Unpacking The Walking Dead‘s Tense Season 7 Finale

The Walking Dead ’s season finale took viewers on a wild ride as the cable juggernaut wrapped up yet another whirlwind season filled with deception, death and Negan’s (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) backbends.  (Spoiler alerts)

One of the episode’s biggest moments was one that fans were more or less waiting for—the death of Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green, the upcoming star of Star Trek: Discovery). Sasha had been brooding to avenge Abraham’s (Michael Cudlitz) murder, and along with Abraham’s former flame, Rosita (Christian Serratos), headed out for Negan and the Saviors compound on a suicidal mission to take him out wo episodes ago. The big twist came when Sasha locked Rosita out of the compound, essentially sealing her own fate while sparing Rosita. Only instead of killing Negan and dying in the process, Sasha got caught, and last night’s finale placed us inside a very small space with Sasha, who was listening to some R&B and recalling her last conversation with Abraham. The episode essentially fractured time so that we spent part of it with Sasha begging Abraham not to go on the ill-fated run to Hilltop that would land him in Negan’s trap, part of it with Sasha in this dark space listening to music, and part in the real-time battle between Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and his Alexandrian troops, along with his new friends, the Junkyard trash people led by the very odd Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh), versus the Saviors.

This was a great episode for Martin-Green, who showed what she could do with a much larger focus than she's evern enjoyed. Martin-Green was excellent (which bodes well for Discovery), and while her fate was never really in question, her interactions with both Abraham and Maggie (Lauren Cohan) gave the final an emotional heft. This episode also allowed us to see the chemistry between Sasha and Abraham, capturing what it was they saw in each other, and allowed for perhaps the most poetic summation of Rick and his group's entire outlook—they fight for each other, which gives their endless struggle meaning. “It’s always for someone else,” Abraham said. “Both of us know if we’re gonna kick, there sure as hell better be a point to it, so maybe we feel there was a point to all of this.”

It turns out, Sasha was listening to the iPod in a casket—this was how Negan was delivering her to Rick. The idea was to use Sasha, whom Negan wanted to keep alive, to force Rick to give up and hand over his weapons, or be forced to watch her die. To Negan’s surprise, however, Sasha had already died (thanks to Eugene's suicide pill), so when he opens the casket, Zombie Sasha comes moaning out, nearly killing him. This gives the Alexandrians enough of a jolt to try and turn the fight in their favor, but it ultimately falls short. Why? Those sneaky trash people and that traitor Jadis!

One of the finale’s real surprises was that the trash people turned on Rick and the Alexandrians, having struck a better deal with Negan. This set up an extremely tense showdown between Rick and Negan, when it looks as if Rick would finally lose Carl. Surrounded and out-gunned, Negan forces Rick and Carl to kneel, then goes into one of his overlong taunts, telling Rick he’s going to kill Carl, then destroy Rick’s hands, and hoo boy if only Rick had just listened to Negan everything would be hunky dory. Just as Negan's teeing up to kill Carl with his barbwire covered bat, Lucille, the Kingdom and Hilltop gangs, led by Ezekiel (Khary Payton) and Maggie respectively, arrive just in the nick of time (and with Ezekiel’s tiger), saving Carl, Rick and the Alexandrians and forcing the Saviors to retreat.

So, season seven ends with Rick, the Alexandrians, the Hill Toppers and the Kingdom on one side, Negan’s saviors on the other, and a proper war in the offing. Sasha did her part, and now it will be up to her surviving friends to avenge her, Abraham and Glenn and finally put the ranting, raving, back bending sociopath Negan down for good.

Featured image: Katelyn Nacon as Enid, Tom Payne as Paul 'Jesus' Rovia, Lennie James as Morgan Jones, Lauren Cohan as Maggie Greene, Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon – The Walking Dead, Season 7, Episode 16 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC