Major Spoiler Warning for the Season 7 Finale of “The Walking Dead.”

Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh) holds Rick (Andrew Lincoln) at gunpoint. (Photo courtesy of Gene Page/AMC)

The first shot has been fired and there is no going back. All Out War has officially begun and the stakes are higher than ever. With a mix of betrayal and heartbreaking sacrifice, plus the full-scale unification of the communities, this Season Finale is one for the books and just may be one of the best episodes of the entire series; the series marks a major milestone as this is the 99th episode. No one gets to sit on the sidelines, everyone must fight for the future. Months of character development, story progression and build up culminates into an epic climax that transitions “The Walking Dead” into its next chapter, a completely new era.

Short cold opens on “The Walking Dead” have always made me nervous, because they usually signify something tragic is about to happen; Season 4’s “The Grove” and more recently “Bury Me Here” showcase this with death following a short cold open. This episode begins with Sasha slowly loosing consciousness in a dark place while listening to music. Throughout the episode, we see Sasha in this space, covered in sweat as Donny Hathaway’s “Someday We’ll All Be Free” plays. It isn’t until later in the episode when it becomes clear where Sasha is and what is happening to her. Sprinkled throughout the episode are flashbacks to just a few hours before the fateful night of “Last Day on Earth,” when the group pilled into the RV to take Maggie to the Hilltop doctor only to be stopped by Negan. The flashbacks show Sasha waking up from a nap to Abraham, who alerts her to the situation with Maggie. Sasha pleads for Abraham to remain in Alexandria, worried that something might go wrong; she also explains that she had a dream that they drowned together at a beach. Sasha tells Abraham that Maggie can take care of herself, something that Abraham rejects and Sasha immediately takes back. They both decide to go together, repeating some of their lines from their first romantic interaction in “Always Accountable.” This is a single moment of peace and acceptance before everything falls apart and changes forever; had they not gone, Abraham might still be alive, but someone else might be dead. Choices matter and Abraham’s choice to go along with the group shows his absolute dedication to protecting the group; this was his final sacrifice.

Sasha’s choice to storm the Sanctuary by herself may not have played out the way she expected, especially when Negan arrives with a plate of breakfast and a plan of using her to kill three survivors back in Alexandria. It has been established time and time again that Negan doesn’t kill the agitator, he kills someone else; Sasha’s states that three people shouldn’t die and Negan agrees that only one will meet their end on this day. This is especially important as the episode plays out. Back in Alexandria, the full encounter between Rick’s group and Dwight is shown, complete with angry threats from Daryl and Tara; its completely clear that Tara isn’t pleased with Dwight’s presence as she brings up the fact that he killed Denise in cold blood for no reason at all. Daryl pulls a knife on Dwight as the Savior runaway presents his plan for eliminating their nefarious oppressors; by attacking Negan and the Saviors when the arrive at Alexandria, the group can gain the upper hand and travel to the Sanctuary where they will kill the loyalists and recruit the workers before launching a final assault on the outposts. While this is a solid plan, everyone is clearly hesitant to trust Dwight, but they still allow him to leave and return to Alexandria; Daryl promises to kill Dwight no matter how everything plays out, something that I actually hope to see happen, especially if Tara can get in on it.

Simon (Steven Ogg), Eugene (Josh McDermitt) and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) arrive at Alexandria. (Photo courtesy of Gene Page/AMC)

The war preparation isn’t just taking place at Alexandria, but also the Hilltop. After returning from their trip to Oceanside, Jesus and Enid speak with Maggie about the recent updates with everyone. With Gregory gone, Maggie steps in and decides to involve the Hilltop in the upcoming battle; Enid hands over Glenn’s pocket watch as a token of good luck. We also get a Judith update as it is revealed that Jesus and Enid brought her to the Hilltop to keep her safe after realizing that Alexandria may not be secure anymore; it’s also worth noting that Judith stands up and belts out a few words, showing that she really is growing up fast. Just outside of the Kingdom, Carol and Ezekiel lead a group of the knights, plus Shiva, to link up with Alexandria; they come across the shopping cart roadblock that Richard set up, giving everyone a moment to remember their losses and reasons for joining the fight. Morgan meets up with the group, prompting Carol to step in and explain that if he goes off on his own to kill Saviors, it may ruin the Kingdom’s strategic advantage. Ezekiel bounces off of this and rallies Morgan to march beside them and attack the Saviors together; “for the Kingdom” Ezekiel cheers as they journey to Alexandria. Seeing the other communities prepare for war is thrilling, especially after all of the convincing that it took this half of the season; the payoff of the build up is absolutely perfect.

Back in Alexandria, the Scavengers roll up to the gate on bicycles and in garbage trucks; I wouldn’t expect anything less from these absolutely strange survivors. Jadis meets with Rick and Michonne to admire Alexandria; Rick states that they are fighting for their people in the community, not Alexandria itself. Jadis hilariously tells Michonne that she will “lay with him (Rick) after,” something that throws Richonne for a loop and leaves them rather stunned. Around the community, there is more preparation for the arrival of Negan; Daryl, Rosita and Aaron create a truck bomb just outside of the gate as Michonne positions herself on the roof of a townhouse with a Scavenger sniper; the Scavenger woman creepily tells Michonne “we win.” On the road, Negan and the Saviors are stopped by some downed trees, presumably set up by Dwight; this is a callback to the roadblocks set up by Simon’s group in the Season 6 Finale. Eugene asks Negan if he can speak with the Alexandria group in an attempt to get them to stand down. Negan seems to agree with his proposition as Eugene is shown arriving at Alexandria’s gate with demands that they surrender immediately. Rick, Jadis and several Alexandrians and Scavengers stand ready on the lookout posts with their guns as Eugene proclaims himself as Negan. Rick gives Rosita a look, prompting her to press the trigger for the truck bomb, a move that would have killed Eugene and the Saviors, but something is very wrong. The bomb doesn’t go off, confusing Rick and the Alexandrians as Jadis and the Scavengers reveal themselves to be aligned with the Saviors by holding everyone at gunpoint; “better deal” Jadis tells Rick. It was always clear that the junkyard crew couldn’t be fully trusted, but this backstabbing is a complete game-changer.

Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) is revealed to be a walker just seconds before attacking Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). (Photo courtesy of Gene Page/AMC)

Before we discuss the aftermath of the betrayal, we have to jump back in time to a few hours prior as the Saviors are preparing to leave the Sanctuary. Eugene asks Sasha if she has decided against taking the “allergy medication” also known as the suicide pill; she states that she won’t get used to this new life like Eugene has, but that she isn’t giving up. Eugene hands over an iPod and headphones to Sasha for the journey to Alexandria; he explains that while he may be a coward, he does still think about others. The Saviors are bringing along a casket and Sasha asks Negan if she can sleep in it during the trip; he agrees to this and she lays down in the casket with her iPod, a bottle of water and the plastic baggie with Eugene’s suicide pill. While listening to music, Sasha swallows the pill and slowly dies, giving context to the brief scenes of her in a dark place scattered throughout the episode. In the present time, Dwight and Simon position the casket on the back of a truck as Negan stands next to it and speaks to Rick about how stupid he has been. Negan presents an offer of Sasha being returned in exchange for all of the guns, Daryl, a Lucille kill and the pool table that he murdered Spencer over in “Hearts Still Beating.” Rick demands to see Sasha and Negan complies, opening the casket, expecting to see Sasha alive and shocked to see that she has turned into a walker. Walker Sasha leaps at Negan, throwing him to the ground and allowing Carl to fire the first shot of what will go down as one of the craziest battles of “The Walking Dead.”

Sasha’s sacrifice distracts both the Saviors and the Scavengers, giving the Alexandrians the upper hand. Gunshots start flying everywhere and our group manage to take out several of the betrayers; Rosita is shot in the shoulder by a wild bullet and Michonne fights off the Scavenger woman on the roof. Outside, Walker Sasha snaps at Negan as a Savior comes to the rescue only to have his face ripped off by her; I have to point out that this is the douchey Savior that taunted Enid for saying “veggies” back in “The Other Side” (good riddance). On the lookout post, Jadis shoots Rick in the side before pushing him to the ground. She then leads him to a grassy area in Alexandria, where several Scavengers and Saviors have gathered around Negan and Carl; Jadis tries to renegotiate with Negan, but he ultimately wins (apparently, they offered Alexandrians in exchange for the Scavengers help). Over on the rooftop, the woman bashes Michonne’s head, seemingly about to kill her. Rick and Carl are horrified as they witness someone fall from the roof and hit the ground; this wasn’t filmed all that well and the fall was really easy to miss. Negan points out the fact that Rick probably just lost someone that he loves. As Rick and Carl kneel on the ground, it is seems as though we are witnessing a second lineup, exactly 15 episodes after the first lineup. Negan tells Rick that he is going to kill Carl, but that he will make it quick because he has grown to appreciate the young fighter; Rick repeats what he told Negan in the Season Premiere, “I will kill you.” This shows a lot of growth for Rick’s character, especially considering it seems as though he is willing to standby as Negan kills Carl. Panic strikes the audience as Negan grabs Lucille, removes Carl’s hat and prepares to swing. Suddenly, Shiva lunges onscreen and pounces on a Savior; the Kingdom has arrived to save the day.

Jerry (Cooper Andrews) and King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) arrive at Alexandria. (Photo courtesy of Gene Page/AMC)

“Alexandria will not fall, not on this day” Ezekiel triumphantly shouts as he and the knights rush in, freeing Carl and Rick and allowing the survivors to regain control of their home. Maggie also arrives with Enid, Jesus and several fighters from the Hilltop as a battle of epic proportions rages on. Soldiers from Alexandria, the Kingdom and the Hilltop work together to fight off the Scavengers and Saviors, prompting the invaders to retreat. Negan makes a hysterical comment about Shiva, as well as Maggie, who he only now just discovered was still alive. Shiva continues to rip apart a few Saviors, something that myself and many fans have been eagerly anticipating. The Scavengers launch smoke bombs and escape as Negan leads the Saviors away, but not before flipping the middle finger to his opponents. Carl and Rick rush over to the building where Michonne was positioned to find the dead body of the Scavenger sniper on the ground; they reunite with an injured Michonne inside, celebrating their win and repeating the phrase “we’re the ones who live.” In this gigantic battle, everyone had their role to play, main characters and background extras alike. Alexandria has been the site of multiple battles, most notably the Wolf fight in “JSS” and the walker war in “No Way Out,” but this knocks both of those out of the water.

The episode wraps up as Negan returns to the Sanctuary with his team. He questions Eugene as to how Sasha ended up dead in the coffin, to which he explains that she likely suffocated, covering himself from any blame from Negan; it isn’t completely clear if Negan believes him and this may be something that is further explored next season. Stepping out onto a balcony, Negan loudly proclaims to his Savior army that “we are going to war.” The narrative switches back to Alexandria as somber music plays; a voice-over conversation/eulogy is also played as Maggie and Jesus are shown in the woods, locating Walker Sasha (this is a small inconsistency as it wouldn’t make sense for a walker to leave an area with so much gunfire; the same thing happened last season with Deanna). Still, this heartbreaking moment is worsened as Maggie begins to cry as she is forced to put down her best friend; Sasha joins Hershel, Beth and Glenn as Maggie’s fallen family. In the Alexandria cemetery, Gabriel holds a funeral service for Sasha as her mourning family gathers to honor her. At the gate, Daryl discovers a carving made by Dwight with the words “didn’t know” on the back, revealing the fact that Dwight really is working against the Saviors, but was also blindsided by the Scavengers’ betrayal. Michonne and Rosita recover from their wounds in the infirmary. There is also a moving flashback to “Them,” the episode where Aaron is introduced as Maggie and Sasha sit together and watch the sunset, mourning the deaths of Tyreese and Beth; this flashback shows the two sitting together and smiling at each other, another painful reminder that the beautiful sisterhood between Sasha and Maggie has come to an end. Maggie, Ezekiel and Rick stand together to speak to their constituents about the coming war; the camera focuses in on Glenn’s pocket watch. The powerful voice over of Maggie continues as she states that Glenn’s decision to save Rick in the very first episode started everything and led them to this point; one selfless act by a selfless soul set in motion something larger than life, the unification of these three communities in their fight for a future. Everything has come full circle.

While our group of survivors may have finally gotten a win this episode, it wouldn’t have been possible without the final sacrifice of a hero. Since her introduction, Sasha has been portrayed as a loyal fighter who isn’t willing to back down for anything. After being rescued by Carl at the Prison alongside her brother Tyreese, it became clear that Sasha was someone who would do whatever it takes to keep her family safe. After standing up to the Governor and being welcomed back to Rick’s crew, Sasha stepped up and became a leader of sorts at the Prison. She found herself separated from Tyreese after the Governor’s attack, surviving alongside Maggie and Bob, who she formed a romantic relationship with. Season 5 was arguably Sasha’s best story arc as she was forced to deal with the deaths of Bob and Tyreese, while handling a new “normal” life inside Alexandria. Her depiction of a soldier dealing with the effects of PTSD was emotionally gripping to watch. Her short-lived romance with Abraham provided some much needed levity, allowing two hardened fighters to let their guard down for a bit. Sasha pretty much had a death wish since Bob and Tyreese died, but Abraham allowed her to have a reason to live again, at least until he was taken away from her.

Sasha’s ability to be pragmatic and also compassionate to others proves that she is a multi-dimensional character; she is not only one of my favorites, but she just might be the most underrated character in the series. From her unwavering protection of Maggie and desire to keep others safe to her expert sharpshooting skills and willingness to get her hands dirty, Sasha’s journey has been an absolute joy to watch and her presence on the show will be truly missed. Sonequa Martin-Green delivers an impeccable performance in each episode, bringing light to the dark world of “The Walking Dead;” she even manages to nail being a walker. Sasha will go down as a hero, plain and simple. Her sacrifice triggered the start of the war, setting everything in motion and allowing the good guys to claim a victory; she went out on her own terms and with a point, just as she wished. Her death fulfills a tragic case of foreshadowing from the season premiere dream sequence wherein Morgan snuffs out two candles on the dinner table to signify Glenn and Abraham, although two burning flames remained, hinting that two other people at that table would meet their end this season; Spencer was next and Sasha was last. Sonequa may be off this roller coaster ride, she is set to enter a whole new fandom as she will be the lead in “Star Trek: Discovery” on CBS All Access, premiering later this year.

While this season may have been polarizing to fans, this finale proves that all of the build up and character development was absolutely necessary. By getting to know the soldiers of each community and watching everyone prepare for the coming battles allowed this explosive fight to be far more effective. With Alexandria, the Hilltop and the Kingdom joined together, next season’s “All Out War” story arc may just be the best material the series has ever covered. Sure, this season has had problems and some elements of the story could have been condensed, but I fully believe that “The Walking Dead” is still at the top of its game; no other show has made me connect with its characters as much as this series. The long wait for Season 8 begins now, but stayed tuned to the Niner Times for an upcoming article listing the top 25 moments of “The Walking Dead’s” 99 episodes, as well as full coverage of the 3rd Season of “Fear the Walking Dead,” which premieres on June 4. “The Walking Dead” is set to return this October for the 100th episode.

Jeffrey Kopp is the Community Editor of the Niner Times. He is a senior double majoring in Communication and Political Science. His interests include writing and keeping up with an excessive amount of television shows. He is also the go-to expert on all things “The Walking Dead."