This is a spoiler-free review. Read on below after the broadcast for additional spoilery bits. For information on how to watch it, click here.
All roads have led to this, the season finale of The Walking Dead and the anticipated confrontation between Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). The back end of this season has been demanding for us viewers – it’s been a long, drawn out slog with one very obvious destination that we just wanted to fast forward to. Thankfully, the final episode is worth the wait, dripping in drama, oozing with charisma and full of action.
Sasha (Sonequa Martin Green), having grabbed Negan’s interest with her beach ball-sized nuts, has been given an opportunity to join the Saviours. Briefed on the plan for the upcoming attack on Alexandria, Sasha appears willing to play along to gain Negan’s trust. In possession of Eugene’s (Josh McDermitt) poison pill, Sasha’s primary objective is still to take out Negan, playing the loyal subject, unlike Eugene who is now Negan through and through. It’s his choice to help Negan get Rick’s attention for a parlay, as the Saviours head towards Alexandria.
Loaded with the new weaponry, the Takers prove uneasy companions. Their pidgin English isn’t the only peculiar thing about their behaviour: leader Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh) is keen to take Rick to bed after battle, but is that all Alexandria need to worry about with them? Another player Rick must keep in mind is Dwight (Austin Amelio), who has come to Alexandria to switch sides, much to the chagrin of some residents. It’s beginning to look like a violent game of chess, every decision Rick must make crucial to how the game plays out. Drawing on his experience, not just of the Saviours, he can’t risk overlooking something that could expose his family and be his downfall.
Negan must be a reader of Vodzilla.co, as he admits that the revolt against him is probably partly his own doing, which we alluded to in our last review. Lately, he has been showing too much leniency, like making Carl (Chandler Riggs) spaghetti instead of ruling with fear and intimidation. His loss of focus is what Rick hopes to exploit, but he hasn’t counted on Negan bolting his doors tight. The friendly side of Negan has gone and when his brutality finds Rick once again on his knees before him, just like in the season premiere, those same chills return in abundance. Negan isn’t playing games and with Lucille hungry, he is ready to swing, but not after a little monologue. Anyone who has seen The Incredibles knows that doesn’t always work out.
The oncoming fight is satisfying and tense in equal measure. The arrival of the Hilltop and Kingdom at Alexandria allows King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) to nearly steal the episode with his regal battle cry, but it is another Kingdom resident who really shines in combat. The Hilltop, under the leadership of Maggie (Lauren Cohan), has made the tricky decision to join this fight, while Gregory (Xander Berkeley) is noticeable by his absence. What information could he be feeding the Saviours, as some of his lost sheep follow a new leader? And will it be detrimental to the conflict?
The result of the confrontation sees new alliances formed and the end of all agreements any group had with the Sanctuary. The episode doesn’t end on the kind of cliffhanger that caused so much conflict last season, but there are still many questions that need answering by all camps. It’s clear that this is only just the beginning, that both sides must regroup and prepare, because this is no longer a fight, this is all out war.
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Entrails and innards (spoilers)
– This episode is Sasha’s farewell to the series, as she makes the ultimate sacrifice to try and take out Negan. While her flashback memories are a little sappy, it’s a pleasant surprise to see Michael Cudlitz return as Abraham to remind us of why she is doing this and for whom. Although Sasha’s story arc over the series since her introduction hasn’t been all that memorable, her suicide and attempted murder as a zombie ensure she goes out with some bite.
– Those traitor Takers! There was always a nagging feeling that they couldn’t be trusted and it turns out they couldn’t, having made a better deal with Negan to turn on Alexandria. They will have taken some casualties in the oncoming onslaught but their home looks expansive and they may have plenty more soldiers waiting to join the fight. That is, if the deal suits them. They’ve made good on their bargain with the Saviours already, so is their agreement over, or will they stick with them for another round?
– Shiva! The highlight of the battle comes in the form of a “goddamn tiger”. Perfectly timed to create a fist-pumping, jump-out-of-your-chair moment, Shiva throws the first paw in the gunfight that sends the Saviours and the Takers retreating quickly. Somehow, Negan manages to escape the conflict to live another day, forming an army of his own back at base, ready to retaliate. If this will be swift or timely, only Season 8 will tell.
– Negan’s final thought, before declaring the Saviours are going to war, is just how Sasha may have turned on their journey to Alexandria. Eugene gives a plausible explanation that she just ran out of air, when, really, he knows she took his pill. Eugene may have lost all of Negan’s trust with his part in this, but he probably won’t get thrown in the furnace, as he still does have a significant role to play -and if they’re going to war, they’re going to need as much ammunition as he can manufacture.