In what may be a relief to fans, Sunday’s finale of ‘The Walking Dead’ is perhaps the best episode of the season. Unfortunately, with this season, that’s not a very high bar to clear. The episode still brings a lot of frustration.
The pre-credits cold open, for example, is another head-scratcher on par with the stupid melon scene in Episode 7.13. The whole scene is a tight close-up of Sasha’s face as she listens to music from a pair of headphones and makes facial expressions and noises suggesting that she’s masturbating. (That’s not just me, right? She really seems to be rubbing one out.) Cut to credits.
Yeah, we’ll get a little explanation later of where she is (though it’s never explicitly stated what her fingers are doing), and it ties in with the plot of the episode. Regardless, this is an utterly perplexing artistic choice for the season finale.
Sasha spends most of the episode in an enclosed dark space, having either a fantasy or a memory of her final conversation with Abraham before the two of them joined the ill-fated mission to bring Maggie to the Hilltop. She asked Abraham to stay behind with her on that day, but he convinced her that sometimes they need to make sacrifices for the good of others. In case it’s not blunt enough for you, this is an IMPORTANT THEME.
Back in the real world, Negan brings Sasha a pancake breakfast (complete with a smiley face made of blueberries) and tells her that it’s a big day. They’re going to Alexandria, and he expects her to talk some sense into her friends and make them behave. Lucille (his bat) needs three victims to make examples out of. Sasha talks him down to just one. Negan agrees out of respect for her feistiness and badassery. FORESHADOWING ALERT: Sasha can accept the need for one sacrifice.
At Alexandria, Dwight tells Rick that he’s had enough of Negan and wants him dead. He also apologizes to Daryl. Both Rick and Daryl are hesitant to trust him, but after Dwight lays out a plan for how to ambush Negan and take over the Sanctuary, Rick makes the call that this is their best shot at defeating the Saviors. He allows Dwight to go free so that he can return to the Sanctuary and start putting the plan in motion. Daryl tells Rick that, after the fighting is all done, he still plans to kill Dwight anyway.
With Gregory gone (we don’t see him at all in the finale), Maggie takes charge of the Hilltop. She already knows about the plan to take down Negan (presumably a messenger arrived with the news) and has to decide whether to commit the Hilltop to joining the fight. This will not be a tough decision for her.
More forces converge as Ezekiel leads an army from the Kingdom toward Alexandria. Carol walks with them, in full soldier mode. On the way, they run into Morgan, who tried to set up his own personal ambush for the Saviors (no doubt intended as a suicide mission). Ezekiel convinces him to join them in the fight.
The Heapsters arrive at Alexandria riding a bunch of bicycles and driving a few garbage trucks. They quickly disperse through the community. Michonne takes a sniper position on a house balcony with a Heapster lady. Rick stands atop the main gate with Heapster leader Jadis. Daryl, Rosita and Aaron plant a bomb inside an abandoned moving truck just outside the gate.
Dwight appears to be living up to his end of the deal. He slows down the Savior convoy by felling a bunch of trees into the road. As they wait for that to be cleared out, Eugene suggests that Negan should let him be the first to speak to Rick.
The Battle for Alexandria
Eventually, the Savior convoy pulls up to the gate at Alexandria. Eugene stands on the bed of the lead truck, speaking through a bullhorn. He says that they know everything the Alexandrians have been up to, and pleads with Rick to stand down. When Rick asks where Negan is, Eugene responds that he’s Negan.
Rick is a little heartbroken by this. After a moment’s hesitation, he ducks down behind the wall and signals for Rosita to detonate the bomb, certain that he’s just signed Eugene’s death sentence. Rosita pushes the plunger and everyone braces for the detonation. Nothing happens. The bomb doesn’t go off. Suddenly, Jadis pulls a gun on Rick and all the Heapsters turn on the Alexandrians. It’s a double-cross!
The real Negan comes out, full of his signature swagger. He declares, “You suck ass, Rick.” For their betrayal, he demands that the Alexandrians turn over all their guns, all their lemonade, that pool table he enjoyed so much on his last visit, and of course Daryl. Also, Rick will have to choose a victim for Lucille. Chiding him over the stunt with the bomb, Negan points out that not only would he have killed his friend Eugene, but Sasha was on the truck as well. He has a couple of men remove a tarp, revealing a coffin underneath, which Negan stands upright to face Rick.
Flashback: Before leaving the Savior compound, Sasha volunteers to ride in the coffin the whole way, saying that she needs some rest. Eugene gives her an iPod and headphones. She tells him that it’s not too late to change. During the drive, she listens to music and fantasizes about Abraham, and then, when she’s ready, takes the suicide pill Eugene had given her previously. This is her sacrifice.
Negan opens the coffin and asks Sasha to step out, and is shocked that she’s gone full zombie and lunges toward him, knocking him off the truck. Rick and the Alexandrians immediately take advantage of the distraction and start shooting. A huge firefight breaks out. Another Savior pulls Sasha off Negan, only for her to bite his face off while Negan gets away.
Rosita is shot but not killed. Michonne has a brutal fight with the Heapster bitch on the balcony, who savagely beats the snot out of her.
Rick has a standoff with Jadis and offers to make her a better deal, but she shoots him in the pelvis and takes his gun. Jadis drags Rick over to Negan. He’s already taken Carl hostage and makes them both get on their knees. Rick hears a scream and sees what he assumes is Michonne falling off the house to her death. (We only see it happen from a distance, which of course means that it wasn’t actually Michonne.) Rick is horrified. Negan gloats. He says he’s going to kill Carl now and then use Lucille to smash both of Rick’s hands. Rick nonetheless remains defiant. He vows once again to kill Negan. Negan is impressed, not that it will stop him from doing what he promised.
Negan raises Lucille and prepares to swing, when suddenly Ezekiel’s tiger leaps from out of nowhere and chows down on the Savior standing behind him. Ezekiel charges in with his army, declaring, “Alexandria will not fall, not on this day.” Maggie and the Hilltoppers charge in behind them and join the fight as well.
A lot of commotion happens after this. The gunfire and screaming mostly drown out the dialogue. Negan is furious to see Maggie still alive. Carol’s back to being a badass. Morgan sets aside his aversion to killing and shoots a bunch of Saviors.
Seeing the tide turn, the Heapsters launch a flare, set off a bunch of smoke bombs, and retreat from Alexandria. Negan hops in a truck and flips Rick the bird as he tears out through the gate. Rick shoots at him, futilely. Negan gets away.
Rick finds Michonne, alive but in really bad shape. Having won their first victory against the Saviors, the Alexandrians start the process of cleaning up. Maggie and Jesus come across zombie Sasha in the woods and, with tears in their eyes, put her down.
Licking his wounds, Negan returns to the Sanctuary with Simon, Dwight and Eugene. He asks Eugene how Sasha could have died inside the coffin, and Eugene bluffs an explanation that it must have been sealed too airtight and she suffocated. Negan is suspicious of this answer. He then steps out onto a balcony and makes a speech to an assembled army of Saviors, declaring that it’s time to go to war.
While closing the gate to Alexandria, Daryl discovers a little wooden figurine of an army soldier with the words “Didn’t Know” written on the back. This is not explained in the episode, but apparently Dwight had a thing about carving wooden soldiers back at the beginning of Season 6. I don’t know how the show’s writers really expected anyone to remember that.
In its favor, this finale makes a good send-off for Sasha with a strong emotional payoff. The twist with the Heapsters is unexpected and delivers some legitimate tension and suspense. The action parts of the episode are also pretty well done, and Ezekiel and Maggie arriving to save the day is pretty rousing and exciting. (We get to see the tiger in action!)
Unfortunately, the fact that Negan gets away to fight another day is a huge letdown and cop-out. The ending plays out almost exactly like the Season 3 finale, which built up to a huge climactic confrontation with The Governor only to let him slip away and return the following season. (That episode so enraged our recapper Aaron that he gave up on the whole show at that point.) This just reiterates the biggest problem with the Negan storyline – that he’s little more than The Governor 2.0.
Barring some Terminus-like twist where he’s dispatched immediately in the season premiere, I assume that the plan is for Negan to torment our heroes for another whole season. In my opinion, that’s entirely the wrong direction for the show to go. We’ve had enough of Negan, and he never lived up to the hype. He should have been dealt with in this episode so that our heroes can move on to a fresh storyline next season.