‘Walking Dead’ season ends with guns a-blazin’

Courtesy of AMC Studios The Season 8 finale of “The Walking Dead” pulled in 11 million viewers, down from last season’s 14.2 million.
Courtesy of AMC Studios
The Season 8 finale of “The Walking Dead” pulled in 11 million viewers, down from last season’s 14.2 million.

By Nicole Prieto | Staff Writer

In an explosive season finale, “The Walking Dead” finally breaks out of its middling lull as Rick and company prepare to take an organized offensive against Negan and the Saviors.

In the last half-season, Rick rallied the troops as he found new allies in the Scavengers and proposed an alliance between Alexandria, the Hilltop and the Kingdom. King Ezekiel — after Benjamin’s pointless death — finally saw that the Saviors could not be trusted. Tara went back on her promise to Cyndie to reveal the location of Oceanside (and its armory) to Rick, but may have inspired the community to come out of hiding. Sasha’s suicide mission resulted in her capture and in a tense reunion with Eugene.

Here is a spoiler-heavy rundown of the good, the OK and the ugly of “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life.”

The Good

Seeing Sonequa Martin-Green go is unbearably sad, especially with how far Sasha has come after the deaths of several important men in her life. But there has perhaps not been a more fitting death or fuller character arc on TWD. From unbearable misery to determined revenge, Sasha’s development mirrors Rick’s rise from the ashes when the group was still camped out in the prison. Having her as the episode’s focal point is a well-done move, and her flashbacks are cathartic and seamless (and, thankfully, bereft of black-and-white filters).

Prior to her capture, she receives a touching moment of closure with Rosita. Sasha’s assurance to Eugene that she still believes he can do the right thing holds some promise for his own arc in the future. Poisoning herself and becoming a walker while the Saviors are en route to Alexandria is perhaps one of the bravest, and most practical, self-sacrifices on the show to date. For all of his calculated poise, Negan’s reaction to having walker-Sasha lunge at him as he opens her coffin is satisfying to watch.

The OK

The Scavengers’ betrayal at the eleventh hour was a risky directorial move but not a bad one. It took appropriate advantage of the group’s different incarnation in the comics. Unlike Glenn’s death, die-hard fans could not predict the fate of the mysterious landfill-dwellers. Still, it is a bit of a stretch that to secure their loyalty, all Negan had to promise them were about 10 people — whatever that means.

Speaking of whom, since the season premiere, Negan’s presence as a threat has vastly eroded. From Carl’s one-kid assassination attempt to Sasha’s one-woman assault on the Sanctuary, the season has been rife with situations getting out of his hands. With how often things have not gone according to Negan’s plans, sometimes TWD makes it hard to remember why he has such a powerful sway over so many communities.

More attentive fans may have taken the hint better than I did, but Dwight’s figurine hidden near Alexandria’s gate with “DIDN’T KNOW” scrawled on it went way over my head the first time around. It is more than coincidental to have Daryl be the one to close the gate and find it. Still, given Dwight’s status as a double-agent, the contrivance is necessary to cement that he is still on Rick’s side.

The Ugly

Between mowing down walkers and designated bad guys, a lot of dialogue is to be expected in a character-driven show like TWD. But when juxtaposed with action-packed, semi-political dramas like “Into the Badlands,” how much everyone just talks gets uncomfortably apparent. The action-packed finale is a nice send-off, but it is not a panacea to a bad habit the writers cannot seem to kick between season bookends. Here is hoping things change in Season 8.

The End

Back at the Sanctuary, Negan is suspicious of how Sasha died in her coffin, and Eugene dodges with the explanation that she must have run out of air. Barely convinced, Negan gathers the Saviors and announces that they are going to war. The episode ends with a dramatic voiceover by Maggie as the groups tend to their wounded, mourn their dead and rally around their community leaders. After a long lull, Rick and company seem to be back in their element, and fans have much to look forward to in October.