Major spoilers ahead.
For a series known to kill off its stars with gruesome bravura—including Glenn and Abraham in the controversial, brain-bashing season premiere—the only major death in the Season 7 finale of AMC’s The Walking Dead was calm, controlled and convoluted.
“If people die today, it’s because of the choices they make,” Eugene (Josh McDermitt) tells Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) early in the episode as they prepare to accompany Negan to a season-in-the-making showdown with Rick & Co. “Yeah,” Sasha replies, already working out a head-scratching, quadruple bank shot in her head. “It is.”
In last week’s “Something They Need,” Sasha begged Eugene for a weapon she could use to kill herself but that she actually intended to use in a surprise attack against Negan. When he gave her a suicide pill instead of something sharper edged, though, Eugene inadvertently disrupted her plan. In this week’s “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life,” Sasha turns that bitter pill into a something she can use to kill herself and Negan.
The episode’s alinear structure and imagined sequences that take place in Sasha’s head mask her plan’s plausibility problems. To weaponize herself and kill Negan, Sasha would need to (1) get into position to surprise him, (2) take the suicide pill, (3) turn—which takes hours—without anyone realizing she was dead and (4) spring herself on him at close enough proximity to assure that he’s the one she attacks in her new zombified form.
Sasha has been locked in a cell since arriving at the Sanctuary and Negan is always the first to greet her, so one idea would be to take the pill the night Eugene gives it to her, turn, and spring herself on Negan when he opens the door the next morning. A second would be to do more or less the same thing but in a coffin strapped to a flatbed truck on a two-hour ride to Alexandria.
Seriously, it was the second one.
Negan’s “little birdie” who told him Rick was up to something turned out to be weird-ass Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh)—ahem, Judas—the leader of the Scavengers who, as it happened, had sold Rick out for a better deal. Negan’s retribution would be to take a very-much-alive Sasha to Alexandria in a coffin as a big, splashy spectacle and then crush some heads. “You don’t have to take the trip in the thing,” Negan tells her before they leave. “I could use the rest,” she says to no one’s laughter or suspicion.
That seemed a little off as I watched the live airing Sunday night, but the episode’s structure had already telegraphed Sasha’s death and emphasized the nobility of it through imagined interactions between her and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) and between her and Maggie (Lauren Cohan). Upon second viewing this morning, the entire coffin bit seemed like a narrative mess that the series had backed itself into.
Building the finale around Sasha was already a tough sell, given the widely publicized fact that Sonequa Martin-Green—a longtime series regular—is currently filming the first season of CBS All Access’s Star Trek: Discovery, which will premiere later this year; she was highly unlikely to return to The Walking Dead for Season 8. Building the last three episodes around her and walking her into a finale where the dots don’t quite connect was just unnecessary.
Take the leap, though, and the back half of the supersized finale was popcorn TV at its finest. Jadis and the Scavengers turn their guns on a stunned Rick & Co., Michonne has a knock-down-drag-out with No. 2 Scavenger Tamiel (Sabrina Gennarino), King Ezekiel and his badass tiger arrive without a second to spare, Maggie and the Hilltoppers bring additional firepower and Negan is forced to retreat.
The faceoff between Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) just before the battle begins crackles with the same intensity as their scenes in the lineup at the end of Season 6 and the beginning of Season 7—and Rick is similarly screwed here until a giant tiger saves his ass—but Rick has transformed himself from a man cowed and defeated to one ready for war.
If you need a hint to what’s coming in Season 8, the next chapter in the Walking Dead comics after the events of this season is called “All Out War—Part One.”