The Walking Dead - S7E16: The First Day of the Rest of Your Life - Review: War!
The First Day of the Rest of Your Life – After Dwight tells them The Saviours are coming, Alexandria and her allies get ready for a big fight. Negan convinces Sasha to help them bargain Rick into standing down.
What a difference 8 weeks have made. After concerns the show was getting to grim and down on itself over the autumn, these spring episodes have been a really enjoyable affair and provided a solid build-up to this finale with one overbearing question: Are we getting All Out War this saeson? The answer is yes..... sort of. After considerable build-up, it boils down into being the opening battle of the longer conflict and official formation of the Rick Grimes' All Star Alliance. Although the first half of the episode does feel overly drawn-out (it really didn’t need to be an extended episode), the eventually payoff of the final act is sweeter than a whole store’s worth of Krispy Kremes (sorry that was leftover Power Rangers product placement). In terms of the overall continuous narrative of the show, it felt like the right decision too. Rather than last season’s Internet breaking (in your face Kardashian) cliff-hanger, both the episode and season culminates in a clear chapter ending. It’s like Attack of the Clones. We’ve witnessed the big war triggering event with a sense that the real fight is only getting started. Maggie’s climactic speech was particularly poignant in its “Carry on my wayward son” reflection of the road so far linking in perfectly to the ideas of choosing to help each other for something greater. The use of Dwight also worked well in the setup. Although Daryl threatening him was muted because in that moment Dwight was plot critical, it was good seeing Daryl facing his hatred for Dwight with Tara on cheerleader duties (Dwight killed Denise).
Okay, let’s talk about the big ass battle. I’ll stay tight-lipped about some details but from the earlier episode scenes of The Kingdom and Hilltop gearing up, it’s not a spoiler to say they feature. The MVP of the whole episode was King Ezekiel. We get that his persona is a theatrical character of his creation but my God, he goes full blown Lord of the Rings in this episode. He looks every bit the inspirational leader that’s brought his kingdom together from his early rallying moment with Morgan to charging in like he’s Théoden with dreadlocks. He was nearly usurped by Shiva. Over the last couple months, The Walking Dead’s visual effects team have taken a critical pounding (in several cases deservingly so) but Shiva looks magnificent here in full beast mode and delivers the episode’s best moment. Elsewhere, we get Carol back in Rambo mode, Morgan gone badass monk once more, and Maggie looking she was born to lead. The action is incredibly well-choreographed to give the sense of a chaotic large scale fight while still being concurrent and giving a lot of characters individual moments to shine. That music too! I don’t think The Walking Dead has got me that pumped since the mass walker clear out of No Way Out. There are a couple good lighter moments too like Negan reacting to the events.
Where things come a bit undone is how much emphasis is placed on Sasha’s story with her various flashbacks and dream sequences. Granted, they did give Abraham a rather nice encore but the whole, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” angle towards that ill-fated Hilltop journey felt more like a daytime soap opera than The Walking Dead. It didn’t benefit either Sasha or Abraham’s characters or provide any real context for Sasha’s later actions. Also, while the repeated dark facials of Sasha with her headphones made sense in the end, their use still felt rather lame until that point. Worst of all is the way the episode makes no real effort to create doubt over the notable comics arc Sasha is taking on. Any fans of the printed walker battling format will have seen this clearly signposted last episode (and many others have probably seen it being mentioned all over the Internet). By not even attempting to create any disbelief over that outcome, the big moment itself loses all its shock value. Still, credit where it’s due, the writers did produce some great twists on the comics story in other areas.
This episode was shown the same night as Wrestlemania and like that stadium spectacle, it was longer than it needed to be and not everything worked.... but the good parts were bloody great and it left you feeling like you’d witnessed a true event. It will be interesting to see if Season 8 lives up to these expectations of being the all out crazy conflict side of this story or whether we take a Revenge of the Sith time jump towards its end. For now though, The Walking Dead has enjoyably cried havoc and let loose the tiger of war.