I can admit when I’m wrong. Throughout these reviews I was sure that season seven of The Walking Dead was going to finish without a resolution, just like the last three years. I was wrong about that, war has begun, so why did the episode, in the words of Negan, suck ass? The answer is an easy one: it was full of all of the usual Walking Dead problems: terrible dialogue, incoherent action, twists that could be seen from a mile away, and basically collapsing under any scrutiny.
“Only one person will die”: that’s the promise that Sasha makes, and that Negan agrees to at the beginning of the episode, but by then my patience had been murdered multiple times. Despite having a clear cut resolution, “The First Day of the rest of Your Life”, was guilty of many of the mid-season finales mistakes. The biggest thing is that the episode is too long. The culprit here, as I knew it would be because what else would it be, is the complete mishandling of Sasha’s exit.
With the mix of flashbacks, flash-forwards, and fantasy sequences this episode tried its hardest to male Sasha’s death/sacrifice mean something, except all of these techniques did nothing but undermine it at every turn. This show has been squeamish about killing main characters, unless it can get a summer long bit of ghoulish publicity out of it, so Sasha’s exit was always going to be drawn out, but this was ridiculous. All these sequences done is highlight how little the show has done to make Sasha a solid character.
You can have all of the Abraham flashbacks you want (Michael Culditz doesn’t let death get in the way of coining new and interesting phrases) it doesn’t make their relationship any more solid. All it does is highlight the minimal effort put in to getting these two characters together in the first place. They have no chemistry, they never have, so these scenes just become an anchor weighing down the pacing of the episode. Likewise all of the set up between her and Negan. It’s a shame that the show doesn’t cater into shock deaths anymore, because if the writers had just held back a little with Sasha’s death then her zombiefied self attacking Negan could have been a genuine shock. Except The Walking Dead doesn’t trust its audience to get from plot point A: Sasha going along with Negan’s plan while hiding the pill Eugene gave her, to plot point B: coming out of the coffin. Did the writers really thing that the audience couldn’t have filled in the dots, and that it would have made Sasha’s last ditch effort to kill Negan as impressive through the element of surprise? It would have made the episode better and would have saved us from poor Sonequa Martin-Green having to emote in a coffin as a form of lead-in to these memories. Yeah, it was probably a visualisation of her brain shutting down but it pretty much shut down my interest in the episode. At least Sonequa Martin-Green has Star Trek: Discovery to move on to. Who knows, they may even give her an actual character.
Apart from Sasha, “The First day of the rest of Your Life” came so close to being a satisfying season finale but fell at the finale hurdle. Unlike the mid-season finale, there was actually a point in visiting all of the other camps, and catching up with each important character. The little work done with Carol and Morgan was impressive as it they finished the season right back where they started. It got a bit lost in the mix, but with both characters sworn off killing at the beginning of the season, and the rising threat of the Saviours, both characters were gradually brought back into the fold. The look that they both share at the episodes end, back where they started, with their skill at violence something that cannot escape, was a poignant moment in an episode that should have had more.
What was the episodes undoing was silly mistakes and low stakes. Despite the scale of the battle, and the great intervention of Shiva right as Chandler Riggs was about to get a better job, the lack of any meaningful casualties apart from Sasha, rendered it toothless. The betrayal by the trash people was an obvious move, and since when would Michonne have so much trouble with one person? The main problem with the battle was that the action was, at times, completely incoherent. Apart from the easily recognisable Kingdomites, it was hard to know which side was taking more damage, and the loss of Sasha, just so she could get an emotional goodbye was just bad editing. Also, does Shiva already have a taste of Saviour meat? How did she know which people to attack?
It’s a real shame because this episode could have been so much better, it could have felt like the triumphant fight back that it was for the characters, but the show has gotten far too sloppy to make any of it really come together. This is highlighted by Maggie’s extremely overwritten speech (that’s how you fill a god damn hour) that tries to tie Glen saving Rick in episode one to the present. The problem is that these two moments don’t belong to the same show, and Glenn’s status as the most influential character takes a hit when you realise that apart from defying death for so long, his character development had stalled for two years before his death.
The Walking Dead has gone far away from the show it used to be: a show that was exciting, emotionally rewarding, and must watch television. I hope that the war to come will give it the kick in the ass it needs.
5/10 Like the mid-season finale, this episode is overstuffed, over written, and only enjoyable on a surface level, much like the whole season.
Season score: 5/10