SPOILER ALERT: Do not read ahead if you have not watched the Season 7 finale of “The Walking Dead,” titled “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life.”
Donny Hathaway’s “Someday We’ll All Be Free” was interpreted by many to be about black rights. But in truth, the 1973 song from “Extension of a Man” was written by Edward Howard about the mental pain he saw Hathaway experiencing. The song meant so much to Hathaway that he cried upon hearing the final mix. More than 40 years later, Sasha too finds catharsis in it in the Season 7 finale of “The Walking Dead.”
Sasha listens to it en route with the Saviors to spill the blood of one more Alexandrian. Having caught wind of the Alexandrians making moves, he wants to kill three people as punishment, but Sasha is able to talk him down to just one casualty. She has him wrapped around her fingers, although he insists it’s not a “man-woman” thing.
The Alexandrians are prepared for the visit after Dwight’s “apparent” betrayal. He warns of Negan’s arrival and offers to set up some roadblocks to slow the Saviors down. This gives Rick and co. enough time to rig up some dynamite outside the fences and get the Alexandrians in place alongside the Scavengers. The Hilltop is on standby, and unbeknownst to Rick, Ezekiel and his regiment are en route to join the cause.
All this preparation is for naught, however, after a capital-s Shocking twist in the form of another betrayal. Eugene leads the Saviors’ cavalry to Alexandria’s gates and makes a plea for Rick to fall back in line. Conflicted, he asks where Negan is. Eugene is Negan, he says. This seals his fate, or seems to, at least, as Rick gives the nod for Rosita to set off the dynamite. But it fails, and Jadis puts a gun to Rick’s head and the rest of the Scavengers follow suit.
It was her crew who tipped off the Saviors, so we can spare at least some of our ire toward Gregory, who is still a scumbag but less of a scumbag than we thought. The surprise gives Negan a chance for another one of his monologues. He taunts Rick once again and outlines his demands: all the guns, all the lemonade, a sacrifice for Lucille, Daryl, and the pool table with all its accessories. Furthering his flair for the dramatic, he has Simon and Dwight unveil a coffin. Negan reveals that Sasha is inside and says he’ll kill her and everyone else (“probably”) if Rick doesn’t comply.
Sasha’s nonlinear journey is somewhat frustrating in the episode. “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life” opens with her listening to Hathaway and takes turns returning there, as well as to her at the Sanctuary, in a flashback with Maggie, and in another flashback with Abraham. Most of those are still unnecessary, save for the more immediate events. As she gets into the coffin at the Sanctuary, she asks only for a glass of water. And while listening to one last song, she pops her suicide pill.
Cut back to Alexandria, where Negan opens the coffin and is attacked by Walker Sasha. Her sacrifice opens the window for the Alexandrians not held at gunpoint to begin opening fire. Still, Rick is immobilized, and so too is Michonne, by the Scavenger sniper who was supposed to be her partner in crime. Rick tries to make an even better deal with Jadis, but she’s having none of it. She pops a shot in his hip and kicks him off the platform. Then she brings him to Negan, who has Carl on his knees and surrounded by a gang of Saviors.
Once again, it’s monologue time for Negan. He outlines his fondness for Carl — “If I had a kid, I’d want him to be just like him” — but says he’s going to kill him in front of Rick, then cut off his arms. As this is happening, Michonne is in a fight for her life with the Scavenger. She’s nearly choked out when she gets a hit in, but still not safe. Rick then hears a woman’s screams from off-camera. Undeterred, and unwilling to return to his neutered self, he repeats his taunt from the Season 7 premiere, saying he will still kill him one day.
In yet another twist, this one much more expected, Ezekiel and his regiment arrive just in time to spare Carl’s life and allow the war to continue. Shiva pounces on one of Negan’s henchman just as he pulls the bat behind his shoulders, ready to swing. Ezekiel, Morgan, and Carol all come in guns blazing, with the king delivering a properly dramatic decry: “Alexandria will not fall, not on this day.”
The Scavengers flee, and eventually the Saviors are run out of Alexandria. Along the way we’re treated to some awesome action shots, particularly the pairings of Ezekiel and Carol and Rick and Morgan fighting alongside each other. The newly aligned army attempts to chase Negan and the rest of the Saviors, but a crew left behind is able to ward them off with gunfire and allow them to escape back to the Sanctuary. War is just getting started.
“The First Day of the Rest of Your Life” — written by Scott M. Gimple, Angela Kang, and Matthew Negrete; and directed by Greg Nicotero — isn’t quite a perfect finale, but it’s damn fun and undeniably satisfying. My only real beef is with the gratuitous Sasha flashbacks and the indulgently sappy ending monologue from Maggie. While the Kingdom’s just-on-time arrival was to be expected, the Scavenger’s betrayal is the best twist the show has pulled off since first revealing that everyone who dies comes back as a walker. And in a show in which death has recently lost most of its power, Sasha’s death was a potent sacrifice, carrying far more weight than Glenn and Abraham’s (Michonne, though badly battered, survives, so no need to mourn two characters tonight).
So was Season 7 redeemed? I wouldn’t go that far. The show’s penchant for stalling, over-manipulating, and biting off more than it can chew can’t be erased by one explosive finale. While the back half of this season was better than the first, it still suffered from those same issues. But going into yet another summer between seasons, we won’t be left with a bad taste in our mouths this time around. Like Sasha with her earbuds, we too get a sweet release.