Negan and Rick clash as war breaks out.

By Nick Romano
April 03, 2017 at 12:26 AM EDT

“Hang on to the world as it spins around/ Just don’t let the spin get you down/ Think of moving fast/ Hold on tight and you will last…”

Sasha listens to Donny Hathaway’s “Someday We’ll All Be Free” when the season 7 finale begins, her face illuminated only by the glow of her iPod. She’s no longer in the cell at The Sanctuary; the rumble of the road accompanies the melody as she slips into a flashback, featuring a surprise return of Abraham. He wakes her from a nap before they bring Maggie to Hilltop, a trip that leads to his death.

If it’s true that life flashes before one’s eyes in the face of death, then this is Sasha’s moment of reflection. It’s also a moment for the show to look back on all that’s come before and, hopefully, move forward.

This flash of Abraham and another of Maggie frame the extended finale of a season marred by the character’s demise. In the morning, Negan brings a pancake breakfast, complete with a blueberry smiley face, for Sasha. “Welcome to the first day of the rest of your life,” he says, giving the episode its title. He explains that it’s up to her to get things with Rick back on track after a little birdie revealed to him his plans for rebellion. (We’ll get to which little birdie in a moment.)

At Alexandria, the group is struggling to accept the surprise aide of Dwight, who claims he wants to help kill Negan. Tara urges Daryl to kill him instead, still haunted by the memory of Denise, but even as he has Dwight pinned against a wall with a knife, threatening to gouge out his eye, Daryl decides to spare him. Dwight warns that Negan is coming the following morning but offers to chop down trees and block the road to give them more time to prepare. As he rides off to execute the deed, Daryl promises Rick vengeance if he’s lying.

Another flash of Sasha telling Abraham she had a dream of his death interrupts Negan’s plan for his captive, though he mentions Lucille will “get her three” with plans to pull the victims “out of the pool.” She says no one needs to die, but it’s her tears that squeeze a touch of sympathy from Negan, who settles on killing just one. Punishment, he says, is a necessity that “built everything we have.”

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Rick won’t have to face Negan alone, however. Maggie suggests to Enid and Jesus that she lead the Hilltoppers to Alexandria to fight back, while we see Ezekiel marching Carol, his tiger Shiva, and other forces from the Kingdom. They stumble across Morgan along the way; he set up a barricade as a means of ambushing The Saviors on his own, but Carol reminds him that an army of one approach doesn’t work against Negan. Despite Morgan’s dramatic and tortured descent into a psychotic break, Ezekiel is able to persuade him to join their regimen with an impassioned speech about “capricious malevolence” and honoring the memory of Benjamin.

The sun is hanging over the church steeple when Jadis and her junkyard crew enter Alexandria. Daryl, Rosita, and Aaron are wiring bombs in a truck just outside the front gate, Michonne is loading guns on a nearby roof, and Jadis even makes a pass at Rick in celebration of their eventual victory. Negan and Simon are stuck waiting for their men to clear out the trees Dwight cut down earlier, so everything seems like it’s going to plan. But the threat of Negan’s little birdie still looms.

Many fans guessed that the one who tipped him off was Jadis, and the theory was proven true when Eugene rides up with a megaphone. Rick is choked up to hear his former friend now asking them to submit or face death. Rick signals Rosita to set off the explosives, but nothing happens as the painful realization of another betrayal sinks in: Jadis and her people turn their weapons on Alexandria and reveal The Saviors offered them a better deal.

Negan, pompously stepping out of his car, signals for Dwight and Simon to unveil a coffin that holds Sasha. He’ll hand her over, but first Rick has to fork over their entire gun supply, one person to sacrifice of his own choosing, Daryl, and the pool table Spencer once tried to schmooze him with. When Rick asks to see Sasha first, Negan goes to open the coffin, but we’re shown more of her flashback before the big unveiling,

Earlier, we see Sasha telling Abraham in her vision that she dreamt of his death on the beach before the outbreak occurred and asking him to sit this mission out. Now, she says it all felt so real, but Abraham still wants to go because it’s about doing something for others. When they die, he says, it should be for someone else; it should mean something. Another flashback, this one from The Sanctuary, with Negan prepping for Alexandria. Eugene gives Sasha the iPod for the road trip. She insists on spending the ride inside the coffin so she can catch some sleep, but she’s using the privacy to swallow the poison Eugene gave her earlier and to make peace with her choice.

When Negan finally does open the coffin, walker Sasha attacks him, inciting Rick’s group into action. Gunfire erupts as Sasha is pulled off the tyrant before ravaging another Savior. Michonne is overpowered by a woman on the roof, and Jadis shoots Rick in the side and pushes him off their perch.

The chaos is soon quelled as the Alexandrians are taken captive, and Rick is marched through the streets of bloodied corpses to Negan, who says he has to start all over again with Rick by killing Carl in front of him. Close by, Michonne is losing her own fight — face pummeled and bloodied, she’s being forced toward the edge of the roof, and Rick shudders at the sound of a woman falling to her death onto the pavement.

Negan laughs in the face of his horror, but at least he’s willing to try to kill Carl with a single blow because he’s grown fond of the kid. He also plans to take Rick’s hands, another nod to a comic book plot point that has yet to be realized on the show. Harnessing his rage, Rick taunts Negan with a promise to kill him, if not today, then someday in the future. A mixture of shock, fury, and amusement causes Negan to leap up behind Carl and prepare Lucille for another killing.

But remember those other forces on their way to Alexandria? Shiva the tiger throws off Negan as she launches herself at a Savior, and both The Kingdom and Hilltop clans rush in to save the day. At the risk of sullying this triumphant bum-rush, it was funny when, after so many episodes of Rick gathering guns to give to Jadis, both colonies miraculously had plenty of ammo of their own — even The Kingdom, which has had to rely on medieval weaponry. But I digress.

Many of the junkyard dogs fall as they claim retribution, but Jadis is able to escape with some of her people by tossing homemade smoke bombs into the streets, while Negan flips everyone the bird on his way out in an armored car. Rick rushes to see if Michonne was the one who fell earlier and is relieved when he finds her breathing, though it’s another one of those borderline cheap fake-out moments, like the Glenn instance from last season that left many viewers with a bad taste in their mouth.

Elsewhere, Maggie and Jesus go off in search of the walker that once was Sasha. They find her in the woods and put her down for a funeral, adding her body to the graves of Glenn and Abraham. The final scenes of Sasha’s flashback reveal her and Maggie sitting and watching the dwindling glow of a sunset.

The stage is now set for all-out war in season 8 — Rick, Maggie, and Ezekiel take to a podium to address their people, while Negan rallies the troops back at The Sanctuary, announcing, “We are going to war!” Daryl finds a small wooden statue hidden by the gate with the message, “Didn’t know,” so it looks like Dwight is still on their side. Let’s just hope the next chapter doesn’t drag its feet as this season did leading up to this face-off.

(Side note: This episode was dedicated to Bernie Wrightson, comic book artist and co-creator of the DC character Swamp Thing, who died after a long battle with cancer earlier this month. The show previously honored his artwork with a “Wrightson” zombie, showrunner Greg Nicotero revealed in 2015.)

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The Walking Dead

AMC's zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.

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