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[This story contains spoilers from “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life,” the season seven finale of AMC’s The Walking Dead as well as the comics the show is based on.]
AMC’s The Walking Dead closed out its seventh season Sunday with a super-sized finale that, while losing a key character, set the stage for an even bigger battle to come from creator/exec producer Robert Kirkman’s comics in season eight.
Season seven focused largely on Rick (Andrew Lincoln) attempting to rally support from neighboring communities the Hilltop and the Kingdom — as well as the so-called Garbage People — for war against Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his Saviors. In a remix of Kirkman’s source material, Negan winds up arriving at the Alexandria Safe Zone to confront Rick after learning the latter was mounting an army. Only Negan arrives with two members of Rick’s camp — Sasha and Eugene — in a bid to use both against Rick and his people. At the same time, Jadis and the Garbage People turn on Rick. Negan then outlines a long list of demands — including Daryl meeting Lucille — in exchange for Sasha.
Sasha, who was adamant about not being used as a pawn against her people, winds up taking Eugene’s poison pill before they leave the Sanctuary. Much to Negan’s surprise, Sasha winds up having already been turned into a walker by the time he attempts to use her against Rick in the pending war. In a nice callback, Sasha sees visions of her late love interest Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) as well as Maggie (Lauren Cohan) as she ponders life before downing the pill and transforming. (She also almost accomplishes her mission of taking Negan out after turning into a walker and nearly biting him.) In the end, Maggie — in a season of devastating losses — winds up having to be the one to put Walker Sasha down for good as she is poised to take over as the leader at the Hilltop.
Sasha’s death sets off the beginning of the famed “All-Out War” arc from Kirkman’s comic series in which Rick and company go to battle against Negan with freedom on the line. The fierce fight — which kicks off with Carl (Chandler Riggs) firing the first shot — sees Rick and Rosita (Christian Serratos) both shot (though their injuries are not serious), after Eugene (Josh McDermitt) encouraged his former camp to surrender.
Following the gunfight, Negan lines Rick and his son Carl up on their knees in a callback to the season seven opener in which Abraham and Glenn (Steven Yeun) were killed off. At the same time, Rick hears a woman fall from a rooftop and believes it to be Michonne (Danai Gurira). As Negan is about to Lucille Carl, Rick doubles down on his vow to kill the leader of the Saviors: “You’re all already dead,” he says.
Right when things look dire for Rick and Carl, help finally arrives in the form of Ezekiel (Khary Payton), his tiger Shiva, Carol (Melissa McBride) and the rest of the Kingdom army, who are joined by Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Jesus (Tom Payne) and the Hilltop forces. The group effort delivers a victory for the good guys as the Saviors along with Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh) and her Garbage People retreat. The epic battle marked the first time that all three groups united in a season that largely focused on either smaller groups of characters or one specific community.
Following a brief time jump, Maggie previews the war ahead to the Hilltop residents and viewers see the Kingdom, Hilltop and Alexandria coexisting peacefully as the dead are mourned, the wounded recover and Ezekiel, Maggie and Rick hold court and warn of the war ahead. The finale ends with Maggie holding the watch that Hershel (Scott Wilson) gave to Glenn as she explains why her people came to support the Alexandrians: “Glenn made the decision, Rick. I was just following his lead.”
With that, the stage is set for Negan 2.0 in the previously announced eighth season of the zombie drama. Morgan has already announced that he will return next season when the series takes on Kirkman’s “All-Out War” arc. This portion of the source material runs 12 issues and [spoiler alert] ultimately sees the Alexandrians — paired with the Kingdom and the Hilltop — come out on top as Negan ultimately becomes a prisoner held in a cell within Alexandria (which would likely be the same the cell Morgan built last season).
As a whole, season seven forced Rick’s group to explore the politics of living and fighting a ruthless villain unlike any other foe they had faced up until this point. While Negan governs using fear and violence, Rick’s people had to teach the Hilltop residents (save for their cowardly leader Gregory) along with Ezekiel and the Kingdom dwellers how to fight — and perhaps more important, why they needed to take down the Saviors. Sasha ultimately represented the price that came with fighting for a free democracy and a future (including Maggie’s unborn baby) as both Carol (McBride) and Morgan (Lennie James) realized that a potential victory could lead to the violence-free lives they so desperately want.
All told, season seven’s series regular death toll comes in at four: Sasha, Spencer (Austin Nichols), Glenn and Abraham.
For her part, Martin-Green joined The Walking Dead in season three as a recurring player before being promoted to regular in season four. The actress originally auditioned for the role of Michonne — which went to Danai Gurira — but then-showrunner Glen Mazzara created the role of Sasha, the sister of comic book favorite Tyreese (Chad Coleman). Sasha does not exist in the comics.
Stay tuned to THR.com/WalkingDead for more coverage of the season finale, including analysis and interviews with showrunner Scott M. Gimple and Martin-Green.
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