The Walking Dead S7 E16: The First Day of the Rest of Your Life
Andrew Lincoln, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Melissa McBride, Norman Reedus, Sonequa Martin-Green, Danai Gurira, Austin Amelio, Norman Reedus, Lauren Cohan, Chandler Riggs
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…a solid, course-correcting conclusion to a shambolic, occasionally directionless season…
[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. I mean, come on, you know how this works]
Well here we are – the season seven finale of The Walking Dead and the shambling show’s ninety-ninth episode! Season seven has been an odd one. On the one hand we had bold, shocking episodes like the season opener “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” and enjoyably goofy adventures in splatter like “Rock in the Road”, not to mention Richonne-centric episode “Say Yes”. However those high points have often been floundering next to oddly-paced efforts like “Swear” and “The Other Side”.
What this season needed was a kick-arse, game-changing, jaw-dropping finale that will make the occasional stumbles feel worthwhile. So is “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life” that episode? Partially, yes, but we’ll get back to that in a bit.
The episode opens with a creepy close-up of Sasha’s (Sonequa Martin-Green) sweaty face. She appears to be in a small dark room and is listening to music on an iPod. Is she dying, crying or passing out? We don’t know yet and we’ll be revisiting this strong image throughout the episode.
After the opening titles, and a quick visit to Sasha again, we head into a flashback where Sasha recalls her final day with Abraham (Michael Cudlitz). The pair of them are still in the early period of their relationship and Sasha has had a nightmare about Abe’s death. It soon becomes clear they’re about to leave on the journey at the end of which Abraham gets his proud ginger bonce flattened. It’s a bittersweet memory that we’ll be returning to throughout the episode’s extended runtime.
Back at Alexandria, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) is grilling Dwight (Austin Amelio) about why he wants to help them. Dwight claims he wants Negan dead, but Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Tara (Alanna Masterson) would quite happily kill the scarred defector on the spot. Cooler heads prevail and Dwight is allowed to initiate a plan to kill Negan. As Dwight drives off Daryl observes he’s “gonna kill that sum’bitch” when everything’s all over. For that “Easy Street” song alone, we’re with you, Dazza.
Meanwhile in Sasha’s cell, Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is talking to Sasha about how peace can reign after “Lucille takes three”. Sasha is horrified by this revelation and cunningly talks Negs down to one. “Just one person has to die,” she says in a way that pretty much guarantees we won’t be seeing her in season eight.
At the Hilltop, Maggie (Lauren Cohan) pitches her plan to help Rick to Jesus (Tom Payne). Jesus agrees with her and offers that it’s good Maggie is the one giving the order as it seems Gregory (Xander Berkeley) has done a runner, possibly to dob on our heroes. Fuck’s sake, Gregory, Maggie saved you from two zombies last week! Have a word with yourself.
Elsewhere the Kingdom is on patrol. They come up against a line of shopping trolleys, a technique last seen in “Bury Me Here”. Morgan (Lennie James) emerges from the shadows and, just in case you hadn’t realised how crazy he was, we can see he’s sharpened his staff into a spear. Morgan is clad in Benjamin’s armour and doesn’t seem keen to join with the Kingdom until Ezekiel (Khary Payton) delivers a speech that declares, “No one will suffer under [The Savior’s] capricious malevolence again!” When a bloke with a tiger says stuff like that it’s hard not to fall in line, and Morgan walks next to Carol (Melissa McBride) as they march to war.
Back at Alexandria the Bin Chickens (aka Heapsters) arrive on pushbikes and garbage trucks. Yes, they drive actual garbage trucks. They’re thematically consistent, which you’ve gotta admire. Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh, who can do no wrong) looks Rick over and asks Michonne if she can: “Lay with him after. You care?” Clearly Michonne would care but Rick seems at least at a little tempted.
We move into a tension-building sequence where we cut back and forth between Alexandria preparing for war and Negan approaching, slowed down by Dwight’s felled tree trap. This is a beautifully scored sequence and really amps up the expectations for the violence to come.
The Saviors finally arrive but something seems off. For a start, Eugene (Josh McDermitt) is standing in for the big fella. When Rick asks where Negan is, Eugene answers: “I am Negan.” Rick’s had about enough of this bullshit and he gives Rosita the nod for her to spring her explosive trap. She presses the button and… nothing. What’s going on? Cue the episode’s best twist. The fucking BIN CHICKENS turn on our heroes, bamboozling the ENTIRE COMMUNITY OF ALEXANDRIA with the weapons they themselves fought so hard to get. What the hell, Pollyanna McIntosh, we literally said you could do no wrong two paragraphs ago!
Personal feelings aside this is a really excellent and surprising development. Alexandria is suddenly on the back foot and Negan enters, holding Lucille and grinning the smuggest of smug grins. Apparently Negan just made a better deal with the Bin Chickens (booo!) which, you know, Rick probably should have allowed for. Negan wants the following: all the guns, a victim for Lucille (of Rick’s choosing, no less), Daryl and a pool table – with cues and chalk. Rick, on the other hand, wants to see that Sasha is still alive. Negan presents a coffin which he begins to open…
We go into a recent flashback where Sasha claims she’ll ride in the coffin, and all she wants is a small bottle of water. This apparently gives Negan a major boner but he lets it happen. We finally understand what we’ve been flashing back to: Sasha riding in the coffin after swallowing Eugene’s suicide pill.
So when Negan opens the coffin, zombie Sasha lurches out, trying to take a big bite out of his tasty flesh! The bamboozler has become the bamboozled! Rick and a number of Alexandrians use the opportunity to fight back against the Bin Chickens and Saviors, and a messy gunfight ensues. Rosita (Christian Serratos) cops a bullet but is dragged to safety by Tara. Michonne has a nasty battle with a random Bin Chicken. Rick attempts to do some sexy bartering with Jadis but instead of joining in like usual she just shoots him in the thigh. So, you know, a little less sexy than usual.
The uprising is thwarted. Rick ends up on his knees next to Carl (Chandler Riggs) and Negan delivers a big old speech that we know will end with Carl getting his head turned into skull hommus. Someone falls off the sniper’s perch and Rick seems to believe it’s Michonne. Negan crows to Rick about the bad shit that’s about to happen but Rick reminds him that he, in fact, will kill Negan no matter what. Negan fury chuckles and hefts Lucille…
… when SHIVA THE FUCKING TIGER jumps into the fray and starts eating Saviors! The Kingdom has arrived! The Hilltop has arrived! And did we mention the motherflipping tiger? The tide has seriously turned and the the Bin Chickens and Saviors all bid a hasty retreat, taking heavy casualties along the way. Negan leaves Alexandria, defiantly offering a one-fingered salute as he goes. Rick finds Michonne badly beaten but alive.
Back at the Sanctuary, Negan is pissed off. He quizzes Eugene on how Sasha died. Eugene lies and claims she must have suffocated but Negan seems suspicious. Maybe Eugene isn’t quite as Negan as he claims? Regardless, the boss man addresses his troops, saying “we’re going to war!” Everyone cheers. These boys love a fight.
The episode ends with a bittersweet conversation between Rick and Maggie delivered in voice over. During the talk we see Jesus take down walker Sasha and Maggie pulling out her knife to finish her off. Carol and Morgan share a moment, bloodied from battle. Daryl discovers a message from Dwight that he “Didn’t Know”, but do we trust him? Alliances are affirmed and the battlelines drawn. It’s a surprisingly emotional sequence that leans heavily on the viewer’s nostalgia for the previous six seasons, but works nonetheless.
“The First Day of the Rest of Your Life” is not the all out war some viewers may have been hoping for. As we predicted in last week’s review, it’s more the first battle of many rather than the concluding chapter. Our heroes will be fighting Negan for some time yet to come, but if that’s the case at least they’re united with a common goal which will hopefully lead to more focus in the storytelling.
Greg Nicotero does a superb job as usual with everything except some of the gunplay in the episode’s second half, which felt oddly clumsy. However that’s easily forgiven when you consider the tiger attack, trio of big surprises and the solid character work with Sasha – we shall miss you, Sonequa Martin-Green.
Ultimately “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life” is a solid, course-correcting conclusion to a shambolic, occasionally directionless season. It sets up a eighth season of proactive storytelling and, hopefully, will dig into some of Negan’s backstory… before he gets killed in a horrifically graphic fashion, that is.
So that’s FilmInk’s coverage of season seven done for the year. Thanks for reading and we’ll see you back for weekly coverage of both Fear the Walking Dead and Game of Thrones in the coming months.