If you’ve been waiting months for those promised wars to come between Rick Grimes, Negan, and their respective post-apocalyptic communities then, well, you’re just going to have to wait another half-year longer.
For its second season finale straight, The Walking Dead fell short of what it promised in the weeks leading up to it. Last year, the show teased a game-changing main cast member death for months, then ended with a cliffhanger and revealed the death(s) six months later instead. This time around, we spent half a season gearing up for a resolution with Negan and his Saviors, and instead were gifted only the beginning of what is shaping up to be a three-season fight.
Basically, “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life” was supposed to be Battle of the Pelennor Fields from The Return of the King, but we got Boromir’s death from the end of Fellowship of the Ring instead. By the end of the 85-minute episode, the only real things that had changed were that The Kingdom was officially colluding with Alexandria and Hilltop to take down the Saviors — something we’d all known was going to happen since the moment Carol and Morgan stepped foot there last fall — that Jadis and her Scavengers were officially bad news, and that war was very officially out in the open.
Oh, and Sasha is dead, but virtually every Walking Dead fan with a pulse could have told you that two weeks ago.
“The First Day of the Rest of Your Life” painfully drew out the end of Sasha, just like “Something They Need” and “The Other Side” before it. The episode began with a shot of her supposedly still alive but disembodied head, looking drugged up and despondent while jamming out to “Someday We'll All Be Free” by Donny Hathaway on an iPod, amidst a sea of blackness. Her eyes rolled back — letting us think she’d finally, mercifully passed — but then Walking Dead cut to a dream sequence-slash flashback with Abraham instead.
This death march continued throughout approximately two-thirds of the episode, making it clear to viewers that Sasha had A) taken Eugene’s poison before embarking on whatever mission Negan had chosen and B) was now reliving her final happy moments with Abraham before her death.
These moments, which we later learned had actually happened in the minutes before Abraham, Sasha, Glenn, and many more Alexandrians left to take Maggie to Hilltop during last year’s season finale, were actually quite moving. Sonequa Martin-Green and Michael Cudlitz were two standout actors on this show, and Season 8 will miss them as they inevitably move on to bigger and and better things. (For Martin-Green, “bigger and better things” is the leading role on CBS’ Star Trek: Discovery.)
However, hearing Abraham convince Sasha that they shouldn’t stay behind in Alexandria and let Rick, Michonne, Glenn, and the rest of the gang tend to Maggie — because even though they were happy in love, making the tough calls for their friends always came first — just made Sasha’s eventual demise hurt even worse. Because while one could argue that Abe took one for the team last year by simply showing up and being the biggest guy in the Grimes Gang (the one Negan, a proper schoolyard bully, would likely target first), Sasha’s death was entirely in vain.
Basically, what went down was this: Dwight told the group that Negan and roughly 20 of his cohorts were planning to kill some Alexandrians the next day, based on information he’d been given by that little birdie he’d mentioned to Sasha last week. Daryl, Tara, and even Michonne argued that Dwight couldn’t be trusted, but Rick liked the sound of Dwight’s plan — which was to knock down trees to delay the Saviors, ambush them with dynamite once they arrived, kill them all, head back to Sanctuary, save Sasha, then join forces with the Sanctuary’s worker-slaves to take down the rest of Negan’s outposts, ending their terror once and for all.
This sounded like a pretty foolproof plan, but something was bound to go wrong, and that something ended up being Jadis and her terrible, horrible, no good, very bad group of Fifth Element cosplaying, Yoda-talking Scavengers.
As Negan gathered Eugene and Sasha for his yet-to-be-revealed mission in Alexandria, Jadis and the Scavengers and Rick and the Alexandrians stood in waiting. Once the big bads arrived, though, everything quickly went to hell. The Scavengers turned their guns on Alexandria — meaning Jadis was Negan’s bird, not Gregory — and Negan brought out Sasha, trapped in a coffin for Negan-esque dramatic flair.
Negan promised to give her back in exchange for all of Alexandria’s guns, Daryl, the pool table, and the life of an Alexandrian of Rick’s choosing, and Rick (wisely) asked for confirmation that Sasha was still alive before acquiescing. This was where we got that rousing, “Do You Hear the People Sing?”-esque flashback of Abraham convincing Sasha that their friends’ lives were more important than their own…but also where we got Sasha spilling out of the coffin as a zombie, accomplishing virtually nothing at all.
Like, sure, okay, Sasha took out one Savior. But she could have jumped out at Negan and bit him in the jugular Rick Grimes-style — and possibly even killed that same Savior! — without having committed suicide first. And when Ezekiel’s tiger Shiva took out at least three times as many Saviors as Sasha just a few minutes later, it became clear that Sasha’s death was entirely in vain. Which is fine in theory, but in practice, we got three entire episodes of Walking Dead teasing an epic-slash-tragic character death that ended up being useless and silly.
Then, despite The Kingdom and Hilltop’s formidable, just-in-the-nick-of-time surprise rescue — Carl was literally two seconds away from being Lucille’d right in front of Rick when Shiva leapt in — Negan, Jadis, Eugene, Simon, and the rest of the episode’s villains retreated from Alexandria unscathed. (Not so lucky were Rick and Rosita, who were shot, and Michonne, who was beaten to a bloody pulp by a particularly nasty Scavenger. Also, Rick had to listen to Jadis talk about how she wanted to have sex with him, which might have been worse than her actual gunshot.)
The episode ended with a montage of the Rick/Ezekiel/Maggie triumvirate rallying their surviving troops, Maggie and Jesus ending Sasha’s zombified existence, and Dwight leaving word with Daryl that he hadn’t known about the Scavengers’ betrayal. A voiceover from Maggie informed us that Glenn had technically started this battle years ago when he saved Rick way back when in Atlanta, inadvertently creating their little family and kicking off nearly a decade of the Grimes Gang getting killed for each other.
Though as nice as it was to end the season with a fond memory of my beloved Glenn, I can’t help but feel cheated by Walking Dead delaying the all-out war it promised in the teasers for 7B, and wary at the thought of even more episodes of Negan on top. Having The Kingdom (and to a much lesser extent, the wimpy Hilltop clan) around full time is promising, I just hope the show can find ways to actually flesh out Negan and freshen up this quickly rotting war storyline ASAP come Season 8.
And if it doesn’t, at least our girl Sasha gets to be on Star Trek.
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