Walking Dead fan geek out upon watching it: Rick getting shot in the gut but still soldiering on, Tara wanting bloody vengeance on Dwight for murdering her girlfriend over a season ago, Carol fighting alongside her friends, Maggie’s closing voiceover detailing their journey from “my daddy’s farm, to the prison, to here.” More than anything, this episode kicks the series into gear: Negan declares “let’s go to war!” to a compound full of Saviors and he looks bloody excited about it. Rick, Maggie and King Ezekiel stand on a podium in Alexandria with an amalgam of soldiers from all three communities, united. After a below-average season of television, it’s enough to get me excited about season eight – the return of which will mark the 100th episode of The Walking Dead.