The First Day of the Rest of Your Life:
Review for The Walking Dead 716
by R.C. Murphy
Hold your horses. I know you’re excited, but just so you know, there’s episode spoilers in this review.
I’ve been practicing that pep talk since the end credits ran and still don’t want to accept the message I, personally, saw in this finale. It’s just so . . . tiring. An age-old tale, one playing out in our current news feeds, if one cares to see the parallels.
But, really, do we need another story where gays, people of color, and women are the only reason white men survive their own bad decisions? Nah, dude. I was good with those stories a while ago. Let’s move on to a tale where everyone owns their bull, doesn’t hold petty grudges, and the fighting isn’t dependent on men’s egos.
I will admit, I was partially wrong about Dwight. Which is glorious because Negan came to the same conclusion I did—Rick had no plan and if someone were to spoon-feed him an easy out, he’d snatch it like a seagull in a tide pool at low tide. Well, that’s exactly what happened. Now, Dwight does look a smidge guilty throughout the invasion until bullets fly, then it’s survive or turn walker. Did he leave that wood figure with the message at the gate? I don’t know. He’s a smart enough guy to take one look at Rick’s desperation and understand that’s not the person to trust with your life. Too many others fail to understand this. The last few seasons have been awash in blood shed during Rick’s ill-considered schemes to get one step ahead of the bigger fish in the pond. He’s staying afloat in the apocalypse on a raft of souls. At least when Negan does it, he owns up to it.
In typical fashion, Rick escapes with apparently the most manageable injuries of those shot during the botched attack, seeing as he’s upright when Michonne and Rosita are left bed-ridden at the conclusion. That’s his big punishment after he dragged his people into an uneven deal with the Scavengers, harassed and mentally terrorized women and children to strip them of all their weapons—weapons which they cannot return now, if Rick ever intended to in the first place—sent numerous people to their graves because he just had to bait Negan into taking action, and left their homes vulnerable to constant attack when said baiting backfired. Rick pays for his ineptitude this season with a banged up hand, superficial scrapes and bruises, and what’s essentially a deep bullet graze to his side. Michonne pays for her loyalty to her lover with broken facial bones and who knows what else. Rosita pays for her part in the assassination plan by getting shot, but her wound is more severe and requires longer recovery time.
Then there’s Sasha, who, despite all her potential, is the latest sacrifice to Rick’s ego. The price for stepping out of line is becoming the catalyst for Alexandria to shoot itself in the foot. Not only does Sasha stoop to suicide-by-pill, but her death moment lasts a blink so that Rick’s war can begin in earnest. I can just see that plotting conversation now. “Well, how will they get a shot off if the Scavengers hold them at gunpoint?” “Zombie Sasha.” “What? I mean, there’s a bunch of things we could—” “Kill Sasha. Sonequa has a movie to film and that character is too complicated.” Note: Suicide is not noble. It is not the way to help your friends and loved ones get ahead, even if you feel like a burden. Sasha had so many other ways to get out of her position. Given outside influences, like the actor’s schedule, the writers opted to take a shortcut in Sasha’s story. No one should ever feel suicide is a viable shortcut option—from writers looking to punch up their work, to those like me who’ve lived with depression for years. There’s always another way. Trying to make Sasha’s suicide into a glorious take-one-for-the-team moment is appalling. Adding in bitter-sweet scenes with Abraham is just a cheap shot. I can’t be mad that they hauled Cudlitz back onto the small screen for some of the sweetest scenes he’s had on TWD. I just can’t. Those clips where Sasha remembers, or fantasizes, about Abraham were the only thing keeping my eyes on the screen. Their chemistry as a couple is so appealing. Well, once it got past that awkward beginning stage. But, like so much in this finale, the moment cheapens when one understands those scenes are a manipulation tool to make up for the lack of surprising action outside Abraham’s sudden appearance.
The plot is pretty straightforward. The Kingdom marches to join forces with Alexandria. In Hilltop, Maggie is done waiting around and will take her new people to likewise join the budding army. Over in Alexandria, Dwight spins his tale. Rick takes the bait. Everyone springs into action, laying out road blocks to slow the Saviors, and even setting up explosives at the gate. The Scavengers arrive in garbage trucks, and then spend half the episode being obvious double-agents as they “help” stage the ambush. In the Savior’s convoy, Eugene implores Negan to stand back and let him do the talking. Which he does. Rick gives Rosita the okay to bomb Eugene’s smug self. The bomb fails. That’s when the game is up. Jadis and her people turn their guns on everyone in Alexandria’s walls. Negan and Rick chat. Mostly, Negan makes demands and derides Rick for his audacity. Sasha pops out of the oh-so-dramatic casket as a walker, surprising Negan for perhaps the first time on the show. The fight breaks out—as far as fights goes, it’s a typical TWD gunfight with quick cuts and the body count is almost entirely third-string characters who didn’t even have names. Jadis shoots Rick, and after that it takes but moments to cow Alexandria into submission. Negan makes good on his promise to go after Carl as the next sacrifice for Rick’s hubris. Rick grandstands with the same tired, chest-pounding rhetoric he’s uttered since the day Negan killed Glenn. Then, Shiva happens. The cavalry arrives on her heels, saving everyone—except Michonne, who fights on her lonesome and is presumed dead for a while. The Scavengers and Saviors flee. Alexandria plays clean-up. In a voice-over, Maggie gives a speech to Rick about coming to help them because Glenn helped Rick, and that’s how they all started this life—or some utter rubbish because I couldn’t listen after she basically threw Glenn under the bus for every death Rick’s poor leadership has caused in seven seasons. Yeah. No. Don’t use a favorite character to boost the poorly-written character who in-part caused his death. That’s the same as Maggie forgiving Daryl, giving him an ego boost, and watching quietly while Daryl continues to express the behavioral problems which killed Glenn in the first place. The white guys don’t get a free pass because the woman from an interracial couple says their sins are washed away.
Much like I thought, this episode isn’t even the proper beginning to the war. It’s the warning shot. How will the showrunners handle a full-out war with bloodthirsty Negan? They’ve balked at every turn, admitting they downgraded the violence after the season opener, while still swearing Negan is Negan is Negan. Not when you trade Lucille for a whiffle bat. Maybe the downtime will help them reaffirm what, exactly, they want to do with these characters. If they don’t change something, the fans will leave. It’s the cool thing for reviewers to drop TWD from their rotation right now. Good thing I’m not cool. I really, truly want to see if they can get over these hang-ups and dig into good storytelling again. Bring on season eight and the war. I mean, war prep was boring, but surely being in the thick of it will yield more tension beyond those awkward pauses when Rick and Negan talk alone together.