If you haven’t already watched The Walking Dead‘s season 7 finale, you may want to do so now. Or, if you’re looking for the same effect in less time, maybe just tear your own heart outbecause someone was ugly-crying in front of the TV on Sunday night, and it wasn’t my dog.
In an age when showrunners toss around supersized episodes with abandon, “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life” actually merits its 90-minute run time by paying off the season’s many risks with rewards. Or at least, in the case of Sasha, resolution: her fate is sealed from the outset. The plan for Eugene’s extra-strength Tylenol PM isn’t to slip it into Negan’s breakfast shake (don’t try to tell me this isn’t a guy who’s obnoxious about his whey protein), but to use it on herself. And while her death isn’t directly motivated by grief, it’s not hard to see why she’d want a magic bullet to reunite her with her brother and boyfriend. Or even poor, cannibalized Bob.
But first there’s subterfuge—and closure. Between shots of Negan bringing Sasha smiley-face pancakes and the Saviors gearing up for their showdown with the Alexandrians, the episode tosses in a heart-wrenching flashback of Sasha and Abraham’s last conversation before his untimely date with Lucille, finally giving viewers some insight that was sorely missing all season. No time for reminiscing, though: Negan, a man who certainly owns multiple pairs of Truck Nuts, wants roll up on Alexandria and once again rub Lucille in Rick’s face. (Always one for a subtle metaphor, that Negan.) Much of that plan involves placing Sasha into a casket, monologuing, and then killing three of Rick’s peoplewhich doesn’t sit well with the supposedly Savior-ized Sasha. “Only one person has to die,” she tell him. Hope you paid attention in AP Lit the day they taught foreshadowing, Negan!
Back in Alexandria, Dwight pleads his case to Rick’s very armed, very angry posse. In offering to turn double agent and delay Negan, he takes a healthy step toward redemption. Nearly everyone who lost someone in The Walking Dead universe lost them to death; as awful as that is, there’s comfort in its inevitability. Dwight lost Sherry, though, through his own choiceswhich is a different kind of pain, one suffused with futility and guilt and all manner of terribleness. Now, he’s just trying to do right by his lost love; only time will tell if his actions will bring Sherry back, or if she’s too far gone.
Have you ever gotten bad news? Or felt anxious about something unavoidable? Time loses its constancy, stretching seconds into eternity or distilling a week into the blink of an eyeand sometimes both. The episode taps into that uncertainty, fuzzing the sequencing and hopping from place to place: after a season of crescendo, the drums of war are downright disorienting. Gregory has been missing for some unclear amount of time, which leaves Hilltop Colony in Maggie’s capable hands. Now, someone is about to catch those hands. Meanwhile, Rick and co. have been able to fortify Alexandria with guns, people, and explosivesonly to get hosed when the trash-can kids sell Rick out to Eugene and the Saviors. (This is why the first rule of film school is “trust no bowl cut.”)
Luckily, the debut of Sasha’s brand-new Walker status provides enough of a distraction for Carl to lead the charge and start a good-old-fashioned firefight. While she misses the man in charge, Sasha is still able to take out a Savior and save her friends. Ultimately, though, it’s not enough to overcome the combined forces of the Saviors and the “Filthy Garbage People” (Negan’s words), so it seems that Carl might actually meet the business end of Lucilleat least until a tiger disrupts Negan’s festivities.
Let me repeat that: A TIGER. The Kingdom has arrived, followed closely by seventh-trimester Maggie and the Hilltop Colony. (I think this might count as King Ezekiel and Carol’s first date, but don’t tell them I said that.) The Saviors retreat, middle fingers high; as the united forces of Alexandria, the Kingdom, and the Hilltop tend to their wounded, it really seems as though the day is saved. Plus, Hypeman Jerry and Shiva live to fight another day, and that’s all I was really hoping for.
In the hours after “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life,” Walking Dead Twitter filled with people declaring it “predictable” or “rushed.” What they’re forgetting, though, is that viewers needed a win. You can’t watch the struggles of Rick and his people, the losses Maggie took season after season, the comically evil villain who seemed to win without merit again and again, and not identify with the good guys even a little bit. There are times when art should reflect the horrors of the real world, absolutelybut there are times when it should show us what it could be, even in the face of unspeakable evil and terrible loss. A world where people can come together regardless of race, gender, sexuality or background and build families; where they can rise up against a foe that seems to have every odd stacked in their favor and actually win. We needed that reminder and that escape. And The Walking Dead did not disappoint.